I’m fairly certain I’ve expressed my delight for the gray area of life at least 100 times in the last year. Oh, how I revel in it and wear my love of it like a badge of honor, always eschewing the black and white in the process.
So Wednesday, when I sat in a shower cap and cotton gown in a little room at NYU Medical Center talking to ‘my’ anesthesiologist about the arthroscopic surgery for the medial meniscus tear in my knee that was about to happen, you might have thought I would have jumped for joy when she said the words, “We’re in gray area here.”
But no. And no.
Just moments earlier the nurse doing intake had tried to be cheery when she read the blood pressure machine attached to my arm and said, “We’ll take it again in a few minutes.” But I had seen the clear digital reading. My blood pressure was very high. Now the anesthesiologist was sitting before me with a look of concern, reading through my chart and talking to me in a blessedly clear and humane way.
“If I cancelled this procedure, no one would question it,” she said. “But if I proceed, no one will question it. We’re in gray area here. You’re going to have to make this decision.”
When I asked about the risks, I didn’t hear anything beyond “cardiac arrest” even though she kept talking. My mind immediately went to me deciding to delay the surgery until my fairly new BP meds kicked in, walking out of the hospital to the nearest Starbucks and sobbing. But then she explained that part of her job was to regulate my BP in the operating room and that it would either work or not. She left me to think.
A few minutes later my surgeon came in and we got right to the BP topic. He stated unequivocally that if the anesthesiologist couldn’t get my BP down, he’d walk out without doing the surgery. Period. This soothed me and I gave them the green light. He initialed my left knee and off I went.
A few minutes later I was in the frigid OR, my arms splayed out like I was on a cross. Yikes. Could have done without that image. The anesthesiologist and the guy assisting her went to put an IV in my left hand and couldn’t find a vein. I could hear her frustration. She poked another spot, same hand, and still nothing.
“You know it usually takes 30 seconds to put in an IV, right?” she said. Now I am the patient, her first of the day, who is going to challenge her on every freakin’ level.
Just prior to this, they had told me to think of a beach or something that would relax me. I said without hesitation, “You know what would relax me? Babbling. You don’t have to answer me. Just let me babble.” And so I had proceeded to talk about all the things I’m writing about these days.
But now, she was moving to my right hand to find a vein and telling the other guy to call someone named Bob to help her and all I could think was that Bob was going to come in and jab me mercilessly. I took a deep breath and kept babbling about writing.
When I tell my mother this later, she says, “Out loud? You talked out loud?” and I kind of wanted to hug her through the phone because I realized she would feel like a fool just stating what she wants like that. I had no qualms whatsoever. I just wanted to feel relaxed or as close to relaxed as one can feel while shivering as a doctor keeps jabbing you with a needle.
Finally the anesthesiologist found her “in” and then put an oxygen mask over my face. In mere seconds I was out. When I woke up in recovery, I said, “What phase are we in?” The nurse smiled and said, “You’re all done.” I was incredulous. A few minutes later an older nurse with a British accent came to take out my IV. I asked if it would hurt and she said no, but maybe just the ripping of the tape. I told her just in case I was going to recite poetry.
“What poet?” she said.
“Wordsworth,” I said, and began reciting I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud.
The next thing I knew she was reciting it with me and we both got hung up on the same line and laughed. I adored her in that moment. And I didn’t even feel the IV coming out. Graham crackers and ginger ale suddenly felt like a party.
As I chilled, the anesthesiologist came by between cases and asked how I was doing. She remarked on how calm I was in the OR. Frankly, even now it seems like an out-of-body experience. I felt pretty Zen, which I suppose was why I was also mystified about the high BP.
Darned gray area. It scared me and yet somehow it emerged my friend again.