I’m a “normal people”. I like to say that around my friends because they’ll nod and pretend to agree in an obviously exaggerated way. It makes me feel a little better about it not being true.
I’ve now been through seven different surgeries that required general anesthesia, and through them, learned that I’m a medical freak of nature. Some of this can be attributed to having a differently wired brain, and some of it is because I am a secret red head.
This is the only evidence of my natural hair color: My “before” picture from 2000.
After this, I bleached my hair for the first time, and never went back. Pink, blue, purple, black, blonde, and now, grey.
I kind of wish I had this picture with me whenever people ask where my son gets his red hair from. “It grows straight out of his scalp.”
I’ve been back from the hospital for a week, and am not in any pain, but still stiff and very aware that part of my neck is missing. I’m not quite ready to actually look at the surgical area yet, but I am ready to talk about how the whole thing went down.
Firstly, I brought up my issues with anesthetic and opiates with practically every medical professional who checked in with me prior to surgery, just to make sure at least one person was warned that there would be issues. Most of them had the general demeanor of “well, we do this all the time”, which was unintentionally dismissive, but considering just how many patients they see, I can understand.
When the anesthesiologist came in to see me pre-surgery, I, again, gave him the warning: “I don’t react normally. It takes a lot to get me under, and I take a long time to wake up. I don’t tolerate narcotics normally. I’ll have panic attacks, nausea, chest pains, difficulty breathing, etc. It’s no bueno.”
I recounted the tale of my C-section, and how the anesthesiologist spent the whole damn time talking about the new house he bought, and zero time paying attention to how I was doing. It was so bad, that, while they were stapling me up, the nurse said to him, “Um, she’s not under.”
He responded, “No, she’s out. I got her full of Demerol.”
To which I piped up, (with a face full of tubes….) “No, I’m not, asshole!”
My most recent anesthesia doc, who was very chill, made a joke about how he’d do better, because he took an online class. Again, I understand that it was his attempt to allay my fears, but it also came off as, “I do this all the time, so there can’t possibly be anything special or different about this time.”
So, fast forward to rolling into the surgery suite. I’ve been in many now, and this was probably the largest. I’m always puzzled by why they make them appear so dark in every fictional setting, because they’re always brighter than noon, and cold as hell. I had an all male team, which I joked presented a perfect opportunity for a boy band, and one of my nurses said he’d always wanted to join a Thriller flashmob but he didn’t know the moves.
They got me up on the table, and started the various strapping in and sensor attachment routine. The blood pressure cuff wouldn’t work the first two times, and so there was a lot of fiddling with that, and then it came time for putting me under.
Now, let me tell you how it’s supposed to go, first.
The doc puts the oxygen mask on my face, with pure O2, which is supposed to make me hyper-oxygenated and dizzy, then he introduces the knock out juice into my IV. There’s a salty taste in my mouth, I count down from ten, or up to five, and off I go.
This is what happened this time.
Oxygen mask is on my face, IV is already flowing. I say, “This thing smells like a CPR dummy.”
Alex, the nurse trying to get my cuff on laughs, and tells the doc. The doc says, “Now, I’m giving her straight oxygen, instead of normal air. It’s missing the carbon dioxide and nitrogen, and it’ll make her feel…”
He’s struggling for the right word, so I offer, “Loopy.”
Doc: “What did she say?”
Alex: “She says loopy.”
Doc: “Yeah, that’s a good word.”
Me: “Just a heads up, I’m not feeling loopy. However, your voices sound like someone is tweaking the audio settings in my ears. You’re kind of tinny, and it’s a bit like you’re underwater.”
The doc, the one who is supposed to be making sure I’m under, is now trying to help the nurse get the blood pressure cuff working, and I’m thinking to myself, “Great, he thinks I’m out, and I’m still awake.” So, I just keep talking, even though I can feel the panic attack coming on.
Me: “Hey, remember me telling you about the other guy talking about his new house? Well, guess what? I’m still awake.”
Alex: “She says she’s still awake.”
Doc: “Um. Just take like five deep breaths.”
Me: “I’m on my twentieth deep breath, and my chest is starting to hurt.”
Doc: “What did she say?”
Alex: “She says her chest is starting to hurt.”
Meanwhile, the panic attack is getting worse, because I’m thinking to myself, “I should be out by now. I can feel that I should be out, but I’m still aware. Shit. What if I can’t tell them I’m still aware through the whole thing?”
Yes, that’s a thing that happens, and this was a three hour surgery, that included a Dremel and my spine.
Thankfully, the doc decided that maybe this wasn’t going to be “just like every other time”, and increased my IV dose. I only found that out post surgery, when the surgeon’s assistant came to talk to me the following day.
“So, we had to use a LOT of narcotics on you. It took way more than normal to get you under, and you kept the anesthesiologist on his toes. You’ve got some sort of bizarre blood chemistry.”
Also, I can now add another painkiller that I can’t take to my list, as the one they prescribed me in recovery traded level 6 neck pain for level 10 chest pains. (Which is much like trading sore muscles for labor contractions.)
However, compared to abdominal surgery, I’m doing much better with regaining some measure of independence fairly quickly. I still can’t look any direction except straight ahead, and sleeping is terrifying, but any surgery you can walk away from (previous ability notwithstanding) is a good one. – K