The Chronicles of Back Surgery - Part VII: Surgery, Self Medication and Socialism

So the rest of the afternoon I sat waiting. Every time a nurse would come in I’d ask if Dr. Brown had called, but no one knew anything. All they could tell me was that Dr. Brown was either going to have one of his associates perform the procedure, or have me wait until he got back from California and take care of it himself. I wasn’t sure when I’d be having the surgery, or even who would be performing it. After a few hours passed, a strange thing happened…

Dr. Brown and walked back into my room. He said that he had called the other surgeons in his practice, a few in Ft. Worth and even one in Dallas to see if anyone could operate on me that evening. By the time he found out that there were no available surgeons on a Sunday night, he was already on the plane. Dr. Brown actually got off of a plane at DFW and drove back to Weatherford. He said that he didn’t think the surgery could wait until he got back from San Diego, so he had to cancel his trip and come back to work on me. He was afraid that if I waited any longer, the nerve damage in my lower body could become permanent.

As soon as he finished describing the procedure itself, a couple of nurses came in and started wheeling me off to the operating room. Everything happened so fast that I had no time to prepare myself. I was thinking of question after question that I wanted to ask him. I got the nurses to stop and get me a pen and a piece of paper so I could write my questions down. How many of these procedures have you performed? What is the success rate for 100% recovery? How long is the recovery period? How much work will I have to miss? The list went on and on…

Soon enough, I arrived at the operating room where I saw Dr. Brown and the anesthesiologist. I asked my list of questions, answered a few of his, and then was rolled into the operating room. As with every other surgical procedure I’ve ever had, there were people milling around, getting everything prepared and whatnot. Then the infamous mask was placed over my face and I was told to breathe deeply…

I awoke four hours later in the recovery room. Dr. Brown was talking to me, telling me to wake up and tell him how I felt. That was easy, “Like shit.” He said that everything had gone according to Hoyle and that I should be good as new in no time. I had one disc removed completely, another repaired and my L4 and L5 vertebrae had been fused together. I was a new man! Well, almost…

I went to a different room after the surgery, so I have no idea what became of Donnie. Just as well, he would have whipped my ass with a million questions and I wasn’t really up for an in-depth discussion at that time. I went to another semi-private room, but this time I had no roommate. I was looking forward to getting a shot of the Valium and Heroin cocktail that I had grown so fond of, but quickly found that the well had run dry. I was now “self-medicating.” There was a big syringe full of pain medication on some kind of pump that was hooked into my IV that I could control by pushing a button. The nurse told me I could push the button once every six minutes and receive a small amount of the medication. Much like socialism, it was a great theory that didn’t work out so well in practice. I firmly believe that one of two things occurred:

1) the button was broken… or
2) I received a syringe full of watered-down liquid aspirin.

I pushed and pushed and pushed that damn button and all I got out of it was a sore thumb. I came to the stark realization that the whole “self-medication” concept was a crock of shit. I was up and down the entire night and didn’t get much sleep. My back was hurting from the incision and my legs were numb and cold. Without a super-sized shot of pain reliever I just wasn’t going to be able to get comfortable.

Having missed dinner the night before due to the surgery, I was beyond hungry when my breakfast tray arrived. Powdered eggs and microwave sausage links never tasted so good! I think I inhaled everything on the tray in less than thirty seconds flat. So with breakfast out of the way and no possibility of scoring a shot of the good stuff, I began to focus my attention on step one of getting out of the hospital, taking a leak. Not that I was ready to jump up and go home, but as slowly as things in that hospital moved I figured I’d better start working on the list of dismissal prerequisites if I had any chance of getting home by Christmas.

Believe it or not, taking a leak was the biggest hurdle to cross in my quest to be dismissed from the hospital. Since my body was basically asleep from the waist down, the doctors were concerned that I might experience a problem with bladder function and control. If I couldn’t whiz on my own, they would be forced to catheterize me and keep me for a few more days. The last thing I wanted was another radiator hose shoved up my dingus, so I set my mind to completing the task at hand. It took several attempts over an hour or two, but I finally managed to squeeze enough out to satisfy the nurse. She told me that she’d let the doctor know that my plumbing was still functional and see what she could do about getting me out of there.

I spent the next couple of hours pushing the pain medication button every six minutes; not really because I needed it for the pain, more because I knew I was going to end up paying for the whole cartridge and wanted to make sure I got my money’s worth. I wasn’t about to waste a single drop.

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