Chronicles of the Cosmic Couple
From the archives: First published in 2006
There exists an organization that not too many people talk about. It is very private and very exclusive. It is called the Surgery Club. Everyone who has ever had a surgery knows what I’m talking about.
Members of the Surgery Club sometimes communicate with each other, and are often surprised that they share similar experiences regardless of the procedure they went through. I joined the club in September of 2005. At the time New Orleans was drowning. I was in the hospital in Flagstaff, Arizona, having my fourth cervical vertebrae fused to my sixth. The location for this life-threatening event was the back of the neck. In my case, a bone spur had gradually crept toward the spinal cord over many years until it was actually touching the cord. The cord was not pleased.
It didn’t take long to learn a terrible truth that all members of the Surgery Club know and understand. It is this: The doctors and the hospital don’t tell you everything. In fact, they tell you almost nothing of what you are about to undergo and the possible aftermath. This is probably a good thing. If people really knew what was going to happen during and after their surgery, many would change their minds about the whole thing. Here are some of the medical profession’s usual omissions and understatements:
OMISSION #1: They don’t tell you that in the “surgical suite” (not exactly like a suite at the Hilton) they are going to place a breathing tube down your throat after you have nodded off from a pill or a shot before they wheel you in. This tube, connected to a respirator, does your breathing for you while the doctors do their business.
OMISSION #2: The doctors don’t tell you that the powerful pain medication they give you will paralyze the nerves that control your bowel and bladder functions. This is especially true of anything remotely connected to the spinal cord, which is a maze of nerves and electrical connections. Your pain meds may be welcome post-surgery when you are dealing with major pain, but the side effects basically freeze up those vital bodily functions. I went ten days without…well, you know. And then there was the catheter. Then re-learning to do these functions again, much as a child learns: from Square One.
OMISSION #3: They also neglect to tell you that sleeping at night in the hospital is some kind of a joke. There are the ordinary disturbances – people screaming for meds, machines beeping constantly, staff partying in the halls, nurses waking you up on the hour to take your vitals – and then the truly unnatural noises, such as loud motors attached to machines that literally keep people alive – and run all night.
They don’t tell you that hospital night nurses are among the strangest freaks on the planet. Some of the ones I had, if I had seen them in the light of day, I would have tried to drive a wooden stake through their heart.
There is more to tell, but I don’t want to go there. I may have to go back some day; I hope not. If I knew then what I know now, I might have just said to hell with the whole thing, even though I was looking at a permanent seat in the wheelchair within two years.
But I did it, and I’m glad. Now I’m a member in good standing in the Surgery Club. And I lived to tell about it.
Ghostwriter, editor, writing coach, publishing consultant