I had never had surgery before; I had never stayed overnight in a hospital before. At least not as an adult; I did stay in an incubator for a month after I was born a month premature, in Montreal, in 1957. This was what my mother had told me. Now, more than five decades later, I was being prepped for surgery, a serious matter. It was Thursday, December 18th, 2012; I had arrived two days prior in emergency at North York General here in Toronto. I was informed I had colon cancer, and they were going to cut me open to remove a tumor. Major surgery, no doubt. I was as mentally prepared for it as one could be for an unknown experience.
The orderly, a stocky middle aged male of middle eastern descent, wheeled me downstairs to within a few feet of the closed doors of the operating rooms, and left without a word. It was about 8 p.m. No one was there; there was a nurse’s station nearby, but it was manned by no one, neither male nor female. I thought they had forgotten about me. After what seemed like a long time, I am not sure how long, a Chinese female anesthesiologist in her thirties, who had a determined look on her face, asked me a number of questions—the same questions that nurses had asked previously that day; she then told me about being “put under” and the procedure involved.
She also added that I would have to take off my wedding band, since gold was a conductor of electricity and it would pose some hazard: I argued, rather weakly but consistently, that I would rather not and moreover didn't see how a tiny golden band could pose any hazard. She left and and after checking with the surgeon, she agreed that I could keep my gold wedding band on my third finger of my left hand. Small victory, I suppose.
Such are important in a hospital, where all the rights are held by the doctors, surgeons, pharmacists, pharmacist's assistants, nurses, nurses aides, orderlies, administrators, etc. I was there to be a good patient, which means agreeing to all procedures, tests, examinations, which by the time I was in the surgical operating theatre numbered more than the fingers of both of my hands.
The room was bright, bathed in a bright white light—so bright that it hurt my eyes and caused them to squint; a defensive mechanism, no doubt. I was wheeled to a stainless steel table, which seemed more narrow than I thought would be possible to hold my body, skinny as I am; dutifully, as instructed by the surgeon, I climbed on to the table. Surrounding me was the surgical team, about five persons. Before I knew what was happening, a mask was put on me and I was put under. I remember nothing about the surgery, which lasted more than four hours. I do remember awakening in the recovery room, shivering and cold. I do remember a kind nurse quickly came and offered me warm blankets. It was around 5:30 a.m.; shortly afterward, I was wheeled up to my room.
I looked around, and then at my body, which had a large incision running down the centre of my stomach and chest, stapled to close. I was apparently cut open like a fish. There was no colostomy, which the surgeon had said was a possibility, doing so with all manner of diagrams and speech. Thankful for small miracles. There was all kinds of plastic tubes and lines connected to my body, including a self-administered morphine pump for pain, which the nurse explained the workings of. Yes, I was in pain, but I was also confused and in a new situation wholly familiar to me. To say this was abnormal is to say with a high degree of certainty what was undeniably true.
When I called my wife at about 7 a.m., she said I sounded weak. The doctor had called my wife right after the surgery, at around 1:30 a.m. and said my tumor was the size of an orange. I asked my wife to come, and I quickly fell asleep, not a good sleep, but a fitful sleep aided by the analgesic effects of morphine.
Next week: Part 2: Nurse, Can I have Some Ice?