That Which Must Not Be Said

“Good writing on the PT, by the way. Everyone, trust me, wants to know all the gory details. Write more.” So says a friend who follows my blog. All the gory details? Are you sure?

Of course she’s sure. And she’s right. People do want to know. We had our first post-surgical houseguests over last night: Polly, her boyfriend David, and our friend Mary Anne, who brought along her son Andrew and her three grandchildren (Frankie, Jade, and Drew). When I went to the book club meeting earlier in the day (another post-surgical first, an outing not involving doctors or physical therapy) I put on real pants (another post-surgical first!) Last night the kids were squirming like puppies, waiting for me to roll up my Levis to show them my still-stapled scar. And so were the adults.

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Left to right: Donna, David, Polly, Jade, Frankie, Andrew, Drew, Mary Ann

Don’t worry, I won’t inflict that sight upon you.

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Left to right: Drew, Frankie, Andrew, Jade, me with my old man walker

What I will inflict upon you is, arguably, worse. When I found out my knee operation wasn’t going to be an outpatient procedure, but instead would be major surgery involving general anesthesia and a three-day hospital stay, I immediately started to obsess over numbers; specifically, the numbers one and two. I’m willing to bet the same fears are shared by every man and woman facing surgery and a hospital stay.

Let’s start with number two, just to get it out of the way. When you grasp that you’re going to be under anesthesia for hours, the first horrible thought to flash across your mind is the possibility of soiling yourself on the operating table. Rest easy, friends. Assuming you’ve fasted the night before and taken care of business before reporting to the admissions unit, you needn’t worry. Anesthesia produces the opposite result: you’ll be constipated for days.

Number one, however, is unavoidable. They try to mention catheterization in passing, but you seize upon it immediately. A catheter? Up my what? NOOOOO! Again, not to worry. They don’t insert it until you’re zonked out from the anesthesia. When you recover, you won’t realize it’s there. At some point you’ll realize there’s a bag of piss hanging from the side of your hospital bed. How did that get there, you wonder, and why is it half full? I don’t remember peeing!

So here’s the piggy-dirty on that: you not only don’t feel it, you’re unaware of using it. Something about the catheter undoes your normal ability to feel the urgency of needing to go; it also undoes your normal ability to pinch off the flow. It’s like it’s no longer part of you … it just happens, and you need not worry about it.

Here’s the squirmy part: after you’ve been confined to your hospital bed for a day or two they remove the catheter. You’re awake for that. It’s a strange, weird, uncomfortable experience, unlike anything you’ve felt before. Not painful, just … wrong. But here’s the good part: now you have control over the process of urination again and can get out of bed and use a toilet like a grownup. How liberating!

I know, I couldn’t have picked a more squalid or undignified subject to talk about. Yes, I’m embarrassed. But my friend is right; people do want to know, and these two areas in particular are ones every new surgical patient obsesses over. I certainly did; now that I’ve been through the drill I’ll go into my second knee replacement surgery in six months with a calmer mind.

So there: more than you were willing to admit you wanted to know; pretty much exactly what you wanted to know. We now return to more lofty thoughts.

Yesterday was a pretty great day, getting out see my fellow book lovers, having friends over for dinner, with two good home PT sessions sandwiched in. After I publish this it’s another home PT session, and then we’re going to meet our bicycle hash friends after their morning ride. The faster life returns to normal the more I like it.

Happy Presidents’ Day, everyone!

© 2013, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.


1 comment to That Which Must Not Be Said

  • Catheters not painful? Speak for yourself, buster! After I had the Big Operation (sometimes known as God’s apology to women), I was stuck with one of the damn things for 24 hours. It was awful. Couldn’t wait to get it out. And then was WITH the demerol. Guess we really do come from different planets.

    Anyhow, excellent details, and yes, these are the things we all worry about. So keep detailing, but, no, you don’t have to blog the scar.

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