Saturday, March 03, 2007

Making light of a real life terrible experience

This is the story of what really happened to me after surgery. It's a writing exercise to see if I can make humour out of a truly terrible experience. It appeared in the Star today.

Post-surgery horror


Surgery? Piece of cake. It’s the post-operation complications you should be worried about.

Everyone I know worries about having surgery. Even if it’s what I call a self-induced procedure: nip and tuck, liposuction, Caesarean because you want your baby to come out squalling on that all-important, very auspicious feng shui date.

Before I went for my “involuntary” surgery, I had heard all the stories:

“When they inject the anaesthetic into your veins, it’s like a very cold deluge flowing from your hand to your neck, and when it hits your neck, you’re out.”

“They make you count backwards from 100 to 0, and when you hit 93, you’re out.”

And so I went in quite happily to take out a tumour from my salivary gland. Only it’s notthat simple; I’d have to take out the entire upper lobe of the quite extensive gland.

Despite echoes of that story 10 years ago about the woman who was awake but paralysed throughout her entire operation, feeling the excruciating pain of every cut, I was quite upbeat.


The anaesthetist very kindly gave me a local anaesthetic before inserting the branula. (And I didn’t even ask for it, how kind.) And no one asked me for any New Year countdown. They just said, “Breathe into this oxygen mask” and before I knew it, a very pleasant fugue had descended in my brain and I was out.

The next thing I know, the nurse was gaily chirping, “It’s over.”

Everyone sounds absolutely cheerful in an operating theatre; maybe it’s all that laughing gas. There was no pain whatsoever; the whole thing was, in fact, quite pleasant and I spent the whole day dozing off.

And then I woke up, proper. After that, it was pandemonium. Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will.

You see, there’s a checklist of complications that can quite possibly happen after surgery. Nothing to do with the doctors, it’s just one of those things that happen to hapless people . . . like me.

I woke up to find half my face paralysed. It’s a most uncomfortable sensation. You can’t blink or close your eye and you can’t smile. You can’t even open your mouth wide enough to bite into a burger. I’d read about this side effect for procedures like mine. Apparently, it happens to about 50% of people. But when you read about such things, you don’t think it would happen to you.

“I’m not a statistic,” you want to say. “Am I?”

“Uh,” I said, trying to wink and blink at the same time and ending up looking like a starry-eyed alien instead, “Will this get better?” In the mirror, my affected eye was acutely smaller than the other one, and the eyebrow was several notches lower. I resembled something a tractor had run over. Twice.

Night of the living dead

“Of course,” they assured me. “Your facial nerve was stretched during surgery to get it out of the way. Now, it’s very picky; it doesn’t like being stretched. Most people recover in two weeks.”

It was lovely to have my husband make a fuss over me. But on Day Five, my husband said, “You know, your swelling looks all huge and red, like a ripe tomato.”

I replied airily, “Oh, that’s just normal healing. You don’t know anything.”

On Day Seven, the “healing” popped and burst itself through four stitches, leaking pus all over my hair. I looked like something out of the Night of the Living Dead. I finally acceded to go to the house of my friend, a doctor, on no less than a public holiday.

“Why didn’t you come earlier?” she screeched.

“Didn’t want to bother anyone,” I said sheepishly, leaking pus all over her patio.

It seemed I had an abscess the size of a fist and it had to be drained. Twice a day. Squeezed out and emptied like a lemon. I had no pain surrounding the surgery, and this was the most painful part of the whole process.

I topped myself up with so many antibiotics and painkillers I gave myself diarrhoea.

After a week of milking, my abscess gave up its pulpy ghost. And then, to celebrate, I went out for a nice meal with friends. After 15 minutes of chewing, something trickled down my neck from my wound.

“Gakkk!” my husband jumped. “It’s saliva!”

Welcome to complication No. 203: I had saliva leaking from my wound. My friends were giving me surreptitious looks, no doubt thinking of decapitated monsters capable of spitting from more places than one.

When I finally went back for review with the surgeon, he patted me on the back. “Don’t worry, it’s all part of the normal recovery process. At least you can be assured it’s not cancer. Some people have more complications than others. I thought you’d said you read all about it on the Internet before the surgery.”

I said, “Gakkk.”

So now my wound has finally closed up beautifully. My nerve is recovering in stages – not in two weeks, but two months, more like. And if anyone again tells me they’re worried about surgery, I’d say, “The actual surgery was a piece of cake!” And refer them to this article.

Then again, it would’ve probably only happened to me.


Argus Lou said...

Gakk! That was terrible and pus-sy! Would say I was very fortunate with my surgery last year, including the recovery period. Yeah, mine was much simpler, involved only slicing open my abdomen; no stretching of any nerves, thank the cosmos!

Hope you can wink and smile much better now, Xeus.

Kenny Mah said...

Gakk! is right. This actually sounds more horrifying than most "horror" stories I read, Ms. Eudora.

I haven't had proper surgery yet myself, other than a nostril cauterisation without anaesthetic and a double wisdom tooth removal.

But it's over, as with your article. Then I read the first comment with this phrase, "involved only slicing open my abdomen..."

Only slicing open his abdomen? What can I say? Yee-ouch.

Xeus said...

I still can't fully wink, Argus, but no one notices it anymore unless I tell them. Then they'll notice my blinking is a bit slow. I haven't done my eyebrows for ages! Or gone for a facial! I;m deprived!

Kenny, it's a blessing being 28. Some people never get to have surgery at all. You might be one of the lucky ones.

Kenny Mah said...

Let's hope so... :P

But seriously, if you haven't written this article, I don't think anyone would have noticed. Not me, for sure!

Chet said...

And I wondered why you were winking at me when we were chatting after the LitBloggers' Breakfast Club function last weekend. Now I know.

Xeus said...

I didn't realise I was winking, Chet :) Ah well, come to the next lit bloggers' club again and see if I've improved :)

Xeus said...

Kenny, most people notice it after a long while of sitting with me. But I guess we were all too busy drinking coffee and having a good laugh yesterday.

gRaCe said...

ohh..i din notice anything either Xeus. i remember going for a surgery myself..when i was bout 4 or 5 years have my tonsils removed.

was already kong out by the time the doctor came..waited quite a while in the surgery room. had a very bad sorethroat the time they finished and pushed me out. lolzz.. guess that was like the last time i had a sorethroat. *wink*

no surgeries after tht incident. Thank God! =)

Xeus said...

Lovely to have met you yesterday, Grace :) Now we have sore throats for, ahem, different reasons :)

Kenny Mah said...

Yes, I get very engrossed in conversation, especially good ones. I had a great time yesterday with everyone.

Still, surprised Lydia hasn't blogged about it yet. Are the two of us playing see who blog first, ah? Hahaha... I'll leave it to her; ladies first ma...

Kenny Mah said...

P.S. About your comment on only remembering Penny Lane from Almost Famous, I left an entire scene for you in my comments here.

Cameron Crowe is a master with dialogue, and this particular bit can apply to our responsibilities to our writing as well... ;)

gRaCe said...

it was great meeting you too, Xeus! i was real glad i din take a rain check at the last minute, cuz i was so freaking late for the talk. hahah...;o)

Yvonne said...

Oh dear, you write so candidly. I would have been paranoid!

Xeus said...

Hmm, Kenny, I guess I have to revisit the film after all. But I really didn't like the one with Orlando Bloom in it...can't remember the title, but he played a character called Rudy Baylor.

Do come for the Bloggers' Breakfast Club as well, Grace. Then we all can get together again. Got Eric to serve more savoury stuff, ha ha :)

Yvonne, you have had 2 children la. That's gotta hurt some :)

Xeus said...

Ah, forgot to add, went to Singapore today to see my surgeon. He discharged me. Said he read Dark City. "Very scary la," he said.

Argus Lou said...

That's a great review from your surgeon, Xeus. So he/she thinks your surgery experience wasn't so scary, huh?

Are you going to put on the backcover of Dark City 2 "DC banned by National Library of Singapore" and "my surgeon's verdict: 'very scary lah'"?

Kenny Mah said...

That one was called Elizabethtown, and I didn't see it. But ya, apparently it wasn't well-received.

I guess I have to put that into my backcover design now... :P

gRaCe said...

u can count me there for the bloggers' breakfast club meet. yayy..!! food..! hahaha...=P

yep, Elizabethtown didn do so well in the market. but am still gonna catch it one of these days.. *drooling over Orlando Bloom.* lolzz....

Lydia Teh said...

Great write up, Eudora.

Xeus said...

Argus, hee hee. It's a 'he' and he's one of the most famous surgeons in Asia. And no, I can't put Banned by Singapore National Library :)

Kenny and Grace, Elizabethtown isn't a bad movie. I don't know why it flopped, but Orlando Bloom might not have been right for the role. He's a lot better when he's in medieval costume.

Glad you're coming to the BF Club, Grace :)

Thanks, Lydia. Congrats about hitting the 2000 mark,

arguslou said...

Xeus, Orlando Blooms looks a lot better without ANY costume, and without elfin ears.

Lydia - congrats on the 2,000th sale, woman! Phew-weet!

Seriously, methinks putting on the backcover,
"My surgeon's verdict on Dark City: 'Very scary lah'"
adds a fun touch.
Extra good if he agrees to put in his name, man. ;-)

And also that thing someone said to you months ago in a bookshop:
"What's a nice woman like you doing writing such terrible stories?"

Xeus said...

Hee hee, Argus, more appropriate for satire though, like Lydia's Honk, where Phua Chu Kang puts 'don't pray pray ah.' Hmmm, must mull over the idea a bit more. Will ask Eric, Kenny and Lydia what they think.

Of course, all this can go into the Foreword as well.

arguslou said...

Ah, the Foreword. Yes, good place to put in all the funny stuff that doesn't fit in elsewhere.
Don't forget to send the foreword & acknowledgements to me for a once-over.

Lydia Teh said...

Xeus, Argus, thanks! It's 3,000 I think. Yeap, foreword's a good place to include all the funny stuff like your doc's verdict.

tunku halim said...

Wahhhh...Eudora nice name lah. How come didn't see you wink at me?

Xeus said...

TH, I winked at you what. You didn't see, meh? Oh I know, busy admiring Lydia's wonderful 'interview' and catching oranges, eh?