My doctor told me it was coming. Back in February, as I prepared to cross the threshold of 50 years, my doctor performed my annual physical – which included the inevitable “turn your head and cough” test. He mentioned that there was a weak spot and that I might develop a hernia within the next year. I had already noticed that spending more than 30 minutes on the elliptical machine would lead to a bit of soreness that would generally pass after a day. Then, around summer, the soreness began to linger for two days, then a week, then finally refused to subside. So, last month, I scheduled an appointment with Doctor Carneval, a specialist who confirmed my suspicions, ordering a CAT scan to be sure: an inguinal hernia. Surgery was required. I was provided with a time and date for the procedure and instructions for preparation – no food for 12 hours before the procedure, no liquids for two hours before arrival.
At 9:00AM Monday, November 13th, I arrived at Euclid Hospital for my first ever experience with surgery under general anesthesia. Dan was kind enough to take the day off and acted as my chaperone. Before I continue, I wish to point out that Euclid Hospital is a Cleveland Clinic facility and I was absolutely thrilled with their professionalism and commitment to quality from the first interaction to the last. In fact, this has been the case with all of my interactions with Cleveland Clinic over the past year – which have been numerous.
After check-in, Dan & I headed to a pre-op room where I undressed and we chilled watching lame mid-morning TV while staff occasionally stopped by to get me ready – including one person who signed his name on my right hip to verify that the incision would be on the right side, a nurse who prepped my hand with the IV for the anesthetic, and finally the surgeon. Prior to taking any action, each person asked me to verify my date of birth. As a Quality Assurance Analyst whose motto is “Trust, but verify”, I appreciated this extra step. One person asked about power of attorney and I advised that Daniel is my husband and has full authority to “pull my plug” if it comes to that. Finally I was wheeled to the operating room, noting the cliché of seeing the overhead corridor lights rush by in cinema hospital scenes. After I arrived in the room, which was painted in white, I noted that in the old days operating rooms were colored “easy-eye Green” because it was the photonegative of blood red, and thought to relieve surgeons’ eyes. When I’m nervous, I tend to babble, and we chatted for another moment. Then all was suddenly black and I was being told the operation was over and vaguely felt a breathing tube being removed from my throat. I have no memory of going under. None the “count back from 20” one sees in hospital TV shows. One moment I was being prepped, the next, it was all over.
I was wheeled into recovery and I groggily asked the nurse what time it was. 2:00pm. I felt no pain. There was little sensation at all, and I found myself unable to scratch my nose – I could lift my hands only about an inch off the mattress. The nurse advised me to breathe deeply to help flush the anesthesia out of my system – and I raised my eyes to look at the monitor and see if I was taking in as much air as she wanted. I saw another nurse walk by with a Mr. Coffee style container and complain that someone burned the coffee. My response, “What, Cleveland Clinic is too cheap to buy you a Keurig?” drew laughter from the nurses.
I normally have a reliable internal clock, and it seemed like I spent about 20 minutes in recovery. In fact, I was there for two hours. Then I was wheeled into another post-op room where Dan was allowed to join me. By now, it was dark outside and the ward was emptying out. The check-out nurse provided me with two prescriptions: Hydrocodone, for the pain, and a laxative to counteract side-effects from the Hydrocodone. Then she asked, “Are you in any pain? Do you need a Percocet?” I replied that a Percocet seemed like a good idea. Then she said to me, winking, “you’re a pretty big guy, I’ll give you two.” This was most helpful, as we soon discovered our local CVS was encountering a computer issue and was unable to fill my prescription for several hours.
Dan drove me home slowly, being careful to avoid the numerous potholes on East 185th Street. The rest of the evening was a Percocet haze, but I vaguely remember deciding to sleep on the recliner rather than in bed – which I continued to do peacefully for the next nine days.
Tuesday, the pain was excruciating, despite the Hydrocodone. I found myself needing to take the maximum dose (one every six hours), which I generally avoid due to addiction problems in my family. Still, there was intense soreness when sitting still, with a hot stabbing pain when I stood or sat. I eventually learned to alleviate this by using my arms to push myself up from a chair or as a brace when sitting down. Wednesday was a bit less intense, which left me able to move about a bit more and take a much needed shower. It was during this time that I also noticed some major bruising in the incision area. The bruises seemed to migrate over the following week, with one appearing on my right love handle, several inches from the incision. (During my follow up appointment on Tuesday the 21st, Doctor Carneval advised this was a normal occurrence.)
By Friday, I had a serious case of cabin fever and, with some difficulty, I got into my CR-V for a short drive to the post office and CVS. I was out of the house for no more than an hour but it was quite refreshing. Over the weekend, I ramped up my activity: Saturday, Dan & I went to World Market and to see the Cleveland Orchestra – but I had to leave the concert at intermission as the swelling had made my dress trousers uncomfortably snug. Sunday, we braved the crowds at Costco and went out for a late lunch.
On Monday, I returned to work – silently thanking Progressive for their casual dress code as I walked around with my shirt untucked. The following day, I saw the doctor for the follow up where I was given a timeline to return to unrestricted activities. As of this morning, I am no longer taking meds and mostly pain free.