Tuesday, October 4, 2011

General, or spinal?

"So I wondering if you want general anesthesia or a spinal?"

It's the morning after my big break and the Korean anesthesiologist has come to call. I'll call him Dr. Lee. He's mostly hidden by his paper surgery hat, gown, glasses. If something goes wrong, I think, I'll never be able to pick him out of a line-up.

I consider his question. My mother had slept through childbirth five different times while blanketed by the bliss of general anesthesia. I'm thinking that sounds good, but hey, he's the expert.

"Which do you suggest?"

"General anesthesia good, very good, you fall asleep, wake up, all over. But sometimes side effects not so good. With spinal you feel nothing, you wake up. Either one good."

I'd had general anesthesia before for other procedures, and had never suffered side effects. I'd had a spinal for my C-section—an injection of opiates right into the spinal fluid. I remembered lying on my side, "curled into a ball" to the extent that a nine-month pregnancy allows, trying to heed the warning to lie still lest the doctor nick something he shouldn't with that needle, even while my entire mid-section was wracked with contractions.

Now my brain was addled with trauma, lack of sleep, no food or water, and pain meds. I simply wanted this show on the road, in the least dangerous way. "I'll have the general," I said.

"Hmm. You sure? Spinal really very good. Also it last beyond when you wake up, which help with pain."

"So you're recommending the spinal?"

"No, no, general very good also. You fall right asleep, no problem."

Dr. Lee would be no help at all. But sleep? That sounded like the antidote I'd needed all night. I craved it. I settled on the general anesthesia.

Take two. Later that afternoon, another guy in scrubs came in. He strode in, shook my hand, introduced himself. I'll call him Dan. He had a red beard and mustache and the kind of stocky build and fresh face that suggested he'd been bow-hunting in the woods earlier that day. Thanks to a scheduling change, he would be my anesthesiologist.

"We're going to be taking you down for surgery soon but I wanted to meet with you first. I understand you want general?"

"Yes." With my work life blown to Hades, my loved ones scattered, and my ankle lying in pieces, it felt so good to feel confident about something.

"No you don't," Dan said. "Believe me, you want a spinal."

"I do?"

"No doubt about it." Dan smiled. "We'll take you into the O.R. and give you a little juice to relax you. We'll have you sit on the edge of the bed, bent over, and you'll feel one little pinprick for the injection. Next thing you know, the surgery will be behind you. Added bonus: complete pain relief for another few hours. Sound good?"

I'm not sure if it was his targeted argument or the thought of Dan out there in those woods, bow in hand, but something gave me faith in his aim. I said, "Where do I sign?"

I was alone when they came to get me for surgery. My mother hadn't come—while she was able to get me the help I shouted for when I fell out on that rainy hill, her grief over my father's recent death and her memory issues had made the struggles of daily life enough for her to worry about. A neighbor was looking in on her. Dave had left Pennsylvania that morning and was on his way. On the ride to the operating suite, as ceiling tiles flew past, I took deep breaths and tried to relax, hoping I wouldn't flinch when the needle went in and inadvertently cause my own paralysis.

They parked my bed next to the operating table and I inched from one to the other. I remember seeing Dr. Luc Perrier, my straight-from-the-pages-of-a-romance-novel surgeon, tying on his mask. Dan said, "Here comes the feel good juice" and I recognized the heat going into my arm...

"Mrs. Craft? Mrs. Craft?" It sounded like someone was speaking to me through a long tube. "The operation is over. How are you feeling?"

All I could think was, How many operating nurses does it take to balance a patient on the edge of a table if she's completely passed out? Memories of half-carrying wasted friends home from college parties came to mind. Maybe I should have told them that when two aspirin are suggested I can sometimes get by with a half.

Oh well. It was over. And Dan was right about the added bonus: then, and for a few additional, blessed hours, I felt nothing but relief from all that had plagued me. I'd had a great nap. They brought me a tray of food that I was able to enjoy with no distraction from pain, and a full pitcher of water. Dave arrived from Pennsylvania and I was no longer alone.

On my left ankle I sported a new wrap made of felt-like material bound with Ace bandages. Hidden within, my new permanent hardware:

That night, my post-trauma flashbacks would recur. But there was a difference in my reaction to them: with respite from the pain, some heavy-duty stainless steel on the inside, and my husband by my side, I now had resources to help hold me together.

Tomorrow: my hospital roommate's secret to happiness.


off kilter said...

At first I was squeamish about reading this, but your sense of humor made the gruesome much less so. This brought back memories of my anesthesiologist, Todd who wore a head cover that looked like a do-rag, and my surgeon, Brett "Doogie Howser" Harrison. Funny how those images stay in our heads! LOL

Kathryn Craft said...

I know what you mean, Linda. At first, writing to get some of these haunting images out of my head, I din't see why they would make others squeamish. But yesterday I was on the phone with a friend talking about a time she stepped on a toothpick and it lodged into a foot tendon--something much smaller than the challenge I faced--yet I started to feel woozy! This blog is a test of reading fortitude, to be sure, lol. Thanks for hanging in.

Mimi78 said...

Love reading about your harrowing adventure (doesn't the word "adventure" always make even awful trauma sound better?). I especially liked the opposing/confusing advice from the dueling anesthesiologists. When I went in for a fertility procedure, I had an anesthesiologist who made hubby and I laugh so hard we forgot why we were there. His schtick was how women's fertility procedures were shots and surgery and men's were naked women and self pleasure...Funny how the personality of the anesth. can color the memory of a surgery.

billie bakhshi said...

Oh Kathy! We have almost matching hardware! I have nine crews...used to be ten, but one had to be removed. It messed too much with ROM. Even the PT guy couldn't budge it, and it made me walk like Herman Munster. Another surgery, but oh well.

You were brave taking the spinal. I wasn't given the option of choosing, but I still would have chosen the full general. During childbirth, the epidural wore off too soon. Can't imagine it wearing off while a surgeon is drilling screws through my leg...let alone the sound of it!

Anonymous said...

Boy, I get away from your blog for a little while and look what happens! You know, you don't need to injure yourself to keep writing about healing. Life's filled with plenty of pain without such a serious break.

In seriousness though, I'm terribly sorry to read the news. Despite that, you do have a wonderful way of inspiring us readers to find strength and humor in any situation. By sharing your story, we can relate to our own fragility and understand that, no matter what happens, we will get through it... just maybe not quietly through a metal a detector anymore.

Kathryn Craft said...

Mimi78: So true! Thanks for sharing your story.

Kathryn Craft said...

Billie: So I'm not the only weenie when it comes to a spinal. it just has to be so...exact! Of course I'll let you know how PT goes once I start.

Kathryn Craft said...

Ruth: Thanks for stopping back in! For the record:
1) No I didn't do this because I needed something else to publicly heal from, and
2) This was not research for my novel about the dancer who can no longer move.

I've been accused of both, lol. And I do have to ask about that airport security issue. Anyone know how that works?

donnagalanti said...

Kathryn, I laugh....I cringe...I wince...I laugh again...thanks for putting the horrid adventures of life in such a spin..it is life, isn't it?

Kathryn Craft said...

Donna: It IS life, exactly! We only "think" we have a clue about what each day holds.