Minor Surgery

by Peter J Stevens

About 7:30 Wednesday night, I got a call from the hospital (Hosp. Of the Univ. of Pennsylvania) telling me to be at the admissions desk at 7:30AM. on Thursday. Thursday comes and I am where I'm supposed to be. I get bounced from intern to nurse to someone else and eventually find myself in two gowns, footies and a hair net. I'm led into the operating theater and asked to sit on this table. I'm really starting to get nervous now but I keep my cool.

I'm talking with this nurse when I decide I will just try it out for size and I lay down. I'm aware of having very pleasant thoughts and feeling good, AND THEN, I'm being yelled at. It's the tone of voice that is reminiscent of when your mother is very unhappy with you and is addressing you by your FULL name.

Mr. STEVENS, wake up and I try to open my eyes. They don't want to open and I'm having a real difficult time breathing. The first thoughts that go through my mind is that I've done something I shouldn't have done. This is not unusual for me, so I try to respond by correcting whatever it was that I did. But I squeeze an eye open, and I can see that this is a different room from where I'd been. And the time is now 12:30, not 9:30. Oh, they did it...

And then the pain arrives.

I can't breath, I'm gasping for air, I can't keep my eyes open, I can't swallow and I have nothing on - no hair net, no footies, just a gown that is draped over me. It's a couple of hours before there is any ability to breathe through my nose. And each breath, regardless of nose or mouth, is uncomfortable. It's all I can do - it's all I want to do - to lay there and let the world go on without me.

I try to clear my throat and I pull at the stitches. I can't breath because mucus is collecting at the back of my throat. I try to spit and all I spit is a gunky red liquid that does not want to separate. And this pulls at the stitches.

I'm given a glass of cold water and asked to try and drink it. Assuming that how I have eaten and drunk for 50 years is still in operation, I try to take a small amount of the ice water. Immediately, it goes up my nose and down my windpipe. I manage to get some into my esophagus, but that was real work and everything I do is painful. More water went up my nose and down my shirt than made it into my stomach.

About 9 o'clock I'm given a room. I'm the last one to receive placement. It's good to be able to get out of bed and move a little, but not too much. I sleep on and off all day and night. Whenever I fall asleep, I start to gag. I have a bandage around my chin and the remnants of an ice pack strapped around my head. I would sleep for 5 - 10 minutes, and then lie awake for an hour. Get 10 more minutes of actual sleep, and then lay motionless for another hour. The night was divided into short naps of just a few minutes, and then long spells of just lying quietly, hoping to get past it all.

Friday morning comes and I find myself on display. All the interns and medical teams start coming by asking how things are. But I got some sleep and am actually feeling pretty good. Little do I realize that this is because I'm able to hit the pain button, and that is keeping me feeling good.

I'm taken down for X-ray. My roommate, who had his jaw shortened, is slumped over his chest just trying to stay alive. I'm wheeling myself around looking at the skull models, and doing donuts. But it takes 4 attempts to get the X-ray done, and then I'm sent back to my room. I'm figuring that if this is Friday and I feel this good, maybe I can go to work on Monday. I have not yet connected the pain button with feeling acceptable.

I'm given breakfast and discover how hard it is to eat. Nothing is working right. Nothing is working the way it was designed. Jello and chicken broth. It shouldn't have taken more than 5 minutes to consume, and it took over an hour. Before I was done, lunch had arrived and I got to start the process again.

Mary takes me back to her house where I stretch out while she run errands. Smokey knows that I'm not myself, and doesn't know quite what to make of it. He wants to stay out of the way, but his curiosity gets the better of him, and he keeps coming around to see if I want to play. That evening, Mary takes me up to my son's and daughter-in-law's where I will spend the weekend. Being away from the pain button, the world is getting worse and worse. I'm downing medicine that is prescribed, but it doesn't do the job that the others had. I find myself gagging again whenever I try to sleep. Every time I move, I pull on the stitches, my chin is still a big ball of non-responsive cartilage, and this is just the first night. I'm up on the hour, spitting, clearing my throat and trying to relieve the pain.

Saturday is not much different, except that I'm not dealing with hospital administrators. The gunky stuff is less intensely red, but there is just as much of it, and it seems thicker and more difficult to get rid of. I'm just unable to keep my eyes open. Evening comes and I try to eat some dinner. Everyone else is having chicken, french fries and other good stuff. I'm already tired of broth.

Saturday night is again a learning experience. I'm not able to stay asleep for more that 90 minutes before I'm up spitting, trying to clear my throat, get rid of the mucus, and relieve the pain.

Sunday is a quiet day where I just sit and sleep, and then wake up and read something, watch something on TV, and then sleep again. But Sunday night is again useless. Trying to get back into the normal routine of sleeping at night for 6 - 8 hours at a time is not possible. And it eventually dawns on me to give it up.

Monday my parents bring me to Laporte, and I sleep most of the trip. I get my self organized up here, unpacked and all, but still, my time is more useless that anything else. I stay up watching TV Monday night, but I try to go to bed for the night. Two hours later, I'm awake, trying to clear my throat, eating ice cream, and downing pain medicine. Eventually I come to the conclusion that this is just not going to work, turn on the TV again, and spend the night watching old movies.

Today is Tuesday and I don't feel a whole lot better than I did Sunday. My chin is still useless. My jaw tires very quickly, I have a contiguous sore throat, I'm in constant need to clear my throat of gunk.

I've brought magazines to read, software to become familiar with, and all kinds of things to help me be useful and spend my time. Nothing is easy, and it all takes effort to deal with. I'll be lucky to read one article a day. I brought something like one an hour.

But each day seems a little easier to deal with. I've figured out how to swallow (most of the time), and it's nice being able to cat nap and not feel like one is wasting the day.

Today is Tuesday; we'll see what the rest of the week brings...

Nothing, absolutely nothing, prepared me for that first moment, and then hour, that I spent waking up. I wasn't even aware of being "under". I was feeling really good. I knew I was in a dream state, but I didn't hurt, or have any bad thoughts going on. Suddenly I hear my name being called in a very concerned state and I thought I had done something I should not have done. No clue as to what that might be but the voice was very persistent and concerned. Maybe the place was on fire, it was that level of concern.

I rolled my head over and tried to open my eyes and the full force of reality hit me all at once. I had my glasses on and so I was immediately blinded by the lights. I was able to reason enough to realize I was not in the same room, and I could see a clock and therefore know that 3.5 hours had passed.

I thought they must have done it, and then I found I couldn't breathe, I couldn't swallow. My head hurt with the worse headache I've ever experienced (combined), and I was experiencing the worse sore throats (combined) I have ever experienced.

It took me a good hour to become at all functional as to just moaning and groaning. I was eventually given a glass of water and asked if I wanted any. I tried to swallow and the H2O went up my nose and down my windpipe. I think I got more on the floor than down my throat. Tomorrow will be one full week and I'm still having trouble getting things down my throat, and breathing is uncomfortable.

It had been suggested that I have surgery to deal with my sleep apnea. I still had my tonsils (huge, and as it turns out, they had grown into the soft tissue of the throat as well). They would remove my tonsils and my over sized uvula the size of a boxing bag. Then, my chin would be moved a fraction of an inch forward, which would move my tongue forward. So, to look at my throat, you see from one side of the tongue, up and over the roof and down the other side - stitches and raw skin. No place was left untouched. There are two spots in the back as well that had something done to it. Adenoids I suppose. My chin is still numb, and the swelling has not gone away. It doesn't seem to be getting any less numb. I'm "sometimes" able to open and move my jaw more easily than other times, but usually that only produces pain.

The plan is that the windpipe will be made bigger (it was the size of a straw and should be the size of your thumb), and everything in the throat removed will stop the channels from getting clogged stopping me from breathing. I stop breathing while I sleep for minutes at a time, repeatedly all night. My oxygen level drops from 95% to 66%, and I'm flirting with a heart attach. So, I felt I had little options other than this radical approach.

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