Please Enjoy the Soup Sandwich
Notes on a cholecystectomy.
“Let’s get this party started.”
This is the last thing I remember saying before I went under. Then I woke up and it was over.
I’d like to make a case for sleeping through all painful things, or as the poet Karen Greenbaum-Maya pointed out, you might wake up and think you’re being murdered.
To be perfectly and unambiguously clear: I loved my woman surgeon (Dr. Dahlia Tawfik-Sexton) whose eyeliner game was on point and who had a sign on her office door that said she’d rather be at Disneyland. Yeah, so would I. Seriously. But if I had to go under the knife instead of going to Disneyland, I’d pick her as my surgeon any day.
And anyway, I’d just been to Disneyland. That’s where my husband and I went, by choice, for our 25 year anniversary this past August. All was well until the grand finale, which took us from a romantic charcuterie lunch to an ER where they literally had no free beds. After checking in, I was told it would be another 6 or 7 hours until they might have room, and there was no way I could sit in that hard chair that long and not writhe in pain. We tried a different ER. Nope. So I went home to wait it out.
That night the pain was like having contractions except with no relief in between—one long, twelve-hour, unrelenting contraction that no otc or prescription pain med, no heat, no ice, no hot bath, no bed, could deter. I couldn’t even fall asleep. I message the surgeon, who I had already been referred to, and told her: I want it out.
The date arrived and I did all the things: scrubbed with the disinfectant wash, ate nothing, took out all my piercings, did not apply lotion or even deodorant. I had a 3 PM check in for a 5:01 PM surgery. At 1 PM Dr. Tawfik called: They might have to postpone. The humidity in the OR was out of whack and there was no estimate on how long the technicians would need to fix it. By 2:30 I received official word that I would need to be rescheduled.
Two more weeks.
This time it was a 5:45 AM check in for a 7 AM surgery. Early. Better.
There’s something nice about being on the calendar before sunrise, driving there with few people on the road, seeing hospital staff arriving with their lunchboxes. Three people in the waiting room.
Soon I was in my own little curtained cubicle, changing into a gown that was mostly for modesty’s sake because it had to have come off during the surgery. It’s a very odd thought, imagining myself completely unconscious, hooked up to monitors and tubes, naked on a table. But it was an all-women crew, save for one young assistant who looked like he was no older than my son (but probably was). The nurse anesthetist took my concerns about post-anesthesia migraines very seriously, and you know what? I didn’t experience a migraine this time. (I won’t go into it here, but in a nutshell the migraine was worse than any surgery pain and resulted in my only trip by ambulance to the ER.)
Then, it was over. I remember waking up back in the cubicle. I was in a lot of pain, so much that they gave me more pain meds and kept me longer than they had planned, but somehow I managed to pull my dress on over my head sans undergarments and then they wheeled me out to where my husband was waiting with the car.
That first day at home, I literally tried very hard not to move. Moving hurt. All moving, but especially parts of my body on my right side. There would be no standing up unassisted. I realized pretty quickly at bedtime there would be no flossing that night. I brushed haphazardly with my left hand because, but quickly realized that was a dumb idea. Bending over to spit? Nope. I learned that I could not toilet or bathe unaccompanied because I couldn’t lower or lift myself without help, so we resorted to what our oldest son used to do when he was a toddler and would accompany me into public restrooms: he’d press himself into the wall and say “camouflage,” willing himself “invisible”. He’d giggle. I realize this is totally normal for many couples, but not in my house, so for the first time in my life, I found myself peeing while my husband would hide behind the shower curtain and say “camouflage.” I would giggle, do my business, and then allow him to help me back up.
There is something humbling about needing so much help. As I’ve been writing this, five days out from surgery and finally mostly feeling like myself again, I’ve let the room go entirely dark because it’s too much of a hassle to get up and turn on the lights.
Oh, who am I kidding? I probably would have sat here in the dark anyway.
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