My friend Mimi pulled her SUV up to the emergency room doors at Iowa Lutheran Hospital early Friday morning.
The first thought I had: “My mother died here.”
That was as grim as my thoughts got on the day that I had arthroscopic knee surgery to fix a torn meniscus in my left knee.
The procedure was practically without risk. I fretted in the weeks leading up to the surgery. My mind explored every possible disaster scenario.
But, in the end, I just let the process play out.
I took a picture of a children’s surgery bed that looks like a Jeep and posted it to Instagram. I suppose I was too big for it, which I was, but I wished I could have gone to the operating room in such a slick ride.
We arrived at 5:30 a.m. The time passed quickly in a barrage of questions, paper signings, and explanations to the procedure.
I tried to pay attention to the details, but the only clear thought I kept in my head is that I just wanted this to be done so I could go back home and watch Johnny Carson reruns on PlutoTV.
My IV included Ringer’s lactate.
This thrilled me. As a boy, I watched “Emergency!” — the Jack Webb TV series about the early Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedic program.
Dr. Brackett constantly ordered Ringer’s lactate for the patients whom paramedics Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto brought to the fictional Rampart General Hospital.
I had a plastic doctor kit as a boy and I would give shots of Ringer’s lactate to my late father when I played “Emergency!,” complete with my red firefighter’s helmet with the official Rescue 51 sticker.
No matter how old I get, I never seem to let go of the heroes I met through the fuzzy images on the box in the living room or the four-color panels in the pulped pages of comic books.
The anesthesiologist visited to explain his role in the procedure. I was tempted to make an “Ugly John” joke from “M*A*S*H,” but I decided not to because that’s a deep cut even for people old enough to have watched “M*A*S*H,” which this doctor clearly was not.
The surgeon came in. We shook hands.
And then we were off to operating room, No. 10, I believe. I stepped off the cot and got onto the cold, metal operating table. The anesthesiologist asked me to scoot back about a foot. I did. I leaned back onto a pillow. I wondered how long it would take for me to fall asleep.
The next thing I remember is seeing my friend Karen Powell in post-op. Her husband Ric Powell taught and coached baseball when I was a student at East. We were good and close friends. I chatted with Karen about her children and grandchildren.
I met Mimi in my recovery room. The surgeon told her I had two tears of my meniscus, which accounted for the acute pain I’d felt since the joint broke bad in late June. He cut out the damaged portion and cleaned up the remaining tissue.
The news of two tears made me feel better. I am not a person who listens to his body well. I always believe I’m making too much out of something, that the pain is just temporary or not really a problem. So many people donated money, food, and time to make the surgery possible; I felt like the injury needed to fit the charity — it damn well better have been seriously painful.
And it was.
Rest assured, all you beautiful people who helped me: You got your money’s worth.
That, of course, isn’t something anyone asked of me. That’s just one of those terrible self-deprecating thoughts I have — that I don’t deserve the love people show me. That’s a work in progress, but I’m learning.
In recovery, my nurse worried about my blood-oxygen levels. I explained that one of the side effects of obesity is a condition where my belly fat pushes up against the bottom of my diaphragm, preventing me from drawing full, deep breaths.
The nurse adjusted the angle of the cot and my blood-oxygen rose to the appropriate level.
Soon, I pulled on my Incredible Hulk T-shirt and gray shorts. The nurse helped me with my shoes. I noticed the bandages wrapping my leg from above the knee to the ankle.
My foot was orange. This alarmed me, but the nurse said the doctor painted on a disinfectant as part of the surgery. It would wash off when I showered in about three days.
They wheeled me out to the front door and Mimi whisked me to the pharmacy to pick up my medication.
Parents 2.0 came over in the early afternoon.
Mom 2.0 took my laundry home. Dad 2.0 emptied the humidifier collection tray and washed my dishes. I felt decent for having been unconscious on an operating table with a doctor cutting ripped cartilage out of my leg only a few hours earlier.
Soon, I snuggled into bed with Grumpy Bear. Lorde’s excellent new album, “Solar Power,” played on my speakers as I drifted away.
The last few days have been tougher than the surgery day.
Anesthetic makes your body sore. I felt like I had fought 12 rounds with the Hulk. My body was sore all over and even sitting up required effort.
Kind people brought me food. My good friend Tyler Teske and his wife, Sarah, donated three meals and some snacks. My friend and colleague, Sara Sleyster, brought some beef burgers. And my friend Sarah Huffman, a bartender at Jethro’s, brought me some boneless wings and applesauce.
There were other people who helped me not named Sarah or Sara, but I couldn’t resist the idea that two Sarahs and a Sara were part of the team that nursed me back to health.
The biggest surprise of recovery so far has been the thing that last thing to return to normal is your bowels.
I took more stool softeners and milk of magnesia than pain medicine, but No. 2 finally arrived with some consternation at 11:13 a.m., Monday.
I recognize such disclosures are indelicate, but, come on, everybody poops. There’s a children’s book about it.
So, here we are, a week out from the beginning of my last semester of classes before student teaching.
I can stand and walk short distances without my cane. There are still bouts of pain in the knee. The bandages are off. Showers are on.
And the great adventure lurches forward.
Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
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