Sunday, April 21, 2013

The surgery that almost wasn’t

About 10 days ago I was scheduled for minor surgery that involved opening up my abdomen.  I had never had this kind of invasive procedure done to me before, so I was rightfully apprehensive. My surgeon, who I will call Dr. B, was a man I had met only once, when I had my diagnosis in his office the week before.  He was a young, good-looking guy with a pleasant personality and a sense of humor.  His fingernails were of normal length, indicating that he was not a nervous nail-biter.  He didn’t shift his weight from side to side as he talked, and he looked me straight in the eyes when he explained what was wrong with me and how he could fix it.  And, he didn’t have that habit of raising his intonation at the end of every sentence making it sound like a question (“The infection rate in such a procedure is about 2%?)  So far, so good.  He passed the DrTom’s Do I Trust This Guy To Open Me Up interview.  We scheduled the surgery.
 On the day in question, Management and I went to the hospital where I was admitted, and then quickly led to the prep room.  I undressed completely, put on the blue paper gown they provided, and settled onto the stretcher.  The nurse, who was obviously trying to make me feel calm with her almost-too-jovial demeanor, asked me many questions about allergies, medicines taken, and medical history.  She took my vital signs and threaded an IV line into the back of my hand, which promptly spurted blood all over that side of my bed.   I could tell she was not that experienced in all this, so I found myself trying to reassure her that she did a fine job of inserting the IV, I didn’t feel a thing, isn’t it great that I have large veins, etc.  In general, I overcompensated by appearing passive and bored with what she was doing, as if to indicate that I had abdominal surgery two or three times a day.  It is curious how we sometimes pretend to ignore potential danger in the hope that by not noticing the reality of the situation, that very reality will change for the better.

Within 30 minutes, I was all set to go.  I had prepared myself psychologically as best I could.  After all, I had lived a pretty happy life for 66 years, and if this was going to be the end of it all, I hadn’t done so badly.  As I ran through my list of rationalizations for a worst-case scenario, I realized the time was passing and I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable on the gurney.  I began counting the drops of saline plopping into the line leading to my hand.  I obsessed about the coffee I was not allowed to have that morning.  I began dreading the 3-week recovery period after surgery when I was supposed to “take it easy”.

Three hours later, the head nurse of the unit and her assistant flung back the curtain to my cubicle, and entered my bedside space.  Dr. B has been detained by the surgery scheduled just before mine.  He was already two hours late in finishing, and he could be another 2-3 hours.  There had been an unexpected complication.  Do I wish to wait it out, with no guarantee he would ever get to me that day, or reschedule for another day?  Management and I discussed it a bit.  Dr. B might be tired after his first surgery, and then he works on me.  And I’m not going to go an entire day without coffee.  And I just couldn’t count saline drops any longer.  Nope.  We will reschedule for the following week.

During that evening’s Happy Hour, Management and I discussed the day’s events and the pros and cons of our decision.  One observation we made was that people generally spend more time doing some due diligence on the attorney they choose or their auto mechanic than they do the physician who will be administering their health care.  In my case, I needed some surgery, so my personal physician referred me to Dr. B, whom I had never met or heard of.  I accepted the recommendation unquestioningly.  Management, who was an E.R. nurse for years and then a real estate agent, always pointed out to me how people were much more sensitive about their money than their health care.  They readily gave up their body to perfect strangers for repair in the E.R., but always knew better than their real estate agent about all matters financial associated with the sale or purchase of a house.  They got angry about the latter, but almost never uttered a thought on the former.  Do what you must with my body, but never impugn my checkbook!

A week later I returned to the hospital and repeated the entire procedure again.  This time, Dr. B appeared on time, ready for action.  He had now had another week of  practice in the operating room since we almost met, and that couldn't hurt.  And I had now lived 66 years plus another week, so what the heck.  As the anesthesiologist pushed my gurney through the hallways with Versed (that most wonderful drug of colonoscopy fame) now coursing through my veins, I wondered if I could remain cognizant until I reached the O.R.  I wanted to size-up Dr. B one last time.  But I could not remain alert and, therefore, I did not get to conduct a final appraisal of that somewhat good-looking man with a nice sense of humor who was standing there with a scalpel in his hand.  As the O.R. nurse had told me earlier, "Let's rock 'n' roll".


  1. Timely post for me preparing for surgery this week. This did help put me at ease, so thank you very much for sharing.

  2. This is a couple of years later, but I hope you made a full recovery and I'm looking forward to some new posts