From the archives …
Tweet with us!
So we’ve been kind of quiet on this forum recently. I’m very happy report that Pam and Richard (my partner in this endeavor) had a great wedding – congratulations! I flew to Florida on Friday, we did the service Saturday afternoon, and I returned to Nashville on Sunday. Then came the real fun part, on Monday I went to a pre-op evaluation to make sure nothing nasty, or at least unexpected, would happen for the surgery that I was scheduled to have on Wednesday. We did all the fun things, and when we got to the anesthesia part, I learned that I would be put too sleep and wouldn’t remember anything (I’ve had too many nights just like that). Then the nurse practitioner moved on to what to expect over the next 4-6 weeks. I interrupted her, and said, “Um, is this going to hurt?” She seemed genuinely surprised by my question. But then responded, “Well, sure, there will be some post-op pain, but we’ll take care of it – you’ll go home with some pain medication.” Then she paused, looked at her papers, and then back at me. “Mr. Gerber, I don’t think you’ll need to worry about pain – you’ve made it through a liver transplant. I’m sure that was far more painful surgery that what we’re talking about now.”
Oh, the assumptions we make.
From the time that I learned I was going to have to have a liver transplant, I had a lot of worries wandering through my psyche. Having spent over twenty-plus years in a children’s hospital, I knew that one of the biggest fears that children deal with in illness is pain. When a child is told of a needed procedure ranging from suturing a cut on the head from that “pretend” wrestling match to heart surgery, one question that comes up pretty quickly is “Will it hurt?” And having spent over fifty-five years coming to grips with the fact that I am nothing but a big baby, it wasn’t a shock that I found myself asking the same question about having what the doctor told me “was the biggest operation that we can do on anyone”.
And I got the same answers that we give the kids – oh, you might feel a little pinch, maybe some tugging. If anesthesia is to be used, we tack on “you don’t have to worry about it -you’ll be asleep through the whole thing – you won’t even know you are having the operation.” Kids used to give their care-givers and parents the kind of look that relays what is in their mind – “Yeah, sure”. I had that look down really well.
So the time came for me to go into the operating room. I have to say that the anxiety about pain was way down the priority list then. I was far more worried about waking up from this thing, and feeling pain would be a good sign that I had survived. The anesthesiologist who was going to “put me to sleep” (as an animal lover, I wish they wouldn’t say things like that) came in to start a line in my wrist. He said, “This shouldn’t hurt too much”. The look. First attempt was truly a little pinch – except he couldn’t find what he was aiming at. Second time. Third time. He was sweating. He said, “Sorry about all this – I hope it doesn’t hurt too much. Are you doing OK?” I wanted to reply, “Yeah, doing great – they’re waiting for you to get this done to cut my abodomen open, and I really appreciate you taking my mind off that – pain is a great distractor”. But all I did was give the look, and reassure him that I was fine – through clenched teeth.
Finally, that task was accomplished, and it was OR time. They wheeled me into the room. Now, I’ve seen plenty of operating rooms. I’ve seen the very delicate intruments and those that would be just as likely to be found in the back of a contractor’s truck. But I have never seen so many operating instruments. It seemed that all I could see was rows and rows, and carts and carts. Brass handles, shining silver. And what a huge room it was, and filled with so many machines and people. It was like looking at Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory from the perspective that you don’t want to have. One of my last remembered thoughts was, “Oh, sh*t, this is gonna hurt bad!”
And I was awake. My voice was hoarse, and I had a sore throat. As I became more and more aware, I was told the operation was long, but went very well. Wife? Check. Family? Check. Do you want something to eat? Sure. Do you want to sit up a bit? Ummmm, can I? Everyone has looked at my incision except for me. All have seemed to be pretty impressed with how big it is. I’m pretty comfortable right now. The pain medication must be really good stuff. I really don’t hurt at all. But if sitting up is going to change that, I’d prefer not to. Nurse: “Well, you are not on very much medication right now. We want you to sit up – it shouldn’t make you uncomfortable, but if you get hurting we can give you something.”
And that’s the way it was for the next six days until they sent me home. Oh, I had some discomfort. Some I needed some help with – others, once what was done was done. I remember my last drain caused the biggest problem. A variety of nurses and physician assistants couldn’t get it to budge. They called the fellow. I really liked him. He was a really big man, didn’t say much, but I could tell he was good people. He came in and aknowledged that he had put the drains in. He took a hold of it, asked me if I was ready, and started pulling. It wasn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but it didn’t hurt. For a while it seemed like he was engaged in a full blown tug of war with my lower abdomen. I don’t know, but he must have been most of the way back out to the nurses’ station when he won. Suddenly, the thing popped loose and I looked to see if there was a stream of my intestines going with it. I wondered if he was OK – you know, playing with rubber bands can sometimes hurt…but I didn’t.
One of the reason I am writing all these entries about my experience is to do just that – to share my experience. And from my experience, from the time I was taken to get my new liver, pain was never an issue. Surprised? So was I. Now again, this was just my experience, but if I had had the comfort of someone else’s personal perspective, my level of fear concerning pain would have been significantly reduced. Others may have had worse experiences – but I haven’t heard any. If you are readying yourself for a transplant experience, and if pain is on your list of worries, find ways to address it. Your care givers can’t treat what they can’t see.
And a final thought – I have had significantly more pain with this latest surgery than I did with transplant. To those who think that they are doing a relatively minor procedure, please don’t assume!