Sunday, November 08, 2015

Mental Self-Sedation

The recent hospitalization of a colleague of mine prompted a recollection of the first time I ever spent the night in a hospital, and the realization of where that event stands in my life.  
It was in the summer before my last year in college.  I was in a summer Shakespeare festival, cast in Moliére’s Tartuffe and Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, playing physically comedic roles in both.  Early during rehearsal, while moving a table on stage, I felt a gentle pop in my groin, and a small bulge there when I reached down to feel it.  
I had developed a hernia.  
A trip to the doctor confirmed my suspicions as to what had happened.  I was assured that with surgery, I would be able to still perform in the festival.  I’d have to have the procedure done while I was awake, though, to allow me to walk shortly after the surgery.  This would allow the internal stitches to “set,” the doctor told me, cutting my recovery time significantly over being put under for the process.
This was the first time, and so far only time, in my life to have surgery.  I was nervous.  Especially when they gave me paperwork to sign that basically said if I died on the operating table I wasn’t going to hold them responsible. 
My dad took me to the hospital Thursday night.  I was going to spend the night there, without eating, and have the operation Friday morning.  If all went well, they were going to let me go Friday night.  
Around 4:30 AM or so, they came to wake me up.  I was already awake, having slept only fitfully throughout the night.  I kept worrying about all the things that could go wrong.  The nurse that arrived to prep me for the surgery didn’t ease my concerns.
“Morning.”  She was short, stout, with the manner of someone who’d been doing the same job for way too long.  I think she deliberately dropped the “Good” from her greeting.  “I’ve got your shots.  Roll over and pull down your shorts.”  
“Shots?”  As I started to turn away from her, I noticed her laying two syringes with tags on the movable table by my bed.  I got on my stomach.  Pushed my underwear down.  Felt the cold dab of a pad rubbing against my cheeks.  The smell of alcohol stung my nose.  
“Uh, what type of shots--?”  My question was sliced off short by the harpoon that she drove into my butt.  I arched up, my body curling backwards to encircle the point of impact.  
“It hurts more if you clench like that.”  She ripped her first weapon my my body.  The second one plunged in a moment later.  I felt like the white whale, finally cornered, with Ahab taking his revenge.  “You can roll back over now.” 
With my butt feeling like it’d been turned into a motionless lump of clay, I pulled up my shorts and pushed my body over on to its back.  She was looking at the tags on the syringes and entering the information into my chart.  
“It was a local anesthetic for your procedure and a sedative.”  
“To help you relax during surgery.  Someone will be here to shave you.  I’ll be back with a stretcher.”  She tapped the chart with her pen, folded it closed and marched out the door.  She didn’t look at me once, except to stab me with her syringes I presume, during the entire exchange.
If this was their bedside manner in administering anesthesia, what could I expect during the operation itself?  Where they going to hang me by a rack and use cleavers on me like I was a side of beef?  Thoughts like that kept racing through my mind as I waited.  I clutched the covers to me, like a child that believes his blankets could shield him from the dangers in the dark.  I kept trying to swallow, but they’d taken my water from me last night.  
And then, something...  Changed.  I remember feeling it, like I was being slipped into warm water to float gently above the bed.  One moment, I was scared, nervous and everything seemed dark and dangerous.  The next...
The next moment, everything was...  Beautiful.  And fascinating.  And, and...  Beautifully fascinating.  I started to sing.  Just like that.  At first the lyrics to my favorite songs, then made up songs about how really, really nice it was just to be there and be able to sing. 
A guy in a nurse's garb came into my room.
“Hey!”  I sat up in my bed.  Here was someone I could talk with.  I wanted to find out everything about him and what he was doing in my room.  “Who are you?”  
“I’m Joe.”  He lifted a plastic tray in his hands.  “I’m here to shave you.”  
“To make me look good during surgery?”  That sounded like such a wonderful idea!  I rubbed my chin and cheeks, feeling the day’s worth of stubble.  
“Down there...”  He nodded toward my crotch.
“Ah...  Oh-Kay!”  That sounded like an even BETTER idea!  
I talked to Joe the entire time he shaved me.  Did he only shave guys?  Who shaved the female patients?  How many patients did he shave in a day?  They they have special classes in nursing school for shaving people?  He answered all my questions dutifully and completely while removing every strand of hair on the front of my body, from just below my belly button to just above my knees. 
Just as Joe was gathering his things, the nurse with an assistant pushing a stretcher.  
“Time for surgery?”  I was excited now.  Looking forward to it.  “Joe’s got me ready for it.  See?”  I lifted my hospital gown to show them the marvelous job he’d done shaving me.
“Good job, Joe.  Put that down.  We’ll slide you over.  DON’T Help!”  I clasped my hands to my chest, resisting the urge to do so.  
As they wheeled me down the hall, I continued to ask questions.  When I didn’t have questions, I sang.  Sometimes just wordless tunes, the way birds might sing at the sight of the rising sun, happy to be alive.  
We reached the operating room.  There were four or five people there, all wearing green  gowns and masks.  The two nurses helped move me to the table.  The nurse and the assistant left.  
The operating room was COOL!  It was just like in the hospital dramas on TV.  I was trying to look at everything when one of the people wearing a mask came up to me.
"Hello, Erick?  How are you doing?"  
It was my doctor.  I told him, “I’m doing superb!”  He chuckled and patted me on the shoulder.  The nurse moved in and pulled my left arm out, laying it on a platform that extended from the table.  She had dark almond eyes that smiled at me over her mask as she strapped my arm to the platform.
“Who are you?”  
“My name is Song.”  
“That’s so cool!  Do your parents love music?”  
“I’m Korean.  It’s a Korean name.”  
“Do Koreans love music?”  
She laughed and moved around the table to strap down my other arm.  
“Why are you strapping my arms down.”
“So you don’t try to help.”  
I then noticed another person, sitting near the foot of the table.  His head barely visible over the toes of my feet.  His eyes were crinkled up, I could see his cheeks bunching up from smiling.  
“Hi.  Who are you?”  
“I’m Steve.”  His eyes crinkled up some more.  “I’m your anesthesiologist.”  
“Oh, Wow!  Are you the guy that proscribed the sedative they gave me?” 
He nodded.  “Yep!”  
“I like you, Steve.  Can we be friends?  Can I get more of the sedative from you when we’re done.”  
His eyes crinkled up to the point they disappeared.  “Nope.”  He shook his head.  
It went on like that.  Me asking questions.  Me loving the answers I got.  Me singing whenever I ran out of things to ask and learn about, until I could think of something else to ask.  
Eventually, the surgery was over.  They wheeled me back to my room.  They let me eat something.  They made me walk.  They joyful, wonderful feeling remained, but it increasingly found itself in competition with a growing exhaustion.  
My dad came into the room. “I came to get you,” he said. 
That mad me so happy.  “Thanks, Dad.  I love you.” 
Dad smiled.  “I love you too, son.”  
I was telling the employees in my department about this experience, going over the funnier details, when out of my mouth came, “It was the happiest day of my life.”
“Really?” one of them asked.  “The happiest day of your life?”
“Yeah.”  There was a pang of something going through me as I answered.  “It was.”  
And that pang was caused by more than just a grain of truth.  I tried, years later, to find out what sedative they’d given me.  To figure out what had made me so...  Blissful.  
The thing about it was, the sedative didn’t make me feel happy, I don’t believe.  It turned off the fear.  It turned off the anxiety.  It turned off any feelings of embarrassment.  And what was left was me.  Me as I am, deep down inside.  As I was as a child.  Curious.  Wanting to know.  Wanting to sing.  Wanting to play and not caring if anyone thought I was silly or stupid while doing so.  
I should proscribe myself permission to let him out again.


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