When I was living in Pensacola, Fla., in either 1987 or 1988, I was tooling downtown from my home in the northern part of town. I made a left turn off the exit ramp off the only real interstate in town (and because it was a north-south highway, it was about to end anyway), just cruising along in my spiffy 1987 or 1988 cherry red Dodge Colt hatchback. And then, BAM!
An older woman in what I remember as a 1985ish big-ass Cadillac ran a red light — this was in the middle of the day — and perfectly T-boned me. Right in the driver’s side door. The force of the wreck drove my armrest into the left side of my ribcage. I couldn’t breathe for what seemed like minutes. My sweet, sweet ride was totaled.
Her car had to outweigh mine by 1,000 pounds. It was barely scratched.
So I know what getting hit by a facsimile of a Mack truck feels like. This is not nearly as cliché.
I have been hit, this past week, by a 1985ish big-ass Cadillac by that same old lady. She has entered the left side of my body, slammed through it into the right side, done a 14-point turn, bumping over vital organs and muscles and bones and ripping through skin, exiting from whence she came. That car, I’m convinced, still hasn’t a scratch on it.
Me, I’ll heal. But this is gonna take some time.
Surgeons are doing wonders these days. They did some a week ago Thursday with me. But let’s not talk about miracles right now. Certainly, there were those, from the surgeons and nurses, from the friends and family who saw me and my family through this.
Let’s not coat this with anything but the blood and gore that it is, though. Going through major surgery is a slow dance a little too close with the devil. It’s mortality right there, and that can be pretty scary. It’s a haze of days filled with pain, both yours and the ones who care about you.
It’s necessary, sure. But this is dirty work, people. Dirty, dirty work.
My wonderful wife, Mary Jo, has done a blow-by-blow on a Caring Bridge page she set up. That tells the ins and outs of those days in the hospital. Check it out if you like. She is the port in this storm. A miracle for sure.
I want to put down some things about those days that race through my mind in the fidgeting days and long, dark nights since I have returned from the hospital before they get away from me. So here you go.
And remember, friends: A list is just a column without transitions.
- Urinary catheters. There’s got to be a better way. Give me some duct tape and a big ol’ Glad sack and it makes more sense than taking a tube and … yeesh. And then leaving it there! You can’t leave it there too long, evidently, or you forget how to do your business. Bladders, evidently, have a very short memory. That was one adventure.
- Walking around — shuffling, really — with not only a urinary catheter and its bag on the other end, but a box that measured output from tubes that were shoved into my chest cavity. “Output” is a nice word for bloody gunk.
- Having those chest tubes pulled out. Holy Sigourney Weaver. The nurse told me there might have been a foot and a half in there. Sure, I asked. But, damn, she coulda lied.
- The smell. Hospitals have smells. They’re still on me. I can’t get rid of them. I am Agent Smith.
- There is a stress response to surgery in which blood glucose levels can go sky-high. So I was pricked and tested maybe a dozen times — maybe more — in the six days I was there. I was given several doses of insulin. Huh. Had no idea.
- The first thing I remember post-surgery was waking up with a breathing tube down my throat. I heard nurses talking about taking it out but some level or another just wasn’t right yet. I was looking at them, pleading with them to tell me what to do. If they had wanted a little dance, right then and there, to get that plastic tube out of my throat, I’m convinced I coulda pulled this off.
- All surgeries have risks. The reasons surgeons need to be lauded is they handle those risks well. My surgery did not go without its bumps. I’m still getting pieces of what went on. Too much bleeding. They may have had to open me back up again. We’re not sure. A valve that wasn’t a perfect fit. But the surgeons did what they had to do. It wasn’t the best case, it wasn’t the worse. They handled. And that is both awesome and scary.
- Adhesive. All over my skin. Still. Maybe that’s what smells.
- I gained more than 15 pounds while I there, though I ate virtually nothing. I didn’t know I could gain that much. It’s mostly fluids from surgery, and they’re working their way out of my system. Thank God. When you’ve never weighed more than 165, and they throw you on a scale and it says more than 180 … then you start thinking about how fat and white your ass must be hanging out.
- I’m convinced that I could not fit in even my loosest pair of sneakers yet, I’m still so puffy in the legs. Often, the only things that look remotely appetizing to me these days are my toes. Mmmmm, Snausages.
- Hospital foods get a bad rep that is mostly undeserved. But not wholly. I will never, ever, ever eat something called turkey Tetrazzini. It’s basically turkey-like output.
- IVs still creep me out. I had one major one in the back of my left hand and one major one in the right side of my neck. Some of the best moments of my hospital stay — yeah, there were a few — were when they took those out. I still have big purple bruises there, and probably will for some time.
There’s a million more things I want to remember about this experience, and a million I probably want to forget. But as I said over on Caring Bridge, it’s all over but the healing and the hurting. In a few weeks/months, I look forward to basketball with the gang again and golf with my brothers. I look forward to doing good work for someone. I look forward to seeing my son in college and seeing what’s next for my wife and I.
All that time, I will look ahead, too, for that old lady in her Cadillac. She’s gunning for us all.