I’m in anteroom, the one just outside the operating theatre. I’m flat out, trollied, cannula in my wrist, oxygen mask on my face, chest stuck with ECG pads, and wearing an angel gown. It’s cold, the land of anticipation always is. They are talking above me, making the day sound the jolliest in the world. We’re just giving you something to breathe, says the anaesthetist and then I’m gone.
In post-op, a nanosecond later, I’m wrapped in warm air. There’s a voice saying something about it taking time getting my temperature up. There is light. Everything out of focus, double, moving about. I try to probe where I’ve been. There’s no substance, no experience, no sensation. I know time has shifted but I have no idea by how much. Could be minutes, could be days. There’s a sense of stretched out space having been filled with something outside my comprehension. It’s a wavering perception that’s gone almost as soon as it arrives. Here Ginsberg would have met with angels and Kerouac would have seen the sparking fractured light pouring from the diamond sutra. This is the place of white corridors and great lights, of peace and gladness, of cocooned protection, the cessation of time and the end to all fears.
The warm air is arriving via a tube attached to the bottom of whatever it is that covering me. Hospital staff in gowns float by, tending, manipulating, checking monitors, watching my temperature as it slowly goes up. You written a book, haven’t you?, asks someone in a gown. I nod. Are you going to write about all this? I smile. Sure, just give me time.
I get a visit from the scrubs-wearing surgeon. In and gone in minutes, another face above me. It looks good, he tells me. But the lab will decide. He’s taken samples from the cancer growth sites, rich cystitis red from being blasted by six weeks of BCG, angry and still letting me know. It’ll take about a fortnight. How do you want to proceed? Shall I call you or do you want to come in? Both, I tell him. Both.
Back in the recovery ward they give me toast and tea. I realise that haven’t eaten anything for almost 24 hours. Around me are others recovering from their tribulations. Men flat out, wired to monitors, hoses snaking fluids from their wounds to bags on carry-frames set under their beds. Tubes delivering blood. Bleeping lights on screens.
I realise then, and with considerable joy, that I have no catheter installed. A nurse checks my blood pressure and takes my temperature again. You’re doing fine, she says. Temp is normal. You can go once you’ve peed. You know the routine. She puts a grey compressed cardboard urine bottle (male) onto my bedside table. Use this. Ah yes, I know these things of old.
I find the water jug, there behind the tissues, and drink its contents. I wait ten minutes then head for the lav. It’s like a gusher this time, all hesitation forgotten. Pain, if there is any, is a pale ghost and the world is not swirling. I can stand without leaning against anything. I’m in charge. I fill the receptacle and proudly deliver it to the nurse’s station. You need 100 ml from me before I can leave, right? I say. Well here’s a gallon.
Back home I score the process, on a scale 1 to 10 where 1 is awful and 10 is great:
Pre-op wait - 3 (last on list)
food - 2 (toast tasted like cardboard)
Care and attention - 8 (you alright, there’s a love)
Time taken to recover - 1 (GA always hit me hard, probably my fault more than theirs)
Surgery - 10 (the tumultuous joy of having no catheter and that hint from the surgeon that it's looking good)
Would you use this hospital again? - Yes, I would.
|fill me quick|