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Four Hours …

I had one stop to make in Bala Cynwyd before arriving at Dr. Leis’s office.  I needed to drop off a prescription for painkillers that Dr. Leis had given me a few weeks earlier.  Since they are a controlled substance, I could only fill the prescription in Pennsylvania and I chose to wait rather than keep them in my apartment (and possibly forget to bring them).  I would pick them up after I checked in with Dr. Leis and his staff.

There is a CVS on the corner of US 1 (City Avenue) and Bryn Mawr Avenue, not far from Dr. Leis’s office.  Since I have an account with CVS in New York, a computer data base made it easy to file the prescription since they had all of my personal and insurance records on file.  Then I headed north on Bryn Mawr Avenue to the good doctor’s office and found out that Philadelphia area drivers don’t take a back seat to New York City area drivers when it comes to rudeness.

Murray’s Deli, just down the street from Dr. Leis’s office. I would go there for a pastrami sandwich when I wasn’t on a liquid diet.

To continue on Bryn Mawr Avenue at Montgomery Avenue, one needs to drive a couple of car lengths on Montgomery before making a left.  But the traffic light is only on the corner of Bryn Mawr heading south.  The traffic planners of Bala Cynwyd didn’t place a corresponding traffic light on the corner of Bryn Mawr heading north.  (As a former prospective urban planner and traffic engineer, I notice unsafe situations like this.)

So it was no problem making the right onto Montgomery.  But making the left to continue on Bryn Mawr at rush hour was a nightmare.  First of all, it was the early part of rush hour and traffic was heavy.  Second, the drivers ignored the “Do Not Block The Intersection” sign.  When they were stopped for the light, I was blocked from making what should have been an easy left turn.  Finally, Montgomery is a four lane road.  So even when a car in the left lane stopped to let me turn (after traffic flow resumed), I couldn’t see the cars coming in the right lane.  I eventually darted across, hoping I had enough of a gap that I wouldn’t get T-boned on the passenger side of my car.  The possibility flashed in my head that I might be maimed or even die in a car accident on the night before this life-changing surgery.  What a cruel joke that would have been.  But I made it safely and was soon parked in the doctor’s parking lot.

After I settled my nerves, Dr. Leis took me into an examining room and did exactly what the room’s purpose suggested.  It was the first time he saw me naked.  He also shaved the area around my genitalia in preparation for the surgery the next day.  He commented that my laser tech, Joy Vanderberg, had done a good job removing “most” of the hairs.  Of course, the gray hairs would not succumb to her zaps.

I was shown what would become my recovery room once I came back from the hospital.  It would not be used by anyone else while I was at the hospital so I brought all of my things up from the car.  Not taking for granted that I would have help bringing everything back down in two weeks, I had packed one small suitcase and a lot of small bags, whether it was clothing, personal items or non-perishable food.  Knowing I would have to feed myself and a caregiver for 11 days, I wanted plenty of food on hand, things not difficult to prepare and a variety to accommodate the tastes of myself and three different caregivers.

Shopping Center where an Acme is located. I got the perishable food items there.

Once I had squared things away (including what I would be taking to the hospital with me the next day) and checked out what was supplied in the kitchen area (the basic condiments and sugar were there, plus a few other items), I headed out to buy perishable items.

There wasn’t much I could eat that night, however.  I had to do all that driving and all that carrying (up to the third floor, mind you) without the benefit of solid food since midnight on October 3.  I had some beef bouillon and then juice from a juice box, got comfortable in bed, and failed to figure out how to get more than one channel that night.

I washed down a Dulcolax tablet so any remaining solids would be out of my system before surgery.  I was to have nothing by mouth after midnight so hopefully I would be totally empty by the time I had the surgery.

And I needed to get some sleep, even though I wouldn’t be awake for much of the following day.  Despite the importance of what the next day would bring, I had been through enough packing, driving and lugging that I had no problem falling asleep.  And I was pretty calm, all things considered.  This operation had been covered in prayer for a long time.  I knew I had committed myself into the Lord’s hands.

I set my travel alarm clock for a ridiculously early time so I could shower and wash my body with the provided Hibiclens antiseptic liquid that I was required to use – after I had my final bowel movement and bladder emptying (so I thought).  I noted that it was to come nowhere near the eyes, so I used more conventional means to wash face and hair.  I also wondered why the Hibiclens shower wasn’t done at the hospital.  After all, I had to get dressed to travel to the hospital and there was no guarantee that my clothes were perfectly antiseptic (even though they were clean).  And while the car I rode in was clean (as best as I could tell in the dark with a black interior), it wasn’t antiseptic, either.

Having taken care of the necessities, I took my travel bag (actually a Dress Barn bonus for spending a bunch of money during my second group shopping trip to add to my meager stash of female clothing back in 2012) and my purse and put them at the foot of the stairs.  Then I waited for Dr. Leis to pick me up.  Yes, when Dr. Leis does your GRS, he is chauffeur as well as surgeon.

Of course, he showed up when I had gone back upstairs for a few moments.  Jenna was with him and she had to come upstairs to retrieve me.  But soon we were on our way through the dark streets of pre-dawn Philadelphia.  At that hour, anyway, Dr. Leis takes the route through center city Philadelphia to get from his office to Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol.  It is the same hospital featured as part of the recent National Geographic program: the surgery by Dr. Christine McGinn of Emmie, the identical twin.

(Note: although done at the same hospital, and even though Dr. Leis trained Dr. McGinn, some of the procedures are different than the ones I went through. For example, I was not transferred from gurney to gurney while awake. I woke up in my own room on my own, not in the recovery room by the surgeon. And Dr. Leis uses some different techniques and different post-op protocol. Emmie seems to be experiencing more pain than I did, and they have her walking sooner.)

I found out a few things on that roughly 45 minute drive.  First, Dr. Leis has a very nice car with a very smooth ride.  Second, he has a nice touch behind the wheel, no sudden stops or jerky moves.  So I was quite comfortable in the back seat, never feeling a need for that involuntary move of my right foot to an imaginary brake pedal as I have with so many other drivers when I am a passenger.  But most of all, as we were driving through the construction zones on I-95, I was beginning to wonder if my surgeon was driving to Bristol Speedway in Tennessee instead of a hospital in Bristol, PA.  I don’t want to tell you at what speed he passed one of the temporary signs that were posted to inform motorists of a 45 mph speed limit in the construction zone (not that he was going that much faster than anyone else and he had plenty of company in the left lane.)  And yet I felt totally safe with him, just as I felt safe with him doing my surgery.  And when we arrived at the hospital, I felt no need to kiss the ground.  (One of the staff at the hospital told me after my surgery that he did get into a minor fender bender one time while bringing one of his patients, but they admitted that she didn’t know who was at fault.)

We were already hitting traffic on the southbound Schuylkill Expressway and for a sad reason.  South of where we turned onto the Vine Street Expressway there had been a terrible accident that I had heard about on the television as I was getting ready to go to the hospital.  A motorcycle rider was struck and killed on the Schuylkill Expressway.  That evening a second accident in Philadelphia claimed the life of another motorcyclist.  Fortunately it was not an omen of bad things ahead for me.

I found out that Dr. Leis also does some of his surgeries at Roxborough Hospital, about thirty minutes closer than the hospital in Bristol.  I would have been nicer to have the shorter ride, especially on the way back when I was in not the best of shape while still recovering from major surgery and there were some very bumpy sections of pavement to traverse.  My speculation is that either insurance or hospital logistics is the reason why my surgery was done at Lower Bucks.

Inside, Dr. Leis directed me to where I needed to go to get registered while he went to change into scrubs.  After all the initial bureaucratic paperwork, I was led past the spooky piano with the invisible piano player in the lobby.  Two great nurses took charge of me, my belongings and the little bit of valuables that I brought.

Whether it was the cool air when I disrobed or nerves or both, somehow my body found a little more urine to get rid of (so much for the Hibiclens once again), so the nurses told me where to go in the room to take care of that and they took the request in stride.  And before long I was being wheeled into a room with a lot of other gurneys and a lot of curtains that could be drawn around.

Soon I was greeted by the anesthesiologist who asked me some basic questions about any allergies to medicines, previous reactions to anesthesia and my approximate weight (115 pounds, thank you very much).  Dr. Leis came in, greeted me and then exchanged some small talk with the anesthesiologist before they turned their attention back to me.  An assistant anesthesiologist came in and introduced herself.

At that point, apparently everyone who would be in that room with me was present.  The anesthesiologist told me that I would feel a needle prick in my arm and I would slowly feel drowsy.  Darn, no more being told to count backwards from 100.  The next thing I knew, I was in a hospital bed with soft music playing and pretty pictures on a monitor in front of me.  I was in my room and the monitor was my television.  Lower Bucks Hospital has a channel on their television system called C.A.R.E. that features nothing but soft music and pretty scenes.  And that must be what they have you wake up to.

The evening before the operation, Dr. Leis had asked me if there was anyone I wanted him to call after the surgery.  My Cousin Sherry had asked to be called.  Later, when she called me, she said that he told her that my surgery took four hours and that it went very well.  Of course, I was out longer than that, but the four hours of the surgery were the focal point of it all.  Of the three most important events in my life, I have no direct memory of two of them. All three have to do with birth or rebirth.

I don’t remember being born.  Who does?  All I know about it is what I was told by my mother: she had to go to the hospital in the pouring rain when she went into labor; she threw up at the end of her pregnancy rather than the beginning, so much so that the doctor asked if she was going to birth me or throw me up; I made her miss lunch as I was born shortly after noon; that I was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck twice.

I would occasionally share that last item when childbirth stories were shared.  But since I have come out to most of the world, I have turned that story into a funny one, if a bit warped in some minds.  I say that I did the wrapping of the cord myself because just before I came out, I got a glance of what was between my legs for the first time.

Twice was a bit of overdoing it, but I have since learned that having what is known as a nuchal cord is common.  It occurs in approximately a third of births (less than 10% have it wrapped multiple times).  And babies don’t choke from it because they are not yet breathing through their nose or mouth until those passages are cleared and the baby gets that rude slap on its lower cheeks.  I did get some marks on my neck from where the cord had wrapped, but those went away in fairly short order.

The one life-changing moment I do remember quite well was the moment I associate quite clearly with being born again.  In fact, it happened just about where I am sitting now as I type this blog post in my apartment.  In June 1989, I wasn’t working out of my home yet and I hadn’t gotten my first PC, so I had a lot more room.  I was sitting in a lounge chair reading.  It took a few weeks before I realized just how significant it was, but that was soon enough that I remember many of the details.  But that is a story for a different topic.

GRS was the second time that I had been totally out with anesthesia.  Under anesthesia, there is no sense of being asleep, no sense of time passing, no sense of dreaming.  One moment you are in surrounded by a medical staff behind curtains and the next moment you are alone in private room with pretty pictures on a monitor and soft music playing.  I can imagine it being like waking from the dead.

It reminds me of a story that Jesus told as recorded in Luke’s gospel.  It’s a story about being right with God.  We always want to be right with God, because just as no one knows the day or hour of Christ’s return, no one knows their own personal day or hour.  But going into major surgery (my first of any type), I especially had to feel that I was right with God and was within God’s will having the surgery.

The story is about two men who knew of each other, one rich and the other poor, who died at about the same time.  The poor man was carried by angels to the comfort of Abraham, but the rich man was in torment.  And he cried to Abraham for mercy.

But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. – Luke 16:25-31

On this Merry Christmas night as I finish this blog post, we continue to celebrate the birth of one foretold by Moses and the prophets, who rose from the dead and through whom we are offered the free gift of escaping torment and being eternally right with God.  I pray that all who read this will choose their course wisely, not like the rich man.

God bless,