Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Operating Instructions.

As per the request of a few ardent yet misguided readers, I am now going to tell you about my head surgery. If you get squeamish easily, might I suggest some earlier blogs?

Like this?

Or something like this?


Okay, if you’re still here, you have no one to blame but yourself.

I had to be at the surgical center at 6:30 am. I was to eat and drink nothing after midnight. The doctor’s nurse who set up the time two weeks previously was clear on that; the scheduler from the surgical center who called me the day before was clear on that; my operating nurse who called me at eight the night before was downright adamant. I had to be there at 6:30 in the morning, and I had to be there without so much as a restorative swipe of my toothbrush for fear some liquid might actually trickle past my uvula. Got it.

I arranged for a cab to take me, so Daughter and Consort could sleep the sleep of the just, not to mention the round-headed. We sped through town on empty streets; I imagined this is what Los Angeles would be like if everyone who ever complained about LA actually, you know, left.

I arrived at 6:20 am; the door to the surgical center was locked. I sat down on the ground and gave my head bump a pat.

I said, “You’re leaving, you know.”

The head bump sneered. It had heard that before.

6:30 came and went. At 6:40, a woman in full make-up and office-suitable clothing walked past me and unlocked the door. I went to stand up to go in, and she started in surprise. I can imagine she had thought I was a pile of used surgical rags (I had been told to wear clothing that was comfortable and warm; this outfit could also have been described as “Stretched-out and linty”). I smiled pleasantly at her without actually opening my mouth and letting my morning breath out.

“I’m your 6:30” I hissed through a clenched jaw.

She pointed to the sign-in sheet.

“We’ll be with you shortly”, she lied easily.

The windows looked out upon the midnight-blue sky, the dark grey hills, the occasional car; nothing to see there. The magazine racks produced a six month-old Newsweek, four issues of popular magazines all of which mysteriously featured Tori Spelling, and several issues of Golf Digest. I had no book with me, being as I was their 6:30 appointment and I had arrived at 6:20 and it didn’t occur to me a surgical scheduler might be a lying sack of skin. An hour later I knew everything I never wanted to know about Tori Spelling and I had some fascinating tips on how to increase the distance and accuracy of my five iron.


A woman in scrubs stood in the doorway into pre-op. Like an angel in mint green, she beckoned to me. I entered the next room and found all sorts of comforting medical-type hustle. I changed into something unflattering and lay down on the bed. The anesthesiologist came drifting by. I am neither tall nor especially large physically, but this woman made me feel like a rather butch Yeti. She had blonde hair to her waist, wrist bones like the straws from Daughter’s juice boxes, and eyeliner carefully outlining her Bambi eyes. I was to be put under by someone who appeared ready to sit in the front row at Total Request Live.

She explained that since they would be burring down the bone on my head, I was to be under general anesthetic because, as she correctly surmised, “You really don’t want to be awake to hear or feel that”.

She left, possibly to reapply lip gloss, and my new friend the nurse who had liberated me from Lobby Limbo swooped in, carrying an IV tube.

“I’m going to start an IV,” she explained, swabbing my wrist, “and then we’ll be ready to go”.

I stared at the ceiling and focused on my breathing. I’m not going to put “Getting stuck with a needle on purpose” on my hobbies list anytime soon, but I’ve had enough blood drawn to know I have the kind of veins phlebotomists find pleasing. She was clearly a competent nurse, it will just be a small stick and then sweet Mother Valium will be coursing through my…


My head snapped down and stared at my wrist, which she was now trying to pull back towards her. My wrist, having felt a searing pain unlike anything it had ever experienced, was equally adamant about getting the hell away from her.

“What just happened?” I queried fiercely, no longer concerned about morning breath.

She said under her breath, “Sorry. I think I hit a valve.”

Readers, I don’t have a medical degree, but I do have some awareness of human anatomy. We don’t have a valve in our wrist. We do, however, have a bone in our wrist, and the sensation I had just felt was, now that I was thinking about it, exactly like what it might feel like if something pointy and metal scraped against a bone. I wondered if “Valve” was code word for “Bone”. I thought about telling her how “Valve” makes people think she’s lying to them, where if she said something friendly like “Unicorn” instead of “Bone”, patients would just think she had already started them on their medication. I thought about sneaking out and living life with an open hole in my head.

She flipped my arm over and swabbed the crook of my arm. I can’t say as I was happy, but I eased up a bit. I have a great vein there, if I must brag. Junkies worldwide would gaze upon it in awe and envy. This should take no more than…


The nurse whispered, “I’m going to get the anesthesiologist”.

Dr. Video Vixen swam into view. She and the nurse had a whispered conference. I tried hiding my arms someplace neither one of them would look. The anesthesiologist looked at the arm with Dead End #1 and Dead End #2.

I whispered pathetically, “I thought I had good veins.” I waved the crook of my arm at her, now blooming what appeared to be a subcutaneous pansy. “Phlebotomists love this vein.”

“It’s a good vein for drawing blood, but a bad one for establishing an IV.”

I tell you, I just won’t live long enough to learn everything interesting there is to know about myself.

She started poking at my other arm. I grew generally more miserable. Anesthesiologist by day/pole dancer by night leaned over me and said, crisply but not without a certain kindness, “I know, it’s not fun. But the reason we’re having these problems is that you’re dehydrated which flattens out the veins and if you keep crying, your veins are going to get flatter.”

I cannot imagine why, but this didn’t put me in a calm and reasoning frame of mind. It put me more in a “It HURTS and I want to feel sorry for myself but it’s all my fault because I actually listened to you people when you said to be here on time and not drink stuff and now my veins are two-dimensional and you’re NEVER going to stop poking me oh God, why can’t I stop crying!” frame of mind.

It took another two attempts on the other arm before we made contact.

Next, it gets weirder.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Quinn,

When I had my apendectomy, I was given demorol. I remember feigning pain just so that the anaesthesiologist could shoot me up with some more.

4:29 AM  
Blogger Karen of TX said...

I'm so sorry. Here we are, bump not even touched yet in the story, and I'm cringing in sympathy. I have bad veins, the kind that make nurses go get each other. The one time I tried to give blood in college, they gave up, but not before I was in tears and ice packs.

And fwiw, there are valves in veins, but it's not like they're neural pain loci, for crying out loud. She either hit a bone or the nerve that runs beside all veins.

5:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yikes. I'm glad you got through already!

I have a similar problem with veins. More than once I've had nurses jab needles into my arm only to find out there was no vein! They usually go through my wrists for IV at this point and I always end up bruisey. :-(

7:27 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dear Karen,
This is why I love having smart and educated readers.
This is also why I could really do with a full-time fact checker.


9:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thank you for the update. I have been dying to know how the bone saga got resolved.

It sounds horrible. But since you are writing this, I can assume that you survived...

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dang! i hate cliffhangers!!

y'know - i have the same problem! they love my veins at the Red Cross & all Medical Testing Facilities, but not at my last few hospital stays. it sucks to be us, no?

6:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the last time they took my blood i told her where to stick. she said, not a good place. moments later, a pain like i had never known screamed through my hand, and she just kept moving the needle around in there. finally after me announcing i was sick, then saying, i'm about to pass out, them when my poor head hit the wall she took the needle out. after two more tries that only left HUGE bruises, she stuck me where i suggested the first time. less than a minute later, the tube was full of blood, and i was on my way battered, bruised, and mad as an old wet hen!! cathy

11:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the "Anesthesiologist by day/pole dancer by night"...I had to get blood tests recently and the experience sounds as bad as yours. I am waiting for your next installment!

7:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a medical procedure recently and when the anesthesiologist came in, we kept expecting him to say ". . .But I play one on TV." He was very unrealistically handsome, and couldn't possibly have a brain in his head. (Of course he could, but that was my first thought.) I kept wondering if he'd been airbrushed, but that was unlikely since he was in the same room with me.

Angi L.

8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for changing your mind and writing about your procedure. My day would not have been complete without reading about Dr. Pole Dancer. That visual is too much.

LJ aka Elle

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ai yi yi, I am cringing and feeling sympathetic twinges in my wrists and inner elbows just reading this!!

I hope the next part went more smoothly than the IV startup did...?!

8:58 AM  

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