I don’t remember the first time I ever heard the term “general anesthesia,” probably because it’s not the kind of phrase that raises any red flags.
“General” is, almost by definition, about as generic a word as you can get. And “anesthesia” had only positive implications. You want anesthesia. Anyone who’s hung out with a combat medic at a bar knows this, above all things.
So when I learned I would have to have a minor surgical procedure last week, and my doctor told me I’d be going under general anesthesia, I was like “Okay!”
He paused. “Do you have any… questions about that?” he asked.
“Nope, sounds good!”
Since I’d never had surgery before (except dental surgery, I told my doctor, which made him seem to suppress a smile, as if I’d asked him if haircuts counted), I didn’t understand that going under general anesthesia was the kind of thing that you might have questions about.
“I’ll be fine!” I told Liz at home when I told her about general anesthesia.
“The hospital just called to ask if you had a will,” she said.
“What? What for? It’s general anesthesia,” I said.
“That’s the big one! That’s the big anesthesia!”
So that sure made the trip to the hospital more apprehensive. Certainly more than going for that root canal a couple of years ago, where my principle fear was that I’d end up drooling in my yogurt.
At the hospital they pointed me to what was apparently the individual pre-op waiting room, but which was in reality just a kind of large changing room with a comfy chair. It was about four feet from the nurse’s station. Seriously, four feet. Maybe five.
“Put this on,” the nurse said, handing me a papery kind of robe. “You can change in there, then you can just make yourself comfortable in that chair.”
Few things terrify me more than hospital robes. They get thrust at you, like you’ve been putting them on every day since you were a kid. Like you’ve been practicing in your bedroom.
But they’re not like any other article of clothing you own. The armholes come out the back, like they were designed for mutant wings. And there’s no buttons or anything, oh no, there are just these two strings, like a belt. Except that one of them is this little nub of a thing and the other is about nine feet long and somehow you’re just supposed to intuit where these wrap around and go through loops and whatnot. You’re staring at this thing and then suddenly the nurse is off on a Code Blue.
These are moments to be feared. Because God forbid – God forbid! – you put it on wrong and open that curtain back up and somebody rushes by you and the mere breeze tears it right off your body, and suddenly you and the only piece of clothing separating you from the animals is in a tangled heap, flying down the hall like tumbleweed.
I caught the nurse’s arm. “You need to show me exactly how to put this on,” I said.
She deftly looped all the right holes, and the robe closed around me, all my clothes still on, and turned to go.
“And I take off all my clothes, right?” I asked, catching her again. “Every article of clothing I have on, I should take off? Is that right? No clothes at all?”
This is the question I always demand of masseurs especially, who infuriatingly say “Whatever makes you feel comfortable!” and I say “It makes me feel comfortable knowing that if I’m supposed to be naked better you spell that out for me right now.”
“Yes, every article,” the nurse said with a sympathetic smile. “Except the robe, of course.”
Which I had already guessed, because wouldn’t that be a sight? Me whipping back the curtain and walking out like that, robe bunched up in my hand, saying “Like this?”
They let Liz come in after I was robed up, and together we met the anesthesiologist. This was at the Tully Center in Stamford, Connecticut. We’ve only had great experiences with doctors in Stamford and this was no different. He asked me a couple of questions before he stopped and studied my hair for a moment.
“Do you have red hair?” he asked.
Which at first struck me as a strange question, since he was looking right at me. Like looking at a guy holding a box of crayons and asking him if he was holding a box of crayons.
“It was bright red growing up,” I said. “I guess it’s much more brown now.”
“Okay,” he said, nodding, as if that made sense. “Because red heads usually need a bit more anesthesia than most.”
I looked at Liz, who looked back at me with furrowed eyebrows.
“You can’t be serious.”
“No, really – look,” he said, and took out his iPhone and scrolled to a Wikipedia page. (Nothing gives me quite as much faith in my doctor as when he double checks some pre-op procedure on a Wikipedia app moments before he does it.)
But sure enough, there it was, in black and white on Wikipedia. And what does that say about me, that this relaxed me? Because I saw it on Wikipedia? You could have written that.
I know now that general anesthesia can be dangerous. But for me, it turned out to be a rather wonderful procedure. Like an instant nap. A nap in a can. A profound, completely deep sleep that I’ve not known since Finn was born two and a half years ago.
On the ride home a few hours later, even with my grogginess and waves of nausea and knowing I’d be taking some pain medication and in bed for a day or so, I talked to Liz about it as if I’d just gotten a hug from the Dalai Lama.
“It was just so pleasant,” I kept saying, which she attributed to delirium but I knew different. Two hours of solid, dreamless sleep, no tossing, no turning, no finely tuned radar listening for Lucy’s cries to be fed or Finn’s cries for Daddy because he woke with a bad dream. Complete and total bliss.
So I’m all fixed up now. And even better, on those sleepless nights, when the kids are sick or I’m anxious or up late working, I have that wonderful memory of general anesthesia, knowing that there’s a place in this world where red heads get special treatment, where we sleep, gloriously, and literally, like a log.