A recent check-up at the cardiologist’s resurrected the memory of an incident that occurred just hours after my heart surgery.
I probably need to start with a disclaimer. There’s a chance what I’m about to tell you never actually took place. Heart surgery traditionally involves a lot of anesthesia, owing to the fact that surgeons don’t like the patients squirming around or going, “Ow! That hurts!” while they’re operating on them. They prefer you to be asleep while they’re rummaging around in your chest cavity. As a former patient, I heartily concur in that decision.
The grogginess resulting from the anesthesia eventually transitions into a second grogginess, induced by a powerful battery of pain-relieving drugs. You move from one grogginess to another. It is these dual grogginesses that make me a less than reliable witness to the events which I am about to recount.
I’m lying in bed, semi-conscious, or a little less. Tubes…you don’t want to know about the tubes, but they’re everywhere. Recently out of surgery, I am unencumbered by any vision assisting eyewear. Both brain and eyes are equally in a fog.
I sense a nearby presence. a person, people, “Buddy”, the Hospitality Dog, I don’t know what. I look over, and see three lab-coated hospital employees, standing in the doorway. They are looking at me. And smiling. They are not the friendliest of smiles. There is something strange about them, something layered, more complicated.
“Who are you?” I inquire.
“We’re the nurses from the Recovery Room.”
The Recovery Room is where they bring patients immediately after their operations. You’re still asleep. You have even more tubes in you, including a Breathing Tube that goes down your throat. Way down. I’m gagging just writing this. Of all the things I imagined them doing to me, I dreaded the Breathing Tube the most. I’m a very easy gagger.
My follow-up question should have been, “What are you doing here?” But I didn’t ask it. Maybe I was too out of it to engage in reasonable conversation. Maybe, unconsciously, I didn’t want to know.
My visitors remained in the doorway for some time. Smiling. I momentarily looked away. I looked back…
And then they were gone.
Lacking a concrete explanation, I am left to determine for myself why three nurses from the Recovery Room had taken the time to drop by. It’s not like they knew me. It’s not like I was some celebrity, whose semi-comatose “phone-photo” they could whip over to TMZ for some easy money. When they met me, I was an unconscious slab. Did they visit all the unconscious slabs that pass through the Recovery Room? If they didn’t, why me?
As I see it, there are three possibilities.
Possibility Number One:
I was amazing in the Recovery Room, a miraculous recoverer, who, the moment my breathing tube was removed, jumped up and sang, “Yes, We Have No Bananas.” Another option: With my breathing tube still in place, I had cracked up the nursing staff with a non-stop performance of off-key gurgling.
It’s possible. It’s possible I sat up bolt upright and delivered “The Gettysburg Address.” But such possibilities fall into the “Unlikely” category. Because they are.
Possibility Number Two
Is the “50-50.” Nothing unusual happened. The standard Recovery Room experience – they rolled me in, I came out of the anesthesia, they rolled me out. No startling anomalies for the medical journals, no “Wait’ll you hear this!” stories for the Nurses’ Lounge. It was business as usual. “Thanks for coming. Next!”
Again, it’s possible. Though it seems curious that three overworked nurses would get together and say, “Let’s visit that guy whose ‘post-op’ experience was entirely normal.” You’d think they’d have better things to do.
And it wouldn’t explain the smiling.
Those smiles. Smiles that, looking back, seemed weighted with weariness and relief. These were “Crisis Situation” smiles, where the victim ultimately pulls through. The rescuer of a now-safe miner might flash that smile as he goes by that miner, wrapped in a blanket, sipping cocoa with his family. You run into a police officer, who once heroically used the “Jaws of Life” to pry you from a mangled car wreck – that cop might flash one of those smiles.
The smile speaks of desperate situations, situations characterized as “Touch and go”, where “It could have gone either way”, and “We almost lost you.” It’s a special smile, a smile strongly pointing to
Possibility Number Three
Something happened to me in that Recovery Room.
And I’ll never know what it was.