Saturday, August 17, 2013

Farewell, My Catheter

An old proverb claims that "curiosity killed the cat." And yet, for those with an active curiosity, the Internet has proven to be a useful tool for stimulating (and occasionally even satisfying) an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Over the years, as my sister and I attended various conferences, lectures, and seminars, someone usually stopped us and remarked "You ask the most interesting questions!"

Looking back on our childhood, it's easy to understand why. My father was a high school science teacher (biology and geology) who was an avid reader. Whenever we came home from school, he would never ask "What did you learn today?"  Instead, he wanted to hear us describe what we had discovered during the course of our school day.

It's an important distinction because "What did you learn today?" makes education seem about as thrilling as eating one's vegetables. However, "What did you discover today?" provides a child with much greater incentive to observe, explore, and question everything that passes before his eyes and then personalize the newly-acquired information.

Even today, whether shopping or walking down the street, my sister and I tend to see things that most people would ignore. Is it because we're not concerned with whether or not the object offers added value or financial gain? Or did our parents teach us to treat a ride on public transit as an experience in free theatre? Did they help us discover that books can be portals into worlds we could never imagine? Or that a tasty new treat could be a feast for the senses?

All I know is that, as a child, I was acutely aware that one's ability to be served dessert with any meal rested on one's ability to contribute to the conversation at the dinner table.  Needless to say, I paid attention to detail.

A curiosity that never sleeps can have a funny way of shaping one's perceptions of an experience. For some people, the highlight of this month's activities was San Francisco's Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, the annual Burning Man gathering in Black Rock Desert, Nevada, or the Bayreuth Festival's controversial new production of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen by German director Frank Castorf.

Aleksander Denic's set design for Frank Castorf's
production of Siegfried at the Bayreuth Festival

Some people take an Alaskan cruise during August; others may relax at the Hamptons or party on Fire Island. This year, I tried something different: surgery for the removal of a bladder stone combined with a transurethral resection of my prostate. With my imagination in full swing, the experience proved to be full of surprises and a few intensely personal discoveries.
  • Few patients ask their anesthesiologist why there's a wooden rocking chair in the preoperative area. But the answer proved to be a charming one: Often, when young children are about to undergo surgery, it helps if a parent can hold the child in their arms as they rock them back and forth to sooth their nerves.
  • Because the hydrocodone/acetaminophen that patients receive as a painkiller contains codeine (which can cause constipation), I had the rare joy of hearing a small, dense turd hit the bottom of my toilet bowl with the kind of ping I would expect to hear from a ceramic tile.
  • Being an introvert can come in surprisingly handy if one becomes housebound while recuperating from surgery.
  • Certain items which attract and amuse me in dollar stores (elongated shoe horns, extended reach grabbers, prune juice, etc.) turned out to be remarkably prescient purchases when one is home alone trying to cope with newfound physical limitations.

The biggest (and most vexing problem) seems like it might actually be a gender-related healthcare issue. Have you ever heard women complain that men can't possibly imagine the discomfort of undergoing a mammogram? Almost all of the nurses who helped me were female. They seemed to have no idea that, for men, coping with the challenges of an indwelling catheter is like having someone rubbing the tip of your penis with coarse sandpaper every time you shift position.

Trust me, the novelty quickly wears off. Initially, one might have amusing thoughts about leaving the surgical suite with a catheter installed. One might even think of Stephen Sondheim's playful lyric from 1959's Gypsy: A Musical Fable:
"You'll never get away from me.
You can climb the tallest tree.
I'd be there somehow.

True, you could say, 'Hey, here's your hat.'
But a little thing like that
Couldn't stop me now.

I couldn't get away from you,
Even if you told me to,
So go on and try.

Just try and you're gonna see,
How you're gonna not at all
Get away from me."
Alas, familiarity breeds contempt. Two weeks after surgery, when Mr. Catheter and I parted ways, the first song that came to mind was Barbra Streisand's rendition of "Free Again."  Listen and you'll immediately know why.

Of course, there were some rather comical complications to my healing. Five nights before I was scheduled to have the catheter removed, the frames of my eyeglasses crumpled in my hands. It's not the best way to discover the importance of having a backup pair of glasses (I did not), but it is a lesson well learned.

On the day my catheter was finally removed, it took little time for me to discover that what the nurse politely warned might be "a little bit of leakage" was more like an object lesson in marking my territory as I visited various medical offices, and rode public transit while experiencing waves of wet warmth that had absolutely nothing to do with nostalgia.

Happily, I'm on the mend, able to move around again, can even see where I'm going, and can happily get back to writing!

1 comment:

Lew said...

Get well soon, my friend!