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.

07 Aug

My First Hernia

Twelve years ago, I knew nothing about hernias. I thought they were the problems of overweight, middle-aged men who finally got off their asses. Then I got a hernia.

I was working a sort of construction job at the time, renovating a coffee house in Cross Plains. On the day of the hernia, I was busting up a chifforobe concrete wall with a sledgehammer. But I had a stomachache, so I wasn’t putting tons of effort into the task.

My stomachache was getting worse and worse, though, so eventually, I went into the bathroom and tried to produce something consistent with what I was feeling at the time. Nothing happened.

But my gut was killing me, and I started to notice a disconcerting bulge in my lower abdomen. I asked for the rest of the day off.

In my car on the way home, the pain was getting pretty unbearable, so I decided to drive straight to the emergency room. I hobbled in bent over at a 90 degree angle. My memory of what follows is a little spotty, but I know I got into an actual room pretty quickly. They situated me on a bed and promised the doctor would be with me shortly. He wasn’t.

I really have no idea how long I waited, but I eventually paged the nurse and told her, “I’m in a lot of fucking pain, here.” That got her attention.

What I learned later was that they assumed I had a kidney stone, and since the remedy for a kidney stone is that you pee it out, they left me in the room until I was ready to pass the stone. But they were wrong. I didn’t have a kidney stone. My problem was that my intestine had broken through the muscle wall in my lower abdomen and was working on a full escape.

The doctor came into the room and noted as much. Then he announced he was going to try to push it back in. I cringed. He pushed. I screamed.

“Okay,” he said, “it looks like we’re going to have to go to surgery.” I had an ‘incarcerated’ hernia, he informed me. And they had to act quick, because if the intestine remains incarcerated for too long, the blood supply can get cut off and then you’ve got yourself a dead section of intestine, which is a much more complicated and dangerous surgery.

So they wheeled me down the hall, shot me up with drugs, and called my mom. My brother answered the phone, and I announced, “Will, I have an incarcerated hernia.”

“Okay. What do you want me to do about that?” Will said.

I set the phone aside and turned to the nurse. “What do we want him to do about that?”

She grabbed the phone from me. And that’s the last thing I remember.

(Stay tuned. Tomorrow: My Second Hernia.)