You know how it is, when you haven’t heard news of an aviation disaster for months, then, just ahead of the date when you or loved ones are due to fly off on an adventure, everything with wings seems to have been repainted in the livery of vulnerability. You save up for a new household appliance, and on the day it’s scheduled to arrive you read a sobering piece in the paper, about how the model you’ve chosen is prone to catching fire or exploding without warning.
On a personal existential level, the last thing you want to hear is that the wonder drug you’ve been taking for more years than you care to remember, is suddenly banned in some countries, on the grounds that long term use can cause irreparable damage to the very parts you were hoping to preserve. Similarly, with surgical procedures, I don’t want to be confronted with nightmare scenarios ahead of my own imminent operation. I’ve read the ‘literature’ about anaesthetics, risks of infection, risks of bleeding, risks of tissue damage, risks of DVT, etc, etc. I’ve read and inwardly digested. That obligatory information is now stored away in a securely locked cupboard, in a room of my mind that only gets used on very special occasions.
So I should not have let my curiosity get the better of me when I spotted George Monbiot’s update on his own health. In a few brief sentences, poor George’s experiences were unravelling much of the goodwill and reassurance I’ve received from family and friends, ahead of the big day. He stopped breathing in the recovery room. He had a nasty post-op infection, and muscle spasms so violent, he found himself “…curled up on the floor, nails hooked into the carpet.” I have to stress at this point that George’s reasons for being subjected to the surgeon’s knife are in no way related to mine. But even so, a surgical intervention is a surgical intervention.
The truth is, I haven’t had an operation under general anaesthetic, for 57 years. Yes, that far back, when a tonsillectomy was commonplace among young children. When hospital wards were cavernous and intimidating, and parents were requested to leave their offspring with a starched uniform before melting away quietly. It was for the best, you know.
The nurse who conducted part of the pre-op assessment for my 2018 theatre trip smiled when I recalled my childhood trauma. She went on assure me that things have changed a great deal over more than half a century. Phew! Actually, one interesting fact she shared with me, was this: cataract patients used to spend five days on their back, following surgery. Each day day they were raised a little until, eventually they were sitting upright.
I have to say, this nurse’s light touch and and caring manner, not to mention her many years of experience, brought my stress levels pretty much back to normal. Raised, yes. But not through the roof.
These times in our lives, when our fate is effectively in the hands of strangers in masks, are full of imponderables. But these things I do know. My surgeon is Greek, and he graduated at University of Athens Medical School. Also, things have progressed, largely for the good since a nurse, in 1961, straight out of the Ladybird “People at Work” series, administered an insipid pink pre-med which left me fully conscious all the way to theatre, where I delayed proceedings not once, but twice. First, with a request for the loo, and secondly, with earnest enquiries as to what would happen next. What happened next was, a rubbery appliance was placed firmly over my nose and mouth.
And then I woke up. That’s the one thing I sincerely hope will remain unchanged.