Within the first couple months of flying, I started having trouble with my tonsils. I began contracting strep throat every few weeks. After seeking medical opinions from two separate Otolaryngologists (Ear, Nose and Throat Physicians-ENTs), I decided to have a tonsillectomy. Both physicians also informed me that I had a deviated septum, and could improve my breathing by having it straightened at the same time they removed my tonsils.
‘Well, I do enjoy breathing.’
It sounded like a good idea to me, so I signed up for that as well.
One of the ENT’s, with no prompting from me, said “While I’m straightening your septum, I could take that bump out of your nose. It might make you feel a little bit better about yourself.”
The ‘bump’ in my nose had never figured into my self-image, at least of which I was aware. Having visions of this guy in the O.R. making decisions about how to maximize my self-esteem, ‘I noticed when she left my office the last time that her buttocks could use a little shaping-roll her over guys, it’s for her own good,’ I selected the other surgeon to perform the surgery, leaving my misshapen proboscis in tact.
When you have a tonsillectomy performed as a child, it results in minimal pain and a short recovery time. As an adult, undergoing this surgery is staggering. Both of the Otalaryngologists I saw told me that adult recovery from a tonsillectomy was typically extremely painful and drawn-out. The week before I was scheduled to have the operation, I flew with a woman who’d had her tonsils removed one year prior. I asked her “On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is the pain afterwards?”
She replied, with complete certainty, “There are no numbers.”
‘That’s just frick-fracking fantastic to hear.’
I had the surgery performed in Little Rock, so that my parents could help me with the convalescence. Having never been put under general anesthesia, I was apprehensive, but looking forward to being free of the annoying recurrent infections and sore throats. My parents accompanied me to the hospital. The pre-op Nurse asked me if I wanted to have them go back with me while I was prepped. “No, thanks, that won’t be necessary. I’ll be fine.”
When I got back to my little cordoned off slice of the anteroom, they put me in a hospital gown and had me climb onto the portable bed. The Nurse gave me some forms to sign that guaranteed that I knew what I was getting myself into, was freely making this reckless decision under no duress, and of course pointed out that I could, in fact, go to sleep and never wake up again. My anxiety was climbing the charts precipitously. They gave me some IV Versed (a powerful anti-anxiety medication), to settle my nerves. It just aggravated the situation because it made me paranoid, and I became convinced that the medical staff was going to trick me and knock me out without warning.
With all the equanimity I could summon, I sat up on the gurney, and explained to my Nurse, “I’ve decided that I don’t want to do this.”
“I’ve changed my mind. Sorry for the inconvenience, but I really don’t want to have the surgery.”
The Nurse attempted to persuade me. “Oh, hunny, it’ll be over before you know ee-it.”
“Thank you, but no.”
They called in back up, and a Nurse Anesthetist added some Demerol (a heavy duty narcotic pain killer), to my IV. I couldn’t focus my eyes anymore and became more certain that the medical personnel had hatched some kind of under cover plot to lure me into the Operating Room.
I requested “Would someone who has a free minute mind to call my parents back here please?” My Nurse walked out to the waiting area and retrieved the parents of her difficult pre-op/mental patient. The staff convinced me to lie down, and when my Mom and Dad walked into my cubicle, I was lying on my back with a feral gazelle being hunted by a lion gawp at the ceiling. One of my parents loomed on either side of my bed. I gripped one of their hands in each of mine and brought them up-to-date. “I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to do this.”
“Lori, you’ve got to git thee-is done. Your tonsils are going to rot out of your throh-oat.”
“Seriously, I really want to leave.”
There were some knowing looks exchanged between all the non-addlebrained persons present, and the Nurse Anesthetist walked up to me and said gently “Would you like me to gee-iv you something so that you’re not so scay-erd?”
‘Uh, duh? Yes.’
Whatever alchemic potion he loaded me up with had just the right amperage for what was ailing me, and I found a serene little patch of the universe.
‘Oh, all right. I’ll do it. Thank you a really really lot. You’re very very nice and cute…’
When I opened my eyes again, there was this inexpressible pain in my throat and nose, and I wanted to get out of there. I sat straight up and asked “Is it over?”
“Yes, you dee-id great. Now lay back day-own. The procedure’s feenished. How many of Mama and Daddy do you see?”
“Two or three. I’m ready to go home. My throat’s on fire.”
The next three weeks were an odyssey in discovery of the limits of my tolerance for bodily pain, my parents’ and my emotional fortitude, and espionage/counter espionage on the part of my pharmaceutically tight-fisted Mother and me.
The post-op pain was indeed something to experience. Somewhat akin to what I would imagine it would be like to swallow a wolverine and have them claw their way out of your throat, while you were being punched in the nose by Mike Tyson. I couldn’t speak, even at a whisper. It was excruciating even to mouth words, and because of having the septum surgery, I had two 2x4s sewn into both nasal passages. So my Mom gave me a pad of paper and a pen to communicate with her. The pain medication that my physician had prescribed wasn’t cutting it, and because of my inability to vocalize, and being completely at the mercy of Warden Mother, I wrote notes to her begging her to call my Doctor and tell him that the pain was unbearable. She wouldn’t do it. I would sob with the pain. The only recourse I had was to write with bigger and bolder letters, and use lots of exclamation points and underlines. Just to make the party more fun, I started vomiting. In my post-op instructions, I was told that I couldn’t lean over to throw up into the toilet like a normal nauseous person, I had to hold my head upright and push my chest as close to the sink as I could and vomit straight out hoping to hit the washbasin. It was pure hell, and I was trapped in it.
The Doctor had prescribed some anti-emetic suppositories for me, just in case nausea became a problem. I had never used a suppository, and my Mother handed one to me saying “Do you want me to help you with ee-it?”
‘Sweet Jesus NO!! ’ I wrote in my communication notebook “No Thank You. But, uh…how far up do I have to put this thing?” Now, there’s a question one should never have to ask their Mother.
“Not far hunny.”
My pain medication clearly said that I could take one or two tablets as needed. Be it known that I had no history, whatsoever, of addiction, but my Mother, fearing I was going to become a raging junky, would only give me one pill at a time, then hide the bottle from me. A shocking glimpse into the heretofore veiled sadistic side of her personality. She had set up a second bed in my old bedroom, so that she would be there in the middle of the night if I needed something. Well, it didn’t take long before I figured out her Method of Operation. She would tuck me into bed, give me a pittance of my pain medication, then go and get into her own temporary bed across the room.
I started pretending like I had gone to sleep, and quietly watched her. Apparently while my Mother was attending ‘The Annie Wilkes’s/Kathy Bates’s Misery School of Nursing,’ she also had undergone some CIA training of which I was unaware. After she thought I was out cold, she would sneakily peak across the room at me, to make sure that I couldn’t see what she was doing, then hide the pain pills under her bed.
‘Okay, Nurse Ratched…two can play this little game.’
So, I would lie there counting the minutes until I saw her breathing relax, then climb out of bed and crawl across the floor of my old bedroom, so that my shadow passing in front of the nightlight wouldn’t awaken her, and fish out the hidden pills. I stashed enough doing this so that I could be allotted my actual prescribed dosage of two pills every four hours.
It took about three weeks before I felt fair, and six weeks before I felt back to normal. But, I haven’t had strep throat since then, and I can breathe through my nose like a Thoroughbred.
Several years later, I had another minor surgery and my parents told me they wanted to come to Dallas to help me with the recovery. Before I agreed, there were rigid ground rules set.
“Let’s get one thing straight Mother. I AM IN CHARGE OF MY POST-OP MEDICATIONS! You will not be allowed any where near them, nor will you be permitted access to any discussion of them.”
“Do we understand each other?”
Lori Culpepper Dinsmore
From the blog
Folie has Several