Monday, November 02, 2009

A Child's View of a Surgery

I grew up during that golden era when doctors insisted on subjecting nearly all children to a tonsillectomy. At the ripe old age of nine, most of my friends had already been tonsil free for some time.

Times had changed since my oldest brother had been de-tonsilized in an outpatient procedure in a doctor’s office. My next older brother’s surgery had been in the ancient Dee Hospital on 24th and Harrison in Ogden, Utah. My younger brother and I were to have our surgeries in the new state of the art McKay Hospital across from Weber State. (That hospital was torn down a few years ago after the new McKay-Dee Hospital was opened.)

I can still remember questioning my Mom about the signs at the entrance of the hospital forbidding children under 12 from entering the facility. Mom explained that this didn’t apply to people receiving treatment. My brother and I sat in a nicely furnished waiting area while Mom and Dad were in an adjacent office with a hospital representative and a lot of papers doing whatever it was adults needed to do in there. That seemed to take forever.

Then we rode the elevator up a few floors. We were taken to a room with four beds in it and were told to change into our pajamas. That entire wing of that floor, we were told, was the children’s ward.

The other two beds were soon occupied by a set of brothers, ages 12 and nine. I thought I was pretty old for the procedure. The 12-year-old seemed ancient to me. We four boys quickly formed a friendship that was to last only a few hours, born of shared experience.

It was a hot August day. It was all very new and exciting at first. My brother and I were given a new toy and a book to entertain ourselves. Our parents left us to go get some dinner. I started looking longingly outside at the sunny summer evening. Mom and Dad later returned and stayed with us until it started to get dusky outside. The hospital workers eventually shooed all visitors away.

Once my parents were gone, I saw it as my duty to watch over my little brother. It was odd being in a strange place overnight without my parents. We were told that this was necessary to control our dietary intake and to provide adequate observation to ensure proper conditions for the surgery. (I’m sure that maintaining the hospital’s revenue stream had nothing to do with it.) We could only have clear fluids. But that included soda pop and Jell-O until a certain time of the evening.

We were all forced to take a sleeping pill. I hated that. But apparently the 12-year-old and I took in so many fluids that we peed out the medication’s effectiveness. Long after our brothers were dead asleep, we sat up laughing about, well, what boys that age laugh about. Eventually a new nurse came on shift. This lady could have passed for a prison guard at Alcatraz. Her, uh, methods succeeded in quieting us down.

My parents returned in the morning. I was hungry, but we couldn’t eat anything. I was bored and anxious after my younger brother was taken to surgery. I wandered down the hall to a play area that had children’s books and Fisher-Price toys. The wait was interminable. Then they took me back to my room and made me change into a hospital gown. They gave me a shot in the butt. I tensed up so much that it left a bruise.

I was brave as they wheeled my gurney into the operating room. I was told that they had four flavors of sleeping gas. They said that everyone that day had opted for orange. When they asked which flavor I wanted, my mind went blank, just like the scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie in sits on Santa’s lap. I said that I wanted orange, although I really wanted spearmint. Once they put the mask on me, there was no turning back. I was soon infused with gas that was the same flavor as orange soda pop, which I despised.

The next thing I remembered was awakening in an unfamiliar place. There was a nurse there that lived in our neighborhood. My throat hurt like crazy. I could tell that my awakening surprised and upset this lady. I tried to ask for my parents, but it was hard to make any sound. The nurse tried to talk soothingly while making me lie back down. The next thing I knew she had jammed a syringe into my thigh. I have no idea what was in that thing, but it was only a short time before I no longer cared about my condition.

After a while, I was vaguely aware of being wheeled from a room into a corridor. I knew nothing else until I awoke in the same bed where I had spent the night. I was wearing my pajamas instead of a hospital gown. My parents were there, as were the parents of our roommates.

My little brother was sitting up and drinking something. The younger brother of our roommates was eating Jell-O and bouncing around like nothing had happened. I had a lot of pain in my throat. I felt like crap. I tried to drink something, but found it very difficult to swallow.

The next little while is kind of blurry in my mind. I can remember wanting to go home, but not being allowed to leave until I had drunk enough. I am told that Dad brought the car up to the front of the hospital while my brother and I were wheeled out in wheelchairs.

The last couple of weeks of the summer before school started were spent recovering at home. I don’t have a lot of strong memories about it. But it can’t have been very fun. Oh well. It was probably better than the weeks of August a few years earlier that I spent with the chicken pox.

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