Thursday, June 1, 2017

Under the Knife

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for June is called, "Everyday Mess."  Give it a listen! After all, do you think I am doing this for my health? (If your answer is yes, you are correct.)

Last week, my daughter had an appendectomy. When it became clear that her abdominal pain was not just an attack of insufficient farting, we brought her into the pediatric emergency room. To calm my nerves, I started counting how many times the ER staff asked her the same questions. I kept this tally going throughout the entire perioperative period.

(Note: Peri- is a prefix, often used in medicine, that means around. A periscope looks around, a periodontist takes care of the stuff around your teeth, and if something is around 1 meter in length, you can say it's perimeter.)

The most common question that Scarlett was asked during her stay was, "How would you rate your pain on a scale of 1-10?" This picture was often provided as a visual aid.

She would always rate her pain at a 4, which is the bravest thing a kid can say. It means, "I'm in so much pain my eyes aren't quite pointing the same direction, but I'm still smiling, at least a little."

The second most commonly asked question was, "Do you have any allergies?" She does not. But since they kept repeating the question, I wondered if we should be testing her more frequently. I was willing to pass the time by re-exposing her to shellfish, dust mites, and bee stings every five minutes, but it the ER was not stocked with these resources.

"Are you wearing any underwear?"

She was only asked that question once, but we were all caught off guard. So much so that she neglected her manners. The polite reply politely to the anesthesiologist would have been, "Yes, sir. And you?"

The most perplexing question she got was, "Is this related to a car accident?" At first, we thought the clerk was just a moron, but then we realized that this was a kind of existential riddle.

Somewhere in China, a motorist swerves to avoid a dog and crashes into a telephone pole. This leads to a cascade of seemingly trivial events, each contingent upon the last. One domino after another falls, and soon a 12-year-old girl on the other side of the world has an inflamed colon. This thread of consequences is at once infinitely far-fetched and unyieldingly true, leading to one inevitable conclusion: The operation must be covered by the Chinese man's 10-year powertrain warranty.

Anyway, she was a real trooper. She certainly kept it together better than I did when I was 22 and had to have an infected cyst removed from my tailbone.

At my father's recommendation, I had made an appointment with Dr. Jay Goodman, a respected general surgeon, who told me that he would take the cyst out if I wanted him to. Spoiler alert: that's basically the denouement of any surgery clinic visit. "I can probably take that thing out... if you want me to."

Dr. Goodman wasn't exactly the most emotionally available guy. I can say with confidence that he had a bedside manner. It wasn't a great one, but it was a manner. Most importantly, he provided reassurance about two things that were weighing heavily on me. First, he promised me that the infected cyst was unavoidable and had nothing to do with my personal hygiene. Second, he explained that this was not technically a butt abscess. It was peri-butt abscess, and he could probably take it out. If I wanted him to.

After the operation, I had enough peri-butt discomfort that I had to sit on an inflatable doughnut for a while. To add to my humiliation, there was a little bit of drainage from the surgical site for a couple of weeks. Every morning, I would bend over while Lauren removed a 4" x 4" piece of gauze from my coccyx and taped on a fresh one. On the first morning, when she did this without complaining, I decided to ask her to marry me. (Although I waited a couple years, because it might have been awkward to reach down between my legs and hand her the ring.)

A few days into this adventure, when a medical school buddy named Andy was quizzing me, he abruptly stopped talking mid-sentence. I followed his eyes down to my ankles and saw in horror that a pink-tinged 4" x 4" piece of gauze had disengaged from my peri-derriere, sidled down my pant leg, and was now lying on my shoe. He looked at it, then back up at me imploringly, as if to say Please make up a story about what this is and make it not be gross. Lie if you have to.

I consider myself to be a rather creative liar, but at that moment I was at a complete loss. We both just looked at the soiled dressing in dismay and said nothing. After a moment, Andy returned to staring blankly at "First Aid for the USMLE Step 1." He was done quizzing me for the day. In fact, maybe he would just study on his own for the rest of his life.

I quietly picked up my buttock rag, put it in my pocket, and went home to have Lauren fit me with a new one.

With warmest regards,