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The Week After

It has always been my general understanding that hospitals are where people go to feel better. That was not exactly how it was, at least in my case. I strode into the Danville Regional Medical Center last Tuesday morning at 9:30 am, feeling fit and vigorous. Twenty-eight hours later I was rolled out in a wheelchair, the left side of my face encased in bandages except for where a drainage tube protruded, veins slam full of morphine that still did not quite eliminate the dull ache coming from my neck. I am told it is necessary to look at the big picture.

My Surgery Adventure had actually had a formal beginning the previous Monday night during one of the more unusual Communion ceremonies ever held by the Clubhouse Tailgate. My computer expertise is basically limited to the knowledge of how to open a word processing program and porn sites; HokieKev’s is a bit more extensive. He had set up a conference call over the Internet among Tailgate regulars that stretched from Northern Virginia to Richmond , From the Shenandoah Valley to Blacksburg , through Danville to the RTP on to Eastern North Carolina .

A Stirring Communion Blessing by Senior Hokie Clota had me breaking that annoying ‘No alcohol within 24 hours of surgery’ hospital admonition to knock back a shot of Wild Turkey Rare Breed. There are witnesses who will confirm that was all the alcohol consumed.

During a hospital pre-admission procedure held the previous Friday my arrival time had been set for 9:45 Tuesday morning. The importance of my prompt arrival had been emphasized. Not wanting to plunge the DRMC into chaos I arrived early, at 9:30. I was promptly turned over to a tiny and breathtakingly-beautiful young lady who led me to a room, shut the door behind us and instructed me to remove all of my clothes. She didn’t have to tell me twice.

As buttons flew around the room and I marveled at how advanced methods for relaxing surgical patients had become in the twenty-three years since I was last carved on, she quickly burst my bubble by handing me one of those less-than-flattering light blue hospital gowns that open in the back and ordered me to don it. Oh, well. So much for middle-aged surgical fantasies. I still think it would be a terrific idea.

Thusly clad and ensconced on what passed for a bed, I spent the next two hours mostly staring at the clock over the door that faced me. It seemed that the hospital’s definition for promptness was a bit at odds with my own.

Those 120 long minutes were occasionally interrupted by hospital employees entering to determine if I was still alive by taking my blood pressure and to cheerfully inform me that I would be taken to surgery ‘any minute now.’

Almost exactly 11:30 became any minute now. I was wheeled out of the ‘holding’ room, down a hall, onto an elevator and deposited into a larger ‘holding’ area. Those to be sliced and diced were separated this time by curtains instead of walls. Again I found myself staring straight at a clock on a far wall and pondering for the sixty-one minutes I laid there that this is how cattle must feel as they wait their turn on Slaughtering Day.

The interminable wait this time was broken by visits from a smiling nurse who asked how I was feeling [pretty damn nervous] and whether I was cold [I was not]. A guy came in, announcing himself as Rick, informing me that he would be the anesthesia nurse. He bore no resemblance whatsoever to the attractive young lady named Melissa who had explained to me the previous Friday the exact same procedures that were to be performed. Melissa was no where to be found. The DRMC was quite the tease in this regard.

I also received a visit from the anesthesiologist himself, a gentleman who gave the appearance and mien of having prepped for this job by commanding the Bataan death march or the Hanoi Hilton. He was actually Filipino and I had had dealings with him a couple of decades ago when he had first arrived in Danville and was in the market for a new house. He didn’t seem to remember, leaving me fervently hoping that this procedure went better than those negotiations had.

The DRMC is very punctual in their lateness. After waiting in a holding room for exactly two hours and a holding area for exactly one, I was finally wheeled into the operating room. I was greeted by my Surgical Quack and a bevy of other people I am assuming had some role in the operation other than just hanging around. I was not exactly thrilled to notice that Surgical Quack was hovering over the table in front of a tray containing implements that seemed to number in the thousands; there were Spanish Inquisitors who would have been envious.

I stared transfixed at the sheer numbers of scalpels and whatever else, wondering just what in the hell Surgical Quack was planning on doing that would require so many when Rick got my attention by jamming a needle into my hand. As he was explaining to me whatever it was he was introducing into my veins I was contemplating that perhaps having a ‘mass’ attached to one’s Parotid Gland was not such a bad thing. The last thing I remember is Rick telling me, “You’re going bye-bye now.”

I have absolutely no recollection of anything that might have happened in the recovery area, or of ending up in a hospital room for the night. I am told that I claimed to be extremely thirst upon arrival, and knocked down a 20-ounce Coke Classic through a straw in an impressively short amount of time. Trying that now, I find that I tire of the Real Thing about halfway through the bottle.

My first definite post-surgical recollection is having to go to the bathroom. This turned into quite an operation, a labor-intensive one that required the assistance of a nurse to wheel all of the apparatus to which I found myself attached. She did not seem to overly excited about orders from Surgical Quack that I get up and moving when bladder-emptying time rolled around rather than using the more expedient bed pan or whatever. Not for the first time over the last six weeks or so did it occur to me that I am glad nurses are nurses and not me.

Returning to my bed I asked her the time. It was shortly before 1 am. I was later informed that the surgery had taken approximately three hours, giving me about 9 ½ hours of which I have no memory whatsoever. It involved lots of morphine.

During the arduous five-foot trek to and from the room’s water closet I had noticed that I had quite a few tubes running into and out of my body, the one containing the morphine among them. Those entering were located on the right- there were two. There was one on the left that was draining a reddish ooze. As I drifted in and out of consciousness over the remainder of the night I thought about Joseph Heller’s Soldier in White. Around 5 that morning it came time to change the tubes. I attempted to become as alert as possible [not very] to make sure the nurse was not simply switching them, as had happened in Catch 22 [she wasn’t].

Later that morning, while loudly complaining that the morphine drip was no longer working and refusing to consume what the hospital staff assured me was a nutritious breakfast rather than what I suspected was what was left over following surgery, Surgical Quack popped into my room. He informed me that the operation had been a tremendous success and suggested that my recovery might be facilitated from my own home rather than continued occupation of the hospital bed. I agreed completely. A few hours after that I found myself being wheeled out of the Danville Regional Medical Center , much worse for wear.

The intervening week has been mostly spent in my recliner consuming the generous amount of Lortab prescribed by Surgical Quack and discovering that despite the ever-increasing universe of channels trumpeted by cable television companies, there is very little worth watching.

There have been two follow-up visits made to Surgical Quack, one to remove the drainage tube that was emptying into an annoying suction cup I lugged around and had to empty twice a day and one to remove the stitches. At the first he told me that final analysis had determined that I had had a Warthin’s Tumor. If one is going to develop a tumor in one’s neck that requires surgical excision, a Warthin’s Tumor is the best for which one can hope. Everything, including the surrounding lymph nodes that were taken for biopsy, was benign.

While I am still not quite up to my pre-surgery heartiness, I am feeling much better now. I have lost a saliva gland and retain a very dry mouth, causing me to drink everything in sight. So far, this has been everything non-alcoholic in sight, although an upcoming visit from Hokie Jay may change that. I am not quite ready to tackle Tailgate fare, as opening my mouth to consume anything much larger than a spoonful of soup remains a chore. My neck is swollen to Frank-like proportions; I look forward to seeing him during one of his summer Hokie Club visits so we can compare.

I am told that complete recovery is going to be a slow process and it will be months before everything is back to normal, including normal function of the left ear that is at the moment totally numb. I am shooting for the Northeastern game. All things considered, this whole procedure could have been a lot worse. At least it happened during the Dead Zone.

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