A Trip – Part 2: Emergence

Note: This post will make more sense if you read Part 1.

The next thing I knew, I was waking up in the recovery area. The nurses had a few questions for me to check on my mental state, and they soon asked me to help scoot onto a bed. They wheeled me out of recovery and into my room, where my wife and mother were waiting. There was a flurry of activity as the nurses and medical technicians got me settled in and hooked up to their monitoring equipment. I remember my wife and mother waiting for the activity to wind down and they excused themselves to go back to the apartment – they’d had a long day of waiting and were worn out. It was fine – I was still under the effects of anesthesia and drifting in and out of sleep – there was no benefit to them staying – I wasn’t able to converse more than a few sentences before falling asleep again.

When I woke up in the recovery room, I remember not feeling any pain, but feeling a bit of pressure and tightness in the surgical area. That sensation remained for the entire first week (and a few days beyond). With both a catheter and wound vacuum connected to down below, I couldn’t get much of a sense of what had taken place. Everything was swollen and stretched, bruised and purple, and covered by a plastic membrane to enable the wound vac to be able to draw a vacuum on the surgical site (and thereby draw out any fluids); I couldn’t see much of anything. Everything was numb from the local anesthetic the surgeon had used to kill pain for the first week. There were times I wondered if I’d actually had the surgery, because what I was sensing felt a lot like a very tight tuck. But, lacking a mirror, I used my phone camera to get my first looks at what had taken place. It wasn’t pretty, but it was miraculous, nonetheless!

The other thing I noticed as I regained consciousness and began to remain awake for longer and longer stretches was that I was no longer experiencing a mental “buzzing” that I’d become so accustomed to that I’d stopped even being aware of it. My brain had been constantly getting the wrong feedback/signals from that part of my body, and while it could interpret the signals, it also knew that they weren’t the right signals, and so those signals were always accompanied with a sense of wrongness. After the surgery, that wrongness was no longer present, and what signals I was getting were right. Finally, gloriously right! For the first time I can remember, my brain was quiet and at peace about the state of my body, and that relief has remained since. The surgery had accomplished something I wasn’t even aware could happen – it had fixed a constant noise I’d just gotten used to working through and didn’t even realize it was there until it wasn’t.

Because it had been well over 24 hours since I’d last eaten and didn’t have anything in my digestive tract, I was hungry, and thankfully, I had no nausea from the anesthesia. When I woke up and found dinner waiting on my table, I devoured it! Even foods I normally would bypass were fair game; the only thing I left behind was the cup of coffee (blech!). Breakfast the next morning met the same fate – thankfully someone had noticed the lonely cup of coffee and didn’t bother wasting any more on me. For the remainder of my stay, I ate well, cleaning my plate at each meal (and having a few other extras – a bagel, a few slices of pizza).

On the day following surgery, the nurses wanted me to get up and take a few steps. In the middle of the afternoon, they crowded around me to help me stand (with another at the ready to change the sheets on my bed while I wasn’t occupying it). I carefully scooted to the edge of the bed and carefully let them pull me onto my feet. Yay, I’m standing up! “Can I take a few steps? Umm, I don’t know… my head feels a little light… I think I need to sit dow…”. Next thing I remember, I’m waking up and a bunch of people are crowding into my field of vision and talking to me, but I can’t understand what they’re saying. Why won’t they just let me sleep? I’m comfortable and I was already asleep, why are you waking me up?! Oh, wait, I was trying to stand up. Oh, now I can understand everyone! Yes, yes, I’m ok, I’m awake, I didn’t hurt myself. Well, I am a little sore… could I get some of the painkiller?

Thankfully, my second attempt to get up was more successful – I actually shuffled about 4 feet away from the bed before returning, beginning to get light-headed again. The next time I made it to the bathroom and brushed my teeth. But each time I’d nearly fall back into the bed because I was getting light-headed. It turns out my blood pressure, which is normally low to begin with, was unusually low – at times it was around 70/45! I was getting some serious head-rushes as I stood up and my pressure equalized, which combined with the sensation of pressure within the surgical area to make it hard for me to remain conscious while standing. But the best thing to help with that was to be more upright, and since I wasn’t allowed to sit up beyond about a 40° incline, I needed to stand up a few times each day and try to walk. While I continued to have lightheadedness for about a week after the surgery, it steadily improved until I returned to normal (my usual blood pressure and no lightheadedness).

Each day was an improvement. I was able to remain awake a little longer, able to think a little more clearly, able to walk a little more (still not very far – all within the room). On the third day, the doctors decided that I was doing well enough to go home the following day. The nurses jumped into action, teaching my wife how to empty the bag at the end of my catheter and giving us tips for how to deal with the common things which might come up at home. By mid-morning on the fourth day, I was released and walked(!) from my room to the elevator and then to the door and into the car to take us back to our AirBNB apartment. The cool crisp air of New York felt good on my face, but the building pressure at the surgical site had me immediately laying back in the car to return to an inclined position. Soon, I was back in the apartment and in bed – a stack of pillows behind me to keep me comfortable. I quickly fell asleep, exhausted by the 100 or so steps I’d taken that day.

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