Grunge bin

Back about 18 months ago I started this blog to document the travels that Kathryn and I would take, having retired and bought a travel trailer. That went pretty well for a while, and then COVID happened. Hard to do a travel blog when you’re pretty much stuck at home, so the blog has become more of a journal, documenting whatever the hell is top of mind for me most days.

But today I get to document a trip to an exotic place. A place I had only been once before, 40-ish years ago when I got part of a finger reattached at the UK Medical Center. That place is the Operating Room, or OR. A place that I hope you don’t have to visit, but most of you have or will.

Kathryn dropped me off at Kaiser Zion Hospital yesterday with a sad goodbye. She couldn’t enter with me (COVID again), and no hugs because I had done the ritual cleansing with anti-microbial liquids before leaving. So it was weird.

I’ll spare you the tedious check-in and waiting. I arrived at about 1045am, and didn’t get rolled into the OR until about 2pm. I spent the majority of that time flat on my back in pre-op, wired up for electronics and fluids with nothing to do but sort through the clutter in my head. After about 2.5 hours of this, I was ready for whatever would happen in the main event.

Finally things began to happen. I received a nerve block for my knee area. The only interesting part of that was watching the needle probe around in my leg on the ultrasound display.

And finally, I got wheeled into the OR. That was surreal. A large room, glistening and sparkling white and chrome, populated by three people in space suits. Looked seriously like something from my favorite sci-fi movies. Things began to happen fast.

First they moved me from the gurney to the OR table. That felt awkward – these days I’m like a turtle on my back. Then I sat up and slouched over so they could get to a specific spot on my lower spine. Simultaneously, the anesthesiologist started something in my IV that would, as he said, put me in a light “twilight sleep”.

I was extremely nervous about the spinal block. I had received a nerve block for my finger reattachment all those years ago, and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. A Resident was showing an MD-in-training how to do it and how to hit the nerve under my armpit with a long needle. It took double digit quite painful tries for him to succeed. So that was my reference point.

That in mind, I was anxious for the twilight drug to kick in and insulate me from the expected agony of the spinal block. I could feel people poking around my back, and I said to the anesthesiologist “When is this stuff going to kick in?” I don’t remember his answer, because my visual field suddenly receded. It’s like everything moved away from me fast. There’s a verse in Pink Floyd’s song Comfortably Numb that describes it perfectly:

There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying
When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons
Now I’ve got that feeling once again
I can’t explain you would not understand
This is not how I am
I have become comfortably numb

So that worked. But I was still worried about the spinal block, and in my now-addled mind I had visions of a Matrix-style plug and cable in my back. How would I lie down? I’d break the connection. I mumbled something about this, and the doc assured me that there was no cable attached and got me flat on my back.

Music started and the surgeon, Dr. Amy Steinhoff, said something like “Let’s rock and roll.” It was a Bob Seger song, not a singer that I care for. Never one to be shy about imposing my musical tastes on others, I said “Do you have any Kruangbin?”. My new musical fave. Or at least I tried to say that, because the doc replied “I think he said grunge bin. Mr. Nichols, do you need to throw up? Do you need a pan?” I laughed and slurred, “No, Kruangbin. Kruangbin!” I imagine it sounded like the noise a circular saw makes when it jams up.

And that’s the last thing I remember. I woke up in post-op, feeling pretty good. Lots of blood pressure checks later, they let Kathryn come up and confer with the physical therapist and then wheel me back into the real world.

I can’t say enough good things about the Kaiser Permanente doctors, nurses and staff. They were all superb. I feel proud to have once worked there, and happy that we have them as our guides through the weird world of health care.

At this moment about fourteen hours after surgery, I still feel pretty good. I’m waiting for the heavy pain that everyone warns me about, but I’ll deal with it if/when it happens. Me and my Grunge Bin.

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