The surgical chest pump used to remove the fluids and air leaking into my chest cavity.

Part 3: The First Surgery

Continued from Part 2: Narcotics

The Percocet arrived in a plastic drug “shot cup” designed for hassle-free pill-popping.  I dropped the two tabs in my mouth and tasted the bitter flavor of concentrated, uncoated, prescription opiates dissolve before washing it away with a gulp of water.  I took another look at the giant surgical tube waiting to be implanted in my chest then hooked up to a vacuum like a big straw.  The door opened and friendly old doc entered.

The surgeon wore turquoise green surgical scrubs including a matching elastic cap and  mask hanging around his neck.  “Are you ready?” he asked with the unmistakable trace of a smile.

“I can tell you are,” I respond, “let’s do this.”  The surgeon and his nurse side-kick began setting up their workspace at the right side of my bed.  The nurse began collecting the wires and tubes already attached to my body and securing them out of the way.  He was a larger early 20’s looking fellow with the kind of complexion that didn’t see much sunlight.  A light blue surgical cloth (blood diaper) was placed underneath my upper torso, and another covering my body except for a medium sized circular cut-out where the incision was going to take place.

Something about that second cloth made my insides clench themselves into a tight knot.  My innards recognized the implication of this cut-out cloth and squeezed themselves away from the surface of skin about be violated.  The surgeon grabbed a casual-looking syringe with an anything-other-than-casual long needle protruding from it.

If you’re not familiar with local anesthesia, it’s basically a technique used (usually by injection) to induce an absence of sensation to a specific part of the body.  In my case, the goal is to prevent the sensation of pain while a scalpel cuts a hole between my ribs into the chest cavity.  Sometimes, however, the anesthesia does not fully numb all of the flesh and like hidden easter eggs of pain, there are pockets of pure terrible sensation waiting to be discovered.

“I’m going to first numb up the surface of the skin then the layers of tissue underneath.  If you feel pain as we go along, I’ll give you some more injections.”   I watched as the surgeon grabbed the syringe with the long needle and positioned it over his target location of flesh.  Watching the tip of the needle hover over my skin was like casually watching a wasp land on my skin…except instead of stinging me, it was going to inject me with fire.

There was a slight prick as the needle plunged forward followed by what felt like a mixture of lime juice, alcohol, and salt getting injected into my flesh.  This process repeated a few times as the surgeon targeted deeper layers of flesh.  Quickly the burning subsided and was replaced by a warm numbness.  The surgeon placed the needle back on his tray of tools and grabbed a scalpel.

I decided not to watch this part.  The assistant nurse, however, did not have this option.

I could feel the scalpel tugging at my flesh as it began slicing through the layers of meat leading into my chest.  Though I did not watch the operation, I had a very vivid image of the scalpel moving in short flicking motions exposing deeper layers of flesh as blood poured out of the opening.  My mental image must have been fairly accurate as when the surgeon asked his assistant for a replacement blood diaper I looked over at the nurse who had turned from pale to ghostly white.  Handing the surgeon a fresh surgical cloth he faltered for a second.  “I’m just a little dehydrated I think.”  The nurse grabbed the side of my bed to steady himself.

After another round of needle pricks and burning from the local anesthetic, the surgeon continuing cutting into my chest cavity.

“I…it…is the scalpel scraping against my ribs?”  I ask.

“What does it feel like?”  The surgeon responds.

“The scalpel is scraping against my ribs.”  I confirm.  There was a hollow vibrating sensation as the sides of the scalpel scraped the sides of my ribs while pushing between them.  It was an eerily dull sound like the nails of a rotten corpse hand scratching through the lid of a wooden coffin.  I looked up over my shoulder to check on the status of the assistant nurse.  He now faced completely away from the operation fully braced on the side of my bed.  Any remaining color in his skin was now gone.

“Almost done.”  The surgeon announced.

“I need water.”  The assistant responded  between glimpses of consciousness.

I felt heavy pressure as the scalpel pushed against the membrane protecting my chest cavity.  The pressure subsided as the surgeon repositioned himself bracing the scalpel for additional pressure.  This time he leaned into the scalpel and there was a deep ripping sound as it tore through the membrane.  There was instant relief as the hot air that had leaked from my lungs collecting in my chest whooshed through the new hole between my ribs.

The boa wrapped around my chest released me from its grip and slithered away.

The surgeon quickly pulled the surgical tubing from its sterile packaging and pushed it between my ribs and deep into my chest behind my lungs somewhere it felt like it was inside my throat.  Moving quickly he sewed my skin to the tube holding it in place before covering it all with surgical pads, gauze, and tape to hold it all together.  The other end of the surgical tubing was attached to a “chest pump”…basically a vacuum designed for sucking up the unwanted air and juices that gets where it isn’t supposed to be.

About this chest pump: whatever company that designed this device was considerate enough to include a see-through meter on the side of the pump’s “juice tank” so that everyone in the room (including the patient) can observe the actual blood/fluid/gore being sucked from the patients body as well as the quantity (measured in ml).  Fortunately for me, this would serve as a great conversation starter for any future visitors.

The surgeon and his assistant began cleaning up as a female nurse entered the room carrying a syringe.  “Toradol.”  She informed me while connecting it to one of my IV lines.  She collapsed the plunger and I felt an icy sensation run through my arm before it blossomed into a deep warmth over my body.  With the excitement of the operation over, my mind drifted.  Once again, I slipped into the deep black chasm of dreamless sleep.

Continued in Part 4: The Vacuum Tube

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