Thursday, October 03, 2002

Things You Don’t Want to Hear Your Doctor Say

• “Can you still feel that? Really?”
• “Hmm, interesting.”
• “Hey, where did it go?”
• “My God, it has roots. Look, nurse. Look how deep it goes.”
• “Interesting.”
• “I’m going to have to dig a little deeper.”
• “Let’s see how much I can get out.”
• “This is really interesting.”
• “I’ll have to extend the incision.”
• “Here’s another chunk.”
• “Bizarre.”
• “Don’t we have any 3-0? I’m going to need something heavier to stitch this together.”
• “I’ve never seen anything like this is my life.”
• “Wait a minute, weren’t you the one who had a lipoma or something in your abdomen?”
• “Now, remember, the scar isn’t going to end up looking like the incision looks.”
• “Well, whatever it is, I got it all out.”

Which were, word for word, the things my surgeon said this afternoon. Not all the things she said; we also discussed Stephen King and Carole King and the way I used to say “Interesting!” when I was doing a Tarot reading for someone. (Drove the clients crazy.) There was some dialogue of the usual “Please hand me the cautery knife” and “Thanks for taking care of the sharps” kind. Oh, and of course I was a good patient and checked to make sure they had seen the ultrasound done during the visit to the Urgent Care Clinic. (They hadn’t; they went to look it up on the computer, but all they found was the interpretation: it wasn’t a clot.)

The Lump had shrunk considerably, and apparently it made a spirited attempt at escape at the first incision. I did get to see it: pink and wet and wrinkled and yes, with roots. I’ll know next week what it is.

Though much of the operation was conducted in a pleasant, bantering atmosphere, it was still hard to go through. Originally they said it should take no more than 5 minutes, start to finish. It took 45 minutes, though, and the next patient was considerably delayed. I don’t mind blood, but I disliked smelling the cautery knife scorching my flesh — not, as you might think, the smell of sizzling hamburger, but much more like burned hair. Worst of all, the radio was playing the Back Street Boys.

Also, the local anesthetic was really local, and the probing and cutting kept going past the edge of the numb places. (Yes, I did mention that, after the first couple of times, and yes, they kept adding more anesthetic.) Also, though they tried numbing the skin with a cream first to make injecting the anesthetic less painful, it didn’t kick in as fast as they’d hoped, and I ended up feeling the half-dozen needles of fiery local jabbing into my flesh.

That’s the physical and objective experience. The subjective was worse, at least at the beginning. Because I was, once again, lying there waiting to be sliced open. Medical procedures hit me in a deep, ancient, terrible place, a place of helplessness and pain and betrayal. Thus the wisecracking, the questions, the general cheeriness. I had to remember — actively remember through what I said and did — that I *could* speak, that if I let them know the anesthetic wasn’t working that they would do something. That I was not helpless.

Knowledge and mordant humor have always been my weapons against helplessness. And stories; telling it this way, now, I am releasing the pain, expressing it as I would express snake venom from a wound.

Anyway, what’s left now is a sewn-up incision that’s starting to hurt like hell. I came home and slept hard for three hours, then got up to eat supper with the family. It’s Paul’s birthday, so we had his favorites: steak, baked potatoes, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms. I skipped the steak, of course. Now I’m off to have some birthday pie with the family while Paul opens his presents.

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