Wednesday, January 22, 2014

On a personal note

I admit that I get a big kick out of people who say they enjoy, or even read, my blog.  But I'm not as big a fan of attention being paid to my personal life.  I've written on this subject before in a different context (I still need to commit my Jonathan Frakes story to writing), and I think my opinion on those matters is well established.

Of course, I am not famous in any real way except one:  It seems that many more people know me than I know.  In a way, to my mind, that makes me a terrible person, because at least part of the reason why this is the case is that I am terrible with names.  Upon meeting people, I often forget their names by the time our first conversation is over.

But if I were to view this situation objectively rather than through the lens of my own personal self-esteem issues, my honest assessment would be that it is mostly a combination of ways in which I am outside the norm.  Although I was by my standards a poor student, I did better than most people do in school.  One of my personality traits, for which I deserve no credit at all--it's just how I am--is that I like people enough that I tend to treat everyone as my equal or better, in a way that is different from most people.*  And I have always, more or less, had an outsize physical stature that makes it easy to remember me.

* - At least I'd like to think that I do, and if there are people out there whose experience with me wasn't like that, I humbly apologize. Perhaps you caught me on a bad day.

This last point means that I can never be an effective criminal.  I cannot go into a restaurant more than twice without being "recognized."  The tellers at the bank could all pick me out of a lineup.  (Which bank?  All of them.)  I tend to make an impression on people that lasts.

That produces some odd results.  For example, I have more than a few Facebook friends that I don't know--I don't know them, and I couldn't tell you where they know me from, although I could make some guesses based on the friends we have in common.  (If you are reading this from a link I put on Facebook, rest assured that I know who you are.  I promise.)

But I also tend not to share a lot of personal information, both because it's not an especially good idea, but because I don't really crave the attention to my life that sharing would draw.

I say all of this as prologue to this:  I had surgery yesterday, and I told almost nobody.  As surgeries go, it was minor, almost negligible.  In technical terms, I had a rather large lipoma ("lie POH mah") removed from my back.  To save you a trip to Google, a lipoma is a tumor composed mostly of fatty tissue surrounded by a fibrous sheath.  There are many different types; my type lay just beneath the skin, above the muscle.

A few years ago, Michelle noticed a small lump, about 3/4 of an inch in diameter, on the left upper portion of my back, near my shoulder.  My doctor immediately recognized it as a lipoma, but she said it was nothing to worry about; they are always** benign.  She encouraged me to schedule an appointment with a surgeon at my leisure to have it removed.

** - Lipomas are always benign, but some lumps that are diagnosed as lipomas turn out to be other things, which can be malignant.

Most people who know me know that I don't ache to visit doctor's offices and don't have a lot of "leisure" time, so I didn't do anything about it.  My lump grew, eventually reaching about 10 cm (4 inches) in diameter.  It stuck out from my clothes in an unsightly way, and I would occasionally bump it on things, so I was ready to have it gone.  I finally scheduled that appointment, a couple of weeks ago, with Dr. Robert Moffett, who is mostly a cosmetic surgeon but who also does general surgery.  (He is excellent, by the way, and if you feel the need for some body modification, he is definitely your man.  But if you're going to do that, do it for you, not for anyone else.)

The problem with waiting is that before, when it was small, I could have had it out in an afternoon under local anesthesia in a doctor's office.  At its final size, a five-inch incision and general anesthesia in a hospital setting (though still outpatient) became necessary, so I showed up at St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center at 5:30 yesterday morning to begin the procedure.

Until yesterday, I had never had any procedure done in a hospital.  I'd never had general anesthesia.  I'd never even worn a hospital gown.  This whole experience was entirely foreign to me.  And I realized yesterday that I've been lucky in that regard.

I won't bore you with the details, although coming out of anesthesia was...interesting.  Apparently I was full of detailed questions for the nurse who was monitoring me.  And somehow the IV that was in my right wrist when I went to sleep ended up in my left wrist when I woke up. And they sent me home with a prescription for enough Percocet to start my own drug-running operation.*** I still have all of them and probably will not take any.  They're much more valuable to me as currency.†  I have taken Vicodin before, after having my wisdom teeth out.  Vicodin contains hydrocodone, which is basically a mild form of heroin.  Vicodin did nothing to knock down my pain and simply made me angry.  I joked with my brother yesterday that if I had been the first person to take Vicodin it would never have been marketed.  ("This drug just makes people angry. There's no market for that!")  Percocet contains oxycodone, which is stronger than hydrocodone.‡  I don't need to be that angry, and all things considered, I'm not in more pain than Tylenol can handle.

*** - Not really.  And not that I would.

† - Seriously, I wouldn't do that.

‡ - True story.  After hydrocodone and oxycodone became drugs of abuse, they started requiring it to be packaged with acetaminophen, on the theory that it would reduce abuse because acetaminophen is toxic to the liver in large doses.  (That's why Tylenol ads these days are all about encouraging you to take as little Tylenol as possible.)  Of course, the result of that is now primarily that the people who become addicted to opioids also destroy their livers in the process.  But that's drug control policy for you.

But the larger lesson for me was the reminder that as good as the "old days" were, there is no substitute for modern medicine.  St. Vincent's staff ran the whole process like a well oiled machine.  I went under at about 9:00 and was getting into my car at 11:30.  The nurses were both highly intelligent and compassionate.  Everyone I met was cheerful and appeared to be happy to do their assigned jobs.  If any of them were having a bad day, they never let it show.  They were clearly concerned first with my comfort and well being.  I believe I got the very best care I could have received.  It may be that not everybody gets that, but I did, and I'm grateful for it. 

Of course, as I noted above, I'm terrible with names, so I couldn't tell you any of them.  But they were great.  I love them all.  And I love all of you, every last one of you.  Even if I don't know who you are.

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