I’ve had surgery a few times in my life. The thought of it doesn’t worry me. It’s the post-surgery I’m apprehensive about – knowing I’ll wake up with pain.
The anaesthesiologist told me what they’d be giving me afterwards, including the painkiller Ketamine. She told me not to be worried if I had hallucinations, or vivid dreams, which were possible side-effects. A popular side-effect, she said, was patients waking up and thinking their room was covered in grass. Why would I be worried seeing that?
They wheeled me into surgery, and again I was out of it quickly. The next I awoke was in Recovery, just when they were wheeling me out. There was a pain in my leg, but it was nothing bad – more like I’d stubbed the shin walking into a low coffee table. The nurses brought me back to my Ward, and rolled me back into my bed space, where I slept sporadically.
Over the next several hours, the nurses performed their routine checks of blood pressure, temperature, and oxygen level. Morphine, apparently, can affect your respiratory system, and one of the nurses told me she almost had heart failure when she counted that I breathed only once in a whole minute. Consequently, they relieved me of my morphine clicker for a couple of hours, although I barely remember using it.
I’d come out of surgery mid-afternoon, and slept fitfully through the rest of the day, until the nightshift nurse came on duty at 9.30pm. She periodically checked to see if I’d used my bladder, and warned me if I hadn’t used it within twelve hours of surgery (which would be 2.30am) she’d have to insert a catheter. The fear is that the bladder doesn’t awake after anaesthetic.
This was a thought which filled me with dread. I’d already had one inserted during the original surgery. There’s a convenience to it, but the sensation of it coming out is:
grotesque (as you visualize it slithering out)
then more painful and grotesque, as A and B compound one another and create a vicious circle.
I didn’t need to go until midnight, but when I tried I couldn’t. I kept trying as the need grew over the next hour, and still couldn’t. The nurse checked on me regularly, monitoring my progress, and said that the catheter might be the way to go. I stressed I really didn’t want it.
She suggested changing position, and perhaps sitting up on the edge of the bed, with my newly-operated right leg perched on a chair. If I was vertical, gravity was meant to help. I didn’t know if the logic was sound, but was willing to try anything.
But sitting there, right leg on a chair, bottle between my legs, I still couldn’t go, although I felt closer than I had when I’d tried peeing I into the bottle. I was hoping the problem was pressure – pressure I put on myself, which I do. With everything.
I stood, hanging onto the metal handle which hung above the bed, my right leg balanced on the bed, the bottle held between my legs, and the near-normalcy of the position (of standing, that is) relaxed me until I was going. It was the ultimate relief. I went back to bed and called the nurse, who told me that meant my bladder was fine. I used that knowledge later, as I still had difficulty going, so maybe my bladder was still a bit sluggish from the anaesthetic. But assurance is an amazing thing.
I lay there, awake now (I’d slept on and off for nine hours) and tried getting back to sleep, but every time I closed my eyes my mind filled with incredible images – colourful landscapes and spectacular panoramic views which I enjoyed with (for me) an atypical lassitude. Usually I’m a panicker. Not now. Now I was tranquil as all these images unfurled in my mind. It happened whenever I closed my eyes: I could pick a starting point (I kept trying to visualise a healing light) but then it would turn into something surreal and breathtaking.
I’ve never taken anything illegal in my life, since there’s always been enough going on in my head without adding to the confusion, but what I was seeing – whilst enjoying an implacable serenity – made me understand why people do use drugs. That was the most calm I’d felt in years, and the imagery in my head was realer than anything I could create through words. So this was the Ketamine.
In the morning, the intravenous painkillers were removed. They were surprised I’d barely used any more morphine, although the pain in my leg was sharpening, and my foot felt as if it was swelling in the plaster half-cast they’d wrapped around my leg. I don’t like taking anything, and after the earlier respiratory issues, was determined not to use the morphine unless I absolutely needed it.
The doctors did their rounds in the morning and examined my foot, which had swollen back up, although they were very happy with the surgery. By Wednesday – just three days after surgery – they wanted to discharge me. I bought an extra day. I didn’t want to be discharged until they were sure everything was fine, but now, while I was healing, it was just a case of waiting.
But that’s what everything seems to come down to: waiting for something to happen. Even if you try to make something happen, you still have to wait.