Last-minute Preparations

This is the seventh in a series of articles about my recent trip to the emergency room, my intestinal surgery, and my recovery afterwards. Here is an index to all of the articles in this series.

While awaiting a visit from the pulmonary doctor Dr. Vohra, I had some other last-minute details to attend to before my surgery. Mom called my sister Carol and sister Karen. She would later make phone calls to other members of the family. I needed to call a couple of friends. The first number I dialed was the Chapman family. Judy would be at work however Anne might be at home. She had just quit her job as a school secretary at a Jewish center.

I had already noted the irony that Anne was out of work right at the time when I might need her help. I might need Anne because there was a chance that my mom would end up in the hospital very soon with lung problems. A small spot on my Mom’s lung appeared over a year ago and the doctors have been watching it closely. When the most recent test showed a slight increase in size they tried a needle biopsy but it was inconclusive. She had an appointment with a surgeon in a couple of days to see about a more extensive surgical biopsy. A couple of years ago when Mom was in the hospital for over two months, Anne Chapman was also out of work and she was a real godsend for me. She would come over and spend a day with me while Dad would visit Mom in the hospital. I just don’t have what it takes to sit in a hospital doing nothing for hours on end. Anne kept me from going crazy. She was also a great help to me back in the early 90s when my Grandma Osterman was living with us and was very ill. Mom was preoccupied with caring for Grandma naturally and Anne would come over and help me with my paperwork. We would laugh and tell jokes. Even though she was just 14 years old she was a phenomenal friend to me.

When the phone rang several times, made a small clicking noise, and then rang once more I knew it was switching to voicemail. At least I got to hear Anne’s message “We’re sorry none of us can come to the phone…” Isn’t that the truth? I was very sorry they weren’t there. Oh well… I just prayed that she was on the Internet and would pick up the message soon. She still used dial-up and only had one phone line. I don’t remember exactly what I said. I told them I was in St. Vincent’s emergency room, that I had a perforated intestine, and I was headed for surgery. I asked her to call her mom (Judy) which was silly… of course she would call Judy at work with news this serious. I did also ask her to call Father Paul which she may or may not have done if I hadn’t mentioned it.

The next was call was to my friends Rich and Kathy Logan. They would both be at work but I didn’t know their work phone numbers. I managed to remember their home number by heart. Fortunately their teenage son Tony was at home and he answered the phone. I gave him a message to tell his folks I was in the hospital and having surgery. I just hoped he just got it right.

As I said before, Mom would call other family members later but there were two out-of-town friends she would have to e-mail. One was my friend Buz whom I mentioned earlier had just lost his son to cancer. Buz is a man of faith and I really count on his prayers. Mom had his e-mail address in her e-mail because I had been forwarding to her his messages about his son. The other out-of-town friend I needed to contact was Pamela Bowen. I met Pamela online on CompuServe in 1983 back in those days I described in the first installment of this blog. Even though we’ve only met in person one time she’s one of the most important friends I have. She’s not a religious person that she believes that everyone in the world is connected together and so whenever I ask for prayers she always says “I’ll send you good vibes in your direction”. That’s certainly good enough for me. I managed to remember her e-mail address by heart.

Mom also have the option of calling up my e-mail program on my computer if need be. she would have sent over using my computer because I use a small trackball mouse that is very peculiar and finicky. It is also mounted on my keyboard rotated 90° because it’s easier for me to use that way. However that means if you roll the mouse up , it goes left. Roll it left, it goes down etc. I’m used to using it that way and my brain just automatically adjusts however it’s next to impossible for anybody else to use.

Mom asked me if there was anything else she needed to do. As a joke I said “yeah if I die… erase all my hard drives.” Mom and Dad both said “What the hell have you got in there? We’ve got to go snooping around!” I just didn’t want my old computers to get donated somewhere with a bunch of porno in a secret folder on an unnamed drive. Actually that wasn’t really necessary because after I got back home from hospital I did some looking around and I realized I had forgotten I already cleaned out most of the really nasty stuff a few months before.

Soon Dr. Vohra came in and he began laying out the situation for me in great detail. The first question I asked him was could my lungs actually be the source of the air in my abdomen. I wear that CPAP every night and it puts lots of pressure in my lungs. If I had a punctured lung I thought perhaps the air could be leaking from there. He said it was extremely unlikely. He said if I had a leaking lung I would have chest pain and difficulty breathing because most of the air would escape into my chest cavity. He said the chances of leaking into my abdomen through my diaphragm were so rare that if that indeed was what has happened, my case would be “publishable” and he would be famous.

On many occasions I have discussed with him the risks of general anesthetic but this time he went through them in much more detail than ever before. He talked about the possibility of temporary tracheotomy and even permanent tracheotomy. He asked me flat out if I would agree to that and I said yes. He talked about the possibility that I could end up in a nursing home. I told them as long as my mind was working I wanted to keep going. I made brief mention of my thoughts about Stephen Hawking as I described before. Even went as far as to suggest that if I was on a ventilator, in a nursing home, bedsores over me etc. that months down the road I could decide to remove the vent. I told him I understood but I doubted that would happen.

I was incredibly impressed with how thorough yet sensitive the entire discussion had been. He certainly wasn’t pulling any punches but he wasn’t being completely cold and clinical about it either. Of course that’s measured against a cold and clinical person like me. A more centered person might have been devastated by the conversation but for the analytical me, I loved it when he covered all the bases in extreme detail.

In a few minutes the anesthesiologists and his partner arrived and told me they were ready to go. Final hugs and kisses from mom and I was on my way to surgery. The anesthesiologists pushed me there themselves. They said if you want something done right it’s best to do it yourself. I guess they’ve spent too much wasted time waiting on some minimum-wage orderly to deliver a patient so they were in the habit of just doing it themselves.

They transferred me over to the operating table. I already had an IV line in the back of my left hand that a nurse and put in earlier. They checked the flow on it and hooked me up to the anesthetic so it was ready to go. They took a large Q-tip soaked in some liquid and stuck it up my right nostril really far. The doctor said it was cocaine. He said I could tell people I had coke up my nose. I don’t know how much he was joking or if it really was a cocaine derivative. It was meant to numb my nose. It hurt like hell at first.

That was the last thing I remembered… fade to black.

In the next installment will find myself out of breath in the ICU.

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