I walked into the doctor’s office and yelled “Doctor, Doctor, it hurts when I move my arm like this!”
And my doctor said “Well, you’re just getting old”
That’s her answer. Every time. Not matter what my complaint. “Doc. Notice how this bone’s sticking out of my shoulder? Sortta like Quasimodo? I think something’s wrong”
“Well, you’re just getting…” Yea, yea, I know.
But eventually she gives into my whining and sends me off for x-rays and MRIs. Last Wednesday was my third surgical procedure in the past thirteen months. And my doctor’s kind of right with the second half of her catch-all assessment. “You’ve led a hard life. It’s just catching up with you.” (“Plus, you’re getting old”)
A great quote from the late, great Hunter S. Thompson sums up my medical history/personal tenet. “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming-Wow!” For me, everything was going according to plan, except that I’ve mistimed the skidding part by twenty or thirty years.
Last Wednesday’s procedure was an Ulnar Nerve Decompression surgery. The ring and pinkie fingers on my right hand had been numb for over two years, with a recent noticeable loss of the entire hand’s muscle strength and dexterity. Last February’s extensive left shoulder surgery was the result of a car accident from over twenty-years ago, so reacting to a two-year old hand problem was quite the improvement. I ain’t stupid (arguable), as is evident by my ability to learn from my past mistakes. Eventually.
Plus, I know how to do a Google search. The Internet’s a pretty amazing place, but it’s a really scary place for a hypo-hyperchondriac hybrid armed with a little knowledge and a functioning spell check. Numbness in fingers and palm. Ulna (I do the crossword puzzle each morning). Loss of dexterity. Atrophy (Learned that from my shoulder disaster) The search results provided me with thousands of horrible scenarios from which to die. But what finally pushed me into demanding medical treatment from my doctor was clicking the ‘Images’ option at the top of the screen. Just don’t do it. Step away from the button.
Thousands and thousands of pictures of hands inflicted with the long-term results of my self-assessed condition based upon my self-described symptoms. Mostly pictures of older folks. Mostly female. I could grasp the fact that I was ‘just getting older’, but I couldn’t live with the idea of spending my final days here on Earth as an old woman with a lobster claw for a hand. Think of the shame. The humiliation. “Edward Crustacean-Hands” It brings a new, painful meaning to the phrase ‘he had a little bathroom accident’.
Due to a cancellation, my surgery jumped ahead by a month and a half. I had an X-ray several weeks ago, followed by an MRI the week after, and finally the NCV tests/insertion of little electrode needles into your muscles and flipping the breaker-switch on and off, twenty or thirty times. Then suddenly on Monday evening, the surgeon called with the news of an opening and was looking to confirm that I wanted to go down the surgery route.
“Book it, Danno”
Tuesday morning included an EKG and blood work at two different locations, 30-miles apart. That afternoon was a telephone pre-registration followed by a 6:30 PM confirmation call of Wednesday’s scheduled surgery time. I almost didn’t have time to not eat.
“Hey, Nurse Ratched. What’s with that ‘no food or drink after midnight’? Who determined that midnight was the magical hour? My surgery’s not until 1:30 in the afternoon. That’s 13 1/2 hours since I swallowed my last spoonful of chocolate ice cream! The 8 AM patient only had to wait 8 hours”
My first attending nurse was far from a Nurse Ratched-type. Sarah was an extremely attractive woman, with dark auburn hair, a beautiful smile, and an alluring personality. The modern-day nurse’s uniform of flowered smock and form-fitting blue slacks was first tapered to perfectly conform to her silhouette. But she did have one glaring physical imperfection (the curse of me, being overly observant). On the long, subtle fourth finger of her rose-petal-soft left hand was a big-ole’ engagement ring. Hey, I was there to have my ulnar nerve decompressed, not have my libido removed.
Somewhere there’s a porno movie with a pizza guy delivering to a nurse’s lounge, but that wasn’t going to be my starring role on this day. Sarah handed me a gown to change into and a plastic bag to store my skivvies and other personal belongings. I slipped into the bathroom and began to change clothes.
Who invented the new version of the hospital gown? In the old days, they were simple enough to strap on. Two strings tied in the back and you were done. Sure, your ass-crack was probably showing for all the world to see, but at least you could figure it out by yourself. The new-fangled modern version has multiple strings and numerous Velcro strips. Maybe it was a disgruntled new-gown designer taking out his frustrations with his boss. “I’ll put one string on the middle of the front that can reach around to two different string options on the back; the user never able to determine the correct back string option before the 1/2” Velcro ‘comfort-fit’ shoulder strips come apart” One of three things that I learned in elementary school was that you don’t run with pencils, else you’ll get lead poisoning after you fall and impale your eyeball with a sharp No. 2. The wheel’s round. Leave it that way.
Being a male Robin, I make it a point to remember and call people by their correct names, after years of being addressed as Robbie or Robert. I had noticed the dry-erase board on my room’s wall with the names of that day’s attending staff. One name was Jelly. I joked with Sarah as she handed me a red hair net, if there was a choice of colors, something to better match my drooping hospital gown. The hair nets were color-coded, indicating that there was possibly another patient on that floor with a similar name (another male Robin?), so they didn’t go operating on the wrong body part or something worse. I even had a red name-alert tag hanging from my IV pole. The door opened and two more nurse-types entered. The first girl’s nametag read ‘Jelly’, appropriate given her sweet, outgoing personality that would appeal to anyone. The second, younger-looking employee had no nametag. Only an orange tag attached to her outfit. She seemed hesitant as she assessed the veins of my left hand to begin an IV start.
“What’s the orange tag mean?” “Master Piercer of the Vein?”
“Ah, no. I’m a student.”
Speaking of pain. What’s with the pain scale chart on the wall of the patient’s room? “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being butterfly kisses and 10 being a flaming eternal damnation, how would you rate your pain today?” Well, if the worst pain that I’ve ever experienced was a mild sunburn incurred while drinking frozen Pina Colodas in the swim-up pool-bar at a Sandals resort in Jamaica, then I’m giving today’s medicated post-op pain an 8, maybe a 9…equivalent to the dungeon rack followed by disembowelment with a non-sanitized metal hook. But compared to getting an instant facial peel after a commercial gas oven exploded in my face a few years ago, I’m giving the post-op pain a 3, just slightly annoying, i.e. shopping with a mother-in-law. The posted pain scale just seems way too objective in determining a logical distribution of opiate pain medications. Complete whoosies are getting all the fun drugs.
I get a strange enjoyment, an excited feeling, when a surgery day approaches. It must be a Pavlov’s dog scenario, where I associated a hospital with good feelings, reinforced with the relief of pain after agonizing for too long. You don’t get that with a dentist. There’s pain felt even after a simple cleaning, and especially when it comes time to pay the bill. You’d think that they could at least get the drill to play a different tune, something like “Flight of the Bumblebee”.
Back last summer, during the pre-operative conversations with the anesthesiologist before my knee surgery, I asked if I could be awake during the operation. I had heard of the possibility beforehand, and since it was a simple out-patient arthroscopic procedure, he agreed to make my wish come true, after going over the rules and regulations. And the bad possibilities.
Because of the position of my body and bed sheet, I couldn’t get a clear look at the gory goings-on at my kneecap. So, I watched most of the surgery on the Hi-Def TV monitor to my left, as the mature adults in the room gave a lighthearted, yet professional play-by-play. “Oh, look. There goes a great big chunk of cartilage! See that, Robin?” During my best attempts at an actual view of my knee during surgery, the scene was a lot different than expected. The sight and sound of a dentist’s drill approaching your mouth is always a frightening one. But kicked-back in near la-la-land, straining to get a peek at the incision spot, the surgeon and her instrument looked like a sous chef with a submersible blender, moving the tool back and forth like she was making a sauce pan of creamed soup. I walked out of the hospital later that afternoon much better than I had walked into it. Modern medicine is amazing.
In the pre-op room before my knee surgery, a nurse was taking vital signs and asking all the rights questions. A second lady came in to shave my knee, lessening the chance of infection. My surgeon obviously had a great bedside manner, so I felt comfortable asking her a favor just for entertainment’s sake, a good laugh for my friends. The lady shaving my knee got me remembering what I had forgotten to ask the surgeon. So, I asked the vital signs nurse instead.
“Do you think that it would be possible to make a special notation on my chart? It should read something like this”
“In addition to the knee procedure, the patient has also requested a full Brazilian” “Can’t find a code to submit for insurance purposes”
The vital signs nurse laughed out loud silly. The Bic razor lady paused as she drew back the curtain to leave, held her weapon of choice menacingly up in the air, and gave me a serious look of “That can be arranged”.
So, last Wednesday, I didn’t bring it up.