16 September 2011

73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 2

Zero Hour: 9:00a - "Don't Thank Me; Thank the Knife." - Dr. Hibbert

Minor surgeries like gall bladder removal and appendectomies are typically done by laparoscopic surgery. Unfortunately for me, I was in the city hospital -- as opposed to a private hospital -- and they lacked the equipment for laparoscopic surgery. So I had a good ol' fashioned laparotomy. For those of you uninterested in Wikipedia articles: in laparoscopic surgery, small holes are cut into you (3-4) for a camera, a knife, and a tweezer like apparatus to grab your diseased organ; in a laparotomy, your abdominal wall is sliced through to gain access to the diseased organ. Laparoscopic surgery has a significantly shorter recovery time since the damage to muscle is minimal. Laparotomy recovery time is longer (and more painful), but leaves you with a significantly cooler scar. And my dad always told me that chicks dig scars.

When I was wheeled out of the room where I changed into my surgery outfit (they're as bad here as they are back home), two of the guys from work had arrived and were standing with Aimee at the end of the hall. I opened my legs and flashed them, but being a modest country, the nurse had asked me to leave my boxers on while I was changing. Everyone laughed nonetheless. (Except for 10 excruciating hours of pain post-operation, I made light of this entire experience).

The cute doctor and her team of nurses were in the operating room and we greeted each other as if we were meeting for the first time -- it was very formal and not at all surprising. I jumped up onto the table and laid back and we practiced the things they would ask me after the operation was finished to make sure I was coherent: Open your mouth; Squeeze your hand; Open your eyes; Breathe. I know all these things regularly but we practiced them several times so they were familiar. I have no recollection of whether or not I said them.

After my Japanese lesson they put the gas mask on me. I started to feel drunk and I told them and everyone laughed. Then I asked if I was the first foreigner anyone had operated on, and that got a really good laugh. My greatest regret is that I cannot remember anyone's answer.

There's an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry tells George that the secret to being a comedian is going out on a laugh. George spends the episode leaving meetings and so forth after making everyone laugh. I followed this rule to a tee. Everyone was laughing and I felt pretty good and then I was out. The next thing I remember was someone saying "Stanton-sama" and I was being lifted from the operating table to a bed. After that I remember hearing my co-workers discussing Sex and the City (the male ones; Aimee and the female were discussing something else, I later found out).

The pain started promptly when I got to my room, and it was my own doing. I mentioned that we practiced some sentences earlier. The one I practiced more than any other was "Sore o nuite kudasai." Or, "Please pull that out."

The English speaking doctor told me I'd have a catheter for the operation; pretty standard procedure. He told me it would be removed around 6 hours after I woke up; not so standard procedure? "Um, what if I want you to take it out earlier?" I asked. He said to just tell the first person I spoke with that I wanted it removed. So I practiced that very simple sentence over and over because I wasn't sure how my Japanese would be right after surgery. Pretty good, apparently, because whomever I spoke to removed it promptly. Painful, but much less painful than waiting 6 hours till I was fully coherent.

I dozed on and off for the next couple of hours while Aimee sat next to me, alternatively upset because I was in pain, and enthralled by her book while I slept. I think she preferred it while I slept, and rightly so -- I'm orders of magnitude grumpier when I'm in pain than when I'm, let's say, hungry. In particular, I don't like to be touched. So I was writhing in pain on the bed and Aimee's (anyone's) first instinct was to touch me, but that just made me lash out.

When the pain became unbearable I asked for relief. The nurse came and hooked up this bag full of milk-looking fluid to my IV and told me it would take 30 minutes to empty into my bloodstream. It didn't help. The 30 minutes came and went, but 20 minutes after that the pain was worse. I asked for something stronger and they brought a bag of heavy-duty pain killer. I have no idea what it was but it worked wonders; I was in pain one moment and then blissful the next. It was 30 minutes before visiting hours ended so Aimee snuck in a kiss while I was high and left. I don't know how long I slept for.

When I woke up again I was in pain. But dull pain; pain waiting to be painful. I wanted to outsmart this pain so I called the nurse again and asked for more medication. But she said I couldn't have any. The stuff they had given me earlier was too strong to give regularly; I'd have to wait 3.5 hours before I could have something else. And the something else couldn't be the strong stuff -- it had to be the ineffectual milk. I was livid. The pain sensed weakness and launched its assault.

Slowly, I could feel the pain spreading from my incision into my lower abdomen, and then up into my stomach, stopping just below my ribs. My entire mid-section was screaming. It felt like I was being stabbed to death, but somehow gently enough that I wouldn't die. I pushed the buzzer repeatedly for the nurse but they kept telling me the same thing: they couldn't give me anything. I asked for a doctor and this took forever because there wasn't one in the wing I was staying in.

By the time the doctor arrived I was in tears, almost screaming. My legs were kicking back and forth and I was alternating between squeezing the sheets and pounding the mattress. The doctor must have been moved by my death throes as he authorized the nurse to sedate me -- but with the ineffective milk. I almost died. And later, I think the nurse thought I had.

I watched every drop drip into my IV for 30 agonizing minutes, and then lay there for another 10 building a hatred in my head so powerful it would have infected any remaining vestigial organs, had I had any -- good riddance, tonsils and appendix. The milk did my body no good. Then suddenly -- I have no idea how much time passed -- I found myself on my side, in rapture. I felt nothing. I didn't even respond when the nurse asked if I was alright. I didn't respond again when she asked more urgently. Nor did I flinch when she grabbed my wrist to check my pulse, presumably to make sure she hadn't just killed me.

73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 1
73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 3
73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 4 


  1. I don't even know what to say, mike. We are kindred gut-spirits. I literally feel your pain, sans the good drugs, and for a while there, every 1/2 or so.

    I really hope you get better soon. You'll bounce back, and that scar will pick up every cute dr in a 10 mile radius.... and don't forget to ask for the appendix! That's something you really want have on display!

  2. Thanks Sam! Although your situation sounded significantly worse than mine. Mine wasn't even life-threatening.

    I've got a scar on my neck that I can use to pick up girls - I tell them I got it in a knife fight. Aimee says I should adjust my story; I think she's right, because I'd be able to drop my pants sooner if I showed them the second scar.

    Unfortunately I won't be able to keep the appendix. Aimee and my co-workers got to see it, but they sent it off for a biopsy while I was still unconscious so it's gone.