Thursday, March 19, 2015

Surgery Over for Now, Until Monday

In my ongoing effort to demystify the American health care system, I will share with everyone the only mildly catastrophic events of yesterday. For starters, I thought the surgery would not be a big deal. After signing and then initialing the requisite ten sheets of paper, I was taken back by a quirky Filipino to exchange my street clothes for two heavy surgical gowns. The clothes I wore to the procedure were placed in a series of clear plastic bags.

So far so good. The problem, I'm afraid, manifested itself rather quickly. Because of the number of medications I take, I am easily prone to dehydration. Before being put under, one cannot eat or drink anything after midnight. A nurse noticed I was severely dehydrated upon arrival, evident by my severely chapped lips. Three separate nurses working in tandem for half an hour could not find a vein. I was stuck at least seven times, then told that the time and location of the procedure would have to be rescheduled until Monday of next week. The site of the new surgery contains a machine that uses ultraviolet light to locate veins that the human eye cannot detect on its own.

There's no way to say "colorectal" and disguise the nature of the problem. As I'll explain in more detail, I arrived with two separate problems, a fissure and a series of growths found both inside and outside the colon. The growths inside my colon will be removed in surgery, but there's a chance they might be precancerous. One or two of them will be biopsied, and ten days later the results will be known. Cancer or not, I've been warned the procedure will be painful.

The best case scenario is that no precancerous growths will be detected and the process ends there. The worst case scenario is that precancerous growths are found and the process of biopsies must continue. Each subsequent surgical procedure is scheduled out two months at a time, to allow for healing. At this point, I am far too annoyed to be worried. I will resume being annoyed if this process lasts a year from start to finish.

Fortunately, at least one portion of the procedure was completed. The inside lining of the colon tore, which is called a fissure. Healing a fissure is usually accomplished by injecting it with Botox, which immobilizes the muscle. The injection was not painless, but it was quickly completed, and I was allowed to remove the hospital gowns and get dressed. Prior to that, I'd had both of my legs up in stirrups, which reminds me of either childbirth or a gynecological examination, two procedures I will never actually experience for myself, thank God.   

Before I go any further, I promise that this site will never become an after school special. I'm more angry at myself than anyone else, more angry at me than bad luck or risky behavior. Though I couldn't tell you who or when, the growths that have developed are as a result of having unprotected sex with another man or with other men. I am not contagious, but my fate from here on out is to periodically need to have several growths removed at a time for the rest of my life. The next go round, minus the worst case scenario, will likely be in another five years or so. Though this is wasted energy and only keeps me upset, I must admit that my mind keeps fixating on likely culprits.

This could be much worse. No, really. I mean it. But it's always a bit unnerving when the surgeon greets you with the phrase, You're HIV-, right? The anesthesiologist, openly gay and extremely kind, was sympathetic. I appreciate living in a city where I don't have to disguise who I am with coy code words. I am fortunate to live as part of a younger generation where, as we know well, other queer men twenty years older were not as lucky. It was for that very reason, which doesn't seem very reasonable today, that I didn't insist upon my sexual partner using protection when I should have. The very act itself doesn't seem as appealing today.

I will now resume staring at the ceiling in a catatonic state under the effects of Vicodin. I've written under the effects of caffeine, nicotine, psych meds, marijuana, alcohol, but I don't think I've ever tried to put something coherent down in words while on a narcotic. That said, if I can, I will. If I can't, I'll try to have a little bit of something up here from time to time. I wasn't aware this process was going to be so time-intensive. The first part of next week is going to be a wash, just FYI.

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