Surgery day

I only slept a few hours last night before drinking a half-gallon of water and a mug of coffee before my NPO deadline. I am less nervous today. I am cheered that the sun is breaking through the low clouds; I am enjoying a few final sips of coffee; and I am happily anticipating stopping off at the library on my walk to the hospital. I’ve been reading one mountain climbing epic a week along with books on knots and orienteering. These are old interests that I return to at least once a year.

For all my love of knots and wilderness navigation, I do little of either. I often use a map and compass to identify one mountain from the summit of another mountain, but I seldom have to rely on them to find my way. I fantasy doing so, but would have to go without Peggy as she would object to the undergrowth and fallen logs. This means that I am not likely to go at all since the pleasure I find in going to the woods comes more from her companionship than from the woods itself.

I never climb any of the high mountains that I read about either, which strikes even me as odd since I don’t just read about climbs, I also read about climbing equipment and techniques. Am I not tempted then to give technical climbing a go? Not really. I get enough thrills from reading about other people’s thrills.

People who seek danger are of a different breed than I. It takes more to physiologically stimulate them, and I resent the fact that many of them glorify their need for danger as a hallmark of superiority. I must confess, however, that I am no better. I might admire the guts and determination that it takes to climb an 8,000-meter peak, but I also feel superior to those who need to do it. I don’t use the word need lightly, because people who are obsessed with danger are very much like people who are obsessed with liquor.

True, Peggy has climbed, but driving three hours to Mt. Hood and coming home the next day is worlds apart from traveling halfway around the globe and spending months on K2. These are people who evolution failed, and they in turn fail everyone who tries to be intimate with them, most tragically their children.

Time to shower and walk to the hospital. Check-in is at 11:00; surgery at 1:00.


I had a spinal anesthetic without additional sedation so I could remain alert. My arms were positioned straight out from my body, Jesus style; and my legs tingled, although I couldn’t tell what was being done to them. I looked up at one point and was surprised to see my left leg being held two feet off the table while it was scrubbed with Betadine.

I was cold no matter how many blankets they piled upon me, and the surgeon joked that I would be charged for the extras. His description of what I was seeing on the color TV was very different from what I expected. Since cartilage is a membrane, I assumed that torn cartilage would appear as sheet-like fragments. Instead, it looked thin and feathery as it undulated slowly in the five quarts of fluid that were pumped through my knee. There was also a lot of it. The surgeon attacked it with a conical-headed device with revolving blades that chewed it up and suctioned it away.

I was pleased and entertained by the process until he said that I have stage three to four arthritis (four being the worst). I wasn’t prepared for this, and became nauseated when he suggested that I avoid long hikes and working on my knees. He pointed out jagged bone spurs that protruded ridge-like above the cartilage as well as spots where the cartilage was completely missing. The latter areas looked like the inner bark of a tree that had been ineptly blazed with an axe.

I was taken from surgery to post-op where I had to stay until I could wiggle my toes. I was the only alert patient there, so I lay listening to the others puke, groan, and talk incoherently. I tried so hard to move my toes that I trembled from the effort, but the anesthetic was tenacious. My fingers had long since become so cold that they could no longer be used to determine my oxygen saturation levels, and I placed them against my thighs to warm them.

My legs felt like lifeless lumps of hot fat that disconnected from my body. I touched something that felt like a rolled-up washcloth, and I speculated that it might be leftover from surgery. I soon realized that it was my penis. I glanced about to see if anyone had caught me playing with myself. As I moved my hands upward, I realized that everything below my navel was asleep.