Adventures in Surgery I: It’s what you wear.

You have to plan ahead -- and behind -- when you're going to have surgery.

This is the first installment of a story of my adventures in surgery.

It’s always important to consider how you dress when you’re about to have surgery.

So, in addition to sweat pants (comfortable) and clogs (easy to get on while stoned) and a button-up short-sleeved shirt (easy on after shoulder surgery), I picked out some nice underwear.

Underwear might not seem like something to consider when having surgery, but let’s be real: those hospital gowns don’t cover much, and the thought of hanging my 51 year-old posterior out to dry for a surgical ward of medical techs and nurses in tidy-whities is just not, frankly, a fashion statement that I wish to make.  And because I am a former Boy Scout, I follow the Prime Scout Directive: “Be Prepared.”

Anyway, I picked out a jaunty and colorful, but relatively discreet, set of briefs that Susan had bought me one birthday from Undergear. If you don’t know, Undergear is a male underwear outlet whose catalogues are the pornographic equivalent to Victoria’s Secret. Yes, it’s probably inappropriate for my age. But hey, which would you think is more complementary — your spouse buying you a) cotton full-coverage granny butt sacks from Sears or b) inappropriately hip underwear from VS or UG? It’s And if you answered a) you really need a swift kick in the granny sacks and to get out a little

Other than the clothes, I made the choice to leave my contacts out as ordered and prepared my speech for how I couldn’t possibly remove my ear piercing, hoping that the nurse would relent and just tape it. My excuse was that it took a hack saw to remove it, but the real reason was that every time I have to remove it I lose the little ball or damage the threads and have to buy a new one from very scary people at a tattoo parlor. I just couldn’t face going in again to Jerome, who looks something like the Illustrated Man marked up with stainless steel Google Earth tags, and having him fondly rub my earlobe before putting the new earring in.  You just never know what’s going to happen in a tattoo parlor.

If I looked like this they would have told me to lose the sweatpants.

Of course, you never know just what is going to happen in the OR for that matter. The nurses always give you a litany of thoroughly terrifying possible scenarios, and then ask you to sign a legal form saying that the only thing you care about is that they dope you into oblivion and that, as long as they do that, they can cut into your body into little pieces for all you care. I also had to swear that I had starved myself for the proper amount of time and not enjoyed a last meal in case all of those terrible scenarios came to pass (even if they do, the nurses don’t want you throwing up a Crab Omelet in the Recovery Room and spoiling the ambiance). Then we were off to the changing room.

After handing me a plastic bag in which to put my clothes, the nurse demonstrated how to wrap the paper “gown” properly (i.e., fully and tightly) around myself so that no one would see my posterior. “And,” she said — as if they all needed a guarantee of that– “You can leave those sweat pants on.”  If I had been a svelt 20-year old she would have said, “Strip down and tie that paper kimono loosely around yourself, son — you want to give yourself some room to … breath.” But I wasn’t offended. “Them days,” as my grandma used to say, “is gone forever.”

I considered the gown, which had multiple tear-outs for different kinds of surgeries or access for inappropriate fondling. I noted that, in an emergency, they could just grab the patch over my heart, rip it away, and hack into my chest. That was comforting. Every second counts, you know. But there were a lot of tear-outs. What if they got the wrong one?

Once (un)dressed, I was led to the pre-op area. The nurse started my IV and brought me this wonderful warm blanket, which, after drugs, is the best thing about surgery. After I was tucked in, she went over all the procedures and my medications again. Then she lowered her voice. “The Dr. likes to joke,” she warned me, “And say, ‘So we’re doing the right knee today, eh?’ just to make sure you know what is supposed to be done.”

She was right. The anesthesiologist started filling my IV with wonderful chemical substances that made me feel happy and relaxed and the surgeon came in. “So, are you ready for that work on your knee?” he asked.

I was ready. “What?” I responded with mock disbelief, “I thought I was here for cataract surgery!” He was not amused — someone had spoiled his joke. I looked around — the nurse was nowhere to be found.

“So,” he sighed, “What are we doing today?” When I responded that it was my right shoulder, he took out a Sharpie and, without comment, made some marks on it as if to write “This one” before disappearing.

Soon the surgical nurse came in and gathered up my lines. “Follow me,” he commanded, and led me down the hall. He was like a tour guide, “That’s OR 1 on the right and 2 on the left,” he said, “But we’re headed to 3.” He gestured down the hall, as if I might otherwise run eagerly in any open room and throw myself on the table. “You’ll notice that the temperature is dropping,” my guide continued. It was, as if at the impending approach of something I didn’t like.

When we reached the door he paused and, with great ceremony, put on his surgical mask. “Sterile environment,” he explained through it. Then he threw open the door. “Let’s go.”

I wondered what the point of the mask was was since I was not wearing one. Sure, I had taken my two showers (night before, and morning of) with the antiseptic sponges they had provided me in pre-op. These contained something akin to Agent Orange and left my skin raw and red. Nevertheless, since those showers I had gone through my morning routine, kissed my wife, pet the dogs, and ridden through town in the car. What’s more, I had been sitting for a half hour in the most unsterile enviromment imaginable, namely the check-in room, where a panoply of miserable wretches clustered, hacked, and hobbled about like shades waiting to enter Dante’s Inferno. God only knows what terrible things were malingering on the persons, in the air, and on the surfaces in that place, but whatever they were I was surely carrying some of them with me into the OR. I just hoped that one of them wasn’t MERSA.

I tried to look confident, and, tethered on my IV leash, shuffled after the nurse into the brightly lit room and toward the table. At least I felt dressed for the occasion. Whatever they did, and however they turned me on the table, at least I had nice underwear on to show for it. Or at least that’s what I thought. But that’s for next time.


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2 Responses

  1. September 22, 2010

    […] Altered Forum « Adventures in Surgery I: It’s what you wear. […]

  2. September 27, 2010

    […] is the third in the series, “Adventures in Surgery.” You’ll want to have read Part I: “It’s What You Wear,” and Part II: “Cutting a Fine Figure” before […]