They took Brni and I back in a matter of minutes after we checked in with the registration desk. The room was crowded to bursting at 5:30 am, so I thought we’d have a long wait. No such luck. I don’t remember what happened next, except that at some point in time I found myself on a gurney being wheeled away from Brni as my eyes filled with tears. How do you describe the feelings of utter helplessness and impending doom (which you agreed to when you signed all those consent forms)? You don’t. You just sit quietly with big eyes and hope that all the worst things don’t happen.
I don’t know if all hospitals are like this, but orthopeadic surgery occurs in an off-white alien world. They wheeled me into a very large round room, reminiscent of an arena. The overriding feel of the room was one of muted chrome in a filmy white space. Every color was washed out. Even the people seemed desaturated. Patients were inserted into slots that ringed the edges of the room. Our feet all pointed to the place in the circle where teams of doctors, nurses and techs would group and disperse. Teams gathered their equipment at this place and then went to their assigned slots to prep their assigned patients.
“I can’t believe we got you! When we came in to look for our patient and saw you, we were so excited. We’ve got the healthy one! Can you tell me your name and birthdate?” This was the leader of the “nerve team” responsible for monitoring my nervous system throughout the lumbar fusion, lamanectomy and decompression. She began by gathering my hair in her hands and placing it out of the way. “You have beautiful hair.” What a nice thing to say to someone literally scared to death. I could almost pretend I was going to have my hair washed. Then she started sanding down a spot at the top of my hairline. “This is to reduce resistance,” is what I think she said. She sanded just to the point of pain and then applied what felt like a round, gold disk. I don’t know if it was gold or round, but it felt like it was. She then placed more at the base of my skull and other points on my head.
Meanwhile other people started showing up and asking me who I was and what my birthdate was. Then they all told me what they were about to do. The IV guy’s day started out bad. He missed one, got one, then looked at my other arm and ran off. An Asian woman took his place. I had the feeling they were not friends. She missed one and got one. The rest of the nerve team appeared out of nowhere and they began discussing the placement of the needles that would go into my legs and arms to monitor the nerve impulses, talking back and forth about the fusion at L3-4. I finally interrupted and said, “I think it’s L4-5.” They looked at me. They looked at each other over their face masks, then back at me. The head of the team said, “Oh well, it doesn’t matter,” whereupon they proceeded to stick needles into my legs. One of them said, “We usually wait until patients are sedated, but you’re so healthy, we’re going to do it now.”
At some point the surgeon showed up and everyone backed away from me in deference to him. He was smiling, genuinely happy and very very awake. He had me sit up while he wrote stuff on my lower back with a sharp pen. I tried to tell him there’s some confusion with what is being fused, but he said not to worry, I’ll do just fine.
He disappeared as fast as he’d appeared and the others closed in with renewed fervor. By the time they wheeled me into the operating room, I was woozy with the beginnings of shock and I hadn’t had any of the nice pre-op meds that my friends had swooned about.
The operating room was small and cramped, dominated by this huge light fixture on a mechanical arm like thing. The paint had been worn off in great bare metal patches. I said, “I thought operating rooms were supposed to be new and shiny.” “That’s only on TV.” The anesthesiologist walked up behind me, leaned over and said something and the next thing I was aware of was the pain.