I barely ever journal. Usually I prefer to take my life experiences and camouflage them into fiction so the emotions are true, if not the details of the events. This time though, I felt compelled to write it all down before the experience faded. I don’t want to forget. The pain can fade, gladly, and the scars too, but not the other truths. You need to understand one thing: when a writer stops writing, it is serious. I had used writing to purge my soul; it ended up in my fiction. But for many months that internal drive fell silent, and I didn’t have the energy to miss it. I’m glad that it woke up again, even if it’s not what I’m accustomed to. So this is what I want to write about, my life-altering event.
Nobody likes hospitals. Especially the one in which your mom died while you held her hand. Sad memories surround this building. This is where my surgery would take place. Everybody there calls me Joan. I’ve never used my first name. Not even my mother ever used it. Joan became my alter-ego, a depersonalizing label that cloaked my real self from that invasive world. After a while, I just embraced the alternative name. Being called by the wrong name used to piss me off, but somewhere along the way I stopped caring.
I’ve had surgery before, but nothing on this scale, never on an organ. My kidney wasn’t working properly, like a kitchen sink with a clogged drainpipe with possibly damaging repercussions. I had an UPJO, an ureteropelvic junction obstruction. Sometimes my kidney wouldn’t drain, which caused painful swelling. Like puke your guts out, curl up in a ball and involuntarily cry kind of pain. Most of the time I would ride it out, down some painkillers, but sometimes the pain would go on for hours, requiring another trip to the ER. An ultrasound would confirm whether that kidney had ruptured. UPJOs can be corrected by robotic surgery. The machine is named DaVinci, an apt label for something so inventive. My surgeon is top-notch, a pioneer in the robotic laparoscopic field. He’s the co-director of the multi-organ transplant program. A Google search brings up plenty of positive information. And he’s been on the news. If anybody can fix me, he can.
It’s no wonder that after the long, long wait for this very specialized surgery, I couldn’t sleep that night. The clock finally showed 4AM. Good enough. My husband couldn’t sleep, either, getting up when I stirred. We quietly got ready to go, not wanting to wake our kids. I peeked into their rooms. My son was out cold, sprawled across his now too-small mattress, the blanket thrown off like usual. My daughter was tucked under her blanket, her exposed face tempting me to plant a kiss, so I did. This could be the last time I saw either of them. One of the possible unfortunate effects of surgery can be death.
The roads were clear that early in the morning, the sky gradually lighting as we drove across the city. We arrived at the hospital, well before the assigned time, but we were not alone. Another patient was already there, lugging the crutches he would need later. After a quick visit to pre-admit, we were directed upstairs. A long wait in a soon-crowded bland waiting room was followed by another long wait for just patients in another room, followed by a trip to the intermediate destination: a stretcher in a curtained cubicle. I removed everything that made me unique, changing from an individual to a patient when I donned that hospital gown. IVs were inserted, one in each hand. An injection of blood thinner went into my thigh. The anesthesiologist introduced herself. Somebody told me (her?) that I would be given medication so a pre-existing problem wouldn’t flare up, another possible effect of the stress of surgery. I’m not sure who said this – I had met lots of medical staff that morning and everything was a blur, lost in tension and anticipation and the literal blur of not having my eyeglasses anymore.
I said goodbye to my husband – my rock – wondering if I would ever get to see him again. He’d taken me to ER many times, seen me through visits to the oncologist when cancer was a consideration, and managed to remain positive through the months-long wait for surgery. I devoured the details of him, just like I’d stared at my kids earlier that morning.
The surgery room wasn’t at all what I expected. I’d had surgery three times before, yet this was completely different. The room was huge, with lots of people working inside. They all said hello, a friendly greeting to somebody who would soon be carved up by this team. I expected to see my surgeon, have him say something, but he wasn’t there. They helped me onto this weird bed, lie on my right side, raise my arms, wiggle so my head was on this odd platform that felt like a bean-bag.
And that was it. Blank. No nothing. No winking out. No sensation of fading, like I’d experienced with the other surgeries. Just one second I was on the operating table, and the next second I was gone.
Trust is a conditional gift. You break it, and it’s gone. I had to trust that this team would fix me, wake me, see me through. Letting go of control of your life is a hard, hard thing to do.