I Am Now a Cyborg: Hear Me Whimper

Well, I did it! All went pretty much according to plan, and I now have a VNS implanted in my chest.

I’d like to claim that I’ve roared my way into cyborg status, but so far I’ve been in more of a whimpering state. Roaring will have to be a longer-term goal.

I meant to post a surgery update over the weekend, but it’s taken me a while, for reasons that are likely self-evident and that I should’ve predicted in advance of my operation. I’m sort of proud of my brain’s ability to think that I’d be up for blog-entry writing so soon after being cut into, though; that kind of optimism often eludes me.

I’d summarize the first few post-op days like so: pain, nausea, sleep, gratitude, sleep, pain, and whatever the most accurate noun corresponding to “I’m really creeped out” is. This last item on my list is due to the emotional impact of the physical changes that come with a surgery that involves having a two-inch titanium puck implanted in your chest. Indeed, this aspect of the process has proven much weirder than I thought it’d be. I guess there’s no saying how you’ll react to a medical device suddenly being a visible part of you (I’ll return to the visible part later).

So, surgery day.

We got to the hospital around 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, and I was checked in and checked over almost right away. I was then deposited in a hospital bed under a Snuggle Warm®, an inflatable blanket meant to keep you, uh, warm before surgery in order to prevent infection? (Don’t quote me on that; I wasn’t paying close attention. I really want one of those blankets, though.)

Surgery couture. Not pictured: extreme hangriness.

The waiting then began.

The first few hours were difficult in their own way. I tried reading a little to pass the time but found it hard to concentrate because of nerves and a severe case of hanger—not being able to eat before surgery is almost the worst (the hyperbole, the hyperbole). My assigned surgery time finally came—yay!—and I was all geared up to go. Let’s do this thang, I thought, snuggling under the Snuggle Warm® and fantasizing about my first post-surgery meal. Alas, there were no signs of movement, besides a sharp increase in my hunger pangs and panicky thoughts.

Half an hour after I should’ve been in the operating room, my husband went to the desk to ask for an update and was told that the doctors hadn’t finished with the previous patient (fair enough; if I were that person, I’d want the surgeons to focus on my procedure rather than on keeping on schedule). An hour and a half after that, I was starting to seriously worry that my operation would be rescheduled. Had this not-eating-and-drinking-all-day been in vain? Would my mouth ever be not-dry again? Why did this feather-light Snuggle Warm® suddenly feel like a boulder crushing my heart and soul?

My neurosurgeon’s familiar face then appeared in the preoperative area. He stopped by my bed and said that we’d soon be good to go. With that, my hanger and anxiety receded to more manageable levels and the Snuggle Warm® was back on my Christmas list. A few minutes later, an anaesthetist swung by with another physician. He asked the usual anaesthesia-related questions and put an IV in my hand; she made sure that I understood the surgery that I was about to have and drew an arrow and her initials on the left side of my chest, I assume so that the neurosurgeon wouldn’t mix up left and right, as I often do.

Operation go-time!

I’ll leave out most of the surgery details—being wheeled into the operating room, getting on the table, being introduced to the team, etc.—except to say that as the anaesthetist was preparing to inject something pleasant into my IV, I said, with absolute sincerity, “I can’t wait for this to be over; I’m so hungry!” As an afterthought, I added, “Oh, and thanks for doing this surgery.” One of the laughing medical professionals in the room reassured me that I could eat right after I woke up. This was a delightful thought with which to drift off to drug-induced sleep.

Turns out that when I came to, the first thing I did was puke. And then puke again. And then realize that it felt like my chest was being ripped out of my body. And then have a seizure.

To make a long story short, this continued for a while. The few days since the operation have been rough—I’m in a lot of pain, and I was initially experiencing a great deal of nausea, to the point that I couldn’t keep a sip of water down. I’ve been having some trouble swallowing, and my throat has been kind of hoarse. That said, I’m seeing an incredible amount of improvement. Slowish but steady.

Back to my vanity. I’d been warned that the VNS device would probably be visible since this is usually the case for thin and/or small-framed people. The surgeon tries to find an appropriate “pocket of fat” in which to put the VNS; if there isn’t much fat, he/she does the best with what he/she has to work with. My device does protrude quite noticeably from beneath my skin, though it’s in a location that’ll normally be covered by my clothing. So much for my dream of a career in female bodybuilding. The sacrifices we make in the name of health, eh?

The device won’t be turned on for another few weeks. I’m both excited and nervous about the next step in my VNS “journey” (I hate that word, for whatever reason, but I seem to constantly use it even though it makes me throw up in my mouth a little). I’ll take advantage of this intervening period to recover from the surgery and begin to learn how to coexist with the stimulator. It’s a part of me, after all—for now, at least, and maybe permanently. Might as well make a new titanium-encased friend.



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