I’ve cataloged a lot of new experiences in this blog–from mundane things like growing a beard or switching to a smart phone, to big life milestones like buying a condo and getting married. Yesterday I added “having surgery” to that list. (If you’re not up to speed on the Lumpy Saga, read this post first.)
Before I continue with the play-by-play, I have to say a gigantic thank you to all of the people who came out of the woodwork to send me and Theresa messages of prayer, hope, positivity, solidarity, humor and love. It’s overwhelming and undeniably a source of strength at an uncertain time. I could feel the prayers surrounding me and kept picturing the opening scene of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” when people all over Bedford Falls are praying for George Bailey. Pretty sure my international network of prayer peeps outdid even Mr. Bailey’s! Heaven was sufficiently stormed with prayers. I thank God every day for the quality people He has put in my life.
It was so great to hear from people I hadn’t heard from in forever: grade school, high school, college and grad school classmates, former coworkers, former teachers, former students, friends of friends that I’ve never even met. Some were very creative in their messages, including the invention of a hashtag that I am now implementing (#DownWithLumpy), a friend near Disney World offering to go get a blessing from Mickey Mouse, and suggestions that I challenge Lumpy to a round of Big Booty and give Lumpy a Medill F.
But the message that most left my gut busted came from a grade school friend I haven’t seen in many years who shared my obsession with X-Men throughout junior high:
May Wolverine’s healing factor be with you my friend! You’re in my prayers
As for the procedure itself, I think I can thank all of these prayers for making it far easier than my fearful thoughts in the days leading up to it had led me to anticipate. I was also definitely more relaxed than I would have been without all the support. The surgery was scheduled for 8 a.m., so Theresa and I arrived at the hospital at 6:30 a.m. as instructed. I was also instructed not to eat or drink after midnight the night before. For someone who never eats breakfast, it’s incredible how hungry I felt…probably just because I was forbidden from eating. After filling out some paperwork, we followed the blue line on the hospital floor to Same Day Surgery and the journey began. The nurse led us to preparation room 6, where I was told to “take everything off, put on the gown, the footies and the cap.” It was quite an ensemble.
After sitting around for a while and taking some surgical selfies to immortalize the moment, the nurse finally came back and it was time to insert the IV. I made her aware of my hyperactive vasovagal response so she wouldn’t be surprised if I suddenly turned white as a sheet and got lightheaded when she jammed a needle into my arm.
Unbeknownst to me, she was actually going to jam a needle into the top of my hand. “Your arm is just for taking blood out of you.” Unfortunately, she couldn’t get a vein to pop on the top of my usually vein-laden hand, so she moved down to my wrist. In order to make this process go, um, smoother, she grabbed an electric shaver and, before I could even say “What the heck are you doing, lady?”, shaved off a large patch of my arm hair. She also made a big deal about my potentially growing faint, loudly alerting all the other nurses, patients and family members on the floor to my weakness and even enlisting a fellow clowning nurse to come “distract” me while she inserted the IV. I think her success stemmed more from my annoyance than the clowning. With the IV firmly implanted in my bald wrist, she began a “Gatorade” drip of electrolytes and we continued to play the waiting game.
Eventually my ENT doc arrived to greet us and give final comfort and instructions in his inimitable bedside style. I mentioned that it would be great if they could take out a big enough chunk that they wouldn’t have to go back for more later. “Can you tell him this surgery isn’t that big of a deal?” Theresa asked him knowingly, expecting some authoritative reinforcement to help relax me. His reply: “Actually surgery is a big deal, especially when you’re going to be put to sleep.”
Well, there it is, doc. My biggest fear about the whole enterprise. I had made peace with the idea of the surgery itself and the Frankenstein scar it would leave on my neck. But being put to sleep under anesthesia? That freaked me out. What if I somehow started to wake up? What if I had an (albeit incredibly rare) allergic reaction to the anesthesia? I had all kinds of horrific scenarios and outcomes worked out in my mind. It probably didn’t help that the hospital had sent me online presentations to watch about surgery that went through 11 possibilities of things that could go wrong with anesthesia.
My fears were not exactly alleviated when the anesthesiologist came in to meet us and said, “OK, so you’re having your tonsils and uvula removed and a neck biopsy, right?” I nervously laughed and played along with a “yeah.” Is this some kind of anesthesiologist humor? Do men even have uvulas? When she failed to correct herself, I mentioned that I was, alas, only here for a neck biopsy. “Oh, that must be someone else then….Ah, yes, I see it now.” Taking no chances, I said that the biopsy was to be done on my right side. When she noticed that the doctor hadn’t marked it, she made him come back and draw a line on my neck with a marker.
It was nearly 8 a.m., so another nurse entered the room to take me over to the operating room. It was go time. I’ve seen countless movies where a patient is wheeled away, but this was my first time as the man on the cart and it was somewhat surreal. Theresa kissed me goodbye and the nurse scooted me down the hallway, stopping once to grab another blanket for me out of a heated rack on the wall. “It can be cold in there.” We arrived in the brightly lit operating room, where another man was waiting to help me shift from my bed to the operating table itself. As they rolled the bed away, my IV cord got caught and it started tugging before the anesthesiologist realized it and shouted, “The IV! The IV!” Crisis averted. Probably fainting averted, too.
She asked the doctor how long the surgery would be and he said about 45 minutes. She then said she was going to put a margarita in my IV and that I should let her know when I started feeling it. About a minute later, I remember saying “I’m feeling the margarita now” and hearing her reply, “Well, it’s going to be sleepy time soon.”
And that’s it. Lights out.
I started coming back to life in a different room with a different nurse at my side. I was high as a kite and feeling good, but I can barely remember much of what was said at this point. I had a bandage on my neck, but no sore throat, as I was certain I would have from the oxygen tube being stuck down my throat during anesthesia. I remember that the nurse told me it was 10 a.m. and I remember her asking me if I go to the gym, because “you look like you run.” Maybe she was high, too. I vaguely remember being carted back to the original preparation room where this all began. They gave me a tray with graham crackers, water and apple juice. I sipped the water and eventually helped myself to the crackers. They said they were going to get Theresa from the waiting room and they brought her in about 20 minutes later. “That’s not my wife,” I deadpanned. Theresa gave me a look and the accompanying nurse said, “Don’t joke like that! I’ve brought the wrong person back here before!”
Theresa opened my apple juice for me and helped me get dressed before going to warm up the car. I caught up on encouraging text messages and sent word to my family that I had indeed survived. A nurse put me in a wheelchair and wheeled me down to the parking lot like the invalid that I was. It was over!
Armed with antibiotics and Vicodin, I spent the rest of the day resting comfortably at home and watching Jimmy Fallon YouTube clips on my Apple TV (a more apt Christmas gift than I had ever anticipated!). Theresa and I watched the first two “Back to the Future” movies and my Mom brought us some of her patented peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch and turkey soup for dinner. I slept like a baby last night, and I’m not really experiencing any pain. I feel like my brothers had a rougher time getting their wisdom teeth pulled than I did having a chunk of my lymph nodes removed!
So where do I stand now? I’ve had surgery. I’ve been “put under” by anesthesia. I have a Frankenstein-like stitching on the side of my neck. A bit of Lumpy has been removed for testing. Next week I’ll get the test results and we’ll understand what we’re up against. It’s been a heck of a week since this became a thing, but I’m feeling strong and confident. I know that God is holding me in the palm of His hand and that He has surrounded me with people who are praying for me and are here to support me in whatever this turns out to be. Onward!