Posts Tagged surgery

Acute Post-Operative Complications

About six months ago, I had surgery done on my foot to remove a bone spur.  During the surgery I was given a dose of anesthesia to knock me out and numb the pain.  Since the surgery I have noticed many inconsistencies in the fabric of the universe.  I have come to the conclusion that one of two things took place.  The first possibility is that I am still under anesthesia and currently on the operating table.  For this to be true, the anesthesia would have to have distorted my sense of time and what has felt to me to be two months is actually less than an hour.  The other possibility is that I died on the operating table and this is either a very strange afterlife or I am experiencing an early stage of death in which the images and ideas in my head slowly become distorted as I lose my connection to what we know as reality.

I know this sounds a bit far fetched, but things have been really strange since the anesthesia went into me.  When I was first injected I began to feel extremely sleepy.  I tried to talk but it felt like my mouth was filled with peanut butter.  My eyes closed and all I could hear were the doctor and one of the nurses talking and that dumb song “Life is a Highway” (the surgery center pumped bad pop music into all the operating rooms to “relax” the patients).  I was completely conscious and totally immobile.  The song was making me angry.  Why couldn’t they have anesthetized my ears?  It’s a preposterously stupid metaphor.  What the heck does it mean?  Life goes on for a long time?  Life has exits?  If you stay on life for thirty minutes you can get to the airport?

I’m not certain of how I got home.  It was late in the day.  For the next week I flowed in and out of awareness.  Pain and pain medicine shaped my reality.  I watched the entire first season of the TV show the old CBS show “Wiseguy” on DVD (mercifully, I only remember about ten minutes of it), I ate pizza, I stared at the painting of a woman on the wall and imagined another head growing out of her neck.  I could not shake the feeling that something was wrong.  I chalked the whole thing up to oxycodone-induced weirdness and figured I’d feel normal once I got the stuff out of my system.

Time passed.  My foot began to heal, I started driving again, I went back to work, and I shed my crutches for a boot.  Life resumed, but I could not shake the feeling that the things around me were somehow less real then they had been.  It’s not something I can put accurately into words, but it feels quite real.  The world seemed similar but not the same.

My first visit to the gym was when things started to get really weird.  I slowly moved my way through a few machines and went into the locker room to get the stink off of me.  As I walked past the lockers there was a guy in a speedo who looked almost exactly like the guy who played Father Damien Karass in the Exorcist films.  I had never seen him at the gym before.  He was staring into his open locker and shouting.  Most of what was coming out of his mouth was impossible to understand.  He was raving.  I understood the occasional curse word, but most of it seemed like it was in some weird language that he was making up as he went along.  I averted my eyes away from him and sprinted into the shower.  When I had gotten out, he was quietly staring with this horrible empty expression on his face.  Suddenly, I heard him say in a monotone, semi-possessed voice “Life isn’t a highway, is it Keith?  Is it Keith?  Is it Keith?”

I felt my stomach leap into my throat.   “Excuse me?!?!?!”

He just continued staring blankly into the locker.

“What did you say???”  I repeated in a panic.

He did not respond.

I did not tell the thing about “Life is a Highway” to anyone except my wife.  I strongly doubt that my wife has launched into a criminal conspiracy with some lunatic at the YMCA to drive me crazy so she’ll be able to drive our Saturn more often, so I have to imagine there are strange forces at work here.  But what?  Why?

Every time I see this guy, he hums a bar from it and smiles at me.  He has a sickly, menacing smile.  The type that bankers usually reserve for customers with no hope of getting a loan.  He jogs next to me on the treadmill sometimes.  Humming.  Smiling.  Laughing to himself.

The other day, he walked out of the gym at the same time as me.  He started repeating the phrase “Do you know where we are?  Do you know where we are?  Do YOU know WHERE we ARE?” in strange intonations about five feet away from me.  At first, I sped up, but when he didn’t stop and continued to follow me I knew I had to take some kind of action.  I turned to him and shouted “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?  Why are you bothering me?!?!?!?!”

He looked perplexed.  The man stared blankly into my eyes and began to speak with a voice that betrayed no emotion whatsoever, “Don’t you know where we are?”  He reached slowly into his pocket.  I was terrified.  What was happening?  He grabbed my wrist and shoved a piece of paper in my hand.  With a coy smile, he turned on his heels and stumbled back towards the gym.

Maybe it was some explanation of everything.  Maybe it was a threat. I needed something to make it all make sense.  I swallowed deeply and looked at the piece of paper.  This had to be the answer.  It had to be.  It was a ten percent off coupon for the frozen yogurt store about a mile from my house.  The orange rain began to pour down from the sky, washing away the beautiful blue sunset.  I sat down on the curb next to my car, put my head in my hands and wept.

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We Are Bones, We Are Dust

This thing that I think that I am, sometimes, I am not.  Looking at an X-Ray of my right foot has twisted my mind into knots for the past few weeks.  It’s not that they found anything that disturbing. My doctor discovered a bone spur, which I was pretty sure that I had.  No surprise there.  I am having surgery tomorrow.  Again, not a surprise.  The thing that got in my head was the X-ray itself.  If I am what’s in that picture…what am i?

There was this picture of the bones in my foot staring at me.  The doctor was pointing to things and saying a bunch of words, but I was transfixed on the picture.  There I am?  There I AM!  There I am?!?!?!?  This picture is of the inside of me.  Underneath all of this skin and blood are a set of bones. These bones have been with me all of my life.  They were at my high school graduation, they were there when I got married, they attended the births of my two beautiful children, they have seen me laugh, they have seen me cry, they have been there when I thought I was alone.  I couldn’t process it. These bones are actually me!

The me that I think I am is the thing that experiences the world consciously.  I am aware of feelings and ideas.  I make plans and I remember experiences.  I see, I smell, I touch, I taste, I hear.  I have no problem associating these things with me.  Then, there are these bones. They are in me, they are part of me, but I can’t believe that they are me. This picture wasn’t some random x-ray they keep in the back and show everybody.  These were my bones!  Seeing them really sucked the magic out of everything.  I tend to think of myself as more than the sum of my parts, but maybe I am nothing more than my parts. Maybe, I am just bones and skin and blood with a few organs floating around.

There are parts of myself I have never seen.  I don’t know what my hip bone looks like.  I don’t know what my liver looks like.  My heart, my brain, my lungs…all highly valuable parts, but I couldn’t tell mine from my neighbors.  The me that I know seems so special, so unique.  My memories seem so important, as if they are part of some great mystery that I have a lifetime to solve.  My thoughts, my ideas, my identity all seem to be pieces in the great “who am I?” puzzle.  They all conspire to make me believe that I am an enigmatic character whose mythology is terribly important.  And then, there is this picture of the inside of my foot.  It is not special.  It is not unique.  It is simply mineralized osseous tissue housed in a pile of skin that is called “foot”.  There are somewhere in the range of 14 billion of them and they all pretty much look and act the same.  Sure, there are minor subtleties and nuances, but for the most part, what is the difference?

My foot does not find itself unique.  It pushes against surfaces over and over throughout a day.  It works, it rests.  It does not feel loneliness or claustrophobia if it is trapped in a shoe for too long.  It does not become jealous that I am favoring my other foot.  It does not make plans to meet with my spleen for coffee.  It does not become romantically involved with my esophagus.  It does not ponder the mysteries of the universe and wonder what will happen to it when it dies.  It is material and material has no time for enchantment.  It simply is.  When it ceases to work, it will waste away along with the rest of this thing that is me.

There is a part of me that cannot imagine that this is possible.  There must be something else, there must be something more.  I am more than that picture.  I am not just bones.  I am not just flesh.  I am something mystical.  I am more than those parts.  I am more than words on a page saying “healthy, well-developed 35 year old male suffering from Hallux rigidus“. Right?  Right?!?!?!

Maybe this identity of mine that I find so fascinating is just a bunch of electrical impulses.  Maybe we are just piles of material walking around among other piles of material, thinking that thoughts and memories and ideas make us more.  These self-important piles of material spend much of their time avoiding damage so that they can one day be part of creating new piles of material.  And on and on with no direction, no meaning and no end.  Thousands of them are created each day and thousands disintegrate. It does not matter…it is only matter.

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