Sep 14, 2008

Lessons Learned Under General Anesthetic

When I was younger I had the privilege of experiencing a major surgery at the age of 12, and a follow-up surgery at the age of 14. These two experiences are the only ones I have that involve anesthesia. Now, were one to look on the Internet, there is a plethora of information out there. If one were to make a simple Yahoo! search on the “after effects of anesthesia,” there would be approximately 7.5 million references on the subject. Yahoo! itself has a fairly decent report on the subject. They, they being whomever Yahoo! employs to write such columns, have the following to say about General Anesthesia:

“Some effects of anesthesia may last for many hours after surgery. If you had local or regional anesthesia, you may have some numbness or reduced feeling in part of your body. Your muscle control and coordination may also be affected.

Other common side effects of anesthesia are closely watched and managed to reduce your discomfort. These side effects include:

  • Nausea and vomiting. In most cases, this can be treated and does not last long.

  • A mild drop in body temperature. You may feel cold and may shiver when you first wake up.”

One would think, given the subject matter covered thus far, that I have a fear of being under the influence of a general anesthetic. I have to say, however, this is not the case at all. My point here, and it always seems like I am taking way too long to actually get to the point, is the doctor can do anything to you, and I mean ANYTHING, while you are completely unconscious. You become their pawn, their own monster they create from the multitude of prosthetic limbs and replacement joints available thanks to the miracle of modern medicine.

Don’t get me wrong; I have had my own unpleasant experience with anesthesia. After four hours under the knife I awoke to horrendous dry heaving and nausea. But the miserable experience is nothing compared to the other things done to me while in a state of unconsciousness.

Example #1: I am 12. I have just spent the better part of an afternoon in surgery, and I awake to the afore mentioned vomiting. As that subsides, I look to my ankles, where the surgery was performed. Instead of my little chicken legs I am so accustomed to seeing, there are large splints wrapped in a snug bandage. These splints, however, were not the real concern. Of more importance to me were the tubes coming from the top of the splints that ran to small containers used to show proof of blood circulation. In other words, they were draining blood to show there actually was some. This was ok with me. It didn’t hurt, and they gave me all the pain meds I wanted. So life was good. After a full day, and there was plenty of evidence of blood flow in the small canteens, the doctor came in to visit. After a brief hi-how-are-you session he looked at the drains. He made mention that were ready to be removed, and mentioned it might hurt a little. I was administered a quick dose of painkiller. Then the doctor, in his extremely silent way (he never said very much), took hold of both tubes, placed his other hand across my legs, and ripped the tubes from my ankles. Remember, he said it might hurt a little. A LITTLE?!?!? Good grief, if that was a little pain then I was the president of the Glee Club (which by the way, I was not). The pain was unbelievable. When he saw how upset I was, and admittedly crying, he apologized briefly and quickly explained there was no nice way to do what he did. So it was easier to simply get it over with. I hated that man for a long time after that.

Example #2: Fast forward 2 years. I require a follow up procedure due to a bone graft not taking properly. Once again, I am put under the influence of the general anesthetic and the same masochist who performed the first operation is at it again. Upon awaking, there is a familiar looking split wrapped around my right ankle. After about two weeks I am back to see the same doctor for a follow up appointment. When he removes the splint and a few bandages, we see an incision, about 3 inches in length, with a skinny little wire protruding from both ends of the cut. So there was about 3 inches of stainless steel wire in my leg at this time. The doctor, looking at it quietly, said nothing more and left the room. My mother, who was with me, and I both looked at the funny looking thing with some amount of bewilderment. Why on earth was that there? This is where I should have remembered that I hated this doctor. But somehow, over the previous two years, I had forgotten why exactly I hated this man. However, the doctor himself quickly rectified this omission from my memory. He returned to the office holding a pair of pliers. Somehow this still was not registering in my head, and I sat there on the table, stupidly thinking to myself, “Why on earth would he return with a pair of pliers?” Then he grabbed my ankle to hold me still. At that point I had one of the surreal moments in time when memories flood back to the very forefront of the mind, and everything becomes perfectly clear in one agonizing moment. He then grasped the end of the wire with the pliers and imply ripped it from my ankle. I saw stars, thousands of them, and fell back on the examination bed having lost consciousness due to the pain. Apparently, he had not forgotten the last episode of similar events, and simply figured absolutely no warning was better. Catch him off guard. It will make it easier. I think there was another small apology and an explanation that there was no easy way to do what he had just done.

I can assure you of one thing at least: I will not be afraid to ask questions and stop the doctor before anything happens post-op. And of the anesthesia, well, all I can say is I love trying to count down from 100 with the mask attached to my face.

100, 99, 98, 14, 107, 44, 12……


  1. Wow... I don't remember any of that, but I guess it's because it didn't happen to me!

    My one time with anestesia was my wisdom teeth and I woke up sicker than I've ever been.

    Just be grateful that you don't have to give birth... now that's pain like I've never experienced before!

  2. Just remember, whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger! See you soon, Dad.

  3. I remember those experiences so clearly. And I felt so sorry for you to have that happen with no warning. Hopefully, nothing like that will be repeated. See you on Thursday morning. Love Mom

  4. I never knew you went through all of that. That's a lot for a kid to experience. Anyway, hang in there and know that you are deeply cared about. Love to you both!


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