35. CHARITY HOSPITAL part X

“I’m Sarah”, said the Head Nurse. She was tall, not much older than me it seemed but she carried herself with all the authority one would expect from someone who made life and death decisions all day. With her clipboard came the questions: Name? Age? Family? Birthdate? Weight? Health history? Allergies? She began marking my chest with a felt pen delineating my level of sensation. “Here? Can you feel this?” “No”. “How about this? Make a fist for me”. “I can’t”. “Okay” she said with calm urgency. “Take a deep breath”.  She listened to my lungs through her stethoscope. “Again”, she repeated. She unclipped the stethoscope from her ears and draped it over the back of her neck and spoke to her immediate assistant. “Get him hooked up to a fresh unit of saline and keep his blood pressure monitored. We’ll get an indwelling catheter started and schedule the spinal fusion operation. I’ve contacted Fontenot and he’s on his way.” Looking down at me, “Hold as still as you can. Your spinal cord has been damaged and we won’t know the extent until we run some tests”.

I squinted into the bright fluorescent light overhead amid the rushing around me and felt a suspended tranquility as if I were the center of a gravitational pull that people, machines and everything else was orbiting around. “We need for you to sign the release form for your surgery”, said Sarah. “You mustn’t move your head so I’m going to put the pen in your mouth. Just hold it and we’ll make a mark on the form”. I bit down on the pen that she inserted into my mouth. She lined up the clipboard and set the tip of the pen at the designated spot for my signature and swiveled the clipboard. “That’ll do it”, she declared.

Unknown hands were cutting off my shorts and sponges were washing mud from my lower extremities. A green sheet covered me and a urine collection bag was hung from the gurney’s undercarriage. The straps and cushions holding my head immobile were carefully removed and a special hard foam collar was applied that held my head neck and shoulders rigid. I was rolled off to one side of the emergency room while another tragedy victim was wheeled in and the realignment of forces gravitated from me momentarily. Sarah had vanished from sight and her assistant kept checking my vital signs and adjusting the saline drip. Curtains were pulled aside and I wondered how many others were in distress in the hospital.

An anesthesiologist introduced himself and asked many of the same questions Sarah had asked. He explained roughly what the immediate course of action would be. Once I was sedated, the surgeon would remove bone fragments from my hip and insert them at the site of my injury. That should relieve the pressure on my spinal column and allow for natural healing to occur. The doctors would then attach weights connected to spikes in my head for traction that should further relieve pressure on my spinal cord.

My mind was spinning at the severity of my condition and the rapidity in which my life was changing. The neurosurgeon came up with a mask over his face and gave me more details as to what the future held in store. He explained that I might soon have trouble breathing since my lung muscles weren’t responding but they were prepared to conduct a tracheotomy to allow me more ease in respiration but that it would separate my vocal cords and I’d be unable to speak. The worse case scenario would be reliance on a respirator to breathe but he assured me that that was highly unlikely.

Orderlies wheeled me into the preparation room for surgery and a portable x-ray machine hovered over me while a technician slipped a film cartridge into a tray beneath me. “Take a deep breath and hold it”, said a disembodied voice beyond the limit of my sight. “Alright. Breath”, after the buzz of the unit sounded. “We’ll be right back after we process the film”.

The curtains were drawn back and I was momentarily alone with my darkest thoughts. What had I done? Would I recover? Would I die soon? Was there anything that could be done?

I was prepped for surgery with generous swabbing of antiseptic solution, sterile sheets, oxygen tubes at my nose and a cap over my hair. A needle had been placed in a vein and the anesthesiologist injected the concoction of sleeping fluid into my system and directed me to count down from one hundred. I probably made it to about ninety-two before succumbing to the drug. Darkness had hung around the edges of my peripheral vision and then gradually closed in from all sides until I was engulfed by unconsciousness. I knew I would never be the same.