Alfred Hospital

The Surgical Emasculation Of A Minor Problem

IF A SLEDGEHAMMER is sometimes the best way to crack a nut, then today I know what a nut must feel like; a minor problem has seen me spend a little over 24 hours in hospital, and whilst I’m all fixed up, the cure is more painful than the problem it sought to correct. None of this is unexpected or a surprise, but the experience shows that hospitals — and the afflictions that lead us to them — are places best avoided at all costs.

First things first: before I poke fun at it — and myself — I must in all seriousness minute my sincere thanks and warmest regards to the staff at Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital; I have only rarely seen the inside of a hospital as a patient since I was a small child, and with the exception of the stroke-that-wasn’t-a-stroke-at-all which caused a flight diversion and a one night stay in Sydney last year, 100% of the times I have been near a hospital over the past 20 years have involved the Alfred: and if there is a better facility in Australia, or one staffed by a better and/or more dedicated team of professionals, then I’m damned if I know where it is.

These guys rock, and I am most grateful to them today; as I suggested on Tuesday, the result of having an overly generous three-year-old this year who brought an unending stream of respiratory infections home from his daycare chums has been a lot of coughing, and the accidental consequence of that was a hernia fixed up yesterday after months of procrastination, denial, and outright wilful avoidance techniques.

I’ve been busy. Truly, I have  🙂  There is not a skerrick of exaggeration in that statement.

But even if I hadn’t been so busy this year, then from April at any rate — when a cough was accompanied by a painless, innocuous “pop” — then I would have become very “busy” indeed, and very damned quickly to boot.

This game of cat and mouse reached its inevitable zenith (or nadir, depending on your perspective) at the unsociable hour of 7am yesterday, when I handed myself — belatedly — over to the custody of the good burghers of the Alfred; for an event that instinct had motivated avoidance of on relatively flimsy pretexts for months, the end came not with a bang, nor a whimper, as much as a kind of meek acquiescence to the inevitable finality.

Mind you, I had given it a fair old shake since first going to my GP a month or so after I realised something wasn’t quite right; told it would be 18 months to two years on a public hospital waiting list, I was thrown right off kilter a few weeks later when the notice requiring me to attend an initial consultation a fortnight hence arrived in the post.

That consultation was delayed twice: they love Tuesday morning surgeries at the Alfred, and during this half of the year, my weekly day in Brisbane was a Tuesday.

Next came the pre-surgery consultation, a day filled with tests, consultations, more tests, more consultations, and a CT scan. No food. No coffee. That was rescheduled a couple of times too, this time on the equally valid pretext of unavoidable work commitments.

But where the Alfred started to get — well, shitty, to be frank — with me was when the initial date for my surgery (about three weeks ago) also elicited a telephone call from me to delay that as well; I had gone to Canberra and Sydney for a few days for work the day after receiving the letter with yet another minor ague from daycare, and experience told me it would be at least a fortnight before I was virus-free and up to an anaesthetic.

Needless to say, the registrar wasn’t impressed.

Did I actually have a problem? Did I, in fact, want to have it fixed? This was very minor, straightforward surgery, she said. If I was given another date and rescheduled yet again, I would be kicked off the waiting list altogether and sent to the bottom of the pile: with no guarantee of such a speedy effort to get me “the treatment” if that occurred.

If I wanted to be fixed up before Christmas, they were running out of opportunities to do it, she said.

And so, when summoned once more by letter to appear at 7am yesterday — poetically, the day after returning from yet another Canberra run — I knew I had been outsmarted, outfoxed and outplayed: after all, the natural instinct to avoid the discomfort of a surgical discombobulation was no match for the immutable need to submit, sooner or later, to precisely that unappealing experience.

Once again, no food, no coffee, no cigarettes this time either, and not much sleep, and I turned up only a few minutes beyond the decreed time, which didn’t matter for once: dozens of others were arriving at 7am too.

The anaethetist told me the first thing he was giving me was to make me “relaxed and chilled” as most people “panic at this point:” what he gave me neither relaxed me nor chilled me out, and I told him so a few minutes later when he returned to see if his administrations had worked.

“I’ll just give you a bit more then,” he said.

And that was that: the next thing I knew I was awake in recovery, feeling rather sore in the lower left-hand side of my abdomen, and a few hours later I was up and fully dressed: just like the soothing voices during the process had all solemnly assured me I would be.

Within another hour, the drip in my arm was removed, and I was able to walk around, go outside, eat, drink, smoke, talk on the phone: pretty much anything I wanted.

The food was surprisingly good; the “roast lamb” last night actually resembled roast lamb, although the vegetables with it left a bit to be desired (cabbage?); the tandoori chicken lunch they gave me before they sent me home actually resembled (you guessed it) tandoori chicken. But “breakfast,” with its rock-hard, ice-cold toast, margarine instead of butter, and tea instead of coffee, was bloody awful.

I haven’t even had all that much by way of painkillers; some ibuprofen and some paracetamol, yes, but I waved away half the oxycodone I was offered last night, and refused it altogether this morning.

And so, at time of publication, I am feeling a little sore and sorry for myself: like a nut that has been smashed by a sledgehammer, indeed.

Some will protest I should have accepted the oxycodone I was offered; I would counter that having done so during the bout of pancreatitis I alluded to on Tuesday, and having had flashbacks from childhood that were so vivid and lifelike I was on the phone constantly to family and friends asking all manner of dumb questions at all times of the night as a consequence, the “oxy” was the last thing I wanted.

In a few days, everything will settle down; I haven’t been cut up and reassembled, but simply patched up a bit.

The staff all told me I was a “model” patient, which made me feel about two feet tall as I slunk out to catch a taxi home, given the grief I had inadvertently (but nevertheless satisfactorily) caused them in getting me there to begin with.

And in an enduring continuation of an old story, there are lots of people (not least some of those stuck in the Alfred) with far worse things to deal with than I have: some of them might not see Christmas at all, let alone get to go home in time for it.

But in a few days, I will be back to post on something else altogether, be it again on Tuesday or beforehand.

And as the resident chef at my house, the next game of cat and mouse beckons: barred from heavy lifting or over-exertion for a month, I am going to have to direct much of the Christmas turkey preparation from an armchair, rather than doing it myself — as is my wont and my preference.

When it comes to resolving minor problems with a sledgehammer, that will be a delicate business…