There’s another dimension of surgery beyond that which is known to the patient. According to the guy in the hospital who kept referring to himself as my bartender, I, the patient in this case, wouldn’t remember my procedure because I was going to get some kind of anesthetic that causes amnesia.
“I don’t want amnesia,” I told my wife as some lady shaved my chest clean. “I’ll just gather up my chest hair here and be on my way.”
Too late, I realized as they finished up the prep for my surgery. That’s the signpost ahead. My next stop: twilight sleep!
Ten years ago, I blacked out in front of my doctor during a routine check-up. She thought it was unusual (the black-out, not the check-up), so she had me do some tests and discovered my heart was beating abnormally slow and that it even stopped on occasion. She sent me to a cardiologist.
Three days later, at 30 years old, I was the proud owner of a pacemaker. I didn’t think I needed a pacemaker (I went to film school, so I’d know), but some people in the know seemed to feel that blacking out, possibly behind the wheel of a full-size sedan, is a bad thing. Even with the pacemaker, I could still live a pretty normal life, they said. I’d just have to get the battery changed every 10 years or so.
I had a whole 10 years before I needed to do that surgery again.
“It’s only been 10 years,” I said to my cardiologist before the holidays when he said it was time.
I had two choices: I could look at it as no big deal, like my stepfather and so many others suggested I do, or I could stress about it because I was the one who had to have the operation.
Right away, my “bartender” and I didn’t get along. He was nice, easygoing, helpful and forthcoming with anything I needed to know. What was he hiding? Even the Sean Penn character in “Dead Man Walking” got slippers on his way to the death chamber. I had just my socks.
“Don’t be nervous,” the guy said. “We do these surgeries all the time. I did two of ‘em yesterday.”
“It’s not the surgery I’m worried about,” I told him. “It’s that I.V. in your hands that bothers me.”
I once saw an overturned ambulance, and my first thought: I hope they weren’t carrying a guy in there with an I.V. in his arm. The needle no doubt broke off in his arm when the vehicle flipped.
“It’s done,” he said. “The I.V.’s already in.”
And all was well. That’s when my “bartender” told me about the anesthetic he’d give me that causes amnesia. I’m pretty sure he strapped me down to the gurney before he shared that info.
“I don’t remember them giving you that the first time you did this surgery,” my wife said to me.
“Well, you know I don’t remember,” I replied.
The hospital staff had to peel my wife off me (or maybe vice versa). Then they wheeled me into the operating room. As they tented off my head from the surgery spot, I realized I was still totally awake.
“That twilight sleep isn’t working at all,” I said to my executioner.
“We haven’t administered it yet.”
“Well, what else do you need from me? I’m ready.”
The doctor came in, cut me, swapped out devices, glued me up, and that was that. It was simple. I stayed awake the whole time and it didn’t even hurt. They wheeled me back to my wife, I ate breakfast, and the guy who said he’d take my memory away asked if I felt OK to go home. Didn’t I mention he was a good guy? By the way, that amnesia stuff is a myth. I remembered everything. Or so I thought.
As I write this, I’m noticing a lack of detail in my explanation. That jerk took my memory!
“Remember that time I forgot we had plans that Saturday I made other plans?” I asked my wife. “It’s from the amnesia medicine they gave me the first time. It has delayed long-term effects.”
I could go on the Internet (a place to get the facts) and look up the exact effects, but I can’t remember the name of the stuff the guy used. Now that I think about it, I don’t remember showering with plastic wrap over my incision the first time I did this surgery. I’d remember something as annoying as Cling Wrap not clinging to anything but itself, unless, of course, someone had tampered with my mind.
I’m through forgetting. From this point on, I’m committing everything to memory.
Already it’s working. Right now I’m remembering the doctor telling me I got the latest in pacemaker technology. I remember wanting to know from him if this pacemaker was smaller, lighter, longer lasting, voice activated or Wi-Fi enabled. Yes, I distinctly remember wanting to ask . . . but I forgot.
This story originally appeared in The Acorn Newspapers of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, CA, in January of 2017. You can find other stories like it from Michael Picarella in his book, “Everything Ever After (Confessions of a Family Man),” and at MichaelPicarellaColumn.com.