Still Here

I’m laying on an operating table thinking about death.

Now I’m just getting my gallbladder taken out. It’s a same day procedure and by nightfall I’ll be home sipping low fat soup and zoned out on Percocet. Or will I? My godfather went in for a routine hip replacement and never woke up. As l look at the large circular lamp above my head I realize that my life is now in the hands of total strangers. If there were a tip jar in this place I’d stuff a hundred bucks into it. But there isn’t. And as I wait to go under I start thinking the big thoughts.

Most people, well, everybody actually, wonders what will happen after they die. Billions of people believe in an afterlife; that they’ll go to Heaven, be reincarnated, enter into another plane of existence or become one with the Force. But others believe there’s nothing left after our brains flicker out – just utter oblivion. If you’ve ever been under general anesthesia you might have had a taste of what that oblivion could be like. One minute you’re there and then you’re not. You’ve ceased to be. There are no dreams, no thought and no sentience. Which is fine by me because I don’t want to remember some guy snaking a camera through my carbon dioxide inflated abdomen.

As the anesthesiologist put the mask over my face a line from Hamlet floats into my drug soaked brain. “The undiscovered country, from whose bourn No traveler returns, puzzles the will.” I don’t know what will happen if I shuffle off my mortal coil today. I just don’t. Now some people will tell you this is the perfect time to get right with God. But I’ve always thought last minute conversions were lame – like hitting the brakes when you see a cop. You do it because you’re scared of your insurance rates going up, not because you want to do the right thing. Do people honestly believe that an all-knowing Deity isn’t going to be hip to their bullshit? So if St. Peter is on the other side of this ride I’ll just have to face him with all that I’ve been and done. And let me tell you, it’s a mixed bag.

But there is a possibility that I’ll just cease to be. That there’ll be no seeing Grandma, my childhood pet, talking with Moses and Einstein, peering into the heart of supernovas and watching Hitler scrubbing toilets. And if there’s nothing afterwards I won’t be around to get upset about it. But you know what? The thought of not being around does upset me.

“Okay,” the anesthesiologist says. “We’re going to start.”

A while back I watched someone die. And ever since that day I’ve wondered whose face would be the last I’d see. Suddenly I realize I don’t want it to be a doctor or a nurse. So I close my eyes and think of a face. It’s a nice face. And whether oblivion or Elysium lies ahead of me, that’s the last thing I want to see before I go.

“See you later,” I say to no one in particular. Then the world goes black.

The next thing I know I feel like my stomach’s been worked over by Mike Tyson and there’s a terrible pain in my right shoulder.

“Arrgghhh” I say. “Arrgghhh.”

“Are you in any pain Mr. Dublanica?” a female voice says.

“Arrgghhh! Arrgghhh!”

“We’ll give you something for it.” Whatever it is, it isn’t enough.

I try to open my eyes but can’t. Some gizmo’s squeezing my calves. Maybe it’s a blood pressure cuff. On both legs? Huh? Blood clots. It must be something to prevent blood clots. That’s what it is. Even with my brain scrambled like an egg I can still think things though. And then it hits me. I’m alive. No St. Peter. No oblivion. I’ll get to have that soup and Percocet. Yeah I know, the odds of my biting the big burrito were small but they were there. And despite the pain in my gut I realize I’m very happy.

After an hour I’m wheeled out of the surgery bay. And that face I thought of races up and plants a kiss on my cheek.

“How are you feeling?” she asks. I smile

I’m still here. I’m still here. I’m still here.


Comments

Still Here — 43 Comments

  1. Wishes for a speedy recovery! I had laparoscopic gall bladder surgery 9 years ago and had a pretty easy recovery. Within days I was up and swimming (it was August in NJ) and I had only ever had butterfly closures. There was one day of pain that was horrible, but the doc explained it would happen when the gas from the inflation was escaping through the skin. Yum, sounds lovely, but it quickly dissipated. Quick healing!

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  3. In the opposite to a lot of other people who are talking about a “light in the end of the tunnel” and all that, I’ve flatlined a few times for different reasons…and I’ve never seen any light anywhere. As you said, it’s just black.

    And no, it’s not pleasant when you wake up and realize that this is what it will be like to die. But it’s a matter of how you see things. I was sick in cancer many years ago and almost didn’t make it after the surgery I had back then. And I was in a lot of pain for a very long time…with loads of tests and exams done. When I stopped breathing and heard them gather crash carts and what not around my bed, it didn’t matter any more. Nothing mattered. I was so ready to just give in and I simply didn’t care what was waiting on the other side.

    So I think it’s a matter of how “ready” we are. I also know that when you pass the limit where your brain shuts down and your heart is not beating any more…you don’t care. Because you need to be concious to do so.

  4. Glad you made it through. Be sure to get the substitute bile products at your local health food store. You won’t do as well, minus your gall bladder, unless you take those products to compensate for the loss of bile.

    Best wishes to you, sir.

  5. It’s good to have you back! As I’m sure the docs have told you, watch that diet and try and cut out a lot of the fat in your diet. It’ll go right through you now.

  6. I had to go under anesthesia about six months ago when I broke my ankle and they had to install a titanium plate in me. I wasn’t afraid that I would never awaken, but it was not pleasant anyway.

    These days I’m much more inclined to be fearful that I’ll never see my wife again when she goes traveling for work. Thus I always make sure that I say goodbye properly…

  7. Did the general anesthesia myself a few months ago for the first time … Her loving welcome still gives me chills to remember; hold on to that memory, Steve … She was there to welcome you back, and care for you at your lowest … that’s gotta be worth a lot ..

  8. So glad you’re ok and you’re back. I sure miss your stories. And especially glad someone planted a kiss on your cheek. I’m guessing she posted a greeting for you on here?

  9. Hey Steve, glad you survived surgery. I’m a 12 year post gall bladder removal myself. You get to relearn your body now. Certain foods will trigger exit commands from your body. Find bathrooms when you go out to eat early and ID them. But you will be fine. Take your time.

  10. Uplifting, in what I would imagine most people would perceive to be a weird way. Not had the best year myself, but it’s heartening to see you’ve found someone you feel that way about, and it would seem feels the same way. Oh, and I hope you feel better soon.

  11. Glad you came out OK. Surgery is no fun. (But it sure beats needing it, and not being able to get it.)

    Even people who think they’re leading lives devoted to God, hold out on Him. The honest ones will admit it. The Desert Fathers used to say, “I’ve been living and praying in the wilderness for forty years, and have only just now begun to get right with Him.” It’s really the only task that matters in the end: getting to know Him, learning to trust Him. All the rest – nation-building, inventing a viable way to do fusion, discovering planets, etc. these achievements, laudable as they are, will one day pass away like smoke and be forgotten. But the friendship between you and God and between me and God are, among the few things that may live forever. Very worthwhile. And it’s never, never, never too late.

  12. So glad you are OK! I got all teary when I when I read “how your face image was there and planted a kiss on your face.” So happy there is someone that special in your life. I know the feeling so well.
    I would want the last face I saw to be that of my husband of almost 30 years.

    Get well soon and please give us Move of your wonderful thoughts.

    Message to dman. Are you the appointed spell check police? Really, get a life.

  13. Welcome back – and glad you made it. Had the same surgery 12 years ago, 6 months after my husband died, and I was worried for the opposite reason – I was afraid that I might not want to come back, even though our 12-year-old daughter needed me and I loved her so much. The nurse-anesthetist reassured me that I wouldn’t make any choice while “under” that I wouldn’t make while awake, and she was right. I’m darn glad I did, too. Even getting reacquainted with my new digestive system was worth it. I’m glad you are returned.

  14. Glad you made it through all of a piece; well minus the bad gall bladder. You will live to do more and to see ‘that face’ for a long time to come…

  15. Seriously, you sleep during surgery? I don’t, I open my eyes, I speak to the surgeons, I try to get off the operating table. Scares the bee jabbers out of everybody in the OR. I don’t remember it, but I have strap burns and bruises when I wake up from everyone trying to restrain me. I warn doctors now that I’m not one to enter the realm of sleep easily. Hopefully I won’t slip into everlasting sleep without a good tussle, and without having the last word.

  16. I’m one of the minority that doesn’t get upset at the thought of not existing. It doesn’t upset me to think of the period before I was born, when I didn’t exist. So why be upset at the thought of a future where I don’t exist?

  17. I just read your book. It was great. I owned a restauarant back in the 80′s. I would love to speak with you. Your observations of people are dead on.

    Keep on writing. You’re an author.

  18. Thankfully, the God worth having would have to be much more generous, understanding, and forgiving than I can imagine. That I understand my own bullshit and doubts can never be a greater force than the unrestrained Grace poured out from a very great Being. That God would be a God worth taking the time to contemplate.

    If I, as a mother, can imagine every hope for a wayward son to at last come home, no matter how late and full of bullshit, then the God I would have would have to be even greater in heart than my own. I would worship such a Being.

    I am glad you are back and well, and happy!

  19. My son posted the link to your blog on my FB page. He wrote, “The quotidian and mundane can be transformed into an interesting, insightful examination of the world around you. Start writing.” I never even considered writing about my recent (two days before yours) gallbladder surgery, because I didn’t connect it to a “bigger picture.” I talk about writing . . . but am too afraid (of what?) to start. How did you begin?

  20. Hey mate, i went under twice for hernia repairs. the first time i was only a little kid and really thought about nothing, the 2nd time was as a young adult… it’s amazing how you contemplate things differently as you get old. I recognized a lot of my thoughts here in your post. Glad to see you’re doing well. Rest up! looking forward to more of this. Cheers

  21. What kept hugging your feet, was most likely a patient warming thingamabob to keep you nice and warm while in the OR by circulating hot air or liquid around your legs.

    BP-cuffs are more common on the upper extremities… (but your mileage may vary)

  22. Very profound. I’ve had similar thoughts every time death has just missed me. I’ve never had the experience of being put out for surgery, but I’ve had plenty enough “Whoosh! What just happened? Still have a pulse!” to really connect with this one.

  23. Good to see you made it through, Steve. And also good to see you’ve got another sweetie in your life. Very good to have someone close to you when you wake up from surgery – makes all the difference in the world.

    I had my GB out nearly 25 years ago when I was in my mid-20s. I ate normally – yeah, I would get heartburn on occasion, but I don’t remember the doctor giving me any special diet to follow. So I’m surprised to see all the warnings here. Good luck with that.

    Glad to see you writing, still.

  24. I’m scheduled to have my GB removed in November. I’m a little nervous about it. How long did it take for you to feel “normal” again?

    Waiter replied: I was back to “normal” after about 12 days.

  25. Things sure have changed! I had my GB done about 20 years ago in Oz. Staples instead of stitches, a 6 inch scar and 7 days in hospital. Glad you had such an easy time of it! :)

    Digestively speaking, even now some days are good and some are not. I’ve never been given a diet to follow or heard of bile products…

    I’ve not read your blog for a while; it’s good to be back. I love your way with words.

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