Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Little Illness can be Good for the Soul

As some of you know, I had to have surgery on my left arm last Friday. It was what they called a “routine out-patient procedure.” First, there is nothing “routine” about me having a doctor take a knife to me. I have to confess that I was nervous about this particular procedure. Oh, I have had surgeries before. I had cancer and had surgery to remove it, so I have been through the exercise before and should not have been excessively nervous about what was a relatively minor operation. However, somehow a Boogeyman got under my bed and had me fretting and contemplating all the worst outcomes –such as not being able to use my left arm again. My doctor explained to me this was nothing to worry about as that only rarely happened. “Your chances of having something go wrong are less that your chances of winning the lottery.” That didn’t help because I buy a ticket every week and like a lot of other fools I think maybe this time I will win.

I really worked myself into a nervous frenzy by Thursday night and then a kind of calm came over me. Not the kind you get from realizing you are being silly, but the kind you get when you resolve yourself to take whatever comes. I became a robot, just doing as he was told and waiting to hear the bad news, which I had convinced myself was coming.

I was told to check in to the hospital at 5 am so I arrived about 4:30 am. I was then told that nobody was in yet, please have a seat in the lobby. About 5:30 they came and got me to go sit in a little room (which reminded me of the office for the financial guy when you are buying a car). I answered a number of questions (all of which I had answered several times before) and signed the usual papers including a promise to pay if my insurance didn’t, which made me chuckle. I have Medicare, which is the US government. If they decide not to pay, it will probably be because the hospital botched the operation and I won’t be too anxious to pay either. Anyway, they finally finished and had e return to the lobby to wait again. About 15 minutes later they came and walked me to a room with a gurney and a lot of surgical tools. I was told to undress and put on one of the backless gowns. I was then placed on the gurney just long enough for them to bring in another and have me slide over onto it, trying valiantly to keep that gown covering my essential parts.

They rolled me into the surgery center and had me slide onto a table. This time the table did not have a mattress but instead had 4 rectangular pillows with about 3 inches of space between them. This became significant when my back lined up over that space and had no support –the result was a severe backache through the next 5 hours of surgery. I complained several times, of course, and they tried shoving some towels under the spot to support my back (failure) –actually, all I got was a nurse who kept telling the staff what a trooper I was. I really would have liked to have slapped her if I had not been strapped down.

Then two doctors came in and said they were going to put in a “shoulder block” which would make it so that I could feel nothing in my left arm while the surgeon worked on it. They were right. My arm was resting on my chest when they “blocked it” and even tough they stretched it out to the left, the sensation I had was that it was still resting on my chest. I could swear I could feel it there on my chest, even though I could turn my head and see it all stretched straight out to the left.

The surgeon came in and they draped a towel over my face so I could not watch what he was doing. Of course, I understand why they do that –but I wanted to watch. Instead I spent 5 hours waiting to hear one of two phrases, either “OK, let’s close it up”, signaling an end to the ordeal, or “Oops” (which, in my dark resignation I was sure I was going to hear).

Having surgery with a local “block” has significant advantages. Your recovery time is much, much faster and, being awake, if they had started carving on the wrong arm I could have let them know, The disadvantage in my case was a useless arm. My left arm had no feeling in it whatsoever. They had bandaged it with a new clear liquid bandage that they said was waterproof and would last a week. The down side was being able to look at the wound (the incision runs from below my elbow to the center of the top of the upper arm –very ugly). Anyway, there I was trying to get dressed with one arm and the other arm just swinging there like a tassel. The nurse finally helped me get my shirt on and then she put my arm in a sling. Which help secure it and keep it from just hanging there getting in the way. They said the effects of the block would start wearing off in 8 to 12 hours and they recommended that I take a pain pill just prior to that –advice which I gladly followed.

It has now been a couple of days since that ordeal and I can report that it all went off as a “routine procedure” and I have recovered some use of the arm already and expect over the next couple of weeks to get full use of it back. Of course, I am still taking those great little pain pills regularly and that may influencing my attitude a bit. I guess, as a result of this ordeal, my only words of advice to you are –“don’t pay too much attention to the Bogeymen under the bed” and “never run out of those little pain pills!”

Live Long and Prosper....

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