Sep 19 • 14M

What I Said Under Anesthesia

Newsletter 2022-09-19

95
17
 
1.0×
0:00
-13:36
Open in playerListen on);
Family comedy one disaster at a time.
Episode details
17 comments

I survived my latest surgery. You probably guessed that based on the fact that I just emailed you, or maybe because I tweeted all weekend. You never know. One of the kids could have grabbed my phone. You can assume the children have officially taken over when my spelling suddenly gets better. Having two surgeries in a little over a month—with a serious infection in between—has caused me to reflect on my own mortality. No matter how long I live, one of these emails will eventually be my last. At that point, you can expect a final update from my wife Lola. Since she’ll probably be a bit busy that day (hopefully because she’s sad and not because she’s covering up my murder), I took the liberty of pre-writing it for her: “Well, the totally expected finally happened. He died as he lived: As stupidly as possible.”

Of course, in this latest surgery, my life wasn’t really at risk, except in the unlikely event of gross medical negligence. Then again, I just got the bill for my first trip to the emergency room when my appendix went boom. I owe $742.55 for having a doctor tell me I was fine and send me home to die from septic shock on my own. Thankfully, a different doctor was on duty in the ER when I went back thirty-six hours later. She hasn’t sent me her charges yet. I’m now in that fun post-op period when I’ll get random bills in the mail for months or even years from everyone who walked into my hospital room, walked by my room, or saw my name on the sign-in sheet and decided to send me an invoice just for the heck of it. There’s no way to know how many bills there will be or when (if ever) they’ll stop coming. I was recovering from surgery and doped up on powerful painkillers, so I’m not really in a position to dispute who rendered treatment over that period. I had so much fun with the whole ordeal that I got a second surgery last Thursday to start the billing process over again. Maybe I just like getting mail. Debt collectors are the most insistent pen pals.

Exploding Unicorn by James Breakwell is a reader-supported publication. It’s like PBS, but completely unhelpful and slightly evil. Join today!

Unlike my appendectomy, my wrist surgery wasn’t a surprise, even if my near-death abdominal crisis in August delayed it by a bit. I went into more detail about the wrist surgery in the bonus email for paid subscribers Friday, but, in short, I somehow injured the pisiform bone on my left wrist years ago, and it needed to come out. It’s a vestigial organ whose only purpose in my body was to cause pain. The surgery was my third and hopefully final attempt to rid my body of unnecessary parts once and for all. The first was when I had my tonsils out as a kid. I started losing organs early. I don’t know why God decided to make me with so many extra accessories. Slimming back down to the base model has been both painful and expensive.

Going in for surgery this time had a totally different vibe than going in for my exploding appendix. That time, I curled up in a ball on the hospital bed and begged for drugs. This time, I just sat in the waiting room like a person. The worst thing that happened in the lead up to my wrist surgery was that I left my phone with Lola when they took me into the pre-op area. I thought I would go into surgery right away, but the operating room was running behind. After changing into a hospital gown and getting hooked up to an IV, I ended up waiting nearly an hour by myself without the internet to distract me. It’s been a while since I’ve spent that much time alone with my thoughts. I’m still traumatized.

My conversation with the nurse beforehand was also somewhat frightening. I had planned on being completely knocked out like I had been for my appendectomy. Instead, the nurse said I would be in a twilight dream state but not necessarily all the way under. That was a hard pass from me. I didn’t want to remember anything. Also, I should not be trusted with any level of doped-up consciousness in the middle of surgery. Good luck cutting in a straight line while I shout out random quotes from my Twitter account. I’d probably try to sell someone a book.

The other thing the nurse said before surgery that concerned me was that they were going to put a block on my arm. While I wouldn’t be all the way asleep, my left arm would be dead to the world for the entire surgery and at least half a day afterwards. It could be twelve to twenty-four hours before I regained any function in it. In the meantime, everything from my left shoulder down would be a limp meat stick in a sling. If that limb couldn’t defend itself, I was certain I would break it. I was clumsy enough to somehow wreck my pisiform bone years ago, and that’s when all my nerves were working. Who knew what I could do to my left arm if I couldn’t feel or move it for a full day? I’d probably get it stuck in the fridge door and have to have it amputated.

Luckily, the anesthesiologist stopped by before surgery to give me another option. He said he could do the terrifying waking sleep thing and kill my arm for the day, or he could just knock me all the way out and then do a more localized block on my hand. That way, I’d be able to use my arm afterwards, even if the hand itself was encased in bandages. He asked how I do under general anesthesia. Thanks to some very recent first-hand experience, I had excellent data on that topic. I went all the way under for my appendix surgery and bounced back right away with no ill effects. Don’t get me wrong; I still felt like I’d been run over by a truck, but that was from the three incisions in my abdomen, not the anesthesia. I wasn’t nauseous or dizzy and my brain was firing on all cylinders almost as soon as I woke up. The anesthesiologist was swayed by my argument and agreed to knock me out. Either that or he was sick of talking to me and realized I’d be even worse if I was only halfway under during surgery.

I’m a big fan of the time jumps that come with general anesthesia. It’s like the “skip scene” button on a DVD to get past the worst moments in life. I blinked right before my appendix procedure and woke up on my way out of surgery. The same thing happened with my wrist. One second, I was getting in position on the operating table, and the next I was in the recovery area with a Diet Coke. Apparently I had requested it, even though I had no memory of doing so as the anesthesia wore off. I was quite proud of myself. Even when my mind wasn’t all the way alert yet, I still remembered to ask for the zero-sugar option. As if carbs were the biggest threat on the day when yet another chunk of something had been cut out of me.

I asked the nurse if the bone had come out okay. She showed me a plastic bottle containing my infamous pisiform. I was floored. I had expected something the size of a pea. This was much bigger. It was approximately the dimensions of one of those jumbo blueberries grown on 100 percent California plant steroids. I couldn’t believe something that size had come out of my hand. It looked like it would leave behind a crater the size of the Grand Canyon. The nurse laughed. We’d had the exact same conversation, right down to my shocked reaction at the size of the bone, two minutes earlier. I had no recollection of it, so for me, only the second one counted. That damaged my credibility a bit. The nurse insisted on giving my release instructions to Lola instead of to me. Really, I think they just wanted to get together to make fun of me some more.

The nurse told Lola another story I didn’t remember. As they wheeled me out of the operating room, the nurse asked me to keep my left arm elevated. I promptly put it up behind my head, which would have been fine were it not for the fact that I was lying down. The nurse tried to explain that my arm wasn’t elevated if it was still flat on my bed, but I insisted that I had successfully complied with her request. The nurse gave up. It’s good to know I’m exactly as stubborn when my brain is working as when it’s not.

The surgeon talked to Lola, too. Instead of meeting her face to face, he called her from the operating room so he didn’t have to scrub in and out. He still had a full day of slicing and dicing people ahead of him. He was basically running a chop shop back there. The surgeon told Lola that my pisiform bone and the cartilage around it were even worse than they had looked on the CT scan. The tissue had jagged spurs from where it had been damaged and then tried to heal. It was obvious why it had been causing me so much pain. That was a reassuring thing to hear after he had already removed it. It was way better than the alternative. “Whoops, that wasn’t the problem at all. Let’s cut out something else.”

I was in a great mood following surgery, and it was only partially due to the painkillers. Not only did I get to be amazed—twice—by the size of the menace that was now gone from my life for good, but I could also use my left hand right away. With my wrist immobilized by heavy bandages, I could still use my fingers to type, or, more importantly, to hold a controller. That was another story the nurse told to Lola. According to her, I went on and on about how excited I was that I could still play Xbox. Neither of them understood what a big deal post surgery video games are to me. I had to rectify an injustice thirty years in the making.

In the Dark Ages, when I was in first or second grade, I had my tonsils out. Back then, it wasn’t a simple outpatient procedure like it is now. I was in the hospital for days. I think they cut out my tonsils with sharpened rocks. Afterwards, I nearly died of boredom in my hospital room. I probably just read books or something. The only thing worse would have been writing them. Who’d want to spend a week, let alone a lifetime, doing that? Flash forward a year or two. My brother Harry had his tonsils out. It was still the Dark Ages, so he had to be hospitalized for multiple nights, but he wasn’t bored at all. For his stay, a nurse wheeled in an original Nintendo. He played Mario Bros and Duck Hunt the entire time. My hospital stint felt like a prison sentence by comparison. But now, at thirty-seven, I was going to go home and play video games all day, and I wasn’t even going to feel bad about it.

I felt bad about it. I’m an adult. Everything I do that’s less than 100 percent productive gives me fatal levels of guilt. Other than that, my recovery is going well. I’m surprised by how little my wrist hurts given the size of the crater that bone must have left behind. It will be two weeks before the bandages come off and I can take a look at the spot. Who knows what’s hidden under there. Maybe the surgeon gave me a bonus finger or something. In the meantime, I have to keep the bandages dry at all times, which is a pain. My dreams of becoming a late-blooming Olympic swimmer are on hold for at least a few weeks.

I’m surprised my left hand is functioning more or less normally with a bone missing. If I randomly yanked out a part from my van’s engine, I would expect it to break down or explode, not to keep going indefinitely. Then again, before surgery, my wrist only hurt when I bent it, something I still can’t do because it’s held completely rigid by the bandages. I probably shouldn’t say my wrist is getting better until I can actually use it. With my luck, the first time I bend it, my hand will fall off. Then I can finally get that robot hand I’ve been dreaming of. I’ll do the best Luke Skywalker cosplay.

Spread the healing. Share this article.

Share

It seems like a serious setback to have two surgeries in a month, but I haven’t been this optimistic in a long time. I’d rather have both procedures right on top of each other instead of spread out so I only have to recover once. I was already out of the gym for six to eight weeks anyway. Might as well go to the doctor for a whole body tune up. My appendix is gone, so it can’t explode again, and my pisiform bone is out, so there’s no way for me to injure it a second time. Basically, I’m going to live forever now. And as long as I never see a doctor again, no one can ever tell me otherwise.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. A big thanks to my paid subscribers, who make all my free and premium content possible. You guys will be clutch as the random medical bills come rolling in for the rest of my life. Catch you next time.

James