Monday, November 14, 2011
Dear Dr. Anesthesiologist, please don't forget to wake me up
I have a 3-inch scar across the base of my neck, an 8-inch one at the bottom of my abdomen and a 6-inch one bisecting my left knee. And the truth is that unless someone happens to ask about them or I happen to catch the reflection of one in the mirror, I usually don't think about them.
Lately, though, they're all I can think about -- the surgeries that led to them, anyway. Unless, of course, I'm thinking about the anesthesiologist not giving me enough medication. Or forgetting to wake me up.
Neuroses are nothing new to me. When I was little, I couldn't go to sleep until I touched all my dresser drawers to make sure they were shut tight and tapped my bedroom doorknob three times with my index finger. Seriously.
As an adult, I learned that I have the "checking" form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and that makes me pretty lucky as far as OCD sufferers go; I'm not germ-phobic or relentlessly neat. At night, I check door locks and stove knobs. My husband and kids laugh about it, but it doesn't faze them; it's part of who I am, and it doesn't take a whole lot of time out of my day.
Sometimes, though, the neurosis shifts a bit and the obsessive part takes over. And that's happening now, manifesting itself in a near-paralyzing fear of my upcoming surgery. I'm not sure if it's all the footage of Dr. Conrad Murray on the Today Show, or what -- but I'm convincing myself something bad is going to happen.
Cheery, I know.
When I had my left knee replaced three years ago, I was a model patient, calm, cool and collected from the time my surgeon told me the joint needed to go until I woke up in recovery with a wad of titanium tucked under my kneecap. I don't think I spent much time considering that something could go horribly wrong.
This time, though, here's how I picture myself: strapped to the operating table, eyes taped shut, tube down my throat, awake but unable to let anyone know I'm awake. Gruesome? Yup. Realistic? Probably not terribly. But it could happen. And like any good obsessive-compulsive, I'm determined to make that my focus for the next two weeks.
Here's the other scenario: The surgery is over, but the anesthesiologist leaves the room having forgotten to wake me up. Everyone else goes on about his or her life, but I lie there long into the night and wake up still strapped down.
That makes sense, right? Of course it does.
I vacillate between thinking my anxiety is normal -- have you ever seen a knee-replacement surgery? -- and that it's simply part of where I am in my life. In other words, it's not normal, but I understand why I'm feeling this way.
Not to be too melodramatic, but I watched my dad die eight months ago. And I saw how quickly "alive" can become "dead" -- how something that seems so insignificant at the time, such as an intestinal virus, can initiate a chain of events that can result in a person's not breathing anymore. The night before, he was eating ice cream. At 3 p.m. the next day, the nurse was telling us to hurry, hurry, that this was it.
Granted, my dad was elderly, and he was sick. Despite my kids' opinions to the contrary, I'm really not old. And except for allergies and the pesky low hematocrit that keeps me from donating blood as often as I'd like, I tend to be pretty healthy. So the odds are that I'll sail through the surgery, and I'll have a healthy knee to show for it. I'm looking forward to the eventual lack of pain when I walk, and I'm hoping that I'll even be able to alternate feet when I take the stairs.
But I have to get through the next two weeks. When I'm inside my own head, time is my worst enemy. I can touch the stove knobs and check the door locks all I want, but when it comes down to it, the only thing that will assuage will be this: The lights will be bright, and I'll be disoriented, and my knee will feel like it's bigger than my head. And the far-away voice of the recovery-room nurse will be saying, "Honey, it's all over, and you did fine."