Learning to Live with my Normal Life

The first thing they recommend on the post-operation information sheet in the section titled “Treatment” is “normal life”.  Just two words to suggest I make every effort to lead a normal life.  I thought of this as I sat upright in my chair and prepared myself to engage slipping a sock onto the tip of my toes.  My foot, normally a close relative of mine, stared back at me as if it were on the other side of a canyon.  There was no way I was going to reach it without help or bursting all the sutures in my belly.  I now what the doctor’s were getting at.  I really did. They didn’t want us to act like a bunch of invalids (an unfortunate term originally used for soldiers wounded in battle…if that doesn’t give you an idea of military regard for human welfare, I don’t now what does), bedridden for days on end.  They wanted us to get back up on our feet and moving as quickly as possible, that’s what.  But I am sorry.  I have to differ.  Two days before I could put on sock without the slightest problem.  That was “normal life” for me.  There had been a marked change in my life since then, so I was in the need of a little more information. 

        And that was the problem time and time again.  Well-meaning people forgetting to convey to you just the kind of information you needed the most, making life exceptionally complicated.  You see, no matter how hard you try to return to normal living, when they have surgically intervened in your lower abdomen, just about everything you do seems to prove that your life is far from it.  Standing up, lying in bed, rolling over; trying to pick something up off the floor, reaching for a glass in the cupboard, taking a shower.  And what about going to the bathroom?  There was nothing normal about the fear that overcame me when I had to confront that situation.  After just 24 hours I realized that very little about my life was normal anymore, so I began to wonder just what the doctors meant by that.

My Hernia Gets Released

By about 8:30 that morning I was ready to go home.  All I needed was the doctor’s OK.  That was the problem.

       Doctor’s are certainly some of the hardest working people I know.  In some places they may have a reputation for strolling around the golf course all day, but I tell you, the ones I know spend half their lives at the hospital.   They just never come to your room went you want them too. 

       I got a few kind visits from the nurses but that was the sum of it.  Nurses can do a lot, but they can’t get you out of the hospital.  Finally, around 12:30, a doctor whom I had never seen in my life burst into the room and said, “Brian?”


       “How are you feeling?”  he was a young-looking man, with an air of a young-looking Antonio Banderas.  Maybe it was the way he let his hair fling back.


       “Good.  You’re going home.”

       I blinked several times.  That was the end of his examination?  I mean, in a sense, that was what I was expecting him to say, and that was what I wanted to them to say, but I was kind of hoping for something more thorough before they let me loose out in the cruel world with just a bandage on my belly and a handful of ibuprofen.  Didn’t he want to at least take a look at the wound to make sure it wasn’t festering or something like that?  Didn’t he want to ask a question like what my favorite soccer team was so I didn’t say something suspicious like Barcelona? 

       “All right,” I agreed.  “But I have some questions.”

       “That’s fine.  Let me get the release form ready and when I come back you can ask all the questions you want.”

       He did come back and I did make all sorts of enquiries but once again this is where the medicine world tends to get kind of vague on you.   Maybe it’s because they think you are too stupid to understand them, which is possible, or they can’t be bothered, but something keeps them from making you privy to vital information.

       “Just take care of yourself.  And don’t overdo it.  Especially with weights.”

       “Could you be more specific?  Can I go bowling, per chance?”


       “Kick box?”  I was kidding.

       “Not for a few weeks.”

       Not for a few weeks.  I couldn’t even urinate with any ease, and the man was giving me a month before I could break a person’s arm?  Hmm.

       “You can pick up light things, like a laptop.  Just don’t pick up babies and things like that.”

       And things like that.  Check. 

       “What about my medical leave?  How long?”

       “Where are you from?”


       He chuckled.  “Listen, here things are done differently.  If you work for someone else…two months.  If you are self-employed, two days.  Get it?”

       I did, and I found it amusing, but not especially informative.  “And what if I’m a teacher?”

       “At least 15 days.  And then see how it goes.”

       Aside from the joshing, the doctor wasn’t entirely off base.  A hernia repair recovery period is one thing, but your job is another.  If you work out of the home and especially out of the computer, and if you can prop yourself up, then there is really no need not to do something.  If you haul around sacks of cement all day or pole vault for a living, you can forget about seeing action for probably six to eight weeks.  I had to deal high-strung eight-year-olds, which was a high-risk occupation for anyone anytime, so I would have to wait and see. 

      And that was that.  He stuck out his hand and said, “put it there”, which is not what I expected from a man who repairs digestive tracts, but what the heck, this was getting more surreal by the second, so I timidly shook it and departed shortly afterward. 

       My time there had been pleasant, but  I was looking forward to seeing how I could handle it on my own. 

Breakfast for my Hernia

I awoke quite early feeling quite rested mainly because I had forgotten to turn off my alarm clock in my cell phone from the day before and it went off dutifully at 6:15 a.m.    I was pleased with myself for making having made it through the night without the need of a sleeping pill, which the nurse had left on my bedside table just in case.  I was actually planning on taking it just to see what one felt like, now that I was having a drug fest that day, what stop. But I fell asleep instead.  I was a novice junkie.  In a sense, that was good news, because anytime you can hold off on that, it means things are going all right. 

            I decided I would keep the pill and use it recreationally at some future point, since slumber is as diverting an activity as I can think of.  Meanwhile I looked out the window and noticed a whitish glow in the lower end of the sky with an orange fringe on the horizon.  There was a soft hum inside the room…that hotel air-circulation system sound.  I kind of felt between being in a Hilton and an Airbus at the same time. 

               A few minutes later the door opened and the nurse appeared and asked how I was doing.  I was getting used to this.  Every once in a while a member of the staff appears to bring some novelty into my life.  The nurses here are kind and provide just the right amount of attention without being overbearing.  And when they haven’t heard from me in a while, they poke their head in and check if everything is all right.  Now, that’s what I call good service.

        Most of the time they pay a visit to replace my intravenous bag or add another tiny sack.  They hook me up for a few minutes and then return to remove it.  Either that or they stick some injection in me while they ask if I am feeling fine.  That little action always unnerves me because they draw some fluid from the tube and then shoot it back into the system.  I place my fullest faith in their understanding of this procedure and assume they know what they are doing, but I swear I think that every time they push it in, I think something horrible like my veins were going to pop.

             And then they would leave without saying a word.  I guess it is my right and duty to actually ask what they are slipping into my bloodstream, but I never did, embarrassed at my ignorance or afraid to sound as if I didn’t trust what they are doing to me.   So I just smiled and said thanks.  They didn’t seem to think I should be privy to this knowledge and because they spoke in such nice tones I just let them go about their business without a single protest.  If I were the target of a planned euthanasia fanatic, I could not have made their job any easier.

        Since it was early in the morning and I had little to do, I decided to take the time and see just what I had dripping into my body.  I hooked on my glasses and decided to look up at the clear plastic. There was very little in the way of practical information other than the letters NaCl 0.9. 

             Now I never studied Chemistry because I was considered too dumb to do so, and with good reason, but over the years I have learned enough about chemical symbols (mostly through crossword puzzles) to know that Na stands for sodium and Cl for Chloride.  Hmm.  Sodium Chloride.  Now, I thought to myself, wasn’t the stuff that Nazi spies would keep in the form of shirt button and take as a last resort instead of being captured by the enemy?  Was I, it crossed my mind, gazing at my last sunrise as it floated over the solar-paneled rooftops of the new apartment buildings in suburbia Madrid? 

           In reality it was a kind of saline solution, administered to keep me from passing out.  I appreciated the thought, but that wasn’t good enough for me.  They staff had sorely underestimated my appetite. 

           You see, one of the sole reasons I let anyone take a knife to my groin and open me up was the short-term benefit of having breakfast in bed.  I knew it wasn’t going to be one of those grease-packed delights known as an English breakfast, but just the image of someone placing a tray of food before me while I lie quietly with expectant eyes, was enough to make it worth getting slashed.  The meal was a step down from what I was hoping for, some coffee and two muffins, but accepted it gratefully and dug in.  My real beef was with the coffee, a large cup of milk and a packet of instant decaf.  The missing stimulant was intentional, if you as me, which brings me to my point.  Why?  I mean I had been administered painkillers, antibiotics, sodium-chloride (I think), and offered a little sleeping pill.  Since when is a touch of caffeine life-threatening?  Oh, well, you can’t get everything you want. 

               On top of that, she took my special night drug pill or whatever it was from me before I could hide it.  Things were looking grim that morning.