And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Monday, February the 15th, I went back to my beloved CAMC for a heart cath. I had this procedure back in September of last year, so at least I knew the ropes. Let's put it this way: I wasn't filled with utter anxiety and terror as the first.
The usual check-in mumbo jumbo: sign here-med history-what meds, etc. Then the extended long wait before being taken back. We all know the game.
There was one twist to this all too familiar induction. An older nurse had me in a waiting room and she shined a light into my eyes to see if they reacted to light. She asked me point blank if I had taken any pain medication. "No, mam," I said, but thought, "But I knows you gonna give me some good chit later." Besides, who in the hell would show up for surgery already medicated?Some kind of Evil Knievel Jesco? Last year, they started with 10mil of Valium, always a good choice before any procedure. Valium is a bit strong as a choice of a party drug because it puts too far a distance between you and reality, but in the hellish hospital, it takes the inner edge of dread and the outer chaos of a busy hospital far, far away. Oh yeah.
The back and forth from back room to waiting area finally stops and now to the belly of the beast. I had a nurse talk to me about my meds, but unlike last year, she didn't give me the talk about how this procedure is dangerous and could kill you. Yes, they cloak it in more delicate terms, but essentially it's policy to inform the patient that any procedure has its risks. Yes, indeed.
The orderly who transported me to the pre-op area was very funny. He was a black guy who started this almost sing-song rhyme with my name. "Mr. Lange, Mr. Lange's in da house. Oh yeah." Another black guy joined him on the trip and it was apparent that these guys should have their own show. I was laughing out loud at their comments. They flirted with all the nurses as we carted down the hallways. You should have seen the smiles. These guys had fierce game. At one point, he talked about a head nurse: "Oh no, you don't want her bringing the thunder. Uh uh. " Bringing the thunder? Color me a white boy, but I'd never heard that and thought it was top shelf. I'm gonna keep that one for myself.
By the time we got to the pre-op, I felt like a person, not another Social Security, PEIA number.. This simple act, this man who seemed to enjoy his work so much made me feel like everything was going to be ok. He even got me a warmed blanket to put over me. Fantastic. Thanks.
The worst part of a heart cath is the shaving. They have to enter into your femoral artery, not in your leg, which people had told me, but rather close to your groin. It's not painful, but afterwards a large sand bag is placed for 12 hours on your incision to keep you from squirting blood everywhere. BUT, it's shave city, boys and girls. There's not much point in hanging on to your pride or dignity. Give that up and you'll do better.
A kindly, but rather bumbling guy near my age came with the razor. We made small talk as he shaved my leg and other more delicate areas. You make small talk to get over the sheer awkwardness of a very bizarre situation. Dude shaving dude might happen in San Francisco or in private bedrooms in Charleston, but this is not my normal means of entertainment. Of course, this could be an opportunity for some deranged humor. For instance....
"Usually when my boyfriend and I do this, we invite some people over and make it a party."
"You know, I like a man who can be gentle as well as strong."
Another pointer for the neophyte: don't look. It's better to ignore it.
An IV goes in and we know we're close. The waiting game. Then, it's go time.
Get On the Slab, Boy
The OR was cold, cold. You are then asked, in merely a gown, to slide upon a metal table. Cold was ok, it was the atmosphere that bothered me more. Several chattering young people were hovering about and it created an atmosphere of more of a social gathering than a serious operation. I felt like a piece of meat being carted in and then slid onto a metal operating table. Said young people completely ignored the fact that a person was lying half naked on a cold metal slab and is most likely scared shitless. They chatted and joked like they were at a social gathering.
One nurse came up and asked if I was cold. Again, these small acts of kindness make a world of difference. Then a dose of Versed from a young man who was among the louder of the group.
The good doctor finally makes her appearance and I think, "She'll get them to be serious. I'm having a fucking operation here! I matter!" No such luck. I adore my doc and trust her to the ends of the earth, but after all, this is routine for her. Maybe this is how they handle the seriousness of invading people's bodies.
In the end, I was given six doses of Versed. I'm not sure that's a record, but after all those years of being on the edge of different mind-altering states, I am able (mostly) to keep a firm grasp on at least a small parcel of reality.
My doc hovers over me and tells me something about the results. Good thing I'm sedated because the news is bad. I couldn't tell you what she said five seconds after she said it, but I knew the dreaded word "blockages" was key. Oh boy.
I had known that maybe I was in for trouble earlier because I had had a small pre-op chat with Dr. N. She is frank without being brusque.
"The CTA scan revealed some severe blockages."
"Can they be fixed with stents?"
"It's unlikely," she said with a look that said "sorry."
"Shit." I couldn't be more disappointed.
Await Thy Turn
I was placed in what amounted to a holding cell, Well, let's say it was a private room with two flat screens, a couch which was also a fold-out bed, and some very large windows looking out on my neighborhood. I wasn't exactly roughing it, but it wasn't the Marriott in Barbados either. Fuck, I was waiting on news that I knew that was coming. Horrible news. News which has been a deep part of my psyche for years.
Some nurse let it slip even before the doctor could tell me:
"Oh, you're scheduled for surgery?" She said this like, "So, you enjoy gardening?"
"Well, no one has said for sure, but I'm certain that it's going to happen."
In the afternoon, the doctor's nurse came in and broke the news to me. She laid it all out. Every time I tried a loophole, she quietly shook her head no. It was the same when Doctor D. came in the next with the same nurse in tow. His eyes were unblinking, steady, no arrogance, but he delivered a bomb:
"You are on the verge of a major heart attack. Your left artery is 98.8% blocked. There are other blockages, so I may have to do a quadruple bypass."
My friends, we have all been dumped by someone we thought loved us (If you've never been dumped, then you are a lucky son-of-a-bitch.). The shock of those words can barely be described, but they are nothing compared to the feeling I had at that moment. Lift me off the floor now please.
More fun to follow!