I made it. I went into a process that put me up against some of my deepest fears and I’ve come out the other side. The story’s long, so don’t feel you need to read it. I needed to write it.
As you may remember, I had seen a plastic surgeon about a cyst growing on the bridge of my nose. I decided to have it surgically removed, despite a personal history of anxiety attacks in medical situations.
Since then, I’ve tried to wrap my head around the surgery over and over again. I’ve discussed it with friends, and with family. One benefit of this obsession was that I’ve substantially diminished my embarrassment about both my odd bump and my odd phobia. Somewhere along the line I realized that they are what they are and feeling ashamed of them was pretty useless.
Mary gave me a CD, a guided meditation for people facing surgery. It had been used by a friend of hers successfully, and I listened to it several times this past week, ripping it onto my iPod. It was helpful in creating a relationship between a relaxed state of mind and the surgical experience.
Last Thursday, Jeanhee and I went to the hospital for my pre-admission screening. I was there for my blood pressure, an EKG, a blood test, urine sample and a chest x-ray; more medical procedures than I’ve had done in years combined. I was jittery and clammy as I went into an examining room, girlfriend holding my hand.
As a nurse interviewed me, I explained my anxiety and warned her. In response, she looked at Jeanhee. “Are you Chinese?” she asked. If Jeanhee was taken aback, she hid it well. “I’m Korean,” she answered calmly. “Do you meditate,” the nurse asked? She went on to explain that she’s heard success stories from other patients who use meditation to calm their nerves. It was sort of amusing to see un-progressive stereotyping done to put forth a rather progressive suggestion.
I made it through my blood pressure ok. A different nurse replaced the first one and did the EKG. I let her know how nervous I was, too, and she did her best to put me at ease, asking me questions and making jokes. When she began to take my blood, I was freaking out, squirming and feeling extremely anxious. She kept a continuous stream of chatter going, and in a last ditch effort to keep me from passing out, blurted out, “So, are you two getting married?” A true master of her craft, it jolted me from my reverie long enough for her to finish up and for me to calm down.
As I was recovering, the nurse handed me a test tube. The opening at the top was about the diameter of a dime. “Take as much time as you need,” she said. “When you’re ready I need you to pee into this, put the cap on tight and bring it back here.” I sat there, weary from the blood-taking episode, and dumbfounded as to how I was going to pee into the tiny opening.
The nurse let me hang for about thirty seconds, though it felt like more. “Just kidding. You can pee in a cup and then pour it in here.”
Upstairs, in the radiology department, I overcame my nerves by thinking of my feelings before a big volleyball match. I’m nervous, but I’m going to summon the energy and strength to do my best here. It helped that the second position I had to stand in for the chest x-ray was with my hands up as if I was blocking a hitter.
Getting through that day gave me confidence that I would be able to survive the surgery. Still, it hung over me this weekend.
My dad’s counsel, delivered by cell phone from the Austin Music Festival, was, “don’t worry about it. You’ve decided to do it, and worrying isn’t going to make it any easier.”
Jeanhee was a rock, providing strength and helping me spend the weekend on the things I love. We cooked dinner on Friday night. On Saturday, which was gorgeous, I went out to Long Beach and played a beach volleyball tournament with my friend Les. We got our butts kicked, but hey… Saturday night, we helped Ilio and Cher celebrate their marriage along with a host of friends old and new. Sunday, we wandered in Central Park, attempted to see the Dalai Lama speak. We gave up after seeing the line of people waiting to get into the East Meadow. The line for enlightenment being too long, we went to the no-wait Bloomie Nails, where I had my first professional manicure.
The hour approaching, I began to worry, unable to stick to dad’s advice. I had bit off more than I could chew. My biggest fear was that I would approach the operating room and pass out from the anxiety, perhaps before I even crossed the threshold. The doctor would worry and out of prudence cancel the surgery. So I would get all the heartache and none of the payoff. I also worried that I would go under anesthesia and never come back. My imagination was working overtime. I’d pick up a superbug in the hospital. I’d find out I was horribly allergic to the anesthetic. My rational side repeatedly kicked in to put these risks and fears in perspective, but I still had some rough moments.
I called my doctor’s answering service to tell him I was very nervous, and that I wanted to make sure he wasn’t caught off guard if I was freaking out the next day. He called my back on cell phone. “Don’t freak out,” was his response. “You’re a big guy, Luke. You’ll be fine.” It wasn’t exactly comforting, but it was the truth, and I was glad he was prepared.
I met up with Jeanhee, shopped, and cooked what is and will always be the meal that makes me feel healthy and safe. Miso soup, brown rice, tofu teriyaki and kale. We made a tomato/avocado/basil/red onion salad, too. We ate, watched an episode of “Sex and the City” on DVD, and went to sleep.
Waking this morning, I felt well-rested and ready. Like the nurses the first day, everyone at the hospital was very professional, and very kind. After a waiting-room stint, I changed into the hospital gown and a nifty pair of no-slip socks as the staff came by to interview me, have me sign papers and make sure I knew what the plan was.
Soon the anesthesiology resident came by and said it was time. The nurse put a cap on me which I’m sure made my ears look really big and I kissed Jeanhee goodbye, more appropriately, see ya soon.
I made it to the OR and to the table, nervous but steady. I smiled for the doctor’s digital camera and then lay down. The nurse said a I set a record for most times crossing and uncrossing my feet. I was pretty nervous but held it together long enough that the next thing I remembered was the doctor saying “Lucas… Lucas…” as I came to. It was curiously similar to regaining consciousness after passing out, and I wasn’t sure what exactly had happened, until his next words. “We’re all done. Everything went fine.”
In the first recovery room, before Jeanhee could come in, I was groggy but ecstatic. My face sported the results of the operation above my nose and a huge grin below it. I heard a nurse say on the phone, “Yes, he seems to be doing great, he’s awake and smiling.”
I’m still smiling. To butcher Neil Armstrong, it’s one small bump for my face, but a mountain for my life.