Adventures in Cholecystectomy Land – Part 1

daVinciProbably more than you wanted to know, but …

I promised myself I would blog about this, and so I am:

I went to the hospital on Friday for my pre-admission session, in preparation for gallbladder surgery – by an actual robot! – next Friday. Before surgery, they want to make sure you’re up to it, so they do blood tests, EKG, etc.

I aced the tests. One of the nurses even told me she really liked having people like me, because so many of her patients were, you know, smokers and such, and had multiple medical problems. She asked me all the questions – Are you a smoker or drug user? Do you drink alcohol? Ever had a heart attack or stroke? Any trouble breathing or swallowing? Etc. – and I answered No, No, No, and we just sailed through it.

Heh. One question: Do you have any religious preference you’d like the doctor or hospital to know about?

Easy one: No. (You ain’t gettin’ ME to tell one or more possibly-goddy people I’m an atheist and then placing my life in their hands. I’d sooner sweep into a restaurant and insult the entire minimum-wage staff just prior to dining. )

There was something on my EKG she found interesting, but she didn’t explain it, so apparently it’s not something I’m going to die of right away. Probably all the beat-heavy hip-hop music I listen to has given me one of those satanic stopped anapestic heartbeats.

She poked around at my neck and throat and listened to my chest and back, then had me lay back and pushed at various parts of my abdomen, asking me each time if it hurt, with me stifling laughter each time. “I have to know you REAL well before I stop being ticklish,” I explained.

(Fair warning: Now that you know I’m ticklish, if we ever meet and you think it would be cute and fun to tickle me, I will react badly, and I’m not kidding. I consider it be a form of assault. Try buying me a drink first.)

There were detailed instructions about what I needed to do pre-surgery, including stopping taking aspirin and several other blood-thinning medications several days in advance, and meticulously scrubbing my lower abdomen the night before and morning of the surgery.

She cheerfully answered all my questions, of which I had about 20.

Should I shave my chest or belly?

(Side note: I’m furry as hell. Not hairy, but furry. I’m covered from neck to knees in silky mostly-gray fur. Part of my proud mammalian heritage, in my view. I see those dolphin-slick boys in the laser hair removal ads, and they strike me as mega-creepy.)

No, no shaving. They will clip a very small area on my abdomen on surgery day, and prefer patients not presuppose anything.

What’s the name of the robot doing the surgery? I thought there would be a funny in-house nickname like Mr. Cutty or AstroBoy, but “We just call it ‘the daVinci.’”

Is the doctor himself going to be doing the actual surgery? “Yes.” (Although I had to sign a paper saying “I, the above-named patient authorize Dr. Whatsit and whomever he/she may designate as his/her assistant, including Wherezit Hospital personnel, to administer treatment and/or arrange for post-hospital care as he/she deems appropriate.” Which seems to say my doctor, the one I’ve actually met and like and trust, could do anything up to and including leaving a note for the janitor to come in and do it with a hacksaw and plunger.)

What happens if there’s an emergency during surgery, say the power goes out? “The hospital has backup generators, so that won’t happen.”

Can I specify that I receive no blood or blood products? “Yes, but you probably wouldn’t need it anyway.”

Can I get the painkiller prescription before the surgery, so I won’t have to shamble into the pharmacy post-surgery and stand there in agony while they dole out the pills? “No.” (I suppose I can understand that, but damn.)

How long will it all take? “You arrive at 6 a.m., the doctor will come in and greet you. Surgery begins at 7:30, and takes about an hour from start to finish. (The doctor had told me the actual procedure takes about 10 minutes, so I’m assuming the rest of that is prep time and post-surgical backfilling.) After that, you’ll be in Recovery for about 2 hours, coming out of the anesthetic, etc., after which you can go home.”

Will I have to come back for removal of stitches, etc? She was a little unclear on that. “The incision is so small, there may not even be any stitches. Internally, the neck of the gallbladder may be simply cauterized.”

All in all, a fairly pleasant visit.

Except this was the SECOND nurse. The first one, whom I’ll call Nurse Diesel, was not all that pleasant.

See, shortly after I was ushered into an exam room and took off my coat and loosened my shirt, Nurse Diesel came in and sat down at the computer and began firing off questions and typing in my answers.

I asked “Do you mind if I record this, so I can remember what you tell me later?”

“No. I’ve been at this hospital for 18 years, and I’m a valued member of the staff …” (I don’t remember her exact words, but it was something like that.)

“It’s just that they said I could ask questions …”

“I have 15 minutes to get this done, and then I have to get on to other things.”

“I only want …”

She practically whipped away from the computer, turning toward me with and asking intensely “Okay. Okay, what is your BURNING QUESTION?”

I gritted my teeth and looked away from her. She appeared to take my silence for acquiescence, and went on with her questions and instructions, with me giving quiet monosyllabic answers.

After a couple of minutes of it, I said “You know, I’m so angry right now I’m not processing what you’re saying.”

There was a pause. “Well, what can I do to help?”

“Not be YOU.”

“I could … get you another nurse.”

“Yes, let’s do that.”

Exit Nurse Diesel, stage left, and the entrance of the second nurse a few minutes later.

I meanwhile had tucked in my shirt, put on my coat and hat and prepared to walk the hell out of the place.

Oh boy, when it comes to any sort of service situation – restaurant, store or gas station – I’m not a very demanding client, but the one thing I DO demand is respectful treatment. Diss me for even a few seconds and I’m outta there like a rocket. And I never go back.

But this time I talked myself out of leaving. “You really need this surgery. Don’t walk out. Don’t walk out.”

So I was still standing there when Betty came in. And Betty was nice.

I did tell her what Nurse Diesel had done, and why it had irritated me.

(To be fair, it’s possible Nurse Diesel took my question about recording as a sign that I didn’t trust her, and was documenting it so I could sue or get her into trouble later. But to be fair to ME, she didn’t let me finish explaining any part of what I was trying to say.)

“I could get you a patient’s rights representative if you want one.”

“No, it’s over. It’s done. I just wanted you to know about it.”

But my last question, delivered in a flat voice, was: “Is that woman going to be on my surgical team?” Because that was a deal-breaker.


The strange thing about all this is that I have a profound trust of doctors, probably too much of it. Some deep part of me seems to assume they know exactly what they’re doing, and sometimes I even fail to ask questions about things I honestly want to know, apparently just assuming that these benign godlike beings are going to take care of me.

But the encounter with Nurse Diesel shook me. I suddenly felt like a steer in a chute, headed toward a slaughterhouse, with no caring or fellow-feeling anywhere in sight.

I’ve actually started to worry about the whole thing. I know I’m going to go through with it, but …

This is major surgery. It’s the most minor of the majors, I’ve read, but it’s still opening me up and sticking objects inside me to remove parts I’ve had for 60 years.

There could be complications, there could be contamination, there could be unexpected conditions encountered. A power surge, a sneeze, a muscle twitch at the wrong time.

There could be, may be, even probably will be, a group of people working on me who neither know nor care about me as an individual. People who would suffer, if there is some sort of incident that injures or cripples me, nothing more than financial repercussions.

I am, at last, a little bit afraid.