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The Worst Thing About Surgery by Martin Jaeger


It’s not the anxiety from thinking about it in advance.

It’s not the pain.

It’s not the recovery.

It’s the phone calls afterwards.

We just left the hospital—I was barely alive--I crawled through the door and collapsed on the couch in the den. The phone rang and my wife ran for it.

“Hello,” she said. “Marty, Hal is on the line. He wants to know how you’re feeling. He wants to hear all about the surgery. What shall I tell him?”

A few minutes later the phone rang again, “I just heard from Jackie that Marty had surgery. How is he?”

Seeking the safety of my bedroom I crawled down the hallway and plunked myself into bed and covered up.

It may have been four hours--but it seemed like two minutes--when the door to my bedroom opened.

“It’s Don. He wants to know how you are.”

“Tell him I didn’t make it.”

My wife shut the door, and I retreated under the covers, closing my eyes. Slumber-land here I come.

About two minutes later, the door opened again. “It’s nearly dinner time. You have four messages, and Norm is on the line. He wants to know…”

“I know. He wants to know the gory details…”

“No he doesn’t. He asked me why I didn’t pull the plug on you in the hospital when I had the chance.”

“Ha, ha,” I reply.

“I made your favorite dish,” my wife said to me as I struggled into my chair. As soon as I lifted my fork the phone rang.

“I don’t want to answer it,” my wife said, “but I told Sue to call. She’s so busy and I need to pick up the grandkids for her.”

My wife went to pick up the phone. “Hello. Oh. Millie…Yes, he is home… He’s fine…no they didn’t go through his pancreas…nor his colon…Let me call you later, we just sat down to eat…No, and it wasn’t hereditary…”

At the end of a week I was ready to return to the hospital where I didn’t have to answer any questions. I just had to open my mouth for the thermometer and make my arm available for the blood pressure cup. I didn’t have to tell the same old story about my surgery, and how I felt five minutes after the surgery, or 20 minutes later or two hours later.

I didn’t have to tell anyone the doctor’s C.V., nor the prognosis, diagnosis or medication I would be taking.

No e-mails to answer.

No get well cards from people I now had to thank.

No repeating the same boring story.

It seems that people don’t realize that talking about the surgical experience is not a lot of fun. It’s painful reliving those events. The patient is trying to forget and well-meaning friends keep reminding you of it.

Nearly four weeks later I got a call from a friend.

“Marty, I’ve been out of town. I just heard. What happened?”

“I had it by this time…Well, Hank, to tell you the truth it’s nothing good. I’m waiting for the Pulmonary doctor to call, so I can’t talk too long. I had gone in for a urinary problem, but when the doctor was inside, he found I had a hernia, and the colon was twisted. He fixed the urinary problem, but the hernia penetrated through the diaphragm, making it impossible to untwist the colon. He needed a specialist for the hernia and colon, so he called for assistance. They couldn’t locate either specialist, but there was a cardiologist and an anesthetist available. They decided to go ahead since I was open already, and they couldn’t close me up, otherwise I would have gotten gangrene…

“Look Marty, I want to hear more but I’m in the Costco parking lot. By the way, why are you waiting for a call from a Pulmonary specialist?”

“His nephew is in town and he wants to borrow my golf clubs.”

This last experience cured me of any desire to have surgery. But if I have to have any, I’m going to sign in under someone else’s name. Let that person get all the get well cards and phone calls.



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