Welcome to My Nightmare… In Colombian Elective Surgery

Posted: November 25, 2010 in Uncategorized
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The maladies: a small cyst on my back and four moles, all of which I required removed. Two were on my neck and cosmetic; I cut them every time I shave. I’m tired of staining my shirt collars in crimson, the drip-drip-drip of life’s fluid essence oozing down my neck. And yet two more were on my back. For the task, I contacted a doctor recommended by the US Embassy in Bogota.  Educated in Texas, and in possession of English skills superior to my own, she’d be a sure bet.  When I visited her two weeks prior to going under the knife for a preliminary review, she seemed to have all her stuff in a single sock.  Her receptionist, Viviana, gave me a date for the minor surgery for the morning of November 4, 2010 at 10 AM. To paraphrase Dave Mustaine: So far, so good… So what?

The eve of the surgery, Viviana called me to confirm. It was 6 PM. She reminded me that the surgery center will not permit entry unless I have someone with me.  I informed her that, had I known this apparent bit of vital information two weeks ago – nay, even a mere week in advance –  I might have enlisted a friend for the task. But lamentably, I explained, everyone I know works. They have this thing called employment from which they cannot easily be absent on short notice, damn the luck. With less than a day’s notice, I cannot spontaneously find anyone to attend a surgical event with me. Que pena, as they say in Colombia. She was concerned; they might not let me in without someone else present. We spent a good 10 minutes on this, negotiating the scenario and my confidence in the Colombian medical system rapidly rolling downhill, before she finally let me off the hook.

The following morning, I showed up at the center. They called me in.  Half an hour earlier than anticipated, no less. So maybe my misgivings were misdirected.  When is anything ever early in Colombia? But then entered an orderly, who was wearing – and this is no exaggeration – a shower cap of the color black and emblazoned with skull and cross-bones. This seemed a rather thoughtless piece of apparel for surgical center staff. As harbingers go… You get the idea. I began to suspect things bore the distinct possibility of taking a nosedive for the worse, but ever the eagle-eye on the lookout for the makings of a good story, I decided to stick it out.

I was told to get completely undressed. Not even Hanes ought remain. They gave me a gown, booties, and a skull-cap (though this one merely a sterile white) to don in preparation for the procedure. I asked – pleaded is more like it, actually – if I could keep my underpants on. There was no heating system in the place and the tiled floors left me feeling the draft even while dressed. “No, senor,” the orderly told me. “The doctor uses a type of electrical device that has been known to set clothing on fire.”

Ok, a good reason to bare all. Since I don’t want to catch on fire.

I made a joke that, perhaps, if I spontaneously combusted I might verily bear a resemblance to a KISS show around 1975. He did not find this at all humorous, and in fact asked me why I was joking about something so grave. I politely attempted to explain to him that since I, not he, was going under the knife and evidently risked being torched alive, it was well within my rights to make a few ha-has in the lead-up. Logic that was forthrightly lost, consequently, on my concerned host and his gravitas.

Thus undressed, I made my way into the operating room. En route, we passed the make-shift recovery room.  It looked uncannily like the local morgue – which I toured last November  – except the old people splayed out on beds everywhere here were still alive. Once in the operating room, I was ordered to lie on the gurney, face down. They would begin on my back first. Too late for doubts now.

The doctor asked me, in English, if I was allergic to anything. I informed her that, indeed, iodine might have a disastrous effect on me, and I would prefer that she refrain from utilizing any product containing it. “Pues claro que si,” she affirmed. She then ordered the male nurse – the one who told me about the potential fire in my pants and with the skull and cross-bones cap – to begin sanitizing the areas from which the moles on my back were to be extracted. As if we never discussed anything about allergies, he grabbed a bottle marked, in massive font not dissimilar from the one appearing on ACME products the Wiley Coyote used in the old Warner Brothers cartoons, I-O-D-I-N-E. He doused some cotton swabs in this death potion and began rubbing it all… over… my… back. I called this to the attention of the doctor, who splooged a  Dios Mio and ordered him to clean me off with alcohol instead. I told her I was concerned the damage might already be done, that it may cause an allergic reaction or something worse. “Not to worry,” she unconvincingly reassured me, “I’ll prescribe you an antibiotic with steroids to make sure that doesn’t happen.”  I joked that perhaps the steroids would help build my “guns”. Just like the joke about KISS and the fire amidst my loins, she did not find this funny. Again, I mused, do I not have the right to make a ha-ha here?

The surgery itself went well. Except for when, at some point between the final back mole and the first one on my neck, one of the orderlies took a call. On his cell phone. The temptation of shiny high technology can tempt the concentration of even the most dedicated of surgical assistants, but was I not already told that cell phones were not permitted in the room? He answered it, and didn’t seem to be talking about business. In fact, it seemed a date at the Hard Rock Café downtown was being planned. Then he needed a coffee, so excused himself from the room. without, I should add, asking me if I’d like one too, which seemed the only decent thing to do if you MUST leave the dead-middle of a surgical procedure for something caffeinated.

When the doctor was finished, I lay on my back with multiple bandages and a few stitches. They decided to wheel me into the recovery room to regain my strength amongst what still resembled the walking dead. I insisted they allow me to stand and and walk out, as I was fine. They believed, however, that I was light-headed and insisted on wheeling me out. Fine. I can go with the established protocols if they’ll get me out any faster. As they began to wheel me out, one of the nurses pulled down his mask, got in my face as though I’d be unable to hear him from any greater a distance, and in stunted spurts of babble began explaining to me that he really wanted to practice his English. Art thee in possession of zero tact, young douche?  I complimented his English and jokingly told him that he, in fact, was already more gringo than me. Which, like KISS and my guns, got a frown. Am I not, as I lay on my back with stitches and cuts all over me, entitled to make a ha-ha about my own miserable predicament?

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Comments
  1. Jill Girardi says:

    Luckily this all turned out ok.. suffice to say, there were a few things mentioned in here which are some of the very reasons why I dread the thought of needing surgery, even minor surgery at that, in a foreign country. I’ve been told several times that I need to have my tonsils out and I just won’t do it, despite constantly being sick. A doctor with a shaky hand cutting something out of my throat while listening with one ear for the ringing of his cellphone? It’s not happening!

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