I was taken down to surgery in a startling manner. A friend of mine who works here had stopped by and told me that I wouldn’t be operated on until around two in the afternoon, another four hours away, so I wasn’t even on deck. “First they do the tough cases and then they move on to the lighter surgery like yours.” I was heartened to hear that on one hand but slightly offended because I like to think that repairing my insides was at least mildly challenging and not just a cakewalk.
The news had given me time to shave and even sit down to enjoy my temporary environs, which were more than satisfactory. A single bed, a couch, a kick-back chair, a desk and two regular chairs, a TV (if only we could find the remote control), and a huge window affording a extensive view of a new neighborhood in the increasingly-sprawling Madrid. With some 3 million residents, Madrid was amazingly compact for a population that size. You used to be able to get from the center to outside of the city in a matter of minutes. But as the years have gone by, it has spread out extensively and while I still find its size manageable, new areas crop up all the time. The Las Tablas-Sanchinarro barrio is just one example. Growth began years back, but since the Corte Inglés department store moved in, the success of this area’s future was all but cemented. So, I won’t go as far as to say I had a spectacular view, new apartment buildings surrounding by stripling can only be so arresting, but it sure beat the steam of the hospitals air conditioning system floating up.
Overcome by the tranquility and the knowledge I had nearly half a day of free time before me, I took out my computer and started to write a little. Before I had even typed off twenty words, the door burst open and a muscular-looking young man entered with a very short message for: “vamos”.
Are you sure?
“Why? I wasn’t supposed to go until 2:00 p.m. Did the other patient die or something?”
“My orders are to take you down. That’s all.”
“All right. Let me get ready.”
Next thing I knew, I was being carted out on the bed, a new experience for me. There is something quite Kafkian about the trip down to the surgery area, ward, or whatever you call that part of the hospital. Maybe it’s because I tend to see everything under a Kafkian light, but in this case it was more understandable because the man who pushed down the hall and around the corners with the delicacy of a bumper car said little. The American within me expected a little more TLC like “Hi, how ya doing? My name is Bob. I’m here to take you down to the surgery place, ward, thingy, you know what I mean. You’re having a hernia taken of, right? You just take it easy. My uncle just had one and now he’s just like new, or was before his mop accident, but that had nothing to do with the hernia, trust me. It had to do with…well, let’s just get on. You just lay back and relax and let old Bob take you down in style. Your name is…”
This man had little comfort to offer me, which is not necessarily his fault or a criticism, because that was not his job. All he was supposed to do was wheel me down, and he did so with such efficiency and disinterest that I felt like a crate of fresh vegetables being pushed out to the stands in a supermarket.
He stuck us in an elevator and we emerged in the basement floor, a space traditionally used, I thought, for morgues. He punched all sorts of buttons which allowed us to pass on to the next stage and repeated the action once or twice until I finally entered the operating ward, or whatever it is they cut you up. There he parked me next to a row of other beds and departed. I could have sworn he muttered something like “Stay here,” as if I had somewhere to go.
It was cold down there. Real cold. The kind of temperature that keeps a corpse from decaying. There were about four or five of us lined up, waiting to be shuttled to our respective operation rooms or theaters, or whatever you call them. It seemed a fitting time to say hi to the others and wish them well, but that may have produced some undesirable responses so I kept quiet and just waited. Soon the head nurse appeared. She was a nice young woman who asked a few last-minute confirmations about diseases or allergies I might have suffered from. She also asked about which side I had the hernia on and I told her the right side. This question had been posed to be at least three times so far that morning, and I wasn’t quite sure if someone out there was trying to test my memory or that no one felt like looking at the information on the clipboard. Or, and this is entirely possible, they didn’t want to screw up.
Not long afterwards my doctor showed up and greeted me. He explained that an opening came up in the morning schedule and he figured he could get me out of the way earlier than expected, further confirming that my operation was a no-brainer. I didn’t have my glasses on, but from the tone of his voice, he sounded rested, and that satisfied me. I decided not to ask what had happened to the previous patient.