Thursday, January 28, 2010

A full-dress Harley in the Mamalahola Rain Forest

Couple of weeks ago I had an atrial ablation, which is doctor talk for paint-balling around inside your heart with a laser gun. You and I call an irregular heart-beat "atrial fibrillation". Doctors call it a brand new full-dress Harley.

When they tell you about atrial ablation, they spend an inordinate amount of time talking about your heart -- trying to make it relevant for people who say the pledge of allegiance with their hand over their shirt pocket.

Turns out your heart is about the size of a nice Russet potato. It's roughly the shape of Kauai and my problem was in the Mamalahoa Rain Forest. No big deal, I figured they'd go in at Anahola, dodge around a bit in the Kealia Forest and finish up somewhere near Halele'a. I'm on the American plan, so meals and lodging are included.

But they don't spend nearly enough time talking about your crotch which, as it turns out, is all anyone seems interested in once you hit the table. Or the front door. It's kinda like being kidnapped by aliens, beamed up to the mothership and then they do all those weird experiments the Discovery Channel keeps yapping about. Far as I can tell, the big difference is that they didn't kidnap me from a trailer court.

But it would be just my luck that aliens would do the ablation for free if I let them poke around some; and considering what it costs to have humans poke you around, I'm ready to add that to the health care bill. Republicans may not want to cover aliens, but I'm saying we go the other way -- include them as providers and they'll soon lose interest in Earth. God knows the politicians have.

Anyway, I check in and nurse #1 welcomes me to the hospital, gives me a clothing bag roughly the size and shape of a boy scout overnight pack and says, "Put all your clothes in here, including your shoes and don't forget to take off your underwear -- you're going into a sterile environment." Confirming I understand, "I AM a sterile environment -- I've already had a vasectomy." Apparently she's heard that one before.

Mom always said I should wear clean underwear in case I got hit by a car and had to go to the hospital. This logic, incidentally, has always been lost on me. Say I'm laying on a gurney and they call my mom: "Mrs. Acton, we're sorry to tell you that Joe's been hit by a car and is at Providence Hospital. He's been in surgery for three and half hours, has lost 6 pints of blood, has numerous broken bones and massive soft-tissue damage. It's touch and go right now, but his underwear is fresh as a daisy and white as a snowball. You must be very proud of him, it's so hard to instill values in teenagers these days."

So, I've been in my tidy-whities no more than 45 minutes from feet down and now my undies are laying in the bottom of a bag and I'm parading around in my very own dressing room wearing the latest in 1952 bedroom apparel, complete with skid-proof sock slippers which are easily three sizes too small. I got my shirt on backwards and my bathrobe on frontwards, the distinction between the two being which one you put on first.

I present myself to the world whereupon nurse #2 makes her approach, takes the bag and says, "Did you take off your under-wear?" I go for an ice-breaker, "Oh, they were serious about that?" No ice-breaker. Long stare. "Yeah, they're in the bag. At the bottom. In a shoe. Left, I think."

She quick-marches me down the hall to nurse #3 who does the weigh-in and then asks, "Are you wearing underwear?" "No, I took them off and threw 'em out the window about 15 minutes ago." Geez, what's the big deal, I mean don't they cut people's underwear off them everyday? Does no one here watch "E.R."? It ain't like I came in wearing chain mail.

Next stop, I.V. Land. I'm escorted to a plush recliner where they push it back so I'm nice and comfy for Ms. Needles.  About 5 minutes later a brand new nurse hurries over to me with a blanket and says, "Would you like a nice warm blanket?"

"Not really, thanks, it's plenty warm in here and I sweat easy."

"Yes" she says, "But you're going to want something for modesty."

"Say, what?"

"Well, with your legs up, umm...." and she glances down and stops talking.

Are you kidding me? Seriously? 20 minutes ago I showed up in nicely pressed clothes, picture ID, cash copay AND clean underwear, and in the span of less than 10 minutes you're telling me I've morphed into a flasher?

"Yeah, I'll take the blanket and by the way where is this sterile environment that requires me to be running around the hospital, commando?"

"Oh, it's not a sterile environment until you get into the actual surgery suite, but we don't want to inconvenience you by having to remove your underwear in there."

Right... wouldn't want to be inconvenienced in the least when I can qualify for a class "C" felony instead.

So, after I'm all I.V.'d up, they walk me into the surgery suite which has no less than 8 people all masked up and running around like "Duck Soup". They sit me on the operating table and start taking my bathrobe off -- which would have been a prime time to take my underwear off, but never mind -- and a nurse-type shows up with hair clippers and declares she's going to shave my chest. Shave a bald guy's chest. Is there no humanity left in the world? What's next, the inside of my ears?

She shaves my chest and then announces, "I also have to shave your 'privates'."

My privates? "I'm pretty sure after the I.V. suite incident and the 8 people in this room, it's safe to call them my 'publics'."

Everyone laughs. I'm finally a hit. And just about the time I'm ready to really get rolling, they tell me to count backwards from 100 and I make it to just about 100.

Four hours later I'm waking up in recovery with a Basque separatist in the bed next to me, who had a hip replacement with a spinal block, is not one bit groggy and will not shut up about how great it is to be Basque and what a raw deal they got from Spain or France or Iceland or some damn place.

Somebody give these people their independence so he can shut up and get out.  Next thing I know, I'm waking up in my room. Basqueless. Quiet. Free. So this is what he was talking about. Me likee.

I'm drifting in and out of the now, pretending to pay attention to either my wife or daughter depending on who is trying to You Tube me.

"Mom, make him count up by three's again, that just kills me."

"Honey, you look really bad... how about a nice ice chip?" says the wife. Yeah, but just the one please... I don't want my lips to come completely unstuck.

Somewhere along the consciousness continuum Dr. House sweeps in, declares me in great shape for guy with a mid-size SUV parked on his chest and sweeps out to visit the other contributors to his next European ski vacation. I can't help but notice he leaves behind a smaller female human-like unit all dressed in green and carrying stuff... a clipboard, rubber gloves, stethoscope, rubber gloves, a towel (uh?... a towel?), rubber gloves, a plastic jug (never good).... She only has so many hands but in every one of them she seems to be carrying rubber gloves... the natural enemy to all men -- kinda like running water is to the Corps of Engineers.

"After we remove your catheter, Doctor wants you to give us a urine sample" and she sets the plastic jug down.

"What catheter?"

"They put a catheter in during surgery."

"Into what?"

"Into you."

"Are you in the right room?"

Just to show off, she pulls the sheet back a little so I can see a rubber tube running down the side of the bed... the significance of which doesn't really cut through the fog until she pulls the sheet ALL the way back and I see where it goes. INTO me. Holy crap! Are you kidding me, again?

I'm still doped up but I ain't THAT dopey.

"I think you need to get the doctor back in here right away because there's been a BIG mistake. HUGE mistake. I mean, they were supposed to run catheters up the VEINS in both legs but no one said they were going in through my whosits, with THAT thing. And how'd they get it into my heart from there -- the whosit doesn't connect to the heart, does it?"

"Not in most men, no." Oh, HA! Comedy!

When they were describing the lovely island of Kauai, no one mentioned there was going to be a drainage problem over on the Big Island. And while I'm thinking this, she snaps on a set of rubber gloves and does what seemed to be a very detailed inspection of the "entry sites" as I now know them.

I figure it's only polite to try for some small talk while she has her head stuck into my crotch so I say, "I notice that everyone who comes in here seems to be really interested in my crotch, but nobody seems at all interested in my chest, which is where all the action was, right? Shouldn't somebody be aiming a stethoscope or something at me?"

"We don't need to do that because of the heart monitor."

"What heart monitor?"

"The one you're wearing."

"Are you sure you're in the right room?

Then to show off again, she says, "This heart monitor" and reaches into my shirt pocket and pulls out a portable heart monitor complete with wires stuck all over me, like gum on a sidewalk. It's like I've been slapped. I nearly jump when I see it.

"Where did THAT come from?"

"It's been on you since surgery. Why do you think your shirt was all pulled over to one side?"

"I dunno, I thought the gown was out of alignment and it just naturally pulled to the right."

"The unit fits in your pocket because it's wireless and we monitor you from the desk out front."

"What happens if I roll over onto the monitor?"

"You won't like it very much."

"I already don't like it very much, but will it come undone or something?"

"No, but if it does we'll come back in and hook it up again."

"But how will you know if it comes undone?"

"Well, the leads will stop working"

"So I'll look dead from out there?"

"No, you'll look unhooked."

"Doesn't "dead" look a lot like "unhooked"?"

"No, it looks like unhooked. Don't worry, we'll know if you're dead." Remember when Hannibal Lecter says, "I'm having an old friend for dinner"? Same feeling.

If marijuana leads to hard drugs and sex leads to kids and one thing leads to another, then it's nearly axiomatic that if you let one nurse look at your publics, you've pretty much signed the waiver for the gawkers tour. I got so used to people I'd never seen gawking me up that when a guy came in around 8PM with a clipboard and started messing with the I.V. unit, I just threw the covers back and pulled up my gown. The guy looks at me and says, "No, man -- I'm just here to do the nightly equipment inventory." Perfect. Now I AM a flasher.

After I'd flashed the inventory guy out the door, a male nurse comes in and says, "Do you want me to remove that catheter?" Is this like a trick question or something? No, I was thinking of naming it and taking it home so my cat will have something to play with while I'm working at my desk.

"I not only want it out, I'll pay extra for it. In fact, I'll give you $100 right now to take it out."

The guy laughs, "Yeah, I hear that a lot. OK, take a deep breath and..." with alarming eye-hand coordination he quickly grabs Little Joe around the neck and with the other hand swiftly pulls the rubber tube out. And this is where that deep breath came in handy because without it they wouldn't have been able to hear me scream across the street and down the block at Starbucks. Maybe only the entire hospital would have heard me. But you give me a deep breath head start and then snap a rubber tube out my whosits and I animate right up.

As he leaves he says, "Now don't forget to leave a urine sample in the plastic bottle." Again, and not to belabor the point, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I'm never going to pee again. Ever. I'm never drinking water, coca cola, beer, iced tea, nothing - in fact, I may never brush my teeth again, just in the off-chance I accidentally swallow some water.

Saturday I started to sober up in earnest. They gave me a menu with pictures of the meals but it must have been done by the same outfit that does all the escort services in Vegas because the food didn't look anything like the pictures. I'd broken through my vow never to pee again because I discovered they'll bring you any amount of fluids at any time of the day or night just to get you to pee.

Is this the definition of irony or what: if you can't pee, they bring you anything you want to drink; but before the operation, I mean waaaay back when I could pee at will, they wouldn't let me drink anything for 6 hours. Anyway, by Saturday morning I was into recreational peeing, with two different kinds of juices that I mixed into one big cocktail plus two cans of sodas.

When check out time arrived, I expected a group photo with the staff -- at least the gawker unit.... tall people in the back, shorter in the front, one row kneeling, please -- just like high school.

Instead, a single nurse shows up -- and by that I mean only one of them -- and announces she's there for a final examination. Unfortunately, I am completely sober and she's very easy on the eyes and I'm thinking, "This could be problematic -- let's everybody just calm the down, no reason to get excited -- just where are them dead puppies when you need them?"

So, off go the covers, up comes the gown and "snap" go the rubber gloves. And after only an eternity, she glances up and says, "Your groin is excellent." Then glances back and adds, "Professionally speaking."

"When I tell this story... and I will... you can be sure I am NOT going to include the phrase, 'professionally speaking'" I said, proud of my first post-anesthesia come-back.

"For some reason," she smiled "the men never do."

Everything went off like clockwork, the procedure was a success, and I'm fine. But Ferris Bueller was right: life moves kinda fast… you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.


  1. I'm pretty sure I haven't laughed that hard in quite some time. Thank you for that :)

  2. Very funny story. Glad you are ok!

  3. Two years ago had back surgery. When I woke up, noticed what appeared to be a rubber tube up, Well you know where" Nurse Dirkin came in advised whe was there to remove the catheter. Was I ready, Yup! I'm more than Ready. She put on here rubber gloves, said this won't hurt a bit. She gave a yank, at this point I think the rubber garden hose was attached to a 9 cell kel-light. I think they heard me in Tampa.
    Get well my friend!!
    Bill Dennis

  4. Joe
    read your blog. laughed till I cried. had a simular incident with a kidney stone. it is hell getting old