Requiem For A Hernia

Or Thoughts On Pain, Illness, Recovery, and Disposable Razors

Now that I am nearly recovered from major abdominal surgery for a retroperitoneal hernia, I felt the urge to compile a few observations from one of the weirdest times of my life. Went to sleep just fine one night, woke up in agony at 3AM. Then, a trip to the ER, testing, diagnosis, surgery, hospitalization, and six weeks on the road back to normal. Ready? Here goes.

Having your small bowel squeezed and twisted to the point of total blockage feels like slow motion hari kari.

One positive side effect: it is the total cure for attention deficit disorder. Your focus will be as sharp and as clear as a flawless diamond. You may wish you could think about anything else, but it is impossible.

On the other hand, context is everything. Waiting for hours in an emergency room, in excruciating pain is quite tolerable when you see in front of you 1) plane crash victims, 2) children who were in a car crash and are now waiting for a helicopter to fly them to Boston, and 3) you overhear the phrase “open sternum.” Yeah, doc, take your time, I’m good.

When you have a condition that is 100% fatal without surgery, you lose any nostalgia for living in another time period. Keep your Ancient Rome, your Renaissance, your Old West.  I’ll take a sterile operating room and anesthesia any day of the week.

Severe, inescapable pain could drive a person batshit insane in a very short amount of time. The urge to run in circles, screaming becomes almost overwhelming. I was thisclose to doing the Batusi.

If you are ever offered a “breakthrough” dose of morphine, take it. And enjoy.

If you are ever told you need a NG (nasal-gastric) tube, brace yourself for the longest 5 seconds of your life. For me, it was like having a live wire jammed through my sinuses and being yelled at repeatedly to swallow it until it reached my stomach. How the tears did flow.

However, that same NG tube will become your best friend, gently removing disturbing quantities of unspeakably nasty fluids from you so that you can go about your business without power retching.

Oh, and by the way, if they want to put something called Hurricane Spray up your nose first, I recommend you politely decline. Imagine being water-boarded with a mix of Kool-Aid and WD-40. Or snort some cherry-flavored mace. Mmm, taste the burn.

Unless you went to med school, you do not speak doctor. Doctors may sound like they’re using the same language as you, but they’re not. They may speak slowly, clearly, and even show you pictures and diagrams. But you simply lack the necessary vocabulary. So when they describe the details of a major operation, you will hear, “I repaired your [thing] by [doing a thing], then [another thing], so the [thing] that’s attached to [the thing] no longer [does the bad thing].”

If you ever have to consider your mesentery, you have a problem. Didn’t even know you had something called a “mesentery”? Good for you.

A week out from abdominal surgery, you may closely resemble a caveman who had a bad encounter with a saber-toothed cat: unshaven, unwashed, half-naked, semi-literate, with a gash in your gut.

Or maybe Alan from The Hangover, minus the beads.

I can deal with the scars (not like I have much choice) but if I’d known I was going to wake up with Frankenbelly, I would’ve taken one last look at the original equipment.

You can lose weight insanely fast on a Gatorade and Ensure diet and not feel like you’re missing out on much. In fact, after two weeks on the stuff, a trip to the grocery store may leave you feeling like solid food is creepy and not to be trusted.

Of all the flavors I was re-introduced to along with solid food, salt was the most amazing. I’ll never forget that first potato chip. The chip was like the moon and I was Neil Armstongue. One giant leap for mouthkind.

I watched a LOT of sci-fi while lying down this past month. Here’s the awards, which I call The Hernys.

Saddest: Moon

Insanest: A Boy and His Dog

Most Underrated: Dragonslayer

The “Everything Came From This” Award: Metropolis

Most Irritating: Innerspace

Treehugginest: Silent Running

Funniest (unintentional): The 4D Man

Funniest (intentional): The Fly (1986)

Most Shatneriffic: Star Trek II.

Most Spocktastic: Star Trek IV.

Finally, when I was able to resume hobbies like personal grooming, I quickly discovered that I got a closer, faster shave with the single-blade disposable razor provided by the hospital than I did with the overpriced 5-blade contraption I have at home. TV lied to me again. One. Single. Blade. That’s all you need, my friends. The rest is marketing.

Well, there you have it. Now, ‘scuse me while I go find that long lost shaker of salt.


13 Responses to “Requiem For A Hernia”

  1. David Blatner Says:

    Wow. I’m just going to trust you on this one and not try to check these details out personally.
    Of course, you can use your experience to better understand talking with new publishers! For example, when talking to new InDesign or Photoshop users, they will likely just hear, “Select the [thing] by using the [thing] and dragging over the [thing] then click [thing].” BTW, don’t forget to check your mesentery plug-in while thinging.

  2. David, that’s EXACTLY what I was thinking as I struggled to glean anything from the doc’s speech. i.e. “OMG! This is what I must sound like when I’m talking to someone who doesn’t have keyboard shortcuts tattooed on the backs of their eyelids.” It was an insight I was grateful to receive.

  3. Oh, Mike! I laughed. I cried. I lament the pain, suffering and aggravation you’ve endured, but your recounting is splendid! Cataract surgery was *nothing* compared to what you went through! I hope your recovery is proceeding without a hitch.

    Thank you for a wonderful story!

  4. Lisa Crowe Says:

    Fantastic story, Mike. Apparently you are providing a great community service: making all of our past surgeries seem like nothing in comparison to your odyssey. I’m beginning to think my two c-sections were not so bad in retrospect. I wish you much healing and more good movies!

    • Thanks, Lisa. I guess that’s the silver lining to all of life’s troubles. You get a great story to tell. There’s nothing funny about a day where everything goes as planned. Also, now if I ever start a band, I have a name: Frankenbelly 😉

  5. Barbara DaSilva Says:

    heh heh, “the hernys”. Good one, Mike. Glad your back among the living.

  6. Mike:

    So glad that you can get a chuckle out of the whole ordeal now. Know it was quite a scary ordeal. Still can’t believe how much pain we could see you were in on that Father’s Day night. You were a bit unrecognizable. in some ways. Anyway, we are so elated that you are just about back to good health again. This recount was fantastic. Love, Debby & Win

  7. The humor level on my internet has been seriously absent due to your sabbatical. And I’m not surprised, but I’m very glad that you’re able to talk about what must have been horrendous in such funny words and images. And my mental image of you doing the Batusi is HI-larry-us! Glad you’re feeling better.

  8. Laurie Gilburne Says:

    wow Mike-I had know idea! Glad this is all behind you! Your post was excellent, you have always been very good at explaining things. Can we talk some baseball now?

  9. thanks for the post. i am headed in for hernia surgery in two weeks. it is my first surgery ever. i am a little freaked out. though your post didn’t help ease my mind it did make me laugh a lot.

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