They were in a hurry. I was flat on my back on a gurney, getting drowsy, wheeling down a long hall. Wearing a fetching little blue and white cotton cocktail dress open at the back for inspection and blue paper booties on my feet. Medics in front and behind with another alongside holding a drip bag, all of them serious behind gauze masks. The one with the drip bag asks “are you allergic to . . .”
And the next second I was flat on my back on another gurney, wheeling down another long hall. The medics have pulled down their masks and one of them is saying, “just an hour in the recovery room.” Ten seconds later I was rolling into a hospital room with electronic screens and tubes and wires drooling from the walls. Kathryn, God Bless Kathryn, patiently waiting. The Clock says 9 PM, the operation started at 3.
So I missed it. I missed the foot long incision, the high spurt of spinal fluid, the sawing of back bone, chipping away at the cysts and the slow lapidary build up of bone cement followed by the insertion of a titanium hinge fusing lower lumbar 3 and 4.
Just as well. If I’d been awake for the sawing, shaving, cutting drilling and stapling I’d have been saying hurry up, goddamnit I haven’t got all night.
Of course I did have all night and all day now and I am so happy to be able to walk again without the old nails and needles of pain. And oh joy, the strength coming back into my legs.
The first day after the op, leftover anesthetic made me feel good, kind of a hangover in reverse. I could walk, all by myself, down the hospital hall and back. The second day the pain kicked in. Not major league pain, more like minor league pain. Lifting a leg, for example, took planning. A giant razor- clawed centipede had its hooks in my back. Actually it was just staples instead of stitches. But since the only possible position was lying flat on the staples, that did command your attention.
The nurses were exceptional, kind, patient. And often beautiful. One, a blonde 26 year old absolute replica of my high school girlfriend, was so pretty and so solemn. She’d had kidney cancer the year before and wanted to write about her Airedale hound. The dog had gone on long walks with her during her treatment and was a great healer, she said. And the stunningly beautiful version of Cameron Diaz, a little taller, a little more voluptuous, said in the middle of the night that it would take a lot to make her unhappy. And after a pause, a lot to make her happy. I had a dozen answers to that but was asleep before I got to the first one.
Then there was Ali McCraw at 35. On duty as a night nurse, she answered my call for help at 2 AM. Who knew catheters could be so tricky. Or that they are anchored by a balloon that if you attempt to pull it out, it will feel like you are dragging a melon through your weenie. Fortunately I didn’t try that. But I did have a desperate need to pee, couldn’t pee, and was drooling blood out of my penis.
I’d met her the night before, and we’d talked like old friends. She is bent over me at 2 AM, wiping the blood away and pushing and prodding my little shriveled thing to see what helps. “Lucky I heard your call,” she said. “Always happy to see my handler,” I said as she prodded my shrunken pecker impaled on the catheter tube.
“That is offensive,” she said through clenched teeth.
I felt like a dog, a cur. How do you talk to a stranger when she has her hands on your willie? I was lucky she didn’t stab me with my own catheter.
Then there was my new friend, the lovely drug, Oxycodone, warm as a beach in Belize, bearer of tropical scents and dreams.
My first Oxycodone dream was a trip to London where a square mile of ugly brick buildings had been pulverized. The brick dust had been left in high mounds and valleys and instead of the old dark grim buildings there was a new soft and fluid architecture made of huge sheets (probably steel) of pastel blues and greens. London was a Magical Mystery Tour, enchanted innocence.
After a week, the warmth and calm of the Oxycodone dreams remain, but the dreams are getting darker and shot in black and white instead of color. It’s the old bait and switch of drugs, the promise of sweetness and delight fading as need rises into craving.
There is another dark side to Oxycodone; my new love, my passion, my new need. The drug contains “sphincterlock.” After a few days you are longing, dreaming of not a Ferrari and days of wine and roses in a daffy pastel London, that can wait. What you long for, dream of, crave is oh please, let me have a turd. Can we please just get things moving again.? After a week, you push and you try. And finally with the help of Draino, one finally appears oh joy, oh glory, how beautiful it is. Of course, to you, it’s just stinky ol’ poop. But to me, this little baby is my offspring. (offshoot?)
Other happinesses include having the drainpipe that drooled blood and cloudy fluids into a gallon baggie detached from the gash in my back. And even better, the 50 staples pulled out from the foot long cut. Pop pop pop of wasp stings. Oh joy.
Even better, the strength in my legs is coming back. “You won’t get better lying on your back,” the surgeon said. “The way to get better is to get off your back and walk.”
And the dog is here now, feet up on my chair, tail wagging, saying “get off your butt Bob, we got a lot of ground to cover.”