On Last Week’s Surgery and this Week’s Surgery

Last Friday (April 8), I had a posterior capsulotomy. This is a laser procedure in which a hole is cut through a cloudy, post cataract surgery lens in order to allow the cloudiness to dissipate. So far, I’m not seeing any great improvement in vision, but the resultant floaters are driving me nuts. They are large and appear to move more rapidly than ordinary floaters. Depending upon where I am looking and how distant they appear, I mistake them for gnats near my face, roaches on countertops, and spiders on walls and floors. Yesterday, I sidestepped what I mistook for a mouse crossing my path. I am told that the floaters will “probably” get better.

Later this week, I’m to have a transurethral resection of the prostate, which is the name of a surgical procedure that’s performed through the penis in order to reduce the size of an enlarged prostate. Death is unlikely (one man in a thousand), but incontinence afflicts ten out of a hundred, five of them long-term or permanently.

I’m up to twenty-plus surgeries depending upon what one counts as a surgery (is a posterior capsulotomy a surgery?), but instead of growing accustomed to them, I dread them increasingly because: (1) the risks worry me more; (2) the care I receive is often impersonal and sometimes egregiously callous or glaringly incompetent; (3) Whether they’re minor or major, somewhere along the line of the many people and departments that are necessary to make a surgery possible, mistakes happen, always; (4) The older I get, the more slowly I heal; (5) I have to be at the hospital hours before I usually get out of bed, and surgery is a crummy way to start the day; (6) I chafe under the limits imposed upon me during convalescence (I’m not supposed to lift more than ten pounds for six weeks following this surgery, which is nothing compared to the limits imposed after rotator cuff repairs and major joint replacements).

I try to reconcile myself to the things I fear or dislike by remembering that, if things go well, my life will be better for having had the surgery, and that I should be grateful to have access to medical care that is denied to most of the world’s people. In the 1950s, I saw my impoverished grandmother go blind in both eyes for want of cataract surgery, and after five hernia repairs, I know something of how miserable and limiting hernias are (I try to put myself in the shoes of a poor laborer whose family will starve if he can’t perform heavy labor, but who is sure to die a horrible death from bowel strangulation if he continues to work). 

A hundred years ago, the average American man died at age 59; today it’s 76, and without modern medicine, I would already be dead. I remind myself of such things, but counting ones blessings can make a person feel bad about himself for complaining at all. By way of comparison, if you try to reconcile yourself to having a toothache by telling yourself that your problem is nothing compared to dodging missiles in Ukraine, not only will your tooth hurt as much, you will hate yourself for being a whiner and a wimp.


Update: My speech difficulty being worse in the morning, Peggy  called the hospital an hour ago to ask why we haven’t heard from the anesthesia department (they invariably schedule pre-op tests and a consultation a few days prior to surgery). She was told that the hospital doesn’t have me on its surgery schedule (perhaps the doctor’s office never contacted them). Upon learning this, Peggy immediately called the doctor’s office, but it’s nearly impossible to get them on the phone, and they take hours to call back. I have also called them, but I have no idea if the urgency in my voice will inspire them to act.

So it is that mistakes always, always, always happen, and the patient can never, ever sit-back and trust that what is supposed to be done will be done in the way that it should be done. Instead, the patient can but hope that the mistakes will be temporarily frustrating rather than life-altering or fatal. In this case, if there’s no operating room available, the surgery will have to be postponed, and because I was getting in early due to another patient’s cancellation, I could end up waiting months.