Grasping a morphine pump in my hand, child of the 60s that I am, I imagine recreational drug use might get my mind off the fact that a man has just sawn the ends off of the bones in my leg. Sure, he is a doctor, with tons of cred from the Mayo Clinic even, but still: That’s gonna hurt.
I chose Dr. Mayo (let’s call him) late last year. We finally met in the spring. He apprised me of the seriousness of total knee replacement. With a great deal of kindness he noted I’m a less-than ideal candidate. He outlined potential pitfalls, infection, blood clots, yada yada. I said I was ready. Then he agreed to fix the knee that has been my nightmare for maybe 10 years.
I wait four months for the day. Then this:
Thursday. Surgery, morphine, vomiting, fever, sweats, and remembering I am a proven failure at recreational drug use.
Friday. Meet physical therapist. Vomit on or near him. Meet occupational therapist. Same greeting. I swear off narcotics.
Saturday. Going home tomorrow. Drugs leaving system. Derek, a kind, masochistic, funny Midwesterner, gives me another shot at physical therapy and it goes well. Knee already feels better than before surgery.
Sunday. Meet therapist Nicole for one last session. She notes I’m still on post-op oxygen, asks why. I don’t know. Nicole holds onto the thread of Why, tugging and following it backwards, asking other people. Dr. Mayo arrives and says he can’t in good conscience send me home today. He sends me for testing even though I haven’t demonstrated a single symptom of what he suspects. In five minutes the results are brought. I have two blood clots, bilateral pulmonary emboli. I am given anti-clotting medication and put on two days’ strict bed rest.
Monday. More bed rest. No shower since last Thursday. Hygiene at a lifetime low. What you want, at this point in your saga, as you lie there grotesque in your inescapable hospital bed, what you really want at that moment is to meet new people. A friendly man is in my doorway, smiling, asking, "Are you Barb Guy from the radio in the 80s?" (Embolisms, kill me now.) Nope, I’m not her. Now, shoo.
This friendly man is a pulmonologist. Dr. Mayo asked him to consult. He explains what will happen next - a few months on blood thinners accompanied by careful frequent number crunching to keep my blood just right. Chris and I confess plans to travel to a developing country in the fall. He says, don’t cancel your trip.
I lie there thinking about doctors and how cool they are, how intensely bright and capable. I am so indebted to Dr. Mayo and now to the new friendly man. I’m also so grateful to Nicole. Her curious mind probably saved me.
Tuesday. Off bed rest, thank heavens. Therapist Michelle escorts me on a victory lap around the hospital floor. In my mind there’s confetti and cheering. I’m cleared to leave tomorrow but will need oxygen at home for a short time. Fine. Anything to go home.
My new friend the pulmonologist drops by at 4 p.m. He says he talked at lunch with my awesome regular physician and they’re cooking up a way to make my fall international trip work out. He also has an idea that might just get me off oxygen before leaving the hospital tomorrow morning. Within a few hours it works! Doctors are amazing. Their minds are always working, yet they can still remember columns you have written for this newspaper. Patients think doctors exist in another realm, and they kind of do, but it’s a realm where once in a while we can intersect and appreciate each other.
Wednesday. Sunshine. Fresh air. Home. Thankful, happy, lucky.
Barb Guy writes a biweekly column for Sunday Opinion. She lives in Salt Lake City.