Blog: Hey, Cut That Out!

(originally written 12/30/15)

It all started the day before Thanksgiving 2015.


I wake up and go through the usual morning bathroom ritual, which on this day will conclude with a shave. All goes as expected until I grab the razor and position myself at the mirror.


???


Now, I've always been fat. But I've also always been vain, so when  there is substantially more chin on my face than there had been just three days ago—the last time I shaved—it won't go unnoticed.


This wasn't plain old fat—not even the worst buffet offenders could pack on a whole new chin in 60 hours. This was some sort of lump. It felt like, well, an oversized testicle in my chin. It didn't hurt at all, and if I'd been on one of my annual razor strikes, it could have remained concealed under a thick beard for a long time.


A few days later I'm being examined—by a med student. Of all the times for my doc to be in teaching mode, it's when I'm dealing with what could be a tumor for all I know. 


The student seems fairly certain there's nothing to fret over, but when my doctor—you know, the one with the actual medical license and years of experience—takes a peek, he's far less reassuring. In fact, he's "never seen one that big." Lucky me.


The "one" in question: a thyroglossal duct cyst. At least, that's what we hoped—he couldn't tell what the hell it was for sure. Up next: a date with the ear, nose and throat specialist.


Said specialist, Dr. Ariyasu, has every type of medical award, certification, prestigious title, etc. dating back to the 80's plastered in his exam room. I'm thinking if nothing else, I'm getting a guy with more than a little expertise on neck lumps. I'm also thinking that I might be getting a royal jerk with a gaudy ego. Quickly, that fear is dismissed—Dr. Ariyasu is patient and speaks to me man-to-man. He quickly earns my favor.


What he doesn't do is guarantee what we're dealing with is a simple cyst, stating the only way to know for sure is to slice me up and snip it out. To his surprise, I don't even hesitate. "Let's do it! When can we start?" It's possible he thought I meant nooky at first. We'll never know. It's not the sort of thing you ask about later on.


Fast-forward to December 29, the soonest available surgical date. With my mom there for support, I show up bright and early for the surgery on a very empty stomach as ordered—in fact, my last consumption was at 9pm, three hours ahead of the mandated 12am. Somehow, my usually-rampant appetite curbed itself for the special occasion. Thanks, appetite. (I’d wind up not eating anything at all on this day.)


I was given Bed 20, and led to believe not just anyone gets Bed 20. Now expecting the walls to be decorated with photos of celebrities—from Bette Davis and James Dean on down to Bob Dylan and Gene Hackman—who've been assigned Bed 20 in the past, I find the walls are instead decorated with...Disney characters.


(Speaking of Hackman, The Replacements just aired two nights ago. Brooke Langton circa 2000 was one beautiful girl. But I'm not here to talk about the past.)


My first of several nurses tells me to change into the gown. "Okay, which way is the bathroom?" 


"No, change right there," she responds.


Bed 20 offers the privacy of a jail cell. It is my preference to not flash or moon the other patients, lest they mistakenly believe I'm enjoying it. I'm highly conscious about that sort of thing.


Sensing this, the nurse follows up with "I will close the curtain." Which she does...about 4/5 of the way. (I finish the job.)


For the next two-and-a-half hours, I was simultaneously connected to a variety of machines and interrogated about my health and medical history, sometimes even by the same person. For liability's sake, I assume, no fewer than three separate professionals went down a list of questions pertaining to my health—no doubt in an effort to catch me in an inconsistency.


"Smoke?"
"Never."
"Cancer treatments?"
"No."
"Anal sex with a male bear from Africa in the past 12 months?"
"No."
"Allergies to medicines?"
"No."
"...you sure about the bear?"
"YES!"


(Momentary fear of ejection set in once I revealed I'd slipped up and taken an Advil the day before, but apparently it's okay to take one before surgery, just not 15.)


Throughout this time, my neighbor to the west was a..."unique" guy in his early 50's who sounded like a mix of Telly from Sesame Street and Eeyore from Winnie The Pooh. (We'll call him Tee going forward.) When asked by a nurse how he got to the hospital, Tee answered "The people brought me." Further pressing revealed he stayed at a "care home for the criminally insane". And they just left him there alone with a load of petite female nurses? I thought. 


I will now share an exchange with you and swear on everything I love that it is 100% real; I did not make this up.


TEE: Can I keep my phone in my pocket (during the surgery)?
NURSE: We'll put it under the gurney when we move you.
TEE: Why can't I keep it in my pocket?
NURSE: Cuz when we move you, it might crack.
TEE: Crack?
NURSE: Yeah, it might crack.
TEE: What do you mean?
NURSE: The screen...on your phone...might crack.
TEE: ...I'm still not sure what you mean.


This went on way longer than it should have, until the nurse finally gave up. (Ultimately, it didn't matter; they couldn't operate on Tee's leg because of two fresh lesions he hadn't bothered to tell anyone about. Oh, well.)


In time, my IV and all other hookups were done and all that remained was the actual cyst removal. I was shuttled off to the OR, where I asked how many people in total would be working on me. This was at about 9:45 am. After being told four, the next thing I knew it was 1:52 pm. No dream, no fuzziness, just four hours sucked up as if they never happened.

 

To drive my point home, blink.
Now blink again. Four hours just passed. That's anasthesia's effect...and it's pretty flippin' scary when you think about it. The surgical crew could have bound my limbs and spun me over a spit and I'd have been none the wiser.


I awakened in a state of nauseous, drowsy discomfort and soon started to sweat like mad—after being on my back for so long, I felt stir crazy and needed to stand up and move around desperately, which the nervous staff allowed. Finally relaxed, I was able to focus on just how much my neck and throat (from the breathing tube and from a small bone removal) now hurt. Attempts to alleviate the pain with juice brought on more nausea, meaning I'd simply have to tough it out.


Turns out it was indeed a cyst—this particular type forms during fetal development and can show itself anytime up to young adult age. Guess nobody told it I'm pushing 36.


I will ring in 2016 with a swollen Nutty Professor chin, stretched throat skin, sutures and gobs of throat pain whenever I swallow. It's not exactly what I had in mind...


...but it beats gettin' busy with an African bear.