Waking up from surgery is weird.
Everything around you is beeping, you’re groggy, and if you wear contacts like me, you’re totally blind.
As you’re trying to figure out what hurts where, the doctor comes in to talk to you, and you’re trying as hard as you can focus, because surgery is unpredictable, and last time you had a post-surgery doctor talk, you found out that you unexpectedly lost an appendix.
Collateral damage, they called it.
As I sat there, waiting, I realized that I was expecting the worst. Which makes sense when you go into a procedure not sure what you’re going to find. This time, the worst case scenario would have been that the surgeon found nothing visibly wrong, and decided to do a nerve graft in hopes that it would give me some relief.
Nerve graft is a very neat and polite word for a violent procedure. It involves severing a nerve, burying the ends into the surrounding muscle fibers, and slapping some cadaver tissue on top so the nerves can’t re-grow.
This is what I was expecting when I woke up.
And I realize that this makes sense. As a person with chronic health issues, I’m programmed for everything to be difficult. To have to fight tooth and nails for answers that don’t exist. My medical experience is trying new things in hopes that they do something. Anything.
Nothing is ever straightforward. You’re experiencing X because of Y, and Z is what we’re going to do to fix it. No. This doesn’t happen. That’s not what it means to be a spoonie*.
In medical school, young doctors learn a saying ‘When you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras’. It teaches them that 99.9% of the time, the most obvious and straightforward answer is the right one. The majority of people are horses.
I am a zebra.
So as I sat, as a zebra, in my hospital bed, I braced myself for the worst. Grey answers, no answers, only a guess to why I had been in pain for almost 9 months. No guarantee that any amount of surgery would every relieve my pain.
The surgeon started talking and oh man, was I surprised. There was a straightforward answer for my pain: a major sensory nerve was being compressed by a large tendon. There was an easy fix: they manipulated the nerve and got it out from under the tendon. Result: total pain relief (once the awkwardly placed incision healed).
Blew. My. Mind.
I didn’t realize how good it feels to have an answer. I can’t explain the feelings of validation when a doctor says “Yes, there was a good reason for your pain, there wasn’t much that you could do to manage it, and you did everything right.” I think vindicated might be an appropriate word.
My pain is vindicated.
I am vindicated.
And I am on the road to a full recovery.
*a word for someone who lives with chronic illness. See Spoon Theory
For the Neurodivergent version, see reticulating splines