The Post Surgery Blues

Since you are reading a column and not an obituary you know that I survived the surgery of the century (at least for me).

As much as medical personnel tell you what to expect for a surgery, accompanied with glossy brochures of smiling patients and cartoonish drawings of incisions, nothing can prepare one for the ultimate loss of control over your life once you enter the prep area.

Shedding one’s clothes is akin to shedding one’s protection of what is to come as you lay there helpless in a large room of other pre-op patients, a drawn circular curtain the only semblance of privacy.

I lost track of how many people popped in, each with a greeting of “hi, my name is and I will be doing this to you,” introductions I only half-heartedly paid attention to; after all, these folks were opening acts to the real star of the show, the surgeon.

There’s the woman who will insert the IV, there are the residents who look more nervous than me, and there’s the man who will shave parts of my body which have never been shaved before.

I met so many employees proving how healthy (pun intended) the health care field remains for those looking for a stable career.

No matter how many movies and TV shows one has seen where the camera is the point of view of a patient lying prostrate on a gurney looking up as florescent lights fly by, when you become the camera, it acts as a lightning bolt dose of reality that this is really happening.   Luckily, by the time I was positioned in the operating room, I fell asleep, feeling terribly cold.

Waking up in recovery, there was a new nurse assisting and my wife by my side.  I didn’t know until later that my brother and sister had visited me and that I appeared awake but groggy.  I had no recollection of that.  I apologize for any foreign tongues that may have uttered from my mouth.

My post-op fear was that I was going to throw up in the car on the way home which is why I brought an old bath towel just in case.   Fortunately, I never needed that towel.

The day after the surgery was the most uncomfortable as the main drugs had worn off.  More than anything, I felt discomfort not sharp pain.  For the first couple of nights I could not sleep in bed even with added pillows; the living room chair with an ottoman was my bed.

In 29 years of teaching, and in 42 years of working, I have never taken off so much time due to my health.   Sure, I was able to read three books in five days and binge on Netflix’s “Seven Seconds.”   And my dog and I have bonded even more than before (if that’s even possible).  I’m worried about any post-surgical depression setting in for him without me by his side once I return to work.

Unlike the summer when I’m not working, however, this time felt different.  Convalescing with its restrictions on exercise, limited to small errands and short walks—the elliptical machine and racquetball off limits—bred restlessness.

In this September of my years (to borrow from the Sinatra song), the notion of retirement ebbs and flows, anticipating unrestricted time to enjoy life.  However, that fantasy only works if one is healthy.

As one ages and the future shrinks, the truth to the axiom of making the most of each living day crystallizes.

If you can wake up and feel well, that is a present that comes with responsibility to not fritter it away.   Life comes with a limited supply of those days.