Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Honestly, it’s not that bad. You ask me? It’s even kind of…nice. Seriously.

Granted, you have to have some stomach for it, for the smells you might at first encounter, the visuals. You get past that, you’re home free.

I should back up a bit. Don’t mind the jargon, but here’s what the radiologist noted about my right shoulder:

FINDINGS:  Moderate degenerative changes are present in the glenohumeral joint.  Sclerosis and osteophyte formation is seen.  Narrowing of the acromiohumeral distance is present as well.  Small calcifications are present in the region of the distal rotator cuff tendon.  There is no fracture or dislocation.  The clavicle and ribs are intact.  Degenerative changes are present at the AC joint.  The formation of the clavicle is present compatible with sequela of old trauma.

That’s the verdict from an x-ray that was taken after I’d already met with my orthopedic doctor last week. He knows the history of this shoulder (rotator cuff surgery around ’08) and wanted a fresh picture. In the moment, given my present complaints of greater than average pain, and after he’d put my shoulder through the range of motion and strength paces, he administered a cortisone shot and asked that I let him know if things didn’t improve. As he was wrapping up his exam he casually used words like “arthritis” and “eventual surgical replacement” (casual to him—red exclamation points quickly sprouted in this guy’s thought bubble at the sound of such things), but gave me the steroid shot in the spirit of one step at a time.

Cortisone usually works immediately. My shoulder has since kept hurting.

And so begins once more my making my way to the next surgical theater, it would appear. I’m always stunned when I hear from somebody that they’ve never had surgery. Never had surgery? Have you just, what, sat there in life? Assuming I’m right and there’s a bionic shoulder in the offing for me, this will be my 13th surgery. Is that a lot?  Does that make me a surgical frequent flyer?  If so, maybe lucky 13 will be on the hospital.

[Since you asked: tonsils; left knee three times (lacrosse, skiing); right knee three times (skiing; the first came with a staph infection so the 2nd undid the first and the 3rd eventually got things right); left eye twice (don’t ask, it was grim); left shoulder twice (wear and tear); and right shoulder once (rotator cuff). In other words, other than the eye situation, all of these surgeries came of just having been out there doing the do athletically and not from trauma or disease. C’est la vie.]

So no, surgery doesn’t much intimidate me at this point, though I know the prospect terrifies many others. And I know, even when I’ve gone through it, there’s always a bit of pregnancy to that moment when you say goodbye to loved ones and head in for the surgery itself. There’s just something about being “put under” that seems to mandate at least a passing nod to the darkest of “what if’s.” After so many experiences with it, this doesn’t even dawn on me. Hell—and here come the calls of Von Munchhausen Syndrome, I just know it—I even sort of like it. I mean, what’s not to like?

Sure, you have to deal with being wheeled into the operating room itself, which is not quite the same as waltzing gracefully into the lobby of the Ritz Carlton. It’s typically blinding-white bright and cold, making it seem like you’ve been delivered to an industrial freezer of some sort. Lots of weird looking machines are pinging away, and the small flock of people working away in preparation are garbed to an extent that renders them not very human looking. In other words, there is the sense that you’re not going into surgery but have found yourself an abductee and here comes the alien probing. Antiseptic smells reinforce the sensation.

So you do have to get past that, and I’m guessing that’s the freak out moment for those coming into this with real trepidation. At least then they give you something to distract yourself with, being the task of transitioning yourself from gurney to operating table WHILE wearing a paper smock, all the while doing what you can to prevent your junk from flopping into plain sight. Not that these aliens would even notice.

But after that, once you’re situated on the operating table? It’s all so comfy cozy! They don’t just use cheap sheets to cover you anymore—they use these plush heated blankets. They talk all sweet to you, using gentle words and tones. When they’re ready, the anesthesiologist lulls, “Ok, here we go, I’m going to run a relaxant through your line. You should start to feel sleepy…”

I have yet to hear a word after “sleepy.” In what seems like hardly any interruption to the flow of time, seemingly in the next instant I’m being asked questions through a bit of haze by somebody apparently interested in my well-being. As things quickly clarify, I’m almost always surprised to realize that time was in fact interrupted, by surgery, no less, and though I’m usually trussed up in some way, I actually feel pretty good, nicely rested, even.

Sure, there’s a lot of work now ahead of me, to heal, at physical therapy, at navigating the shower sans the use of one limb or another and all that. But the surgery experience itself? Like being cradled to sleep in God’s own arms.


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