My Second Hernia

I became suspicious several months ago when I noticed a very slight bulge in my lower abdomen. Same place as my first hernia, but other side of the body – right, not left. I ignored it for a long time. In fact, if I’m being totally truthful, I’ve got to admit that I ignored it for close to two months.

But sooner or later, I found myself at the doctor’s office for something, and at the end of the appointment, I asked about the bulge. He put on the rubber gloves, and had me turn and cough. “Yep. That’s a hernia,” he declared.

I got my referral to the surgeon, who threw on his gloves and had me turn and cough again. “Oh yeah. Definitely,” he said.

His resident had me turn and cough. “Yeah. I feel it,” she said.

The med student had me turn and cough. “I don’t feel it,” she said.

The resident helped her out. “Right here.”

“Oh. Yeah, I feel it.”

So. Four scrotal gropings is all it took. Actually six if we count the resident and med student twice.

They gave me an informational brochure.

And they explained that my hernia was congenital. “There’s nothing you could do about it. You were just born with a weakness in the muscle wall.” Here’s how it happens:

Mine was an inguinal hernia:

And so they needed to operate on it, which they did this past Wednesday.

I arrived at 6:30 am, right when the doors to Outpatient Surgery opened. The conversations that floated up and down the unit confirmed that most of us were there for the same thing. Apparently, Wednesday is hernia day.

All went pretty smoothly until a med student came to put my I.V. in. He did well with the small talk; he set up the prep station without a problem; he had no trouble finding one of the prominent veins on the back of my hand. But when he got to poking at me, he didn’t inspire confidence. I looked away until he seemed done, but when I finally turned back to appraise the situation, I saw him mopping up blood. I don’t deal well with blood.

It further freaked me out when I noticed a small air bubble pass through the I.V. into my vein. Can that kill me?

And when he fiddled with the drip and announced that it wasn’t flowing well and that he’d have to do it again, I could feel all the blood leave my head. He tore off the tape and started fumbling with the catheter sticking into my hand. It was about all I could handle. I doubled over and got as close to putting my head between my knees as my current flexibility allows. Then the anesthesiologist resident came in and told him it was fine, that the drip just took a while to get flowing.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate medical schools and learning hospitals. But I have some limits. Years ago, I had something called a peritonsillar abscess. It was a horribly painful pocket of pus in the very back of the roof of my mouth. At night, it would drain a little, leaving me with a sore throat many times more painful than Strep.

It didn’t help that the first doctor I saw misdiagnosed me. So this thing had some good momentum behind it before I finally got some painkillers and an appointment to the UW hospital to get the thing lanced. I tried to forget what the word “lance” meant.

But I was reminded repeatedly when I got in to the hospital, where a cute, perfectly nice med student injected me with some novocaine and then stuck a needle into the roof of my mouth. The first time she tried, she stuck the needle past the numbed area such that I could feel its tip poke me somewhere in the middle of my head.

Then she did it again. And again. And again. And again. And again.

They told me later that the abscess had probably popped in the middle of the previous night, thus leaving the hapless med student with nothing to actually lance except my brain.

I left the hospital in tears and bleeding from the back of my mouth. The parking lot attendant couldn’t disguise his shock when he collected my validated pass.

Such tragic visions were still dancing through my head when they wheeled me into the O.R. for my hernia operation. I remember moving from the wheely bed to the O.R. bed. And then I woke up to a couple of nurses declaring that everything went well. Two hours had passed.

“Whoa. Time warp!” I said. My face itched pretty bad and I went to scratch it.

“Let me do that for you,” the nurse said. She rubbed my face with a dry wash cloth. “We’re going to take you back to your room pretty soon. Your wife is there waiting for you. Do you have any questions for me?”

“Yeah. Why am I not allowed to scratch my face?”

“Some people scratch their corneas,” she explained. I wasn’t yet with it enough to picture drugged up patients scratching their eyes out, but as I relay this story now, that’s exactly what I’m picturing.

I have a problem.

But at least the surgery went well. And so far, recovery is going well too. As long as I don’t catch my surgery cut on a chain link fence or run into a waist-high toddler (things I actually think about), I’ll be fine.

2 Comments

  • Dan Murphey wrote:

    Unless the air bubble was literally centimeters in diameter there is no way it could’ve caused any problems. Peripheral cannulas are inserted into the veins, so any smaller bubbles would be stopped at the lungs before perfusing the body tissues.

    By the sounds of it the med student did a pretty good job getting it in on the first time. In any case if you don’t want your care to be administered by a medical student then you can always find a non-teaching hospital.

  • Despite the pain they sometimes cause, I fully support teaching hospitals. The problem with the pre-op was really more so my squeamishness than it was the med student’s clumsy insertion of the IV. There was certainly a copious amount of blood. And I have a hard time with blood. Case in point: my trip to Body Worlds 3.

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