I wake up, disoriented entirely, entirely disoriented.
My view is a blurry haze of hazy blur.
I cannot move.
An unfamiliar miasma impedes my awareness of self.
Or maybe it’s the morphine.
I scour the scene for my bearings when a woman in a nurse’s outfit notices that I’m awake. A team of people dressed as medical professionals quickly surround my bed and begin to interrogate me, first to establish that I’m alive and then to test for lucidity.
I’m in too much discomfort to be dead, I assure them with a Diving Bell and the Butterfly swagger. My communicative attempts do not illustrate as I intend. Words are suppressed in my brain as my parched lips are determined to be sewn shut.
I can’t shake this feeling that somebody has stabbed me in the mid-section with meticulous repetition. I suppose that is not wholly incorrect. The previous day, two surgical teams had spent twelve hours detaching and attaching, removing but not replacing, various conduits and organs in my viscera. Or at least that’s what they tell me.
Eventually, my temporary caretakers are sufficiently satisfied with my current condition and they leave me alone.
I’m back, baybeeeee.
A series of tubes, protruding from the conventional orifices as well as a few new ones, render my remaining organs unnecessary, immaterial to my survival, for the time being.
However, according to the steel staples they stuck in me to keep my abdomen flaps held together, the surgery that removed my cancer and my stomach and my duodenum went ✔ !
Over the next couple of days, I lay in bed, lingering at the base of Maslow’s triangle, and I let the machines live for me. Finally, a chance to relax.
My life, if you can call it that, revolves around the yearning and pleading for any iota of water.
My mouth is a desert. My kingdom for a droplet.
Nothing, in the manner of not a single speck of anything, is permitted down my esophagus. It must be kept clean and clear and under the control of a rigid program intended to give my insides time enough to heal.
But every few hours, a nurse will dip a pink-tipped sponge in water and rub it around my lips and, if I’m lucky, my tongue and cheeks. I can confidently say you have never been as purely happy as I am when this happens.
It’s quite difficult for me to say anything, but especially words like ‘nurse’ and ‘doctor’. It’s time for the medical community to simplify the hard ‘urs’ and ‘oct’ for those in my state. We should be able to communicate by uttering simple phonemes like ‘ni’ or ‘muh’ when our mouths are so restricted. Better yet, present me with sheet full of pictures and I will point. I’m a great pointer, I’ve been told.
During a particularly dehydrated period, I eke out to the nurse changing my dressings, “suck. er.”
“Heh heh, me son,” she says in the Newfoundland accent I give to anyone I’m doing an impression of. “You won’t be having a sucker for a loooong time.”
Sure, nurse, I get that a cherry blow pop might still a while away, but let’s speculate for a minute on what I might be asking for. What is the one thing I could possibly want right now? I lack the capacity to request a “disposable oral care sponge swab, completely satched”, so I go for my closest synonym, to no avail, as she walks away.
Kelly and my parents visit frequently, but I’m honestly not great company, so I’m not sure why they keep coming back.
I’m too high and exhausted to even listen to music at this point, but my oral skills are improving, so most of my leisure time is spent in an ongoing debate with all the nurses to increase my dose of morphine, and sometimes I win. I like when I win.
A couple of days after my digestive system is permanently shortened, I still do not feel of this world. I assume this is normal after having your insides ripped out and being pumped full of opiates, but we all know what assume did, were assume to be anthropomorphic.
My physicians run some standard post-operative tests and can’t figure out why my health and energy are not really improving.
After receiving the results from one of these, my surgeon evidently sees a reading that indicates I am being poisoned by my own body. He enters my room his posse and asks me how I’m feeling. I say that I’m nauseous. He tells me I meant to say nauseated, but moving on, he asks if there’s anything else I want to tell him.
“Well, now that you mention it, ever since I woke up for the first time, I haven’t really been able to identify reality or extract myself from a perpetual state of intense hallucinations.”
He is primed for this response and picks up his questioning’s pace. As certain other details are made public, he says that I have to go downstairs right away to be drained and subsequently reexamined. My bed is pushed to the tenth floor elevator and he pushes the button. The door opens immediately and he turns to me in unnecessary astonishment and says, “That’s never happened before.”
It’s a Friday at 6pm, possibly the worst time to need anything urgent performed in a hospital. They happen to track down the right person as she’s leaving for the weekend, coat on and everything. She sighs but decides to help, Hippocampus Oath and everything. After poking around my externals for a bit, she does not hide any panic as she declares that I need another operation yesterday. With yesterday in the past where it belongs, I bypass all queues and end up on the operating table once again.
They reopen me to get a closer look at what the problem could be, and it turns our my gall bladder had been inadvertently perforated on their first go-around and it is now leaking bile into my gut. The gall of it a tall!
I’m a septic tank.
The rupture is upon me.
So they take it out and wash me down, and I’m good as new.
The gall bladder, along with the stomach, is a mostly unnecessary organ anyway.
Once the second surgery is finally declared successful, I get to start my actual recovery.
As the days pass, I start to stroll around the ward, regaining the ability to walk. The tubes come with me, and a rolling pole full of incoming fluids.
At one point a social worker comes to check on me to see how I’m handling everything.
“Do you know if they found anything malignant?” she asks.
I respond, “You mean in the tumour they removed?”
She flips through her clipboard with a confused look. “Uhh, so how’s Nellie holding up?”
I think we’re done here, ma’am.
One of the more memorable polymer tubes inserted into me is a catheter, which keeps my body from having to urinate all by itself.
Several days after my second surgery, the doctors want to remove it in the hopes that my bladder can reclaim its designated role.
Breathe in, I am told. I do, as a nurse yanks the tube out of my urethra. (Did you just cringe? Well you only had to read about it.)
As I lay in the bed, I’m handed a plastic jug and told to fill it up. Lying down is not the customary position for such an act, nor is it often the recommended one, but I give it a shot for a few hours, to no avail, as my bladder fills up again.
I have forgotten how to pee. A temporary catheter is therefore inserted so that I do not explode.
We repeat this process a few times, and the subsequent yanking does not get any less painful.
On the fourth try, a warm towel is placed on my stomach – er, my abdomen – in the hopes of stimulating the flow. This time I limp my way to the bathroom, sit down, and squeeze my body like my penis’s life depends on it.
Piss! Real life piss!
It’s the little wins, you know?
The worst now behind me, I spend the next couple of weeks lying in bed doing pretty much nothing, which I’m pretty much great at.
I have time to watch movies and listen to music, like a stationary plane ride to nowhere.
I happen across this fitting line in an episode of Game of Thrones and have a little chuckle with no one about it.
I definitely reget not getting a tattoo before I was admitted. One night a few months earlier, Rajiv felt around my breadbasket, back when I could still eat bread, and took a stab at where my tumour was located.
I’d wanted to get it traced over permanently, like people do with sharpied signatures from members of blink-182, as a way to lighten the mood for the surgeons right as they were starting their extended surgery, but I couldn’t get a straight answer from anyone as to whether or not its presence would affect their ability to perform the magic that is preventing my death.
I did have a tweet to go out in April 2017, two months after all this, reading simply, “Boo!” in case I never made it out alive.
The thought that that might happen is still so hilarious to me it would have made my untimely demise almost worth it. After all, I’d always wanted to donate my body to comedy, and this was as good a time as any to make that happen.
My own situation gives me an idea and I suggest to David Blaine that his next special should be removing his internal organs one by one, to show how few you need to still live. He’ll end up getting his right lung taken out while hanging off the Brooklyn Bridge in a giant ice cube, and everyone who doesn’t know him will clap.
Eventually, I am served real life food, but of a consistency where possessing a stomach would be redundant. The Tray Lady hands me my tasteless meal, which even in its name doesn’t try to disguise itself as non-mush.
I can’t finish it, but I do my best. For the first in my life, my eyes are literally bigger than my stomach.
And then I go home.
To read Hospital #1, about finding out I had cancer, please click on “Hospital #1” — not that one, but the one before it.
To read the next part, about my life between diagnosis and surgery, click on Hospital Shots: Part Deux.