By Mark E. Smith
So, I’m laying stretched out on the surgical hospital bed in my neon-pink underwear and nothing else. And, I’m great with it. Muscular, with my trademark tattoo of the universal wheelchair symbol on my shoulder, I feel like a superhero. Cerebral Palsy Man here to save the day! But, the medical staff is here to save me – or at least figure out how to fix me up so they don’t have to literally save me. This is pre-surgery surgery, or as I like to call it, surgery.
My sister is with me because she’s had the worst luck of anyone I know – cancer, a critical automobile accident, over 20 surgeries. She knows the practice of medicine so well that I often have medical professionals ask if she’s one, herself. In this way, my sister is a double-edged sword: she’s great to have in the room as a medical advocate, but I don’t want her touching me out of fear her bad luck will rub off.
The nurse loves my pink undies, and I think she’s a bit charmed by my sense of humor around it all – my pink undies, flaunting my body regardless of disability, and my optimism toward the procedure itself.
Yet, I’m genuinely scared. I’m so scared that I’ve waited to do this far longer than I should have. It was my physician and friend who finally convinced me, knowing how potentially serious this could all be if I kept putting off surgery and treatment of anything else found in the process. Then once the specialists told me of the extreme risk my health was under, I knew I had to take responsibility, not just for myself, but for the sake of those who love me. And, I still have a lot of lovin’ to do.
The nurse asks me to put on the hospital gown, and I want to wear it as a cape. But, she insists I wear it the right way. My sister helps me put it on as I pout like her four-year-old. But, I want to wear it like a cape!
The anesthesiologist comes in and notes my “chronic” cerebral palsy. Is there non-chronic cerebral palsy, where you only have it on, say, Thursdays? She then stands at a computer and asks me questions from the screen, including, do I get short of breath walking up stairs?
My sister bursts out laughing and I point to my power chair parked against the wall, saying with absolute seriousness, “Only when I’m carrying that up stairs.”
Finally, the surgeon comes in to give me the rundown before we go into the O.R. He’s wearing the exact model watch I own and love, and for a moment I wonder if a man of such impeccable taste is wearing pink undies, too?
Now I’m getting even more scared, and the anesthesiologist isn’t helping. The initial shot that was supposed to put me in La-La Land still allows me to recite the first page of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – from the tenth grade. Still alert, I watch out of my peripheral vision as they roll me into the O.R. And, I see the size of the camera they’re going to slide down my esophagus and the table of tools they’ll ultimately use to take three biopsies. And, I watch as the anesthesiologist injects a new drug into my I.V.
Next thing I know, I awake. I think I’m still in the O.R., but as I open my eyes, a nurse tells me I’m in recovery. I’m still on my back, with the gown on, but I’m oddly now wearing pants, socks and shoes, with no recollection of the procedure or getting dressed.
“How are you feeling?” the nurse asks.
“…Like the morning after an awesome night in Vegas,” I reply. “How’d I end up here, and where’s my shirt?”