So far this year, my life has involved fairly regular dealings with the medical/pharmaceutical complex. Though I've been employed at my current job for about a year and a half and was offered health insurance coverage immediately upon hire, I chose not to initially take it. The reason was purely financial (I couldn't afford the paycheque deductions at the time), but in retrospect, I should have taken it. Grabbed at it, even; held fast to it and refused to be parted with it, as I am, much to my dismay, approaching middle age.
When the open enrollment period began last November, I dutiflly enrolled. The coverage began on January 1 of this year. Since then, I've had a complete physical examination; was treated for two different varieties of influenza; saw a dermatologist to have a number of unsightly keratoses removed; started seeing a psychiatrist again and got back on antidepressants after a hiatus of two and a half years; and undergone surgery to correct bilateral inguinal hernias. Future plans include a follow-up appointment with my surgeon later this week and seeing a dentist later this month to evaluate the possibility and cost of removing my three heavily chipped front teeth (both upper central incisors and the right lateral incisor next to them) and replacing them with implants or dentures.
The surgery, which took place last week, was a hell of a thing. I'd had surgery to correct the exact same issue—bilateral inguinal hernias—back in the 1970s, when I was less than a year old and surely knee-high to a grasshopper. Hernias in babies are, I've read, quite common due to the incomplete/ongoing development of the abdominal wall during the first year of life. I'm not sure what corrective measures were taken then, but what happened this time was pushing the extruding bits of intestine and/or bowel back into the appropriate abdominal cavity and patching up the holes they'd forced open with super-strong nylon mesh, each with a small passage for my spermatic cords to pass through. Anyway, since my memories of being a baby are completely absent, surgery was a new experience for me. It went pretty much as I expected it to:
- 05:25: Arrived at Crittenton Hospital Medical Center
- 05:30: Checked in with surgery reception
- 05:35-05:45: Filled out the requisite paperwork; received ID wristband
- 05:55: Introduced to my handler nurse, an older but sprightly lady named Mike (I didn't ask what it was short for: Mikaela? Michelle? Mieke?)
- 06:00: Got settled in a pre-op prep room; disrobed; donned one of those extra-flattering hospital gowns; vitals taken; was hooked up to IV line and stickered with monitor electrodes
- 06:15-07:30: Met a seemingly endless parade of hospital staff that would be involved, directly or indirectly, with my operation (the surgeon; his assistant; the anesthesiologist; and a whole cadre of nurses); got the incision sites shaved by an indifferent nurse
- 07:30: Rolled on a gurney into the operating room
- 07:31-09:40: The surgery itself, of which I have absolutely zero memories
- 09:45: Awoke in a recovery area; was given a top-up of fentanyl for the pain
- 10:00: Released to the care of my girlfriend, Jennifer
- 10:15: A nurse called the hospital pharmacy to order my prescription for Vicodin, which Jennifer picked up as I lounged in a recliner
- 10:20: Jennifer and nurse Mike wheeled me out to Jennifer's car
- 10:45: Arrived home; ate some turkey jerky; Facebook'd for a short while; and was totally lucid throughout all this, with seemingly no post-anesthesia hangover
- 11:00: Fell instantly into deep sleep until long after dark
I was told by people I know who have endured various surgeries to expect the anesthesiologist to ask me to count backwards from one hundred, or that someone would tell me something like "this may burn a bit going into your IV", but nothing like that happened. When I met the anesthesiologist (whose name escapes me), he explained very clearly that I wasn't being put under heavy anesthesia; it was more of a "twilight nap", as he put it, in which I would be conscious but for the most part unaware of what was happening. In spite of his description of what to expect, all I remember is being rolled into the OR on a gurney and having a quick look around. The next thing I remember is waking up in one of the recovery rooms, apparently the second of two, with no memory at all of the surgery or the first recovery room. I wasn't sure at this point if I awoke on my own or if the attending nurse woke me. The nurse asked me how I was feeling. I stated I was in not insignificant pain, which prompted her to make an adjustment to one of the tubes in my IV line.
"This should help with the pain," she said.
"Oh, yeah, that feels much better. Is that morphine?" I asked.
"Fentanyl," she said, matter-of-factly.
"Ooooh," I marveled.
I'd never had fentanyl before. It made me talkative and happy, in that way that only strong opiates can. The nurse noticed this and asked if I was always this restless.
"Nope! I just feel really nice and I want to share it," I cooed. I didn't feel restless.
The nurse laughed, then left to check on her other charges.
The fentanyl high didn't last long—a few minutes at most. The surgery, despite being invasive and using both local and general anesthesia, was outpatient, after all. All told, I was in and out of the hospital in a little over five hours.
Since then, I've been walking and moving gingerly as the incisions, though they're stitched shut, are still painful and there's been quite a bit of swelling and discoloration. I see the surgeon again on Friday to get the stitches removed. Between now and then I've got only four Vicodin left for the pain. After they're gone, it's ibuprofen and ice packs. Unfortunately for me, Vicodin doesn't make me loopy or high. It used to, the first few times I had it (after a tooth extraction in 2001), but not since then. But it still kills pain effectively, despite the lamentable lack of warm fuzzy feelings that used to come with it. And that's good enough for me.
The local anesthesia kept my thighs completely numb for about a day following the operation. What a weird feeling. The opiate painkillers made my skin itchy—I could feel the itch on my thighs but not the scratching to relieve the itch, which was frustrating.
Now, I'm back at work, after five days' medical leave. I'm struggling to stay awake after being a complete layabout for a few days and I'm in a constant search to find a comfortable sitting position that doesn't put pressure on my lower abs. The whole area surrounding the surgical site is ridiculously tender, to the point where I can't even touch it without twitching, flinching or wincing a bit. But all this is OK. It's what I signed up for when I got health insurance. And surgery was a new experience for me and despite the unpleasant aftereffects, it was actually quite enjoyable. I rather liked being fussed and fawned over by complete strangers. The lights on/lights off effect of general anesthesia was a fascinating experience. The whole thing was... well, fun. And if I'd let it go without treatment, it could have become fatal.
I say this now, of course. I haven't received a bill yet and the process of haggling with Blue Cross/Blue Shield has yet to begin.
It's things like this that seem to confirm that I'm actually an adult, which is at times difficult to believe. Granted, I've never felt like a child (even when I was one), but I've only rarely felt like a real adult that does real adult things. For the most part, I've been stuck in between those two states of being. It's vaguely reassuring to confirm my adulthood by doing things like this. Ah, whatever.