Most days, we leave our homes to spend time in other kinds of buildings. We park our cars in the front lot, approach the doors, pass over the threshold, and join the unique subculture within the structure before us. If we work in an office building, we navigate a maze of hallways and elevators before our final destination. If we traverse an airport, we draw on the stress and frenzy of countless others. If we worship in church, we assume the quiet reverence of the congregation. And if we enter a hospital for surgery, as I did last Thursday, we expect… we expect… well, we don’t know what to expect in a hospital, do we?
My recent hospital visit deserves a few words. After all, the only other time I donned the peek-a-boo gown was a-way back in my teens. This time around (and with medicine advanced another forty years), I was keenly interested in the start-to-finish experience. My surgery – a routine out-patient procedure – took less than an hour, during which I was entirely unconscious. You’ll be spared the details since I can’t remember a single one of them. Let’s just say I’m beyond (the) repair now and recovering nicely.
The hospital experience itself actually began at the doctor’s office, a week prior. In that “consult”, not only did I learn what I didn’t want to know about my procedure (i.e. worst-case scenarios), I also learned I’d be checking into the hospital at 6am. Cock-a-doodle-doo, that meant the alarm clock buzzed at 5am. Remarkably, I wasn’t my surgeon’s first procedure of the morning. Call me grateful – he warmed up on somebody else instead.
I almost forgot to mention the hospital’s “pre-surgery phone call”, which they calendar between the consult and the surgery. I thought this conversation was going to be a financial beat-down (as in, “You are able to pay what your insurance doesn’t, yes?”). Instead the nurse went through a list of do’s and don’t’s in the forty-eight hours leading up to my hospital visit. Mostly don’t’s. Don’t use anything in the shower besides antibacterial soap. Don’t take your vitamins. No more nightly
bottle glass of wine. No food or water after 10pm the night before. She might as well have said, “Just come to the hospital now; you can wait in the lobby for the next three days”.
Emergency rooms aside, hospitals are surprisingly low-key at 6am. My wife and I staggered down the dark sidewalk into the main lobby (after finally locating a parking space not labelled, “For Doctors Only”). The only movement in the vast space was a couple of bleary-eyed attendants at the registration desk and the barista getting the coffee stand warmed up. Thanks to the “pre” phone call, registration was a breeze. The guy didn’t even ask for ID (though who would “steal” an out-patient procedure?). He just confirmed why I was there, slapped on the plastic bracelet, and sent me down the elevator to the “surgery reception area” one floor below. For the record, I’d like all my future surgeries to be above ground. The basement is way too close to the morgue.
“Surgery reception” is where things get interesting. After they scan your bracelet (my every move now tracked) they escort you to the pre-op room where you receive the following: 1) A surprisingly comfortable and non-peek-a-boo hospital gown, 2) A stack of six antibacterial wipes each the size of a paper towel, 3) A laminated card with a diagram of the body, 4) A plastic bag for clothes/valuables, 5) A disposable shower cap, 6) A “blanket” (basically a large square of space-age tin foil), and – brace yourself – 7) Two oversized cotton swabs with a generous gob of red goo on each.
The wipes serve as a do-it-yourself bath without the water. The laminated card points each wipe to a different part of your body. The shower cap ensures you look your Sunday-best for surgery (photo below). Finally, the swabs are for your nostrils. Who knew – your best chance of infection comes from the nose? The red goo creates a barrier, and… right… too much information.
Thanks to a generous dose of the happy gas (a beautiful thing), the remainder of my start-to-finish hospital experience is hazy recollections. I remember a quick visit from the surgeon, and the tattoo he drew on my arm. (I never thought I’d be thankful for a tattoo. That check mark and initials remind Doc which side of me he’s cutting into!) Soon after I was wheeled into surgery and shifted onto the table beneath the white lights. As for the happy gas, it went into my IV (no mask), so I never saw it coming. One instant I’m lobbing a few questions at the anesthesiologist, and the next it’s, “nighty-night, Dave”. I may remember chatting up the nurse in the recovery room. I may remember fresh coffee and a scone (I love my wife). I definitely don’t remember getting dressed, heading down the corridor in a nurse-powered wheelchair, and dropping into the passenger seat of my car. Mission – er, surgery – accomplished.
If this were a Yelp review, I’d give my hospital visit five stars. I can’t come up with criticisms but then again, the happy gas conveniently dissolved a good chunk of the experience. Let me just say this instead. I now have a small, high-tech mesh installed, making me better, stronger, and faster the rest of my days. The hospital bill won’t be six million dollars, but my new body just might. In other words, Steve Austin reborn.