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The Guys’ Guy’s Guide to Robotic Surgery – Part II (Under the Knife)

There isn’t a more vulnerable feeling than sitting alone in a small holding room dressed in a blue paper gown, socks, and a hairnet while waiting to be summoned for the first of two robotic surgeries.

Two days earlier I ran a brisk eleven miles followed by a refreshing dip in the Atlantic. And now this. It would have been easy to ask, “why me”? But Guy’s Guys don’t whimper. They show up and deal. And so it was. In this case I was facing a separate procedure on each kidney—the left one on this day followed by the right kidney five weeks later. And it was time to face a surprising new reality.

Every few minutes a doctor, anesthesiologist, or nurse popped in to ask questions or pass along information. Not that it mattered. I would be out cold within ten minutes and by the time I’d awaken a small portion of my left kidney would be sitting in a jar. It could have been worse though, a lot worse.

When the anesthesiologist gave me an overview of how he planned to knock me out he looked me over and told me I appeared relaxed. Under the circumstances I was as calm as I could be. There was nothing I could really do so I visualized myself healed, trusting in the medical team and my spirituality.

My surgeon dropped by a few minutes later. He made sure I’d signed the waiver allowing him the option of switching from robotic to open surgery and if necessary, removing my entire kidney. Yikes. He studied a computer image of my kidney while speaking with me. He’s focused. This is good, I thought. On his way out, I told him I knew he’d do a great job. He turned and gave me a feint smile and a “thanks for putting more pressure on me” look before closing the door behind him.

Two minutes later a nurse summoned me. I followed her to a large steel door leading to the operating chamber. I heard the door seal shut behind me. This was it. Inside a dozen workers in scrubs scurried around the room. The nurse announced that the patient had arrived. I looked around at the beehive of activity as I was led to the operating table. I searched the room for my surgeon but he was nowhere to be found. I asked to lie on my back. They fastened me down and stuck a needle in my arm with general anesthesia.  I stared at the bright lights and continued the mantras I’d silently declared to myself over the past few hours. I thought of my wife and son before closing my eyes and putting myself into God’s hands.

When I awoke a nurse and a doctor greeted me. The doctor assured me that the operation had gone perfectly. Before his words sank in the nurse was wheeling me down the hallway towards a room where I’d spend the next two nights.

Once I was rolled into the corner of my shared room I had a chance to think and center myself. I was hooked up to an IV with a catheter inserted into my you-know-what, but I was feeling pain…yet. The drugs were swirling through my system. I felt surprisingly good given the fact that an hour earlier five metal rods had been inserted into my abdomen. My kidney had been tied off so the robotic device could remove the growth and pull it out through one of the five holes I now had along my abs. My left side was swollen, but still no pain. My surgeon came by an hour later looking pleased. He told me that everything went as planned. I had one hundred percent functionality and ninety percent of my left kidney intact. He said he’d taken a “shark bite”, but that it would work as well as it ever had. Kidneys recalibrate themselves and in most cases can function as if nothing happened. I heaved a sigh of relief. So here I was covered with bandages, but feeling relieved. I’d spend the next 48 hours propped up in a small bed healing slowly.

One thing that sucks about hospitals is you can’t get any rest.  People keep popping in to check your vitals, examine you or slide some food onto or off of your tray. The lights are constantly being turned on and off and of course you get a roommate, which is very random. My roomie was a cranky old guy who had the preferred window position. And he did not open the blinds the entire two days I was scrunched up in the interior bed. For some reason I was not given a table and my television was not working. My options were reading the one magazine I’d brought with me, checking my phone, staring at the wall or trying to sleep.

Finally my wife and little son arrived. I was hungry. Thankfully she brought along a thermos of homemade organic vegetable broth. Ironically, I had made two requests during admission—a bed by the window and a vegetarian menu. I got neither. The attendant had first brought me beef broth. When I reminded her I was a vegetarian she returned two hours later with chicken soup. The other “foods” they offered were Jell-O, ginger ale, and apple juice. Brilliant. One key learning from the experience was that hospitals are like the airlines. You need to bring your own supplies to be comfortable and eat well.

That evening I remained drugged up from the procedure and was discomforted but not in pain. I foolishly passed on the narcotics offered and opted for two Tylenols before drifting into sleep. I awoke a few hours later in a world of pain. I took two more Tylenol again. Foolish me. When I awoke in the morning I was hurting all over. This time I took the drugs and thankfully they worked. A few hours later a nurse informed me that it was time to take a walk. Are you kidding me? They pump gas into your gut during robotic surgery so the surgeon can move stuff around and isolate the organ that’s being worked on. Walking becomes critical for breaking up the gas and relieving the accompanying discomfort.

So, with my IV tray on wheels in one hand and my catheter hanging out the nurse left me at the door. I looked both ways and shuffled into the busy hallway. I felt frail and vulnerable, a far cry from the lean muscled stud who had run eleven miles a few days ago. But that was my reality so I sucked it up and carefully made my way down the crowded corridor. My pain level remained high so after a short cruise I trudged back to bed and passed out. I couldn’t wait to go home.

Before I knew it, the day had passed without issues. During the night a nurse came by and removed my catheter. Free at last! I slept soundly and woke up eager to head home. My left side was covered in bandages that covered the five holes that had been drilled into me and I was in pain, but still I was happy. Hell, it was time to go home.

I needed to heal before returning five weeks later. The next time things could get complicated.

To be continued…