Guest Post: Mom’s Theoretical Surgery

My mom sent me this essay, and I thought it was really fun. I asked her if I could post it here, and she said yes. Now you can see where I get my writing style and sense of humor. Also, I thought it would be a nice change of pace to read about healthcare (and health) going well for a change! Enjoy.

- Sharon and Barnum, celebrating Interdependence Day (that’s not a typo)

Was Surgery the Only Option?

by Doris Wachsler

June 28, 2012
3 P.M., at home

5 A.M. We’re both awake. We look at each other and snuggle a bit; then I get up. “Why didn’t the alarm go off?” Manny fiddles with the buttons on the clock and says, “I set it for 5 but didn’t pull out the switch.” It really doesn’t matter because I’ve been ready to leave for the hospital since bedtime, about 10:30 last night. Not out of happy anticipation, but “let’s get this over with—what will be, will be.”

We leave for L Clinic Hospital. Hurry up and wait. Apparently the residents of most surrounding towns have been told to report to Admissions at 5:45. I’m there early, but hardly any chairs in the waiting room are empty. People (“customers,” in hospital parlance) are called one by one and told to proceed to “Ambulatory Surgery.” Do they expect us to walk around in the operating rooms during our operations, or is this L’s term for outpatient surgery?

Okay, next step. You know the drill. All clothes off, put on a Johnny that is size 42, extra tall — one size fits all. Lie down and wait for all of the actors in this performance to play their roles. Regulating Nurse (Meredith) arrives first and ushers in my nurse Sandra (“I’ll be with you the whole time”).

“By the way,” says everyone who comes in, “what is your name and how do you spell it? You got that right, do you know your birth date?”

What I tell them corresponds with the info on my wrist band. Concentrating hard on this data, they are relieved that they haven’t bedded an imposter.

A floor nurse begins taking my BP and temp while Sandra rifles through the encyclopedic folder that contains my papers: “You may experience a stroke, seizure, pneumonia or fatal illness during your procedure/stay. L Clinic will not be responsible for anything that happens to you while you are here. Read and acknowledge with your signature.” I signed my permission slip on June 20th, again today at 5:45 and at 6:00. Manny has brought along my Life Care wishes. They are scanned and placed in the tome.

A cute young thing in a floral chef’s hat arrives to introduce herself as the surgery nurse. She darts in and out of my space as quickly as a butterfly. Meanwhile, a jolly, peppy woman in a gauzy hair net appears with equipment. She says she is Marie, and she begins puncturing the veins on the top of my hand, and hooking me up to the bag on the IV pole. “I’m so sorry to be hurting you, dear. I’m one of the doctors on the team, the anesthesiologist, and I am putting xyzilliuminophedoodle, a sedative, into your IV. Yes, it’s really Valium. After the surgeon has come in to talk with you, we will give you meds to put you out. You won’t see, hear, feel, or in any way be in contact with the world.” She wants to reassure me but her manner counteracts the Valium seeping into my body.

“Why are you here?” she asks me. “Oh, like my son — he has six herniated vertebrae but plays football. I wanted Dr. MG to talk him out of the playing, but they just talked about the Patriots and that was it. But you’ll love Dr. MG. He’s great. He’s the best.” This woman with the unprofessional chatty manner is the anesthesiologist — the one who will keep me breathing while I’m being butchered?

Then my nurse Sandra says, “Are you cold, it’s chilly in here. Let me get you a nice warm blanket.” She takes one from the microwave and tucks it in around me. I am warm and comforted.

Between interruptions, we have the “name the medication, dosage and last time you took it” quiz. Several meds have been added to my drug list lately and the doses vary, too. I’ve needed them one day or two, not at all, or always. I am feeling slightly hungry, increasingly druggy, and confused by the bustling of personnel in and around the surgery cubbies around me. Operating rooms begin functioning at 7:30. I see physicians arriving for the other “customers” nearby and wonder when my doctor will appear. It’s now 7:20 and I’m nervous that there won’t be time to talk with him if he arrives late. I’m not exactly sure what I’ll say to him when he comes.

The rolling transport, the caravan of stretchers with IV poles attached and staff in scrubs attending them, is moving past the open curtains in front of my cubby and proceeding towards the ORs. Everybody is leaving and I’m still waiting for the Director of Complex Spinal Surgery, my surgeon, to see me before surgery. The anesthesiologist comes by, the nursing staffs come by, and they all ask, “Have you seen Dr. MG? No? Oh, he’ll be here.”

And suddenly, he is. He smiles, looking completely unhurried. I’ve been waiting to get his opinion on something for over a week. He’s been on vacation. Now I have to ask him or it will be too late. I tell him that in the five weeks since he last saw me I have improved. A lot, I think. Especially in the last week, I’ve had a spurt of energy and don’t tire as easily as I did before. I’ve given up the scooter in the grocery stores and can walk the stairs without hoisting my right leg by clutching the banister.

“I called David, your nurse practitioner, last week while you were away, to ask whether I should go forward with the surgery. I batted the pros and cons back and forth with him, whether I had reached a plateau in my recovery. Was the likelihood that I would improve further after surgery, more so than if just had physical therapy?” (When I had seen David at my pre-ops the next day, he didn’t give me any assurances one way or the other — even said I might be worse after surgery.) Nevertheless, I persuaded myself that I might be back to my former functioning self if I proceeded as planned.

Dr. MG had listened to me quietly. Now he said, “Well, let’s see what you can do.” He checked the strength in both legs, testing a few movements. He looked at me and commented, “I think you’re right. I don’t think you need surgery at this point.” I ask him a few more questions about the disc and nerve. It is possible the disc has been absorbed, he says, and it’s no longer pressing on the nerve. I look at him questioningly. What is the right thing to do, I’m thinking. Dr. MG looks back at me and says, “You’ve progressed so far. If you have surgery, you will begin again and need to recover from the operation.” I’m still not sure; I continue looking into his face. “If you were my family I would advise you not to have surgery. Have you had physical therapy?” I tell him I’ve been eager to do that, whereupon he says he’ll immediately get the form to refer me for therapy.

This has all happened the way I wanted, but in such a hurry. Will I regret my decision or have second thoughts later? Dr. MG is back and hands me the PT paperwork, and as though he is reading my thoughts, he says, “I’ve given you an appointment to see me in six weeks, but if there’s any problem don’t hesitate to call me sooner. If you need it, you can always have surgery later on, but I think this is the right thing for the present time.” I thank him warmly and say goodbye.

I have to agree with Dr. Marie, the anesthesiologist — Dr. MG really is great, the best.

I stride confidently down the hallways and out of L Hospital. Is it the Valium? The afterglow of being cared for capably and kindly? My relief in not going under the knife? The happy look on Manny’s face? Absolutely, all of the above. What a great day! It’s only 8:30 A.M. and I’ve already been admitted to and discharged from L Hospital. The whole day lies ahead.

A couple hours later I make appointments with Back on Track. I can hardly wait for my therapy. I have no doubt at all that these sessions will help me to continue getting stronger.

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