Wednesday, November 4, 2009
A biopsy-turvy day
The end of the year —heck, the end of the decade— is nigh (are bloggers allowed to use prose from the Middle Ages?), and so my hat trick of surgeries for 2009 is now complete.
I really don't expect to go under the knife again any time soon —not for Dr. B1, nor for anyone else. (And if the hoods who mugged me in my alley two years ago happen to be reading this, that means don't come prowling around my neighborhood wielding a blade rather than a gun.)
This time around, Kaiser didn't need me to check in till 11:30 in the morning, which gave me five additional hours of perpetual nervousness about the day's procedure. It also gave me extra time to properly underpack for a brief stay in the hospital.
The last time I had surgery, the folks at the admitting desk wouldn't let me bring my wallet —or any cash at all— with me into the pre-op room. So when I left my apartment for Tuesday's surgery, in one pocket I carried my photo I.D. and my Kaiser membership card and $16.25: 15 bucks for my copay and a buck-and-a-quarter for the subway ride. My other pocket held my house keys and a few bucks in case of an emergency on the way to the hospital.
I also packed my trusty note pad and pen, and a magazine whose name, Uncut, might seem an ironic choice for a guy about to be carved up. (Those of you snickering about the name Uncut ought to be ashamed of yourselves; Uncut is a music magazine, not what you're thinking.)
I sailed through the first few steps at the admitting desk, then found a seat in the waiting room. Without a wallet and carrying not even a penny (I wedged that emergency stash into the crack of my butt), I felt oddly vulnerable. So I reached into my bag for my magazine to try to relax.
I quickly put the magazine away. Uncut has a bold, red nameplate that can be read from across the room, and I didn't like the looks that some guy a few rows away was shooting in my direction. Lou Reed is on the cover of this month's Uncut, and I can imagine a stud like Lou being featured in another kind of magazine with the name Uncut.
Two cops came into the admitting area, along with an old man in a dark blue sweatsuit and a woman around the same age whose face was on too tight. I quickly sized him up as a white collar prisoner on a surgery day pass from San Quentin and I tagged her as his moll, mistress or wife. One of the cops was telling jokes and the crook and his wife seemed to be having a good time, even trading turns squeezing a stuffed animal, but I could tell that they were captives. Hey, remember how chummy Jack Nicholson and Otis Young got with their prisoner, Randy Quaid, in "The Last Detail"? Before I could eavesdrop long enough to get anything dirt on their situation, my name was called.
Before I knew it I was buck naked and fumbling for the strings in the back of my hospital gown. I stuffed my socks into one of my sneakers, my underwear in the other, rolled up my jeans and my shirt, and stuffed everything into a bag, along with Uncut, which I still didn't feel comfortable reading, not around people who are paid to slice guys like me open for a living, if not sheer sport. I laid in the bed with my notepad on my belly, prepared for the pre-op do-si-do of men and women in scrubs. I was kinda chilly, but there was no blanket to be seen.
First, a nurse queried me on the last time I ate (6 p.m. Monday), the last time I took any medication (6 a.m. Tuesday) and asked me to prattle off the names of all of the meds I'm now taking. That list was long before I got cancer and now is only getting longer. (I need to come up with a clever mnemonic for Epivir-Norvir-Prezista-Viread and Ziagen, and newcomers Acetaminophen Codeine Phosphate and Cyclobenzadrine and sometimes Flomax. Anyone help me out?)
Then a trio of anesthesiologists showed up, one at a time, to explain the day's procedure and to review what kind of surgery I would be having. Two of them were convinced that I was having ear surgery in addition to biopsies on my mouth, tongue and face. Another smiled that she would be back soon to give me my "Happy Juice." (If that's how some medical professionals tout that anesthesia to their patients, is it any wonder that Michael Jackson got hooked on the stuff?)
Well, it turned that propofol was not Kaiser's happy juice du jour, because when my next visitor, Dr. B1, came to my bedside, he said that there was a regional run on propofol —and he added that the shortage had nothing to do with Michael Jackson, although it wouldn't surprise me if some overly devoted fans are shipping tanks of propofol to Jacko's mausoleum at Forest Lawn.
Then, one of the anesthesiologists returned to shoot me up with Happy Juice, accompanied by yet another anesthesiologist. As I watched one of them approach my bed, my heart raced when I saw she was carrying a blanket. Imagine how I felt when, after reaching the foot of my bed, she let out a huge yawn and wrapped the blanket around herself. (Hey, Dr. B1, I may have smoked out an explanation for the shortage of Happy Juice in Kaiser's fridge.)
Finally, the nurses came to wheel me into the operating room. This is my favorite part of surgery day: the dramatic ride down hospital corridors. This time, they didn't wheel me around aimlessly until the anesthesia took hold; I actually remember being brought into the operating room, and what a shiny, gorgeous showroom of gore it was.
And that was the last thing I remember before surgery. When I came to, it was already 6:30 p.m., and both of my guardian angels had been called to come drive me home. Because the call came unexpectedly late, Guardian Angel Tweedledum deferred to Guardian Angel Tweedledee —I know, I know: that's no way to talk about one's Guardian Angels— and before long Tweedledee showed up at my bedside.
But I sent him away for an hour or so. You see, my bladder felt full, but I couldn't bring myself to pee. This happens to me a lot, but usually only in men's rooms with no dividers between urinals. When it happens to me in a private hospital john, I know that the anesthesia I was given may be wreaking havoc on my urinary tract.
To be on the safe side, I asked Tweedledee if he could find something to do as he waited for my text to alert him that I had successfully peed. Luckily, urine did flow before long, and I felt comfortable enough to check out, hop in the wheelchair and ride to my friend's car in the parking lot, making a pit stop at the pharmacy for Band-Aids for the oozing scabs on my face (Tweedledee paid. What was I gonna do: fish three bucks out of my butt and hand them to the pharmacist?!).
By the time Tweedledee and I got to my door, it was pushing 9:30. It had been a long day.
And it's going to be a long week of waiting for the first results of the biopsy to roll in.
P.S. to Tweedledum: Don't be cross I assigned you the less appealing moniker of the two. You know I love you, too.