08 Aug

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.

02 Jun

The Orderly Take Three

Another in a series of experiments in tone and scenario-establishing. Based on a premise thought up by my little bro.

I’ve been working here for two years, and in that time, I’ve stolen a couple hundred bags of blood. Until yesterday, no one’s come close to catching me.

I wasn’t even supposed to be in the cooler, much less examining a bag of O+. Shelley jolted me from my salivating when she shouted, “What are you doing in here?” She stood with a hand on her hip and her eyebrows raised.

I had an urge to say, “It’s not my fault,” like I used to do whenever Mom caught me cutting the back of my hand. Instead, I said something even more idiotic: “It’s my birthday!”

Shelley didn’t move. “Congratulations. And what does that have to do with your holding a bag of blood?”

I could have blamed a lazy nurse, but I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble, so I opted for the truth. “I’m a vampire, and I wanted to treat myself to a bag of AB positive.” Most of the stuff in our blood bank was O positive or A positive, and I was getting kind of sick of them. It being my birthday and all, I decided to treat myself to something finer.

“Funny.” Shelley held out her hand, and I gave up my treasure. “Which one of our hard-working staff members put you up to this?”

I hate pawning off my lies on others, but sometimes it’s necessary. You learn to blame the people who are a little scatter-brained, the ones who don’t always know for sure what they did an hour ago. In a sense, that’s what my life is all about — figuring out who to prey upon while causing the least harm.

And now that I’d just lost my blood for the night, someone else was going to have to pay the price.

01 Jun

The Orderly Take Two

An experiment in tone and scenario-establishing. This is the second attempt. The credit for the premise goes to my bro.

I smell death.

Each new patient who gets moved up here brings with them a steady stream of visitors. The visitors bring flowers and balloons and get-well cards. They bring their we’re-gonna-beat-this attitude. And after an hour or two, they leave to go back to their normal lives, where they don’t have to think about blood transfusions or cancerous growths or compromised immune systems. They don’t have to ponder how it is that our bodies turn against us, how we decay from the inside out.

But I’m different. I ponder it every day. I go into those rooms every day. I bring them towels and bed sheets. I change their dressings, fill their cups with water, feed them. I turn them over when they’re too weak to move themselves. And when I’m that close, I can smell death upon them. That’s when the craving hits me strongest.

It’s a complicated urge. The Romans, during their various victory celebrations, used to whisper to each other, “Memento mori” — “Remember you will die.” It made the party better. But of course, no one wanted to die during the party.

When I smell death upon those poor souls, I love them and pity them. I envy their fragility. But I also want to sink my teeth into their necks and break them.

31 May

The Orderly Take One

An experiment in tone and scenario-establishing. A few more of these will be coming. The credit for the premise goes to my bro.

I don’t know much about the patients. My contact with them isn’t all that intimate. There’s Mr. Gillespie in 321; I know he got crushed under a pick-up truck. And the old lady in 340 has lung cancer. Jackie, the pretty girl in 329, has AIDS. But most of them, I have no idea what they’re suffering from. I just change their bed sheets, clean their bathrooms, give them fresh towels. Once I get some more seniority, I’ll be asked to do other stuff — stuff like grooming, changing dressings, feeding. Then I’m sure I’ll get to know more names.

Until then, I only know the ones whose death is so inevitable I can smell it. I mean that quite literally. Ever heard those stories of cats in old folks homes who consistently choose to lie next to patients who then die two days later? Whatever those cats have, I have too.

In fact, I want to do exactly what they do — go in and lie next to the poor souls, curl up against their frail bodies, and purr. I want to lull them into dreams of better times, transport them to a cherished memory — a seaside vacation, a backyard barbecue, or a cozy winter evening by a fireplace.

I also want to bite them in the neck. I guess the cats don’t do that.