by Mari McKee
A comic and true recounting of my outpatient surgery
Last year I had drive-through shoulder surgery. That is where you are driven to the front door of an outpatient surgery center, go inside to place your order, wait a few hours for your order to be completed, and then get wheeled in a chair back out the front door to the waiting car, with your order completed. It is very much like going through the drive-through at McDonald’s, except instead of getting a burger and fries, you get anesthesia and a prescription for pain medicine.
Since I had pre-registered on the phone, something akin to calling ahead for a take-out order, I was immediately stripped, gowned and given a “happy pill” (like a happy meal, except you aren’t given a toy). The happy pill made me an idiot. The pre-op nurse gives me a black permanent marker and tells me to put a big X on the shoulder which would have surgery. I am right handed and it was my right shoulder that I had to mark. My left hand had the IV in it. Being somewhere between wake and sleep, and feeling light headed, it took me minutes to even lift my left hand, stretch it and the IV line over my body, and begin to mark a big X on my left shoulder.
“Just a big X and not a smiley face?” I asked the nurse with slurred speech. I snickered and snorted like the village idiot.
The smiling nurse said, “Just mark a big X on the shoulder that is undergoing surgery.”
I can’t write with my left hand when I am sober. Trying to do it under the influence of the happy pill was absurd. Midway though my X, I feel asleep and heard myself snoring when the nurse awakened me to finish my X. The X I made was about 6 inches long and looked like a crucifix.
Happy with myself for completing this gargantuan task, she told me now I had to write “right shoulder” under the X.
“Do What? You got to be kidding me!” except it sounded like “Duh WHA? Yas’ goshta ba kending meh!”
I knew what my brain was saying, but my mouth wouldn’t cooperate.
I remember asking why the damn surgeon didn’t know which damn shoulder needed damn surgery. I am fairly certain that I threw in a couple of extra expletives other than” damn”, for good measure. I was trying to make a point, after all.
I think it may have taken me close to three hours to write “right shoulder”, accompanied by more expletives, which for some strange reason came out of my mouth perfectly pronounced.
Not having an understanding of time passing, the anesthesiologist appeared at my side about 3 minutes or four hours later. She said something about a nerve block, but I was trying to focus on the needle and syringe in her hand. The needle was about 3 inches long but looked at least 12 inches long in my befuddled state. By the time I could think of the words to say in protest, she stuck the needle into my chest, like she was throwing a dart at a dart board, several inches below my right shoulder. I heard someone scream in slow motion and then realized it was me. Within seconds my right hand began twitching uncontrollably, for God only knows how long, and then there was no feeling whatsoever from my hand up to my shoulder. Paralysis is not a good feeling.
My brain commanded my right hand to move as I stared at it, and it just lay there on the sheet limply. I wasn’t even sure if it was my hand.
“I began singing, “The right hand is connected to the………right arm………..the right arm is connected to the right shoulder………..”
I tried taking a deep breath for the next part of the song and began gasping for air. Clawing at my throat with my left hand, I was gasping, “I can’t breathe!”
The anesthesiologist hurried to my side and told me the right half of my diaphragm (the muscle that allows you to breathe) was paralyzed from the nerve block, but I could breathe normally. I just couldn’t take deep breaths.
“I can’t breathe!” I croaked.
“You can breathe. Take normal breaths.”
I’m not certain, but I am fairly sure she was trying not to laugh at me.
My happy pill was not working because I was now in a full blown panic. I was crying hysterically while gasping, “I can’t breathe!”, and raking my throat with the only hand I had left. I was now certain that they had amputated my right hand.
I’m scared! (gasp, gasp). I can’t breathe! (gasp, gasp). Where is my hand? (gasp, gasp).
They couldn’t wheel me and my gurney fast enough to the surgical suite. I remember them lifting me onto the surgical table on the count of three. I was still crying and gasping the same mantra when my orthopedist walked into the surgical suite. I saw his eyeballs roll around, over his surgical mask, and I heard say, “For God’s sake, hurry up and gas her!”, as the mask was placed over my mouth and nose.
Like Dorothy from the “Wizard of Oz”, I was magically transported to a wheelchair and, in the distance, I heard someone calling my name.
I blinked again. Then my eyelids closed.
I tried to call out to Aunt Em, when, suddenly, Aunt Em grabbed my chin and lifted my head up off my chest. Her voice came floating up from the root cellar, even though she was holding up my chin. She was saying, “Open your eyes! Open your eyes!”
“Aunt Em is a ventriloquist,” I thought.
I tried to open my eyes but I think they had glued them shut, along with amputating my right hand. I felt my head lowering, once again, to my chest. Aunt Em yanked my head back upright with my chin, none to gently this time, and firmly said, “Open your eyes!”
I finally opened my eyes and was seated in a wheelchair at the front door. My right arm was bandaged in a sling and I still couldn’t feel my right hand or arm. But I saw, much to my relief, that my hand was still attached to my arm. And, miracle of miracles, I could take a deep breath. This meant I could now really yell. They put me in the passenger seat of the waiting car, buckled my seat belt, slammed the car door shut, nearly ran back through the doors, and disappeared.
“They must have another order to get out,” I mumbled loudly.
The next thing I remembered was my sister standing by my open passenger door in my driveway, telling me we were home and she would help me out of the car.
“But I’m starving!"
“Where are my damn burger and fries?” I demanded using those other expletives for good measure.
As she helped me to the door I told her, “Get back to McDonald’s! They forgot to give you my burger and fries! This time DO NOT GO THROUGH THE DRIVE-THROUGH! GO INSIDE AND GET MY BURGER AND FRIES!”
“Yes, dear,” she said.
“Are you laughing at me?” I asked, highly offended.
“No, dear,” she said, trying to hold back his laughter. Despite her best efforts, she broke out in body-shaking laughter, while wiping the streaming tears from her eyes.
If my right arm had not been immobilized by the bandage and the sling, I might have smacked her.
I finally did get my burger and fries. They sat on my bedside table for over 3 or 15 hours, untouched.
And this completes (what I can remember) the saga of my drive- through surgery