My wife had a hernia, so why can’t I?

Kathy recently had surgery to correct a pretty massive hiatal hernia. The doctor actually said “exceptionally large.”  So it makes sense that I’d be jealous of all the attention and want a hernia too.  Wrong.  

We were actually on day two of her recovery and I goaded her into going for a little walk.  Loading the dogs into the car, I noticed a twinge when I lifted Henry.  Not an uncommon feeling. I’ve felt it before.  Given our situation, I halfheartedly joked that I probably gave myself a hernia lifting the dog. But later than night I checked.  And sure enough there it was.

Now, I am positive that I did not spring a hernia that day.  Given the feeling I had, which I’d noticed on and off for months, I am quite certain it was the result of days of moving rocks and furniture last summer. Nonetheless, now I knew and I couldn’t stop perseverating over it.  

Every cough, every clearing of my throat and even blowing my nose caused it to swell up like the size of an orange.  And the thought made me nauseous, but not why you think. What made me want to throw up wasn’t pain from the hernia–it was the discomfort caused by 50+ years dreading the day when I would have to actually go under the knife.  

That’s right.  I wouldn’t say that thoughts about being on the operating table were always front and center in my mind. But like the sound of a racing car engine in the distance at night, the thought did cross my mind from time to time.  Like when I accompanied Kathy to the hospital.  She’s had half a dozen real surgeries in the time we’ve been married, and for every one of those I was reminded how thankful I was to not be the patient.  I also often wondered what it would be.  Open heart?  Gallbladder? Appendix? 

So exactly two weeks after Kathy’s gigantic hernia was fixed it was my turn.  It’s good the turn around was fast. No time to over-think it and back out.  What did have me worried was anesthesia.  I’d heard a few stories about people who weren’t completely out.  Some accounts I read online were people saying they felt everything but couldn’t move or let the people in the room know.  I did have a fair amount of anxiety  about that, but talking to a nurse friend and others who have been anesthetized gave me some comfort. 

I also had some anxiety about the fact that the procedure would be completed by a robot.  Thoughts of the HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the Lost in Space robot that time when he turned evil kept my mind busy.   But then there’s that point–I’m sure you’ve all experienced it–where I just couldn’t worry any more. 

For me, it was about three days ahead of the surgery.  It was the same feeling, or willingness to concede to the fear, that I get when sitting on top of a big ski jump.  In ski jumping, there’s  a point at which you know you have no choice but to let go. The alternative is a humiliating walk down the hill, skis in hand.  In this case, it was knowing that some time in the future, my guts were going to pour through the hernia and I’d add an ambulance ride to the experience.

The nurse in the surgical center was also very helpful.  I shared my fear when she called to confirm the time.  She compared it to going to the dentist.  “You won’t feel a thing, but in this case, you won’t have to listen to it either.”  And she was right.  

What was extra nice was that on the day of surgery, the anesthesiologist spent a lot of time talking about what he was going to do to make it pleasant.  It’s almost like he could sense my anxiety returning.  The good news is that things got both interesting and pleasant really fast, and then I felt like I had the best sleep of my life. 

The point?  I believe there are a lot of people with the same fears I had.  I regret wasting any time worrying about something that, at its worst, was just an inconvenience.  I certainly wasn’t practicing “living in the moment” as I’ve preached so often.  Lesson learned.  I hope that if you have similar fears, my reflection on the experience might help.

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