In Which I Prepare for Some Early Morning Surgery (Part 3 of 4)
Dr. Chong scheduled my surgery for the following Monday morning, four days away. By this time, I was in such bad condition I would have gladly laid down on the floor right there in Dr. Chong's office and let him start carving away. I thought about kneeling down in front of him, kissing his medical school ring and begging for immediate surgery, but I couldn't kneel, and if I could have, I wouldn't have been able to get up, so I scrapped the idea.
He explained the process to me in detail. They would make a 5-inch incision along the lower part of my spine, remove two vertebrae and shave parts of one of the vertebra. These shaving would be ground up and placed in a small wire cage that would be inserted between the two vertebrae. A clamp and bolt arraignment would hold everything in place, and eventually the whole mess would grow together, hence the label "spinal fusion."
Huh? They're taking two pieces of my backbone out? All the way out of my body? Somehow the idea of having part of my body completely removed, fiddled with, then re-inserted into my body didn't make me brim with confidence. What if they dropped one of my vertebrae on the floor? Would they just rinse if off and stick it back in? Could they fit everything back in where it was before?
I thought about these and other potential problems over the next few days as I went about my business. You always hear about things going wrong in the operating room, so I decided to get my affairs in order, just in case. I double-checked on my life insurance. I talked to my wife about "persistent vegetative states." I spent extra time with my daughter. I rewatched my favorite Don Knotts movies.
I was scheduled for surgery on the following Monday, and had to be admitted and ready to go by 6:30 am. My wife drove us to the hospital admitting room where I was given an IV and a sack-like gown to wear and was placed in a pre-surgery holding room. I lay nervously in bed and talked with Ann for a while, and as soon as she stepped out for a bite of breakfast, an officious Hospital Finance Person bustled into my room. She came right to the point.
"Mr. Basil, we need $450.00 dollars from you before we can proceed. Are you prepared to pay?"
I looked up at her. "You've got to be kidding. Doesn't the insurance company take care of that?"
She shook her head sorrowfully. "I'm sorry, but this is a charge that must be paid before we file an insurance claim. I know this is a surprise, but we're forced to do it." She shoved a clipboard full of papers in my face. "Just sign right here. We can take a check, a credit card, or cash if you have it." Her eyes brimmed with sympathy for my plight. I expected her to break out in tears any minute.
I sighed. Great, just what I wanted before getting split open like the Thanksgiving turkey -- load up the old credit card with some more debt, but what else could I do? I paid with MasterCard. The Finance Lady smiled at me. "Thank you so much Mr. Basil. I'm sure everything will be just fine. Dr. Chong is a wonderful surgeon."
I watched as she hurried away. What's next? Maybe they'll charge me a "bathroom fee", or an "early surgery fee." Speaking of bathroom, my nerves were coming into play, and I needed to go.
My room shared bathroom facilities with another adjoining room. When you needed to go, you locked the door that opened into the other room, did your business, then unlocked the other door and stepped out. Just as I was rolling painfully off the edge of the bed, I heard the occupant in the next room lock my bathroom door. Wonderful. I hoped this person didn't take forever, as my nervousness, combined with the IV drip in my arm, had me anxious to go. I waited.
I heard a couple of heartrending groans and then a series of violent muffled explosions. Terrific, I was sharing a bathroom with someone who obviously either loved beans or had a severe case of intestinal gas. After 10 minutes of groans, grunts and blasts, I heard a flush, and a moment later my door was unlocked. I opened the door and stepped in.
Great God in heaven! I backed out hastily, almost tripping over my IV pole in my haste to get away from the smell. I shut my bathroom door and leaned against the wall. What would it be -- pee all over my hospital gown, or brave the stench of the "gas chamber?"
There really wasn't a choice, so I took a deep breath and held it, opened the bathroom door, entered and went about my business. My lungs felt like they were going to burst. I flushed and stepped in front of the sink to wash my hands. I looked at myself in the mirror as I washed my hands: my eyes were starting from my head, and my face was the color of a rotten strawberry. Just as I finished washing up, I ran out of breath. I hustled out the door dragging my IV pole and barely made it back into my room without falling out from oxygen deprivation. It seemed I was getting off to a great start.
Ann came back, and a moment later my priest came in. We visited for a few minutes and I took communion. A family friend came by for a visit, and as everyone was talking I drifted quietly off to sleep. I awoke suddenly. "Mr. Basil. It's time." I opened my eyes. A nurse was standing at the foot of my bed smiling down at me. "I hate to wake you, but it's time for your surgery."