My now fifteen-year-old son asked me if I could do an especially difficult type of pull-up. For the record, pull-ups are absolutely not part of my sporadic exercise routine, but no middle aged man wants to admit to his son that there’s anything he can’t do. I did the damn pull-up, and was rewarded with far more than a mild sense of accomplishment. Within a few days, I discovered a curious new bulge that had nothing to do with sexual arousal.
At first, I was concerned. I hadn’t experienced any pain or discomfort. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d injured myself in any way. I just had this new lump that would show up from time to time. Mysterious lumps are never a good thing so I consulted my physician and he quickly put my mind at ease. One ultrasound and one CAT scan later and I was scheduled for surgery to have my brand new hernia repaired.
I’d had surgery once before. It was a few years ago. After several days of increasingly excruciating pain while I dealt with what I assumed was some sort of aggressive stomach bug, my wife finally took me to the emergency room. They ran a battery of tests while trying to figure out just what the hell was wrong with me. Among other things, it was determined that an NG tube was advisable. In case your unfamiliar with the term, N stands for nasal, and G stands for gastric. Tube is self explanatory. So, we’re talking about a tube that goes up your nose, down your throat and into your stomach. Human anatomy makes this sort of thing possible but definitely not pleasant. Despite her best efforts, my nurse, a woman with all the charm of a raging case of herpes, was unable to insert the tube. It kept getting stuck somewhere between my left eye socket and the back of my throat, at least that’s the way it felt to me. I eventually did it myself, an agonizing ordeal of shoving, swallowing and trying not to gag, I hope I never have to go through that again, and I hope you never have to go through it either. In fact, if you’re given the choice between an NG tube and a sharp stick in the eye, take the stick. At least it will be over a lot quicker.
The diagnosis was appendicitis, and I was on the table within a few hours. The surgery itself was a piece of cake. Anesthesia is a wonderful thing. I had my appendix when they put me under. It was gone when I awoke sometime later. I didn’t even care that it ruptured during the operation. After that type of procedure, there are certain things you have to do before being allowed to leave the hospital. You have to eat. You have to drink. You have to do what naturally follows eating and drinking. My NG tube was blessedly gone, but another tube had been inserted and removed while I was dead to the world. I’d been catheterized. A catheter is nothing more than a tube. It can go about anywhere, and it’s used for the introduction of or removal of fluids. My catheter was designated for removal, and it was in about the last place you’d want to insert anything. Remember that sharp stick? Light it on fire, cram it into the smallest orifice you can find and then try to take a leak. SHAZAM! I was afraid my entire nervous system was going to shut down on me. I survived, obviously, but those memories were still fresh as I prepared for surgery the second time.
I’m happy to say that my hernia operation was successful, and there was a lot less discomfort involved. The most memorable part of the experience had nothing to do with the actual surgery. One dose of “Twilight Sleep,” and I was down for the count. I awoke with some new scars, lumps, bruises and a fair amount of post-op pain but that’s all getting better now; but I’m getting ahead of myself. My day started in a private room. That’s where I got into a gown, talked to some nurses, started receiving IV fluids, etc. Next stop was the “holding area.” This was basically a parking lot for patients awaiting surgery. It’s also where hundreds of HIPAA violations take place every day. I’m sure you’ve heard of HIPAA. It stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and is in place, at least theoretically, to protect your privacy in medical matters. That’s why, when you go to a doctor’s office and they call you from the waiting room, they generally only use your first name. It’s more generic. It’s no one else’s business who you are or why you’re there. However, at this facility, and I’ll do them the favor of not mentioning them by name, it’s everyone’s business. That applies to the holding area anyway. I had to share the room with half a dozen other patients, all answering questions asked by doctors and nurses. There were no walls, no screens, no dividers of any kind. I learned that Mr. W. (I heard his last name but I’m not going to share it), can’t handle penicillin, and that Mrs. R. was allergic to latex. I heard several more personal bits of information but there’s no point relating them here. I’m only glad those other patients were gone before my surgical team appeared. I have nothing to hide. That doesn’t mean I want to share my medical history with the whole world. That’s why I’m limiting access to this blog post to my few subscribers and the potentially millions of readers who find me on Google.