On being in public
Friday night, Lisa Costello, Donnie Reynolds and I were having dinner at Fire on the Mountain, mostly in pursuit of their rumored-to-be-excellent onion rings. (Which, by the way, were well worth the trip. I can also highly endorse the deep fried pickle spears.) I was walking up to the counter to get something when a gentleman at another table stopped me and said, “I think I just saw your picture on the Internet.” He’d been browsing one of the photo-fail sites, and showed me a photo on his phone of my skull tattoo. Which was freaking hilarious, and more than mildly weird.
We looked on Epic Fail later, the site he mentioned, and could not find the photo. If anybody’s seen me on one of those sites, do please forward me the link.
I have remarked before that surgery scares me a lot less than chemo. While this is true, it’s an entirely relative statement. Surgery is a terrible option, it’s just one you engage in when the risks of not doing surgery outweigh the risks of doing the surgery. Something like 0.1% of all surgeries end in fatalities due to anesthesia complications, for example. Plus the general risks of infection and internal bleeding, as well as procedure-specific risks such as organ stress or failure. In other words, plenty to worry about if you’re the type with a worried mind.
Last night I was cranking about several recent minor-but-annoying-to-me life events. I realized after a little while that this was my surgery stress spilling out of the wrong end of the tube, as it were. Which is entirely unsurprising but nonetheless not much fun.
In forty-eight hours from the moment I am drafting this post, I’ll be on my way to the hospital for my 6 am check-in on Tuesday. I’ll be in surgery for five to seven hours, if everything goes as planned. I’ll be unconscious or illucid for most of two days, and in considerable pain for most of two weeks. In moderate-to-minor pain for the better part of a month. Mobility impaired. Severely GI distressed (anesthetics play merry hell with my colon and bowel). All kinds of trouble.
Risk of complications and all that, surgery is still easier than chemo. It only steals my mind for a few days, until I come off the heavy meds. Chemo steals some pieces of me for months and years, and it steals some pieces of me forever.
The other thing about surgery that gives me pause is the state of my mind while under anesthesia. When I’m asleep, I still maintain a fair amount of situational awareness. I know if someone is in the bed with me. I know if I’m hot or cold, or if I have to urinate. I respond if someone calls my name or touches me. I dream.
Anesthesia? Much like death, except you get to come back. For me, there is nothing. The clock in my head is stopped. That wending thread of self-awareness is extinguished. Not even the nothing of retrograde amnesia, but a true, existential void.
I know perfectly well that this nothing is a gift given to me by medical science so I won’t have even buried memories of the horrific trauma being performed upon my body. I appreciate that, deeply. At the same time, there is something very strange about waking up to be amazed that I am still alive.
Every surgery is a little death. Every surgery presages the big death that awaits me, probably quite soon. I do not turn away from this, but it always gives me deep pause.