My appearance is grim. I’m wearing a puce-colored robe over gray sweat pants with a blue and orange Bronco logo and a pink, Manley’s Cafe T-shirt. My feet are resplendent in fuzzy ankle socks, canary yellow. Dangling from my neck are glasses on a lanyard and a battery-powered reading light. My hair looks like I was electrocuted and lived.
I am recovering from surgery. The first major surgery of my life. A plumbing problem common among men my age.
As men my age go, I’ve been uncommonly lucky. This was my first time spending a night in a hospital, and the lab tests found no cancer. The outlook is good. Soon life will be back to normal, only better. So … no complaints.
That said, one thing people who have had surgery can agree on is that recovering from it is not the most fun you can have. To get an idea of what lay ahead, I asked my doctor prior to the operation what restrictions there would be on my activities.
“You can’t do anything,” she said.
“Not much. You can’t lift anything heavier than a newspaper.”
“What about walking? How far can I walk?”
“You can walk around inside the house. You can walk to the mailbox and you can work up to walking around the block if it’s not too big of a block.”
Clearly my pentathlon days were over.
I’d been considering the surgery for a long time because I’d been traipsing to the bathroom multiple times a night for years. When my doctor did a test last summer showing that if nothing was done there was a risk of bladder failure, I couldn’t sign up fast enough. On the list of Health Adventures To Avoid if Humanly Possible, bladder failure is right up there.
The operation was scheduled last summer for early this month. With that much time to think about it, you can turn something as simple as trimming a hangnail into open heart surgery. Your mind conjures up all sorts of things. I read too many grisly (and inaccurate) stories online and was looking forward to the whole thing with, if not dread, a goodly dose of apprehension.
Which was totally unwarranted. The surgery went well, and thanks to the nurses who took smashingly good care of me at St. Luke’s Downtown, my first night in a hospital was as peaceful as can be expected.
The recovery, however — due in large part to one of its necessities — was another matter. I hesitate even to write the word. A catheter isn’t the most pleasant thing to write about so from here on I’ll call it Larry, after a plumber I knew. Larry was my constant companion for a week. Ours was a close but not cordial relationship.
Larry was a pain, literally. Not excruciating — far from it — but relentless. There was almost no way to get comfortable while trying to sleep with Larry. Lying on either side was painful, sleeping on my stomach was out of the question and I’m no good at all at sleeping on my back. If not for the pain pills the doctor gave me and an occasional sleeping pill, I’d look like an extra from “Night of the Living Dead” by now.
Late one night, it seemed that Larry wasn’t doing his job properly. (Why do these things always happen at night?) Fearing trouble and not wanting to bother my doctor or hobble to the ER at that hour, I called my daughter Jennifer, an RN at the hospital where the surgery was done. Her husband, Wally, also is an RN, with experience in these things.
“It sounds like the port needs to be flushed,” she said. “Don’t worry. Wally will be right over.”
The problem was scientifically diagnosed as an overactive imagination on my part. Everything was working fine. But never in my wildest imaginings had I envisioned a scenario in which I’d be lying naked on a bed with my son-in-law brandishing a syringe over my nether regions.
Life improved dramatically on the one-week anniversary of Larry’s and my relationship, when it was mercifully terminated. Liberated from Larry, I felt free as a bird — ridiculously thankful for simple things like sleeping in un-contorted positions and wearing actual clothes instead of slogging around in a bathrobe and slippers. I’m still not supposed to lift anything heavier than a newspaper, exercise or walk faster than a stroll for another week, but that’s OK. The hard part is over.
It would have been considerably harder without the kind and capable ministrations of anesthesiologist Raphael Streiff, recovery room nurse Jerry Johnson, nurses Brie, Grayson and Heidi (didn’t catch their last names) of St. Luke’s Six East, and especially Dr. Kara Taggart. I couldn’t have asked for a more skilled or caring surgeon.
Bottom line: If you’re a guy with symptoms that are worrying you, get checked out. You may or may not need surgery, but if you do, have it done. If I can get through it, you can, too. And the odds are that it will improve your quality of life.
You could even avoid having a permanent Larry.
Speaking of which, the nurse who removed mine unceremoniously dumped it in a trash can.
It was the first time I smiled all week.
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday and is posted on www.woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.