Hot Air: The Bleeding Edge

Realization: Once a cancer patient, always a cancer patient. I’m going in tomorrow early (early!) AM to get sliced up, rearranged, and sewn back up thanks to a painful side effect of a side effect of my chemoradiation treatment early this year.

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I spent a tortuous overnight in the Bloomington Hospital emergency room earlier this summer, getting my body to do what’s it’s supposed to do (normally w/o any intervention from gloved physicians and hose-wielding nurses.) Unfortunately, the experience ripped my guts apart (yeah, literally) and so now I have to be patched up. This time tomorrow, I’ll be emerging from the arms of Morpheus.

Q: Why in god’s name do surgeons insist on working so early in the goddamned morning? I’ll be checking in at Surgical Services at an hour when I’m usually still grousing over the prospect of having to get out of bed.

At very least, I hope Doc McKeen has been keeping his blades sharp.

Here’s a story about a surgical procedure I had done on me some twenty years ago. I’d been playing on a 12-inch, slow-pitch softball team the previous summer. I was the third baseman for our team which, IIRC, finished in the basement of the Lincolnwood Park District Men’s League. (Lincolnwood is a northwest suburb of my beloved hometown, Chi.)

On one play, the batter hit an ungodly hard shot on one bounce toward me. When the pelota hit the ground, its heretofore-true path was altered by a clod of dirt. The ball jumped up and smashed me in the right eye, sending my sunglasses on an arc to short left field. It took a few moments for my vision to return to normal and my eye was beginning to turn purple-black. I didn’t think much about the smash until, within a few weeks, I noticed my vision in that eye was turning lousy. Turned out I had something referred to as a traumatic cataract. So, I had to go in to get my right eye lens sucked out and replaced with a plastic one (known as an Intraocular Lens Implant).

Now, the eye surgery racket is populated by some of the most unbearably persnickety characters you’ll ever meet in the medical profession — or any arena, for that matter. It’s no wonder; eye surgeons must work in amazingly tight spaces, doing cuts and stitches the size of the dot at the end of this sentence and smaller. They often come to be extraordinarily demanding, exacting divas. A lot of them, quite frankly, are pains in in operating room staff’s asses. That’s okay by me; I want my eye surgeon to be the persnicketiest SOB in the building.

So, there I am under the blazing, sun-bright eye surgery lamps, my right eye immobilized by muscle-numbing dope and the rest of me grooving on whatever happiness drug was dripping into my IV.

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Skimming Out The Old Lens

The doctor begins his work. He sucks out the old, foggy, occluded lens and calls for the new one. I hear him breathing as he picks up the delicate piece of plastic with his forceps. As he moves into position to place the lens into my eye, he blurts, “Oh, fuck!”

Great. The two words you never want to hear in an operating room. Now there are the sounds of feet shuffling and instruments clanging on trays There’s also the non-sound of OR techs and circulating nurses holding their breaths.

Long — lo-o-ong — moments later, the doctor breaks the silence. “Okay,’ he says, “I got it all out.”

A few minutes later I’m being rolled into the recovery room.

I asked the doc what’d happened when he came in to see me later. He explained: the initial plastic lens he tried to implant was shoddy. It actually broke into pieces as he gripped it in his forceps. The breakage occurred just above my eye — y’know, the one with the cornea peeled back. He had no way of knowing how many pieces it’d broken into nor could he easily see the transparent motes floating on my exposed eyeball jelly. All he could do was fish around for the shards and place them on a tray where his assistants could reassemble them, examining the reconstituted lens with a microscope to make sure all parts had been retrieved.

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An Implantable Lens, Intact

Man, I thanked the non-existent creator of the universe he was one of the most persnickety, detail-oriented, sharp-eyed humans I’d ever met.

I don’t foresee any such drama tomorrow. Then again, I’ll be snoring. If Old Man McKeen drops anything into my abdomen, it’s doubtful he’ll rush into the recovery room to tell me all about it. And that, again, is okay by me.

See you in a few days.

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