A lesson in letting go

Published 7:24 pm Saturday, November 20, 2010

Two months after injuring my knee while shooting photographs during the Taste of Suffolk event, I found myself on Thursday in a completely alien place, the outpatient surgery ward at Sentara Obici Memorial Hospital.

At 46 years old, I could fill a book with a list of the ways that God has blessed my life. Near the top of that list would be the observation that I’ve been generally healthy and, until Thursday, had never been in the hospital for anything worse than a sprained shoulder or a few stitches in my head following an automobile accident. Thursday marked the first time that I’d experienced general anesthesia, my first surgical procedure and my first real brush with health care at a level higher than that of the general practitioner.

From hospital gown to homebound recovery, it has been a through-the-looking-glass experience.

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As surgeries go, my arthroscopic medial meniscus repair was a straightforward, minor procedure. But for a guy who likes to believe he’s in control of most things in his life, the whole experience has been an exercise in letting go.

There was the hospital gown that would cover only a portion of my body at any one time, leaving me fiddling nervously and hoping for a distraction that would allow me to climb into the hospital bed while the nurses weren’t looking. There was the long, tight stocking that another nurse put on my good leg to keep me from getting blood clots. I’m sure I blushed as she rolled it in place along my thigh.

Questions about my medical and personal history distracted me while my vitals were assessed prior to surgery. (“Do you have a problem with high blood pressure?” another nurse asked, looking at the disturbing numbers on the computer readout. “Well, not before today, no.”)

Prayers with friends from church, a kiss from my mother, who had accompanied me to the hospital, and then a visit from the anesthesiologist, who grinned, showed me an unnecessarily long needle and informed me, “I’ve got your ticket to Woodstock, right here.” Rolling along a hospital corridor…

And then, awake (at least, I think so) in the recovery room. A surprising amount of conversation between me and the recovery nurse — I hope I didn’t embarrass myself, but I’m pretty sure I spilled some state secrets. Then, back in the outpatient ward, my mother at my side, assuring me that whatever I was trying to say was hopelessly lost in the circuits between my drug-addled brain and the pronouncements that actually issued from my lips.

And now, sitting in an easy chair at home, my surgically altered leg propped up before me, waited upon by my wife and my mother, feeling a bit like a king and wondering what price I will eventually pay for all this royal treatment. Knowing that my duties at the newspaper are being capably handled in my absence. I can’t help but think how it all feels like a dream, that maybe I’m still coming out of the anesthetic haze.

But it was all real, and my gratitude to all who have been involved is real, as well. Thank you all for teaching me something about service, something about love.