On September 27, 1994 I had surgery to repair an inguinal hernia. It was the first time I ever had an operation and I learned many things. I learned that operations never start on time, that you should always say yes when the Anesthesiologist asks if you want something to help you relax (I foolishly said no), and that I am allergic to Demerol (a common narcotic painkiller). Deathly allergic.
The day started entirely too early. I roused myself from bed before 5:00 AM and tried to ignore my hunger as I followed the surgeons instructions on bathing before my mother showed up to take me to the hospital. On the way to the hospital, there as a minor fender bender that happened just in front of us. I tried to pretend it didn’t mean anything.
We made it to the hospital (and through the check-in process), then sat down for a “short” wait. We were finally called back. I kicked my mom out of the room so I could get undressed and put on the ridiculous gown. I settled under the covers and quickly received news that my 7:00 AM surgery would be delayed “for a little bit.”
After a while, the Anesthesiologist entered. He went through all his instructions and asked if I had any questions. I did and he answered all of them. As he was about to leave he asked, “Would you like me to give you something to help you relax?”
“No, thanks, I’m doing pretty well right now.”
“Are you sure? Most people need a little help being calm.”
“I’m pretty good. Besides, I don’t want to get all loopy in here.”
“It wouldn’t be enough to make you loopy. Are you sure? I won;t be seeing you again until we get in the OR.”
“I’m fine really.”
“Well, if you’re sure.” He slowly walked away and lingered just a beat in the doorway as if waiting for me to change my mind, stop him, and ask for something. I didn’t. Stupid.
My next visitor was from a nurse with a plastic container in her hand. She asked my mom to leave the room and then pulled the seal from the container. She then removed the scariest looking razor I have ever seen.
“Um, what are you going to do with that?”
“What do you think I’m going to do, Hon?”
This would be a good time to point out for any readers with a non-medical background that, in men, inguinal hernias can cause problems in the testicles. I knew I would be shaved, but I figured that’s the kind of thing they would do after I was safely unconscious.
“I thought they would do that in the OR.”
“Nope, I take care of in this room. Now.” I suddenly wished for something to help me relax.
I dutifully (though very, very bashfully) pulled the covers down and my gown up. She soaped me up and shaved the area (with all the requisite rearranging that required).
“Shouldn’t you buy me dinner first or something?” I asked to help cover my embarrassment. She just laughed.
Fortunately, it didn’t take very long. As she was leaving, I said, “Well, thanks. I guess.” She turned back with a gleam in her eye and said, “No, thank you!” I really hope she was talking about my excellent (if obvious) joke.
Eventually it was time to wheel me to the OR. The placed a mask over my face and told me to count backwards from 100. I made it to 98.
My next memory is of being shaken in the Recovery Room. I opened my eyes and found myself staring into the face of my ex-girlfriend’s mom (I had forgotten she was a recovery nurse). She looked rather alarmed. This concerned me because she had always seemed calm when I spoke with her. I had the sense of others working around me, but she was the one shaking me. She locked eyes with me and nearly shouted, “Don’t you dare die on me, Leighton!”
“Beth?” I started, but closed my eyes.
I opened them again later and Beth was standing over me.
“Leighton, I need you to focus and stay awake.”
“Beth, I’m really tired. Just let me sleep.”
“Please just let me . . .” I was going to finish, but couldn’t. I was just too tired. I closed my eyes as Beth seemingly pounced on me and someone else ran toward me.
Sometime later, I opened my eyes again. I don’t know how much time had passed, but the room was calmer. I noticed there was a new red wristband on me and that there seemed to be many more wires attached to me than when I was in the OR. Beth was attending another patient. I was about to call her name when an annoying beeping started. She turned around and hurried to my bed. I looked over at the offending machine (it was really annoying me). It had a lot of wires coming out of it. I followed the wires and realized they ended on me.
“Is that an alarm? Is it me?”
“Yes, it is,” Beth said.
“Well, fix it!” She looked over at me and her expression troubled me.
“Beth, I don’t feel right.” Then I closed my eyes again.
Much later I opened them yet again. I was very, very sore and my mouth was very, very dry. Beth was sitting by my bedside reading a book. I wanted to speak, but could barely open my lips. She noticed me stirring and closed her book.
“You gave us quite a scare there.” I tried to speak, but my mouth felt glued shut. “I bet your mouth’s dry. It’s probably from the atropine. Let me get you some ice.”
I thought I needed quite a bit more that ice, but that is all she brought. She spooned out one miniscule rabbit-pellet sized piece and worked it between my lips. It was the most sensational, most refreshing thing I ever had in my mouth.
“More?” I croaked.
She let me have a little more and I was finally able to speak.
She laughed without humor and responded, “Did you know you’re allergic to Demerol?”
“No. What is it.”
“A painkiller. One that you can never have.” She went on to explain that they watched hives and blisters form on my arm after it was added to my IV. She said they watched the trail of bumps turn the corner at my shoulder. Once it made it to my heart my blood pressure crashed and my heart dropped to less than thirty beats per minute (I hear that’s bad).
I took in this information as well as I could. I could hardly believe what she was saying or how bad she said it had gotten (I learned she was telling the truth a couple of days later when her daughter, who swore never to speak to me again, showed up at my apartment with flowers). I was still confused about one thing.
“Beth, why is my right thigh shaved now?”
“That’s where they put the grounding pad.”
“You know. Grounding. Electrical.”
“Oh. Wait . . . what?”
I obviously made it though the experience, but there is one aspect I think of fairly often. Until I completely regained consciousness, I just felt tired and wanted to be left alone. I kept being annoyed that Beth wouldn’t leave me alone. I didn’t understand that I wasn’t just falling asleep. I was slipping away. I didn’t understand that she wasn’t bothering me, she was trying to literally save my life.
Consider that next time you have a dear friend annoying you by trying to give advice or convince you that you are in a destructive relationship. They may not be wrong. They may not just be trying to bother you. They just might be trying to save you.