Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Sunday Memory Drawer - My Operation

The official name of my scheduled procedure was "orchiectomy." Go ahead. Look it up in a dictionary and you will finally figure out what the hell I've been talking about for the past two Sundays.

My urologist did all his cutting in St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica. I remember seeing the place on television during the 1994 Northridge earthquake. There were a lot of cracks in the building back then. I hoped and prayed that there wouldn't be a shaker while I was under the scalpel. The same way I fear having a cavity filled during a trembler.

For some reason known only to doctors, nurses, and insurance companies, these outpatient surgeries are always scheduled for the early morning hours. This requires you to get there even earlier than you would for a flight out of LAX. First of all, there are tons of forms to fill out so the hospital is totally protected if you choose to die during surgery.

As I repeatedly signed my name, I kept thinking that these autographs might be worth something. If I happen to... I also start to consider that the doctor might make some extra dough by working on the carpel tunnel syndrome that is certainly developing as I manuever through Page 112 of the hospital disclaimer.

"Who do we call?"

If I die? Well, Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, and then maybe my roommate in that order.

"Who is here with you?"

You mean the person that you can slip the box of Kleenex to if I check out? Well, my roommate dropped me off and will pick me up when I am ready to go. There was no reason to keep him here in these ultra-depressing surroundings. So, you can keep the tissue.

These hospital workers have a tough job when patients like me show up. When we're nervous, we like to babble. Even if it's only in our minds.

When you appear for one of these slash jobs, you watch the nurses go about their business in almost robotic fashion. You realize that they do this every single morning of the week. And the only way they can go through this successfully is by being structured and regimented. I wasn't a name or a person. I was simply "Room 24" and the "830AM surgery in OR 2."

At St. John's, they shuttle you to your own personal little "green room" to prep for your big appearance on the table. There, you can disrobe, gown up, and panic in privacy. I did so quickly and immediately hopped up on the gurney, which would be my home away from home for the next three or so hours. To while away your time, St. John's equips these rooms with a television. I turned it on to see Matt Lauer and Al Roker yammering about the weather in New York.

I immediately turned it off. Oh, my God, the last television I would see is "The Today Show." My life is ending with such emptiness.

Another knock on the door. A different nurse rolled in an EKG machine. Not only was I going to be under a knife in less than ninety minutes, but now I was going to endure the heartless pain of those little stickers pulling off my body hair. She went about her business, layering me with those little electronic Post-its. A pause as she flipped the switch. Another pause as she stared at the machine. Hmmmmmm.

"I'll be right back."

She returned with another nurse, who also stared at the machine. She turned to leave.

"I'll be right back."

Nurse Moe and Nurse Larry were now joined by Nurse Shemp. They all surveyed the nothingness that was apparently my heartbeat.

"I don't know how to tell you this but you might be dead."


They contemplated their apparently faulty equipment. I looked for the exit sign. And then peered down at the floor. I tapped Nurse Moe on the shoulder.

"I think the machine works better when it's plugged in."

Three of the reddest faces ever to be seen in a hospital. The three nurses laughed hysterically. I wished I could join in. Now I couldn't wait to see what fresh hell would be awaiting me in the operating theater.

Another knock. The door opened slightly. A mild-mannered bald man stuck his head in.

"Would you like a prayer?"

Given what I had just seen with the three idiots and the EKG machine, I certainly needed one. And I was feeling fairly ecumenical. But I asked the guy what religion he was.

"I'm a priest."

Hmmmm. At this point, I didn't really care. But, suddenly, the face of my grandmother flashed before my eyes. Heck, she didn't even like it if you dated a Catholic, let alone have one doodling with some rosary beads before they went off to surgery. If my last moments were indeed Catholic ones, there would be no living with my grandmother in eternity. I lifted my head off the pillow and spoke to the priest.

"Nah, I'm good."

It wasn't more than ten minutes later that I was on my way. A rapidly speeding gurney through the halls of St. John's Hospital. I was wide awake and got to see all the other patients on their respective ways to a meeting with a very sharp object. In my own surgical suite, KRTH. the local oldies station, was blasting out of the speakers. A nurse, busying herself with my doctor's weapons, was singing along.


I quickly searched around for the dude who would be administering the knockout punch. I had only undergone anesthesia once before in my life when I had a small cyst removed. That was minor. This would be the Big Kahuna of deep sleep. And I was fully braced for the usual instructions. Start at 100 and count backward. Friends already advised me that you never get past 98. Suddenly, a tap on my shoulder.

"Hello, Len."

It was my smiling doctor.

And that's the last I remember. I didn't even get to count. An hour later...

"Hello, Len."

My smiling doctor again. I was still on the gurney in the operating room. The same nurse was still fooling with the now-sullied scalpels. And she was still singing.


The next half hour was admittedly hazy for me. I heard my doctor's voice in short spurts.

"Everything....fine....biopsy week.....Vicodin."

I totally slept through the gurney ride to the post-surgical recovery room. But, when I did come to, I found myself side-by-side with the rest of the outpatients. And each one of their moans was louder than the next. I felt like I was lying in the streets of Atlanta as depicted in "Gone With The Wind." A nurse came by.

"How are you feeling?"

Fine. Can I go home?

Another nurse came by with a cup of some liquid.

"Here's some apple juice for you."

Thank you. Can I go home?

Another half hour. Another round of wails from the patients around. What specifically had been done to them? The nurse came back to my gurney.

"Your clothes are underneath. If you can get dressed..."

Done. In five minutes. Can I go home?

They finally got the message and called my roommate. He picked me up fifteen minutes later. With my senses totally relaxed by the fading anesthesia, he asked me what I wanted to eat.

"Entenmann's Pound Cake and a Diet Snapple."

I have no idea why. But that pound cake and that Diet Snapple never tasted better.

Oh. sure, the next few days were a little rough. My stitches down below were courtesy of Swingline Staplers. I finally figured out why the doctor had mentioned Vicodin. I needed it at night. Showering, of course, was a bitch. I couldn't get the bandage wet and I didn't want to, since I had already peeked under the dressing.

I was now Frankengroin.

So, the odyssey that had begun when I was five years old and sobbing in Dr. Fiegoli's office was finally over. A long journey that ended with the news that...

"The biopsy results were negative."

Dinner last night: Grilled pork chops at Bobby Van's Grill prior to the latest Broadway revival of "West Side Story."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Between the inept nurses and the uncalled-for priest, I would've been out of there so fast.