Surgery Tales (Part 87)

So … yesterday was surgery. But I don’t feel as though I’ve started recuperating yet. Surgery went well, but by the time I got home late in the afternoon, I was having problems, and I had to go back to the hospital today to deal with whatever it was that had gone wrong. I didn’t think it was serious (I’m not just saying that because my mom reads my posts and I spent at least an hour on the phone with her last night assuring her that it wasn’t serious and there was no reason to come up here and unleash her full lioness behavior on my surgeon and his team … really, not because of that at all …), but it was serious enough to make me think it needed attention.

I was also super sick to my stomach and needed to do something about that, too. I was nauseous enough that I was afraid to lie down to sleep (too many thoughts of going out like Jimi). Even water and plain crackers caused trouble. And nothing like that had happened after any previous surgeries. So on top of whatever else was wrong, I was also cranky and exhausted, getting maybe a total of 90 minutes of sleep all night.

But, for all that, surgery did go well. I went in resigned to have the surgery my surgeon insisted was the right surgery. We’d discussed it several times. I wanted a more involved surgery, and he was against it, didn’t think my bone could handle it. And, as much as I pride myself on knowing a lot about what goes on in my body, I had to admit to myself that I really couldn’t pretend to know what my bones could and couldn’t handle. So I went with his plan, but I wasn’t happy with it. The less-involved surgery would fix my current problem, but it seemed destined to leave me with a permanent problem, and that made it sound like a wrong choice, and also like the only choice. If my bone wasn’t up for the procedure I wanted, I needed to at least get rid of the current problem.

Each time I’ve had an operation with this surgeon, we follow the same routine. After I’ve been prepped by many lovely staff people, after I’ve had a good and helpful conversation with the anesthesiologist, after the physician’s assistant has gone over all the details about medications and what the day is going to look like, my surgeon comes in with his Sharpie and initials my thigh and draws a little smiley face. This is to prevent them from operating on the wrong knee — only cut where the surgeon his smiley! This is the time when he also goes over the run of show with me and reassures me that everything will be fine.

Yesterday was no different … until we got to the post-smiley-face segment of the routine. I asked him to tell me again why the more involved procedure wasn’t a good option, asked him if I’d still struggle with stairs and hills if he didn’t do the bigger procedure. And he explained again about my sad little patella and how it wasn’t up to the job I had in mind … but he also said that this didn’t have to be the end of the story. If I’m unhappy after I see what stairs and hills feel like post-op, we can always go back in and try to make something work with my patella.

That made me feel a little better, which I think he could see. He gave me the standard, everything’s going to be fine assurance and left. And I started thinking that, if it would be possible to come up with a workable patella solution in the future, why couldn’t we figure one out now. And, just as I was thinking that, my surgeon came back in and proposed another option. He said that, instead of doing the arthroscopic procedure as planned, he’d do the more involved incision and take a closer look at my patella now and, if it looked good, he’d go ahead and do the procedure I’d been asking about the whole time.

Result!

Seriously, that was the best thing he could have said to me. Even if I woke up after surgery to find that he hadn’t worked on my patella, I still would have felt better that at least he’d tried for the bigger solution.

In the end, not only did he work on my patella, he used a piece of equipment that was designed after my first surgery and may have a better chance to staying where it’s supposed to instead of going on walkabout the way the old bit did. He also gave me a general “tune-up,” replacing another piece that was looking a little worn. So, once healing has well and truly begun, I will have an even better knee than the one I was hoping to have!

I have a long, unpleasant history with doctors, starting from when I was nine and my pediatrician prescribed valium — and a serious dose! — when he learned that I had insomnia. I have had doctors tell me I couldn’t possibly be feeling or experiencing what I’m feeling or experiencing. I have had doctors treat me as though I had serious developmental disabilities and cannot understand basic information about my health. I have had doctors try to trick me into having procedures I didn’t need … and then get angry and threaten me when I saw through their awfulness. So, me and doctors, we don’t have a good story. I was doctorless for years because I couldn’t find a general practitioner I felt comfortable with. My orthopedist, my GP, and my dentist are the first doctors I’ve worked with ever in my life who haven’t made me think twice about them, who haven’t made me want to run for the hills.

So this business about which surgery I’d be having was a bigger deal for me than it might have been without all that backstory. Having my doctor hear me enough to understand that I needed something more than what he was offering, having him immediately realize that even his new plan wasn’t working for me. All of that was huge, so much bigger than just winning the argument and getting my way.

Now I just have to wait and see what getting my way looks like after healing, if this new-ish knee is going to be everything I’ve been hoping it could be.

 


It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

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Me, a name I call myself.

Monday is my surgery. In preparation, I spent half a day at the hospital this week cycling through a round of pre-surgical screenings. I’ve had enough of these surgeries that these appointments feel pretty routine. I have favorite chairs in the different waiting rooms. I know where the free coffee is. I know which of the restrooms are cleanest. The biggest unknown is really just whether or not the phlebotomist will find my vein on the first try (this week the answer was yes!).

But there’s been a change in the pattern. As I checked in before the final appointment, the questions started the same as at each previous check-in, but then took a fresh breath.

The man taking my information began to look … pained somehow. He leaned forward conspiratorially, which was a little odd, a little alarming.

“I have to ask you … questions … about your … sexuality … your identity, about your sexual identity.”

“Oh! Cool! No one’s ever asked me about this before.”

He nodded, still uncomfortable. “It’s new. I have to ask.”

“Great. Please continue.”

This really is great. I hope all hospitals — and all everywheres are learning to expand their questionnaires, learning to expand their understanding of the full diversity of who we are as people, learning to be more inclusive and welcoming to people who don’t fit neatly into the pink and blue, cisgendered, binary boxes we’ve been categorizing folks into all our lives. It seemed pretty clear, however, that some work was still needed in terms of helping staff feel at ease asking the questions, helping them see the questions as okay to ask, not just mandatory.

“What gender were you assigned at birth?” He was still leaned forward, still speaking only just above a whisper.

“Female.”

“And what … and how would you describe your gender now?”

“Female.”

“And … well, okay.” He sat back, plainly relieved and ready to move on to the part of the interview with which he felt more comfortable.

“Those are all the questions?”

He looked surprised. “Well, no, but –”

“Shouldn’t you ask what pronouns I use?”

So here I’ll say that I don’t really have any idea what I’m talking about. It would be easy for me to move through his questions with all the answers he might expect me to give. I wasn’t trying to give that man a hard time. But part of me was curious to know what other questions had been added. And part of me wanted him to exercise his nervousness on me and not on someone for whom that conversation might have been more fraught. If he’s going to be awkward and uncomfortable, let him get that out of his system interviewing a person who hasn’t been made to feel othered and uncomfortable again and again and again.

“But you said female.”

“But that doesnt have anything to do with my pronouns.”

And here I have to stress again that I really and truly have no idea what I’m talking about. But it seems to me that my identifying as female doesn’t have to mean my pronouns are a given. I need to do some homework here and figure that out. In the moment, though, I didn’t want him to skip questions because of his assumptions about me.

“Please go ahead and ask the rest of the questions.”

He leaned forward again, sighing. “Your orientation?”

“Oh, okay. I guess straight.”

“You guess straight,” he said, shaking his head.

Yeah, I don’t know why I did that. I swear that I was not in any way trying to mess with him. I’ve done this a few times recently. Not long ago, without any warning or forethought, I started a sentence with: “I am, for all intents and purposes, a heterosexual woman …” Why did I say that? And what does it even mean? So, I wasn’t trying to mess with that man at the hospital, but clearly some messing is going on with me.

“And your pronouns?”

“I use she and they.”

“She and — that’s not a choice.”

“Really? What are my choices?”

“You can pick she, he, or zi.”

I have no idea whether or not “zi” has become wildly popular. I don’t know anyone who has chosen that pronoun. But even if I knew scores of people who had, “they” should still be an option. “They” is still a go-to choice for many people. Why would you have “zi” and not “they”?

“Zi? Serioiusly? They isn’t on your list?”

He shook his head. “You want zi?”

“No. I definitely don’t use that. But you have she, so I’ll go with that.”

“But you said she and they.”

“Yes, and she is one of your options, so please use she.”

“Not zi.”

“Not zi.” I smiled. “You know, it’s so good that the hospital asks these questions, but I think you need more options for the answers people might give you. They is pretty standard.”

“I’ll pass along that feedback.”

In the end, I think I exhausted that poor man. He seemed surprised that I didn’t have an issue with his questions, which made me wonder about the conversations he’d had with the other patients in the waiting area. He was a Black man, maybe in his 40s, and every other patient in the room was an elderly white woman. I would guess that at least a few of his conversations had been … prickly at best. So maybe he was pleased by my enthusiasm, even if he was also a little over me by the end.

My #bravenewworldindeed hashtag seems fitting here. I created it to highlight our descent into greed- and hate-fueled violent, lawless chaos things that upset me in the work of Trump and his masters and minions. But the hashtag fits in this polar-opposite context, too. We are walking ourselves and one another into new territory, territory where — if we do our work right — everyone will be welcomed, everyone will be included and safe and valued. And asking me my pronouns is part of that. And if the straights have to feel awkward and uncomfortable as we learn how to welcome everyone in, so be it. And it’s about time. And let’s get over ourselves and keep it moving.


It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

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In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Six Years Standing Still

In six weeks it will be exactly six years since I had my first knee surgery. Since then, I’ve had three additional knee surgeries, shoulder surgery, and two procedures for my heart. I’m so over having surgery.

Except that I’m not over it because an unfortunate fact I’ve been keeping to myself for a while is that I’m about to have another knee surgery. In a week’s time, I’ll be back in the hospital letting my body be handled, cut up and re-stitched. I’m sad about it and mad about it and frustrated about it and defeated about it. It seems that every time I start to think I have my body back and can work on relearning how to do things pain and disability have forced me to stop doing, I suddenly don’t have my body back at all. Instead, it’s time for another operation.

This one has all the hallmarks of being easier than the other four knee procedures. It’s outpatient surgery, for one. I’ll be home by the end of the day because the procedure is touted to be super minor and barely invasive. Can you hear my lack of faith? Well, that’s because my most recent hospital experience was the miserable disaster of my rotator cuff surgery, when the surgeon told me I’d be good to go back to work the next day and probably wouldn’t even need to wear my sling … and I was foolish enough to believe that insanity and didn’t properly prepare for how debilitated I was going to be. Forget the huge, thickly-padded bandage that was like wearing a dog bed on my shoulder. I couldn’t get dressed on my own! And never once did he mention that I wouldn’t be able to lie down and so wouldn’t be able to get to sleep. I’m shuddering just remembering the levels of pain I experienced after that operation.

This procedure will be different, if only because this is a different doctor, and I trust this hospital so very much more than I trusted the one I was in last year.  It will also be different because I have so much knee surgery experience that I have an idea of what to expect.

The trouble is that what I also expect is for this not to work, for this not to solve the forever problem of my knees that was created forever ago when a car running a red light as I was crossing the street made me fall badly, left me sprawling by the curb wondering if I’d be able to walk again. Each surgery has held the promise of making me feel whole and functional again. And the fact that I don’t feel whole and functional again after all these years and all these operations makes this coming procedure seem like a cruel joke.

My title isn’t quite right. I don’t feel that I’ve been standing still exactly. And I’m certainly not back at square one, but I’m not really anywhere close to having the physical ability I imagined I’d have when I started this journey. And I’m on the clock here. I have serious plans for my old lady life, and I can’t keep putting them on hold because I have to go on sick leave one more time.

I am actually not in as bad a mood as I sound right now. I have doubts about how successful this operation will be, but I’m not willing to keep living with the wonky, painful joint configuration I have right now.

So. Operating theater, here I come. With luck and a benevolent universe, maybe this will be my last surgery for many years to come.


It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot