Fight the (Sedative) Power

The Author, aged 1. Note cheerful gape.

Until I was about five, I could not breathe through my nose. Literally. If I tried to hum I would run out of air and have to gulp for breath before I turned blue and fell over. I had that expression common to the adenoidally-impaired: a sort of gape that might have been cute on a five year old, but makes you look stupid at 6. My adenoids and tonsils were so persistently swollen that the only thing to do was to yank them.

Me being, even then, me, I was hugely excited about this. Going to the hospital and staying over night. An operation! Whee! So the day of the event I was delivered to the hospital first thing in the morning, checked in and dressed in hospital togs, and given a sedative by suppository (I was not thrilled by this–no one had said anything about having things shoved up my butt, but I was an easy-going child, and it was all so exciting!).

It was so exciting, in fact, that when the sedative began to do its job, I fought it off. I blinked, I yawned, I shook it off and kept looking around me like a curious meerkat. This was a matter of some concern to the adults around me: if I didn’t get dozy, they were afraid I’d freak out when taken down to the OR for the full-bore anesthetic. So they gave me more sedative. And I fought it off with all the strength in my small, under-oxygenated body. My recollection is that they gave me three doses of the sedative before deciding, reluctantly, to go ahead and take me to the OR. Unaware of these undercurrents, I was delighted with the experience. When they loaded me on to a gurney I lay still as instructed, but I can still vividly recall the sights of the hallway, the faces looking down at me, the overhead lights, the wobble of the gurney and the judder of the elevator, and being brought into the dimly it OR. My last recollection is of a gas mask being lowered over my face. 

I awoke 14 hours later. It wasn’t the anesthetic that knocked me out, so much as the anesthetic on top of all that sedative. The operation had been mid-morning, so it was probably about 1am when I awoke. My mother was there with me, and when I rather creakily awakened (with an hellacious sore throat and an aggrieved sense that I had missed the big action) I was hungry. Starving and cranky.

My mother went out to the nurses’ station to ask for something to eat. It was 1am, the kitchen was closed, and the nurses couldn’t offer anything better than club soda. Better than nothing, my mother thought, and brought me a cup of club soda and a straw. I gulped down a mouthful–and was outraged. Each one of those beautiful little bubbles landed on my post-operative throat with the impact of a bomb. Why would my mother do such a thing to me, I wondered (in retrospect, why didn’t the nurses realize what a bad mix carbonation and post-operative throat would be?). And even with the pain I was still hungry, and it was the middle of the night and I was now wide awake, and and and…

In the morning they gave me oatmeal for breakfast–not the ice cream I had been hoping for, but better than club soda. After lunch I was returned home.

For the next week or so, my poor mother could do nothing right, food-wise. No matter what she offered, it hurt. If my food was soft enough, it was too hot. If it was tepid, it was too lumpy. I, who had been the world’s most compliant child, was suddenly convinced that my mother was trying to kill me. But gradually my paranoia, and the pain in my throat, wore off. And I could breathe! I could hum! I had been rather a small kid, but I began to catch up to my peers in height. All this from a little oxygen!

I have maintained my fascination with medical procedures and operations. Even when I had an emergency C-section 29 years later, I was disappointed that they wouldn’t let me watch. But I am older and wiser: these days, if they give me a sedative, I don’t fight it.

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