Thanks to the National Cancer Institute for
producing and sharing my cover photo via Unsplash
Few among us, anxiously queue up to consume medical services. They carry their own trauma and have a certain gravitational draw on chaos. While it’s seems best to avoid it altogether, there are times when it cannot be avoided.
In 1963, I lost a spacial co-existence argument with a station wagon while riding my friend’s bike. I was whisked off by my dad to Petaluma General Hospital while my mom, obviously mad at me for something called my childhood nemesis, Dr. Stimey to have him meet us there to patch me up. All my hopes for evaporated as dad carried me in the front door and into the lobby where Stimey was waiting. I expected to be deposited onto a gurney and wheeled off to some proper medical room. Instead Stimey instructed dad to put me on my feet on the ground
“I want to see him walk.”
You what? I wondered. “I can’t walk. My leg is broken.” I pleaded.
“I think I’ll be the judge of that young man.”
“Give it a try Gary. He’s the doctor, not us.”
My leg was screaming as I clung to a nearby stair rail but dad had sided with Doc. Stimey. I had to try to walk on this leg, so I guts up, let go of the stair rail and put my weight on it — and promptly face planted as that leg folded, right there in the hospital lobby.
“Okay. Pick him up and follow me.”
Yes, I thought. Maybe I’ll finally see an emergency room.
I was not going to give Stimey the pleasure of hearing me howl in pain so I almost bit through my lip to hold it in. Dad carried me into an examination room. Stimey poked, manipulated my leg and checked the bleeding from the back of my head.
“Nurse let’s get some to x-rays.”
The deed was done and finally we had a diagnosis based on something other than Stimey’s sadistic foibles. My head was fine by my leg was fractured and needed only a strong ace bandage and to be kept elevated. So, on this trip, I never saw the inside of a surgical room. Despite being born in this very hospital, this was my only memory of being treated there.
Fast forward to 1976. Petaluma High School is now four years behind me. I’m living in San Jose with my still new freshly minted diploma in Electrical Engineering, qualified to say, with impunity that I had an oscilloscope and was not afraid to use it.
One day, after a scuba diving class that took me 30 feet beneath Monterey Bay, I came up spitting blood, my doctor sent me off to an ear, nose, throat specialist to check things out.
That doc, poked about and told me I needed a shot to test if the condition could be allergies.
I thought, Okay, a shot. I can cope with a shot. When he came back with the syringe he asked me to look at the ceiling. Huh! Why?
“The shot needs to go up your nose.”
Seriously! I thought. Is that even legal? But I recalled my father teaching me who the doctor was, so I leaned my head back and — and what a bizarre feeling that was. I’ll spare you a more graphic description but it would not win any awards for being a good time.
My sinus’ on the other hand slipped into its emergency mucus production mode. I was keeping a box of tissues in the car in those days and it was a good thing because on my way back to work, driving down the freeway, I sensed a sneeze coming. It was too close to try for the tissue box so I rolled the down window, queried my mirrors as to what cars were around (none, good) then turned to face out the window and let ‘er rip.
At this point, I can’t think of a delicate way to say this, but that injection had a side effect I never in my wildest nightmares would have expected. It both filled my nostrils with mucus and drastically increased it’s viscosity to something more like thin silly putty. My sneeze explosively propelled a tiny green-tinted, tethered snot-comet out the window trailed by a durable elasta-snot umbilical cord, which, to my horror, the outside wind instantly threw back — in coils around my face. . . ! I really should have crashed at that point.
I was grossed out beyond words and quickly took the next off ramp to find a deserted parking lot corner where I emptied that box of tissue trying to scrub off all evidence of this outrage ever having happened. Brrrr. It still give me chills.
After several more visits, the ear, nose and throat doc decided that I had a deviated septum and I needed a surgical procedure known as a septoplasty.
So early one afternoon I checked myself into Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose where they gave me a room for the night because I was going to be first up the next morning. But around 10 pm, I was wide awake, anxious and bored so, wrapped up in my hospital gown enough to not moon anyone, I took a walk to explore the evening corridors of Good Sam.
There was nothing to report until I turned a corner to find a wall of windows overlooking, Oh! Cool, a room full of babies all swaddled and bundled in their bassinets on display for anyone who cared to view them. I like kids so started looking for one willing to make eye contact. I did find one gal who seemed both aware and at peace with lying there looking around, but showed no interest in me. Years later I learned all she could see was a big blur. New born eyes, can’t see normally yet so my trying to make eye contact was just me being uninformed, but I was enjoying trying.
About this time a very tired looking guy walked up to the window. He walked over to stand beside me and looking worn out, asked asked, “So, which one is yours.”
Now here you need to cut me some slack. It was well past 10 pm. I was standing there in my hospital gown and not street clothes. Did he think that I delivered one of these cotton cocooned creatures? Sorry, but the first thing that came to mind was to raise my hand and point to that little gal I had just been trying to bond with and answer, “That one,” with a proud beaming smile on my face as I turned to look at him. He followed my pointing finger to the bassinet in question (it was right there in front of us) and his face — well it just fell apart.
“But . . .” he stammered, obviously confused and frightened beyond reason, “but,she’s ours.”
“Opps. Sorry about that. Oh look, it’s time for my meds. Gotta run. Bye now”.
I scurried off feeling like I’d added a lot of stress to this new father’s day, but come on, it was kind of funny. I grinned when the elevator door closed and put me safely beyond his ability to find and beat me silly.
Just to confirm your hopes that the universal God of not-so-young boys does have a sense of humor and balance, so my reward came the very next morning after my surgery.
By this time in my life, my friends knew that I really was not ticklish; foot touches, fingers to the side of my torso, etc. simply did not spark that typical tickle response. I think , when I was very young my dad tickled me so badly that he broke my nervous system but whatever, it was not a sensation I missed so rarely gave it a thought.
I was expecting only four visitors the next day, my parents, one of my sisters and a cute gal I was just getting to know and trying to impress. I’d told her about my pending surgery and she asked to visit. I’d waved off others but made an exception for her. It proved to be a good idea because years later, she and I would meet at our church to take our vows, so yes, I was lucky enough to marry that gal.
When I woke up, I felt really, really groggy and my nose was swollen closed. There was some blood seepage around my face and I most likely looked terrible, but visitors needed to be welcomed so I had to get myself together. A kind nurse helped clean me up then brought in a per-packaged kit of medical tools and left it on my tray. “Your doctor will use this to complete your procedure,” she said.
I wonder what that means, I thought.
I sat up enough get my bearings and my family arrived which was nice, but I still felt horrible and would have chosen to just be left alone rather that attempt being social. Then that cute gal showed up and I then realized that having her come to see me in this condition was likely one of my worst ideas.
But we all chatted. I told them what I knew at the time, which wasn’t much other than I’d survived and felt like I’d been punched in the nose rather than had it fixed.
Then the doctor showed up, all cheerful and ready to roll. He greeting my guests and then stood by my bed to look me over, listen to my innards and check my chart. “Well are you ready for me to take out the dressing?”
I was confused. What ‘dressing’? Quietly, my spider sense for disaster went off.
He turned to open that package of instruments, pulled out a pair of forceps, then gently lifted my chin, poked the forceps up into my nose, dug around some before clamping it onto something and began to pull.
My nervous system went crazy. Every broken ticklish nerve ending anywhere in my body lit up. With my parents, my sister and this cute gal I still held some hope of impressing standing right there watching, I did my best to maintain some self control as the doctor extracted a long ribbon of blood soaked wadding from my sinus. It flicking nose hairs, firing off misleading nerve pings and generally put me into a state neuro-shock. It was a new record high of unpleasant, embarrassing and horrible. My whole body broke into a flight or flight sweat as he kept pulling. Good God, how much is up there? But — he — just — kept — pulling. By the time he found the end, that strip of wadding was over a yard long and I’m positive it had attached itself to portions of brain tissue that I was saving for later use.
But the worse part was, after he reached the end, he held my chin up to look things over and began again on the other nostril. Oh Lord, just take me now, I thought as I felt the machinery of my ear drums popping in reaction to being pulled from the inside down into my nostril and even more sweat broke out, pouring down my face, soaking everything I was touching.
My family and sister (who’s never going to let me forget this) and my cute future bride, stood there (as I could only imagine) in horror at seeing this guy empty my head of vital organs.
I’ve tried to wrangle the memory of this post-nasal-ripping into the to-be-forgotten bucket but no joy, the mention of this event still brings back in wide-screen technicolor the full experience of having my brains pulled out through my nose that day.
Now, if you’ll excuse me. I need to go change my shirt — again . . .