All patched up

Good news folks, I’m on the road to recovery following my hernia operation.  I won’t bore you with the details… oh, who am I kidding, this is a blog after all.

Friday didn’t feel ominous or troubled at all.  There were no dark clouds, no rumblings of thunder, no vultures perched on the lampposts.  It was just an ordinary summer’s day, with blue sky and wispy white clouds and birds singing in the trees.  And, quite honestly, I wasn’t worried one bit.  Ever since I had been given the diagnosis I had remained calm and philosophical about the whole thing.  People had reassured me that it wasn’t scary or dangerous and they were sure I’d be fine.  I could have told them that.  It wasn’t until the night before that I had wondered why people seemed so intent on reassuring me, that perhaps I had been too blasé about the whole thing and actually there was something to fear after all.  But no, I pushed those thoughts aside, took a deep breath of clean morning air, and walked confidently – if slowly – into the hospital.

I was met with a look of surprise when I announced myself at reception.  “Hello,” I said, “I’m here for an operation.”  I had so wanted to walk up to reception and declare at the top of my lungs “They’re going to take me apart!”  But I muffed it at the last minute.  How boring.  “Okay,” the receptionist replied and, looking round me said “and… are they with you too?”  Yes.  My support crew.  My groupies.  My dedicated followers.  Or, to be more precise, my wife (who would be coming in with me), my son (who wouldn’t be), my chauffeur (because I wasn’t allowed to drive myself home), and my hanger-on (whose job it was to entertain Samuel).  From the receptionist’s expression, clearly I was the first person ever to have day-surgery who came with such an entourage.  I felt at the same time guilty and proud.

We settled into the waiting area for me to be called through, and proceeded to make with our usual level of conversation.  Anne-Marie flicked through one of the leaflets advertising the hospital, and commented on how they had used the same people in all the photos.  I said that I wished the ceilings were more interesting.  Samuel crawled under the seats and ate bits of promotional material from the literature stand.  I wondered what the other patients must have thought of us, and whether they minded our buffoonery ahead of their own operations.

Then, after not too long a wait, a lady came through and called my name.  I got up, and asked if my wife could come with me.  Again, she seemed shocked and appalled that I had so many people with me, and requested in a not altogether friendly way that Samuel be left in the waiting area.  Why else did she think we had brought extra people??  On reflection, I suppose most people would have left the baby with someone else, rather than bringing the babysitter(s) into hospital too.  Still, I felt her attitude was a little harsh, but my determination to enjoy the day prevented me from clinging onto any ill will.

Ellie and I were taken into a cubicle where we were told exactly what would happen throughout the day, what the timings would likely be, who I would meet, how it would work, what would happen afterwards, that sort of thing.  I nodded and smiled and tried to take in as much as I could, but I could feel the tension rising in me like the tide – slowly, but impossible to stop.  My wife helped me into my hospital gown, which wasn’t exactly stylish.  What made me laugh most though was the slippers – completely made of foam, one size fits all, not particularly comfortable, not at all attractive, and in the end only worn for a matter of minutes.  If it was up to me, I’d save the money on foam slippers and ask people to keep their socks on instead.

Ellie left me in the cubicle to go and walk Samuel around the local park with the girls.  No, I wasn’t afraid of my impending operation, but she could tell I was nervous, and I could tell she didn’t really want to leave me.  But the operation itself would only be 20-30 minutes, and if she hadn’t left then there wouldn’t have been time to get to the park and back again before I was awake.  So there I was, alone, in a cubicle, being seen every now and then by a surgeon, an anaesthetist, an assistant anaesthetist, a nurse… there may have been more, I honestly don’t remember, my mind was already beginning to fur up with a slow but perceivable flow of adrenaline.

Then, without much warning, I was asked to come through to theatre.  I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, perhaps not as far as a big flashing neon sign saying “Welcome to the slaughter-house”, but maybe at least some sort of indication of where we were.  From what I remember, I was led down a corridor, through a set of double doors that might easily have led to a store cupboard, and there was the operating table.  No flashing lights, no fanfare, no pyrotechnics, just a simple operating theatre.  It was almost an anticlimax.

Still, the staff were friendly.  They chatted away to me as they were getting me prepared – it helped that they had come in to see me beforehand while I was in the cubicle – and it all sounded routine and straightforward and as normal as doing your shopping.  So I was almost surprised when I began shivering with nervousness and not being as conversant as I thought I would be.  I just lay there, looking up at the nondescript ceiling and the big circular lights, as various people did their jobs around me.  The assistant anaesthetist took charge of putting the IV in the back of my hand, where they would later administer various drugs without the need for additional injections.  She fussed around for a while trying to get my veins to the surface, but eventually found one.  The head anaesthetist joked that he’d never seen her do that before, and that it was some sort of miracle that I was still alive.  Very funny.  I wonder how many times a day he makes that remark.

In addition, they put monitoring thingies on my chest to make sure my heart was still there, or some such thing, and put inflatables around my legs to keep the blood in my upper body.  I’m sure there are technical terms for those, but I didn’t bother to ask.  Someone made a comment about me being nervous, and the anaesthetist gave me a couple of syringes of clear liquid into the thing in my hand.  The first, he said, was an initial anaesthetic to start things off.  The second was something to make me less tense; apparently it’s like being drunk, and he used the example of a gin and tonic.  I didn’t want to get into a conversation about my drinking habits, so I just smiled as best I could and said “sounds good to me”.  And then I waited for the general anaesthetic.

And then I woke up.  I’ve no idea when they knocked me out, and I certainly don’t recall the experience of going under, there’s just a blank where I was asleep.  I even vaguely remember dreaming, I think.  Nor do I really remember waking up.  It certainly wasn’t the gradual fade-in that they show on TV, as things slowly come into focus and sound goes from mushy to clear over a period of several seconds.  No, I just remember at some point being conscious, no half-way point, no transition, just awake.  The nurse was next to me, I think, and asked me how much pain I was in on a scale from 1 to 10.  I said 5 or 6, which he thought was a little high, so gave me some additional drugs via my drip.

The next 10 minutes or so were rather vague, and I don’t remember exactly what happened or in what order, but I do recall the nurse asking me if anyone was waiting in reception for me, and I said my wife would be there.  She was brought through a few minutes later.  Apparently then I started looking a big pale, and the nurse gave me some oxygen.  At some point it was taken away again, and at some point the IV drip was taken out of my hand.  Ellie disappeared somewhere, and while she was gone the nurse started dressing me.  It was only at this point that I realised I must be going home, and that the last 15 minutes or so that I remembered were actually and hour and a half.  I don’t think I was slipping in and out of consciousness, nor was I delirious or saying random things, it’s just that my awareness of the passing of time was out of sync with reality and my short term memory was apparently sporadic.

Walking was very slow, and quite painful.  I had been told that I would have a nerve block that would stop me feeling any pain immediately after the operation, but either they’d forgotten or they’d over-advertised its effectiveness.  I nearly turned down the offer of a wheelchair to the front door – I didn’t want to cause a fuss – but before I knew it the wheelchair was there and I was being helped into it.  It was quite fun, as it turns out.

As Sarah drove us all back home, I tried to put a brave face on it all and ignore the pain (or discomfort, as I expect the medical professional would call it).  I was quiet, but I did join in the conversation and joked as much as I could.  Laughing, it turns out, isn’t something you can do comfortably when you have stitches in your belly.  I learnt and re-learnt that lesson several times over the next few days.

When we got home, I went to bed.  Sleep is good.  I like sleep.  I also like food – apparently the operation has done nothing to diminish my appetite.  I’ve watched several films this past weekend, including a couple of old Thunderbirds episodes (need to find more of those, I’d almost forgotten how brilliant they are), and done quite a lot of surfing the internet from my phone, thanks to free internet from Orange.  It’s now Monday evening, Anne-Marie and Sarah have both left, I’ve changed my dressing, the wound is looking like it’s making good progress, and I’ve finally worked out a way of sleeping on my side – I’ve had several nights of poor sleep on account of not being able to get comfortable on my back.

Walking is still slow and slightly painful, and I’m still not entirely convinced of the effectiveness of the painkillers they’ve given me.  But things are looking promising.  It’s early days, and I won’t be doing any abseiling any time soon, but on the whole it’s been quite an adventure.  Even though I’m now even less able to play with Samuel, there is a silver lining on the horizon (apologies for the mixed metaphor there) – the more I heal, the sooner I’ll be able to lift him again, and I am so looking forward to that.

Thank you to everyone who has sent warm wishes on Facebook and suchlike, it’s much appreciated.  And watch this space – I’ll be trampolining again before you know it…

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