Last week, at 7:34am in the morning, my husband drove me to a hospital in Alamo Heights. There was rush hour traffic to contend with, but we made it to the hospital in time for me to be sent back to pre-op with minimal fuss. I was here to have yet another surgery related to my cancer.
Because I have the BRCA1 genetic mutation, my chances of getting ovarian cancer were pretty high. My oncologist recommended that I have all of the plumbing removed, and my Ob-Gyn said that he would do the surgery.
"I've got a robot," were his exact words.
"Do you know how many times I've heard that line? " I responded. After 30-plus years, I can joke with my doctor in this manner without him taking offense. I later learned that this robot, named Da Vinci, is some sort of state of the art robot that allows for hysterectomies and such to be performed laproscopically, with minimal down time and faster healing. That sounded good to me.
So here I was. I signed the forms, spoke to the anesthesiologist and the OR nurse, they administered a little Versed to relax me, and I was wheeled to the OR, babbling away, just like I have for the past five or six surgeries. Versed is an awesome drug to someone like me with anxiety issues; for a few moments, all is right with the world. I usually babble as they wheel me into the surgical room, and I help them out by moving my round self onto the surgical table. I usually am out before they put the breathing mask on my face. Most people don't remember anything after they're given Versed; it's called "Milk of Amnesia" for a reason. Most people don't remember.
Which is how I know that the gel pad on the surgical table was ice cold. How I know that the person holding the mask on my face was pressing too hard. I pushed the mask away, and I know that I said not to push so hard. I tried to tell him that I was claustrophobic, he was freaking me out by pressing so hard. I remember this clearly.
But I couldn't tell him, because I was slowly being paralyzed. I could feel my neck and jaw losing sensation, and suddenly I had no control over me. I was still aware. I started to panic, because when you're paralyzed you have not the slightest control over your own breathing. The comforting rhythm of your chest rising and falling is gone, and you don't know if this is it, this is the end of your life. In my head I floundered a little, thinking of things left undone, unsaid. We always think we have more time.
My last thought before I lost consciousness was of my father, a nurse anesthetist, who long ago explained to me that they paralyze people before inserting the breathing tube. This time they just didn't give me enough of whatever to knock me out before the paralytic started to work. I grabbed onto that, an anchor.
"This is normal," I thought, just before the lights went out.