The thought occurs to me now and then that there are people in the world who have never had surgery, ever. There are people who will live and die of old age and will never have surgery.
There are people who will never be asked if they have a living will, and if so to please bring in a copy. People, who as patients, will never know how very cold the OR (operating room) is. How you shiver and the nurses bring the joy that is a heated blanket (or 3). How they tuck you in and make you feel safe and warm.
How the anesthesiologist will come in, meeting you for the first time as you lay on a cold sterile table in a hospital gown. He or she will say things like, “Soon we will put you under, I will be monitoring you the whole time.” Which means they are watching your vitals to make sure you don’t start crashing in surgery. They watch to make sure you don’t start to come to in the middle of surgery. This doctor is one of the most important on your team. They keep you asleep, they keep you from feeling the pain of being cut into, they help keep you alive.
There are peope who will never experience how it feels when they start the magical medication that sends you into a blissful peace. Where, for a moment, you get to forget what is happening. There are people who will never know what it is like for them to say, “Ok, here we go. Count down from 10, and you will be asleep.” But you never get past 10, or if you do, you don’t remember any numbers past 10, maybe 9.
There are people who will never know what waking up in recovery is like. The strange dream like state of it all. The confusion of trying to place where you are and what is happening. To remember, fall asleep, and wake to confusion again. To think why is such and such part of my body in so much pain as the anthestia wears off and you start coming back into the world. To hear the nurses around you talking; to you, to other patients in recovery, to each other. Nurses who are watching your vitals and making sure it isn’t taking you too long to wake up. Nurses who say things like, “Hi there, you are in recovery, let’s try waking up,” over and over until you really respond.
After a couple of my surgeries I remember a nurse talking to me and then asking someone, “How long has she been down here (in recovery)? Time stated, then concern. “That has been awhile. She should be more responsive by now.” And thinking, “I can hear you. I am OK! I need them to know I am OK. I need to wake up. Where am I again? Why can’t I open my eyes? Wait, am I OK? I need to get them to know I am OK. Why won’t my eyes open? What happens if I don’t wake up soon? But I am so sleepy, I’ll just rest a bit more.”
There are people who will never know what it is like waking up from that medicine induced fog of confusion. Having the nurses ask how you are doing and what your pain level is. Of them giving you blissful peace with IV pain meds, unless you already got them, as sometimes the first thing you say, before you are even aware you are talking, is “it hurts.” Then they let you rest since you have woken enough to speak, coming back often to check vitals. These people are nurses for a reason because you feel compassion, care, and kindness before you are fully back in the world again.
There are people who will never know what it is like to move from recovery to your room at the hospital if you need to stay over night (or longer) or to an extended care room. Where your family or friends can see you again. The ones who have been there and waited, worried, and wondered while you were in surgery. Who, after they were briefed by the doctor on how things went, tried to patiently wait for you to be out of recovery and get to finally see you. Where you see the relief and worry all over their faces as they ask how you are feeling and how you are doing.
I am just so amazed that some people will never experience this. They will never have surgery in their life. They will never enter the OR as a patient. All of this amazes me, because I am possibly facing my 7th surgery.
I have had six surgeries; starting at age 15 with a tonsillectomy and the last being a D&C after a miscarriage in 2009. Due to my bleeding disorder, out of my 6 surgeries, I had severe complications with two. Two of my surgeries sent me back into that cold sterile surgery room to stop excessive bleeding. Two simple surgeries turned into emergency 2nd surgeries.
Emergency surgeries are much different from what I describe above. You don’t schedule it, they make things happen to get an open OR, and things happen fast. The doctors and nurses are in save the patient mode and things move quickly. They talk to each other with medical jargon and what needs to be done and given. A quick reassuring word may be said and then you are put under fast (as in they may still be getting things set up and you are out) so you can be treated. The second of my two surgeries ended up sending me to the ER 4 times in one month, before I finally got the second emergency surgery. That one left me physically, mentally, and emotionally scarred. If left me with the curse of PTSD.
Soon, I will be meeting again with my neurosurgeon to decide my fate. To find out if I will be scheduling spinal surgery on my neck. To find out exactly what kind of surgery I will need to fix my neck. I will soon be finding out if 6-8 weeks of recovery is in my future. Where I will only be allowed to lift 5 pounds or less. Soon I may be making appointments with my hematologist to get a “make sure Kelly doesn’t bleed a lot” plan in place. Soon I will be getting in a few appointments with my therapist to help me deal with this panic and anxiety rising up inside me. Just thinking about this is bringing my PTSD up from the dormant state it was in for so long.
As I get ready, prepare, and plan the details of my life surrounding this surgery, there are people who live in the blissful peace of not knowing what any of this is like. I envy those people. Yet each of these trials, even the ones that broke me, have made me stronger, wiser, and more prepared for what is to come.