The whole concept scares me. The bright lights, the salubrious tools, the snap of silicone gloves. Think about what their just hands have seen, the inside and the outside. Hands that we have come to trust with our lives.
The most alluring aspect of the whole operation are the masks. The first masks you see are worn by the doctors themselves. They act as shields allowing the wearer to hide safely behind their layered fabrics. Nothing gets in, and nothing gets out. But those eyes, they stare into your soul with no lips to match the directions given to you. You just have to trust them. Trust that they are telling the truth, trust that they will not kill you.
Now the anesthetic mask reveals a hidden vulnerability of the patient. You must trust these peoples’ eyes as they send you into a peaceful sleep. You must trust them without knowing anything about them or their past. You must trust that they know what they are doing, and they are monitoring you closely. You must trust that when they put that mask on you, you will fall into a deep deep sleep…
This is the moment that has kept me up at night. This is the moment I have been preparing myself for, the moment that all of their rules and precautions have been geared towards. It’s quite comical really, how much we trust these “Professionals”. We listen to them as if they know all the answers and have accounted for every possible mishap. But what if they haven’t? What if their minds slip away for just a second? What if the scalpel they hold so intently slips with them?
It begins like any other day. The sun is shining through the crystal sitting on my windowsill, creating rainbows on the walls as the light travels through the glass. I am optimistic, excited even to finally put the day behind me. I go down the stairs and let my dogs outside. I stop before opening the cereal cabinet. I remember the first rule about today: Do Not Eat Anything After Midnight, Only Water Is Acceptable. By now the dogs are barking, alerting me that even though I can’t have breakfast today, it doesn’t mean they can’t.
I lock the door on my way out and get into my car. I think about how beautiful it is today, sunny without a cloud in the sky. When I arrive promptly at 9:30, I’m greeted by a friendly receptionist who kindly requests that I fill out a survey containing questions along the lines of:
Did you obey our first silly rule to not eat anything after midnight?
I circle “Yes”.
2. Have you experienced any suspicious symptoms? If yes, please indicate them in
the space provided.
I circle “No”.
This continues for 6 pages, but even filling out 6 pages worth of questions about my “stool’s habits” could not prepare me for the 6 little words that followed.
“The doctor will see you now”.
The Next 3 Hours…
I am wheeled into the OR and moved from my stylish gurney onto the operating table, it finally hits me. This is real now, I think to myself, I could die in the next 3 hours if one of these doctors f***s up.
“Okay I’m going to place this mask over your face now and all I want you to do is count backwards, starting at 15, and keep counting until you reach 0”. This is where the trouble starts. Theoretically, the mask goes over my face, I breath it in, it knocks me out.
Go back to that last part there. You see, this doesn’t happen.
I start counting backwards, “15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6…” I feel myself slipping. “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0”. Darkness. Am I supposed to actually reach 0? My body immediately shifts into panic mode. I feel the mask come off, consternation shooting through my body. “Hey I’m still awake”, I try to say. Nothing.
I feel his hands open my mouth, “Breathing tube please”, he says. I try to scream. I scream that I am awake, I scream that I can hear them, I scream that I can feel his hands. I scream out in pain as the tube is pushed down my throat. But it’s no use, they can’t hear me. Fear and panic begin to surge through my veins, my heart no longer pumping blood, but horror and hysteria take its place. I try as hard as I can to open my eyes but it’s like they are sewn shut. My limbs feel like they’ve morphed into cinder blocks, I am unable to move. Not an arm, not a leg, not even a toe. I’M AWAKE!! I scream, PLEASE STOP!!
Then come the words that I have been dreading.
I feel his rubbery gloves grip my abdomen as he makes the first incision. I roar in pain, desperately trying to open my eyes, move my head, wiggle my fingers, anything that will alert them I’m awake. I can feel everything.
“Cut and clamp the blood vessels so we can get to her ureter”.
“Cut and clamp the ureter so that we can get to surrounding tissue”.
How lovely! The next hour is filled with just that, cutting and clamping. He starts to make another incision, this one even more excruciating than the last. It feels like there are claws ripping into my flesh and tissue, sparing no cut or slice.
The blade moves through me leaving a path of pain in its wake, my torture feeling never ending.
Then comes the worst part.
I feel four sets of hands as they swish around inside of me in order to reach their destination, an indescribable sensation.
“Have you been following the Celtics this season?” one doctor asks.
“Yeah! What a game last night!” remarks another.
“I scored tickets to the game next weekend!”
“No way! I’m so jealous.”
How can they discuss their favorite sports teams while I’m lying here undergoing the most bloodcurdling and horrific experience of my life! Isn’t there some type of neoteric machine that can, oh I don’t know… MONITER MY BRAIN WAVES OR SOMETHING??? These people are supposed to be doctors! How can they not see that I’m feeling every incision, every slice, every clamp, every swish of an organ. I AM AWAKE.
Another hour passes of the same torture: cut, slice, clamp, swish, repeat. It has gotten to the point where I have grown so accustomed to the pain that I feel numb, which scares me even more. I try to think about something else: my dogs running on the sandy beach and splashing in the salty ocean, my boyfriend throwing them a tennis ball to play with in the surf; going out on Friday nights with my best friends, setting a positive tone for the weekend ahead after a long week at work; visiting my beautiful mother in her little Californian bungalow in Santa Cruz and reading together on the beach; anything else but this.
But it’s impossible to allow your mind to drift into any of these memories when you are abruptly transported back to reality with just the flick of a scalpel: like daydreaming in the car only to suffer a car accident moments later; or to be sleeping peacefully and suddenly have your head dunked into a bucket of ice water; maybe even walking in a quiet park and unexpectedly fall into a massive hole, unable to escape.
God! I scream, God if you can hear me please make this stop! I will do anything to make this torture end. I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this…
“She’s waking up!” someone says. I feel confused. There’s a pounding in my head that seems to flow from my brain all the way down to my toes and back up again. I panic for a moment, what if the surgery is not finished!
“Get the doctor! Her eyes are opening!”
Finally, finally they are realizing I’m awake! When I open my eyes I’m stunned. The room is too bright, the 4:00 sunlight almost blinding me as I awaken from my torture nap. I look down to find my body under the hospital blankets with no sign that the surgery went wrong. Except it did.
“Get the doctor” I say. “Now!”
A few minutes later the doctor walks in wearing an artificial grin that’s so transparent I almost laugh. “How do you feel?” he asks.
I don’t answer.
“Nothing went wrong during your surgery… You’re going to make a full recovery”. He does not understand what I went through, the hours of torture I endured.
“I was awake! I felt and heard everything. Can you even comprehend what it would feel like to have your body cut open over and over again? To feel your doctor's hands moving around inside of your body? A doctor you trusted with your life! A doctor who promised that everything was going to go smoothly!”.
He has the nerve to go on and say that it was all a dream.
“All a dream! Hah! Then how is it that I felt every incision, clamp, and stitch? How is it that I heard you talk to each other? How could I make this up!? I --”.
He cuts me off.
“This is more common than you may think. When put under anesthesia, many patients find that the dreams they have during surgery are like movies of their worst fears that appear to be intensified by the subconscious. The body is under a significant amount of stress during a surgery such as yours”.
He doesn’t understand. I scream and yell and tell him how I spent hours on his table, trapped under his scalpel, completely powerless. He does not believe me. That’s when I remember something my dear doctor said.
He gets up, turns to the nurse and asks if he can speak with her alone in the hallway. He stops dead in his tracks, his body twists with the mention of 6 little words.
“Have fun at the Celtics game, Dr. Johnson”.