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  • Writer's pictureSati Rampersad

Everything will be fine (said the man with the knife!)

Risky Business

Everyone who watches medical dramas on TV or in movies knows that during surgery under general anesthetic, all bets are off, things can go from great to grim in a heartbeat, literally. While it may not be quite the high drama it is on the screen, in reality, surgery of any kind is quite unpredictable and risky regardless to how skilled the surgeon might be.This is the reason why you have to sign those pesky permission forms releasing the hospital and staff from all responsibility should anything go wrong during the operation. You know, like forgetting a scalpel inside you or nicking an artery. Just kidding (kinda)!! For good reason, surgery is usually a last resort, well except for nips and tucks of course, although for some people, those are just as vital as cardiac surgery! Another reason, for IBD patients in particular, is the person’s prognosis post-surgery. For Crohn’s patients especially, do the short-term benefits outweigh the immediate risks as well as the potential complications later on? Since all else had failed in my case and my prognosis WITHOUT the surgery was bleak at best, it became a non-issue; my fate was sealed. Surgery, ready or not, here I come! I don't know how it works in other hospitals or even different departments of the same hospital, but on the IBD floor at Mount Sinai Hospital,Toronto, when you're admitted for treatment, it’s usually by your gastroenterologist under the care of his/her medical team. When all (drug) treatment options have been exhausted, and the decision is finally made for surgery, you're transferred into the care of the assigned surgeon and his/her surgical team. So that's where I was at at that point in time; my GI explained that there was nothing more he could do for me treatment-wise, so surgery was the only way for me to get some relief, recover my strength, gain some weight, and have a better quality of life for however long it lasted. I could tell he felt defeated by this outcome, as if he’d failed me; he even jokingly said that I was bad for his ego. I can't say that I myself wasn't disappointed he couldn't find a treatment that worked for me, but I certainly didn't blame him, I knew he’d done his best. To be perfectly honest, at this point, I was so damn tired of constantly being sick, in pain, and in a revolving door at the hospital, that I didn't mind having the surgery (in theory anyway). I knew it was just a “bandaid” solution but I didn’t want to dwell on the “what-ifs” of the future. That was beyond my control. In fact, EVERYTHING was beyond my control from day one! (That was me indulging in a little self-pity at the time). Crohnies, you know what I'm talking about. But not to worry, I'm over it now (mostly).

The Handover

The surgeon, a man I had never met before and who would quite literally be holding my life in his hands, came into my hospital room and introduced himself. I liked him instantly, as happens sometimes; he was very pleasant, approachable, and most importantly, for me anyway, had a sense of humor. He explained the whole process to me - the preparation, the actual surgery, and the post-op procedure. He answered all my questions patiently (and I had many!) and was in no way patronizing or condescending. He advised me when my surgery was scheduled and tried his best to reassure me that everything would be fine. Yeah right, I watch TV, I know how it works! They all say that. Let me tell you, friends, your imagination can be your absolute worst enemy! Nevertheless, my pre-op preparations were set in motion - a detailed medical history of myself and my family, a complete physical, blood work, paperwork etc. As THE day drew closer, to say that I was nervous and scared would be a massive understatement, but I knew I had to put up a very brave front for my family, who I'm sure was doing the same thing for me. Thankfully, my son, still so young, was oblivious to the gravity of the situation. At least I was comforted by the fact that he had his dad and grandmother to look after him and keep his world normal. With my surgery scheduled very early the following morning, after I said goodbye to my family the night before, I went to a really dark place in my mind, which was very unusual for me. All I could think of was the worst - what if something went horribly wrong and I never saw them again? How would they cope if things went sideways? I felt an overwhelming amount of guilt which I’m sure was quite common. Tears were useless but they came anyway. Whoever said a good cry made you feel better needed to step into my shoes just then because clearly they were misinformed! I didn’t feel anywhere near the vicinity of better!

The Operation

At Mount Sinai Hospital, before you’re wheeled into the operating room, you’re brought from your room and kept in a “holding bay” just outside the theatre where you see the surgical staff, clad in their signature blue or green scrubs, with their heads all covered in surgical caps, bustling around in and out of the room preparing for your surgery. All this would normally have fascinated me as I am as much a fan of medical shows as the next guy, but since it was me they were going to be cutting open, the terror factor got in the way. This was where the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, and nurses spoke to me trying to reassure me everything would be just wonderful. Sure. It’s also where, if you broke out in a panic, they would administer some “helpful” drugs to keep you calm until they were ready for you. I’m proud to say that I ‘manned-up’ and didn’t need the help. When I was finally wheeled into the room though, I really thought I was going to need it then. The room was seriously intimidating, very spacious with all kinds of big, scary looking equipment surrounding a stainless steel slab that I was immediately transferred onto and quickly covered with a heated blanket. The very first thing that struck me was how white and bright the room was; I mean that’s obviously a good thing because you want them to see properly, right? The next thing was how damn cold it was in there ( hence the heated blanket)! I always thought it was to keep it germ-free, but that’s a misconception, it’s actually to keep the surgeon and others in the room comfortable while they worked because when they turn on the ginormous overhead lights, it gets really, really hot. That’s why you see nurses dabbing sweat off the surgeons’ brows, and when they come out of the operating room, they look as if they just completed a marathon. Once I was in there everything happened pretty quickly; I think they want to minimize the time you’re conscious in there because they fear that you might have a melt -down and decide you no longer wanted to go ahead with the surgery. At least that’s my opinion, and I could see that happening. Before I knew it, the room was bustling with ten to twelve medical personnel, and while everyone was mulling around with their face-masks on and hands gloved-up talking about what movie they saw the night before or what they had for lunch, the anesthesiologist placed a mask over my nose and mouth and told me to start counting to a hundred. I remember getting to three then nothing - lights out, nobody home.

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