Getting Stoned, Part Four: A Foodie Goes Under the Knife
Are you wet yet? From all of my tears coursing through the interwebs and through your screen and onto you? No? Okay, just give it a minute. You see, I cry when I’m nervous. And for weeks now, this anxiety has been building, with nowhere to go. First I had my seventh bout of terrible, mind-numbing, body-collapsing pain. Then I had the scary scan with a side of humble pie. Then, I met with a fat-phobic surgical Trump-et and agreed to let him cut into me.
And today, it’s actually happening — they’re going to put me to sleep, and in what feels like just a moment later, I’ll be one organ short of an org-estra.
The build-up is over. It’s D-day (or, as I’ve dubbed it in honor of my departing gallbladder, G-day). Along with my gallbladder, all of this anxiety’s finally coming out too, in the form of a barely controlled and prolonged Ugly Cry. In the week’s leading up to this, I’ve been cycling between shouting, “I don’t want to!” and “I just want this to be over with.” This madness must cease.
Walking up to the surgery center, I feel like a prisoner marching to her impending death. Joe holds my hand. I’m wearing a dress and it’s freezing out. Why did I wear a dress? Oh, right, so it won’t dig into my belly when I come home. This reminder that I'll leave here with four extra holes in my body causes the tears to start up again. We walk in. A very matter-of-fact woman is behind the counter. She’s in the process of helping someone else out, but doesn’t miss a beat and says, “Welcome to the Surgery Center. Please sign in here. The time is 8:04.” For a split second, I stop crying long enough to wonder why she told me the exact time. Then, I look down at the sign-in sheet and see where I’m supposed to write the time. This chick is good, I think.
We sit down across from an elderly couple. I start crying again. I stare forward, silent and red-faced. I watch scrub nurses as they pass in and out of the doors that lead … back there. I check my heart rate on my Fitbit: 92. At least I’m burning some calories with all this stressing out. I turn to look out the window, and I see an obese woman walking up the stairs and into the building. That’s the kind of person who gets their gallbladder out, I think to myself, lost in the depths of my despair and resorting to downright nasty thoughts about other people just to make myself feel better for a fleeting moment — in the midst of this crisis, I’ve become a bona fide bully. I’m not like that — fat and round and lazy and … oh God, am I like that? Am I just a statistic? Have I been kidding myself all this time? I cry some more.
Joe seems to sense my thoughts. He looks over at the woman, then at me, then he smiles as kindly as he can. He knows I’ve been having these thoughts. He’s assured me that I’m not like that. That we’re healthy and we’ll be even healthier after this. I’ve tried to believe him. Fake it ‘til you make it, right?
The obese woman comes in and plops down in a chair next to the elderly couple, red-faced and breathing heavily. She must be their daughter or something. One of them turns to her and says, “Honey, is this where you came to have your gallbladder out?”
Congratulations, Universe. Way to keep me humble.
I’m called up to the front desk. “I’m Lisa, I’ll be checking you in today.” I start crying. “There are tissues over there, but this is a tear-free zone,” she says kindly. She reminds me of Miranda Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy — a short, somewhat sassy, very on-top-of-things black woman with a huge heart.
I apologize for crying (“Nervous tears!”). She's good at what she does. She keeps me calm by asking me routine questions. Name. Date of birth. Last four digits of my social. I look down at my Fitbit — my heart rate is 102.
“I’m in fat-burning mode!” I joke. No matter how grim the situation, I can always crack a joke.
“Girl, you need to calm down!” Lisa/Bailey says with a smile.
Lisa is an unwavering combination of professionalism and kindness. Lisa is perfection. She gives me some informational paperwork, slaps on my ID bracelet, gives Joe a visitor bracelet, and we sit back down.
I try to occupy myself with the paperwork. I flip through the pages, then come to a dead stop. Oh, HELL no, I think.
“Shit,” I say.
“What is it?” Joe asks. I show him the piece of paper in my hand.
“I’m being operated on by people who use Comic Sans.” I quickly text a picture of the damning document to all of my font-knowledgeable friends and coworkers.
Soon enough, we’re called back, along with a middle-aged Indian couple. The wife and I are the ones going under the knife. The nurse leads us to the elevator, we go down to the main hospital entrance. She directs our husbands to the visitor’s lounge. Joe recognizes it from several years back when I came here for a small outpatient procedure. The husbands take the wives’ belongings — our purses, her head scarf, my cardigan. We part ways. I feel like this is the Hunger Games and my name has been called as tribute. I damn well didn’t volunteer.
We’re led to the surgical prep area. They tell me to pee in a cup, which is really fun, since I haven’t had a drop to drink since last night, per their other instructions.
At this point, the anxiety clouds my mind and everything starts to blur together. I change into a gown, socks, and a surgical cap. The sight of the cap elicits a new flood of tears — I didn’t have to wear the cap last time, because they didn’t have to put me under as deeply. The cap reminds me I’ll be intubated. So I cry.
The pre-op nurse starts an IV. She hooks me up to a heart rate monitor and now my finger looks like E.T.’s. Joe comes back — Joe! My Joe! Thank God, it’s JOE! He’s so calm. How is he so calm? I’m grateful for his strength, but also kinda pissed because he doesn’t have to go through this shit and have his body forever altered.
Over the course of the next hour, I’m visited by three spirits — the scrub nurse, the anesthesiologist, the surgeon — they’re all kind (even the Trump-et). They’re all knowledgeable and professional, but still friendly. One by one, they explain what will happen from their perspective. Despite my tears, I geek out at all of the medical trivia. I can tell I’ve been watching way too much Grey’s Anatomy, because this part is way too much fun. They’re going to pump my belly full of gas so they can see better with the laparoscope! They’re going to send my gallbladder to pathology to test it for cancer!
“But can’t I keep it?” I ask.
“Keep what?” the surgeon asks.
“Uh … why?”
“Because I made it. It’s a pearl!”
He laughs. He is human after all.
They tell me I’ll be okay. They can’t take me back yet because my pregnancy test hasn’t come back. Wouldn’t that be funny — explaining to everyone that I couldn’t get the surgery because I was — get this — pregnant! I’ve never wanted to be accidentally knocked-up more than I do right this very second.
I take the Trump-et’s hand in both of my hands — this is serious business. I ask him to please take care of me. He promises he will.
Finally, they pump the happy juice into my IV — the stuff that calms me down as they wheel me into the operating room. I say goodbye to Joe. As they take me back, I feel like I’m on a roller coaster; namely, the Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios in Florida. This is going to be okay. This is fine. It’s almost over. Behold, the power of the happy juice.
I’m surprised at how many people are in the operating room. They wheel me up so I’m parallel to the operating table. They tell me to skooch over.
“No,” I say, “You’re supposed to say ‘One, two, three,’ then lift me up and over like a queen.”
Before I succumb to the inky black velvet of anesthesia, I say, “Thank you, everyone.” And I mean it from the bottom of my faltering gallbladder.
I wake up and it’s over. That’s the one saving grace of modern medicine — the blessed oblivion they relegate you to during the procedure. The post-op nurse says they’ll let me wake up a bit, then bring Joe back. A lot of people get sick after anesthesia, and I guess they want to spare me the embarrassment of puking in front of my beautiful husband if possible. I’ve got an iron-clad stomach though (despite the faulty gallbladder), and I feel pretty good. They give me ice chips because my throat is sore, I guess from the breathing tube.
Joe comes back. “Everything went fine,” he says, just like I’d instructed him to say. When we were driving to the surgery center, I’d told him, “When I wake up, you have to say ‘Everything went fine,’ — those exact words — or else I’m going to think something went terribly wrong and I’ve been in a coma for four years.”
Okay. So no four-year coma. One hurdle cleared.
Eventually, they clear me to go home. They plunk me down in a wheelchair and wheel me out to the hospital’s main entrance. Joe’s there with the car. In a few minutes, I’m in bed, and Joe’s surprised me with a new friend to keep by my side — a bright and shiny new gallbladder. He’s a keeper (and so is Joe).