I came home from hospital today. It was a wonderfully dramatic procedure, orthognathic surgery, and according to my MD/DMD, I did remarkably well. Here's what happened:

June 4, 2003
I arrive at North Florida Regional Medical Center in Gainesville, Florida, where the surgery is happening. At 10 AM, I get my nifty little ID bracelet, and around 10:45, I'm ushered back to put on my gown and get hooked up to an IV.

Some time later, the oral surgeon shows up, and he and the anaesthesiologist wheel my bed from the staging area back into the bowels of the surgical ward. The ground floor of the hospital has been orderly up to this point, but past the point of no return, everything gets weird. We go through a hallway that passes eight operating rooms, and the doctor wheels my gurney around a lot of hefty machines that look like they belong in James T. Kirk's cargo bay. "I can never figure out how they number these things," the surgeon remarks. I'm fucked, I think.

The operating room is full of even more mysterious machines the size of refrigerators, and there are about twenty people in blue scrubs and aprons standing around looking bored. Once they get me under the overhead lights, which look like they could be used to signal Batman, I can't help but note to everyone that "this reminds me of the time I was abducted by aliens." Everyone laughs. I imagine most patients don't have such a sense of humor.

Suddenly and mysteriously, I'm lying on another bed. I can't feel anything from my head to my toes, but I can feel a cuff on my arm taking my blood pressure periodically, and I can see, and I can hear, and I can move my hands. My tongue is kind of numb, but I can move it around my mouth and feel nothing very out of the ordinary, except a big piece of plastic holding my front teeth apart.

I can't speak without sounding like something between Henry Kissinger and Miss Othmar, so I write a note to my stepmom asking for the time. It's 9:30 PM. Damn, I think, was that all?

A few minutes later, the nurse watching me yanks a catheter out of my schlong. I can feel it come out. It's not painful, but it's not arousing, either. Finally, I get sent to a room upstairs, only half-conscious.

The nurse there, a wonderful bearded man, puts ice packs around my jaw and introduces me to a suction tube, which sits on the right, and a morphine dispenser, which sits to the left. My head feels light, and I can feel a lot of blood building up in my mouth, but I try to suck it out as much as I can. (When you swallow blood, it makes you want to puke, and since your stomach is empty going in, the only thing that comes up is poorly-digested blood, which is a really nasty experience. I knew this because it had already happened to me, in front of a convenience store, after I had my wisdom teeth removed.)

Anyway, the high-grade anaesthesia is beginning to wear off at this point. The nurse helps me with the suction tube and occasionally squirts water into my mouth with a syringe. Finally, around midnight, the nurses move on and leave me alone for a while.

June 5, 2003
An hour passes before I finally feel the vomit come up. I bolt up and try to page the nurses in time to get a bedpan, but my reaction time, combined with their reaction time, is not up to par. Two nurses come in just in time for the second wave, and stay through the third. I'm surprised by how much my stomach could come up with.

After that, my energy disappears, and a couple of zaps of opium later, I'm out for the evening. At daybreak, the nurses come back to check my temperature and blood pressure, and then I get breakfast: grits, coffee, apple juice, and milk. I decide to skip the grits and drink the juice and milk through the syringe the nurses left. There's a copy of the Gainesville Sun on the tray, too, but I don't have my glasses.

I have to piss, so I spend about fifteen minutes plotting how I will do so without removing or breaking the IV, which is on the other side of the bed from the bathroom door. (This is a guy thing, for those of you who can't figure out why I didn't just ask someone.) Finally, I get out of bed, pull the IV as far around the corner as it will go, and manage to get far enough through the bathroom door to hit the toilet, with the line stretched across the room.

The oral surgeon shows up and raves about how well the surgery went. I just nod, completely unsure of how it went. Later, my stepmom shows up with a mirror, and I discover that I look kind of like Chris Farley, which is shocking since I used to look like Conan O'Brien. My mouth is hanging open in a drunkenly-gasping glare. "See? You look great!" Awww, thanks, Mom.

Anyhow, I get the nurse to refill my ice bags, and then punch the morphine again. It keeps me out until lunch: chicken soup. Then it's more ice, more drugs, and a dinner of tomato bisque. The nurses shoot some steroids into my IV to try to bring down the swelling, and then I get to spend my second night hospital.

June 6, 2003
I have to wake up a couple of times to shout "NU-A-E-U-TH! A-A-I-I-I-TH!" Other than that, the night is uneventful.

After breakfast, the oral surgeon appears again and says he wants to take me off the IV later in the day. I briefly want to fight him on this, because if I lose the IV, I lose the morphine, and the morphine is not something you want to lose. But I nod and say "otay," and then hit the morphine again and try to sleep.

The IV ultimately comes off after dinner, and the nurse tells me that he has an oral painkiller if I want it. I decide that I'll let the drugs wear off and see what happens. A few hours later, my head feels like it's in a machine vise, so I say yes to the stuff.

It's an "elixir," although I never catch what kind of an elixir it is. The nurse gives me a sweet neon-green dose in the dim light from the hallway, and then leaves the room dark. Before long, the pressure subsides, and I close my eyes to attempt to get some meaningful sleep.

A couple of minutes pass before I find myself standing in the middle of what looks like a giant whirlpool of dark green liquid, the sort of scene that would be suitable for a Mountain Dew commercial, necking with a girl from high school. The whirlpool begins fading out, and I can almost hear water roaring, only it pounds melodically like an overdriven bass.

I open my eyes. The room is dark and quiet: the frosted glass windows look like sheet metal against the rain outside, and a bolt of lightning occasionally flashes. I'm not dreaming, I'm hallucinating. Holy shit, this will make a great node. Storytelling supersedes all addictions, I guess.

June 7, 2003
Anyway, I'm sure that I slept at some point, although I spent most of the night tripping out of my fucking mind, finding myself managing the Boston Red Sox or trying to assassinate a prominent world leader or going back to Japan and meeting the colonel from The Bridge on the River Kwai. Honestly, I don't remember exactly what happened after the first few minutes, but it was absolutely insane.

After breakfast, I decide that my situation cannot really be classified as "pain." The oral surgeon is impressed with my progress, and the swelling is now down to Newt Gingrich levels, so I'm released from hospital, but I have to stay in town for a couple of days to see him for a post-op.

Fortunately, the hotel is right next to a Steak 'n' Shake, so I am fed for the next couple of days.

June 8, 2003
Possibly one of the most boring days of my summer. I sit up in bed, my face covered in ice, and watch several Steven Seagal movies in succession. They are the only thing on worth watching, and that's quite a statement. That night, the Barbara Walters/Hillary Clinton interview airs, and Hil says nothing unsurprising.

June 9, 2003
Finally, I meet the surgeon again for a post-op inspection, and come home with my upper lip still sticking out like a beak, despite my chin mostly going down. I figure this is temporary, but if I find out that the oral surgeon put collagen in there or something, I'm going to hunt him down and whack him with my shinai.

Five hours on Florida's Turnpike later, I'm home.

Final analysis

Here's what I've learned from my trip through hospital and back:

  1. The U.S. health care system is really, really fucked up.
  2. Unless you're into social Darwinism, you can't say that this country has a good health care system. It's good if you're really well-insured or really rich, and if you have a lot of support from friends and family, and that's about it. If my stepmom hadn't hung around to help me out, I would have never gotten the attention of the nurses for nearly long enough: they spent most of their time running from room to room like chickens with their heads cut off. Thankfully, the operation fell under our family's corporate insurance plan, but if it hadn't, we'd be calling up venture capitalists to finance it. And thank God I wasn't in the emergency room: I'd be screwed down there, and even moreso in other cities (Los Angeles, California comes to mind, where people often wait for hours or days to get treatment). We need more doctors, more nurses, more beds, more politicians who give a damn, and more voters who are willing to foot the bill somehow. But that's another node, I guess.
  3. Hospitals have good drugs.
  4. If you have an operation, take advantage of all the high-octane narcotics they have on hand. Heroin is messy: the hospital is clean.
  5. Keep a sense of humor.
  6. Once you take your operation seriously, it starts to become a major-league pain in the arse. Telling jokes when you're under the scalpel or getting your vein flushed or having your butt wiped is a Good Thing.
That about does it. Don't put off your surgeries, kids. Get 'em while you're still robust.