There is something scary about going under. They even use that phrase “going under anesthesia,” like it’s this thing that closes over you, that buries you. Your body is so dead they have to snake a tube down your throat and into your lungs to keep you oxygenated. They monitor your hear rate through sticky foam tabs attached to thin wires slapped on with total irreverence. For the anesthesia team, this is every day. For me, it was a scant, but possibly, opportunity to die.
Being anesthetized wasn’t real to me until they stuck the IV into the back of my hand. It was just for a saline pack. “How big is it?” I asked. I could feel the needle parallel to the skin, moving as my hand moved. They told me the gauge. I marveled. It was smaller than the industrial in my ear, but still large. For a needle.
When I filled out my intake form, they asked that “concerns [me] the most about anesthesia.” I honestly wrote: peeing on the surgeon. When I had surgery as a kid, they told us we had to take our underwear off in case we peed on the operating table. I have TB (tiny bladder), drink a lot of water to stave off dehydration induced migraines, and am a nervous pee-er on top of that. It was a real concern, even though I knew it was a ridiculous one.
Everyone talked to me very candidly about the process as they prepped me for it. They explained each step, and how each chemical would affect my body and my mind. They used scientific and medical terminology. They talked with me about their children and their jobs, how they delt about the weather. The last man they went on a date with. They laughed at my bad jokes and reassured me again and again that I was not actually going under for some sort of medical test. I was not going to wake up strapped to a table while someone performed some experiment on me. There were no aliens, monsters, or secret government agencies.
“I’ve watched a lot of movies and TV shows,” I told them.
The anesthesiologist, the one with the MD, came over to me and asked which eye we were operating on. That had been asked of me before–by people who didn’t know what was going on (who needed to know), and by people who did know what was going on (to make sure I did). “Left or right?” He asked. “Both,” I said. “Oh. Double block?” He asked, holding a sharpie.
“Are you going to write “right” and “left” on my eyes, like they do with limbs so they don’t accidentally operate on the wrong one?”
It became clear that he didn’t know what was happening with me and for a moment I was terrified. One of the nurses, one of the members of my team, came over and explained to him what was going on, and then reassured me he was good.
“There are lots of bays with different patients. The one across from us is getting blocked later.”
After that, I was nervous. I had to pee. They laughed and helped me over to the bathroom as I apologized and tried to explain. I told them that one of my friends said she groped her anesthesiology team (sexually) when she was drugged out. One of my nurses laughed and said I should tell more people that. “Maybe I have the wrong patients,” he said.
Back in the bed, he promised me liquid courage. “I’m here for you,” he said. He injected a syringe into the IV tube and then held my hand and I forgot whatever came after that. I remember lights, comforting words, and moving, in broken up moments without linearity.