This work is dedicated to SOFREP brother Dr. Taylor Mac.
As it was worded to me: “Dr. Collins will be hanging out with you your entire time in post-op recovery.” Hanging out? Oh, great. Does that mean I have to dream up something clever for us to do? I’m sure I’ll be a barrel of fun, you know, just tons of monkeys.
I recall opening my eyes and feeling instantly awake, though apparently somewhat daft as I focused in on Dr. Collin’s face hovering over me, sticking in her mouth was what for all the world appeared to be a red white and blue popsicle. You read me right, a Bomb Pop!
“Are you having a … a popsicle, Daktari?”
“Yep,” she replied.
“Why would you be eating a Bomb Pop in post-op?”
“Oh, is that a legitimate concern of yours?”
“Well … I mean no. No, not at all,”
“Why, yes… Yes, I believe I do!”
I propped myself up on one elbow and looked around the post-op room at the other patients who were still out cold, dead to the world in various stages of oblivion.
I slurped my Bomb Pop.
Holding my dry popsicle stick in my fingers, I lowered my head over the side of my gurney and scanned the floor around me for a possible waste receptacle, or something that at least looked like on, or that played one once in a movie. I felt the stick suddenly plucked from my hand.
“Want another one?”
“Indeed, Daktari Collins. You are the best doctor ever!”
I heard a cough and reeled around to see one of the other patients that I recognized from the pre-op room as he was just awakening. He regarded me with cross-stitched brows and asked:
“Why would you be eating a Bomb Pop in post-op?”
And so that went.
In the recovery ward, I did well to conduct a physical inventory of my immediate self. My knee was a sight to behold: swollen to the size of my thigh, black as a crow at night, green as gills, yum-yum yellow and impossible blue; blue to the extent that my body’s cyan ink cartridge was flashing “Replenish Soon”.
In the by and by physicians of varied rank stopped by to poke my foot.
“So, are you all ready to get up and walk around? We like to get our patients up on their feet the same day of the surgery here.”
“Yeah, sure Daktari. I mean, what the hell else have I got to do today anyway? Actually, I can’t feel a bloody thing in my left leg below my knee. My knee, however, I can feel quite well. Quite well, indeed!”
“Nurse, please give Mr. Hand something for his pain. Well, we certainly can’t get you up and on a walk if you can’t feel your leg. Let’s try again later this evening?”
“Sure Daktari. Carl Lewis is stopping by this evening; we’re going to run some 4 second 40-yard dashes for a beer.”
My first daughter was suddenly there in the room looking a might frazzled, as she had taken to an involuntary adventure in trying to find me through the hospital staff. I feared that might happen. Just based on some of the questions the in-processing staff had asked me.
I grinned at her a smile that spanned ear to ear: “Hello there, little bear!” She remained locked down in stern countenance, hands on hips and revealed: “I’m going to torch some of these employees at the stake!”
“Steak?” I jonesed, letting out a Homer Simpson-esque “Mmmmmmm …”.
“I don’t know why I am so hungry, hon, but I am.”
“Dad I saw a snack room on my way here. It’s close. I’ll go see what they have and be right back!”
And she was gone.
Upon her return, I was aware that she had pulled out the front tail of her T-shirt to form a pouch in which she had packed tubs of peanut butter, applesauce, several kinds of crackers and three kinds of fruit juice. She up-ended the pouch over my tray table and turned to head out on a second resupply operation. “Whoa, whoa. There will be no Christmas this year, eh Grinch? Sure, get me thrown out of the hospital on my first day!”
By evening the Sondernkommando [German: special operator] came creeping back by to try again to coax me up out of bed for a test flight of the new titanium joint and to see if my papers were in order; I was ever so thankful that they were. After strings of oaths and gnashing of teeth, I was vertical on a walker making a slow-motion loop around the nurses’ station.
“You’re doing marvelously, Mr. Hand!” the head nurse (with dirty knees) exclaimed vapidly as I puttered by at a speed far, far underrating the optimal operating temperature range of Titanium.
“Go slip and fall on your ass on the Giza Pyramid!” I told her — quietly to myself, though my eyes communicated it quite rudely and aloud. “Thank you, nurse. Aren’t flowers wonderful?”
The stone-cold reality of the matter is, I sport a boundless and unwavering respect for hospital staff since my November 2017 tenure. There, we spent so many compromising and intimate events together. I just remember thinking that they couldn’t possibly be compensated monetarily, and yet they were paid so very little.
People like that are not ordinary people — not at all. They are of the sort who are not so much pursuing a career, as they are answering a calling. No different is it than little Ice-G at five years of age understanding that his was to pick up a rifle and run ahead of a pack of screaming marauders and come back with more than he left with.
The intentional pursuit of selfless, altruistic commitment to the welfare of brother and sister beings … you just can’t instill that in or teach that to someone in the by and by; they have to be born with that particular motivation. God loves them and angels fist-bump them as peers. I sighed my many sighs and shook their hands as often as was not acutely awkward.
My first daughter left for the evening. The duty nurse slammed a syringe of ‘something-o-caine’ into my IV push.
My eyes sagged a mighty sag, yet held firm the line across the Union center.
“Good night, Mr. Hand. I’ll try not to bother you until as late in the morning as possible so you can sleep longer. Will you be having breakfast in the morning?”
“Thank you so much, Nurse Ratchet. Well, you know, I hadn’t started smacking my lips yet over breakfast tomorrow. I think I shall partake in the … ,” I paused as I yawned “Continental motif: a warmed danish, a single poached egg,” I couldn’t help but to yawn again, mid sentence ” … some fresh screwed orange jizz, and coffee benedict. Yeah, that sounds good to me; I’ll jus … hav … sum … ,” and I had unceremoniously drifted of to sleep.
I was awakened by the velcro shriek of a blood pressure cuff engulfing my bicep. I was informed that my surgeon would be “coming off the line” soon and paying a visit. “Off the line?! Badass!” I grinned as I pictured him staggering in, soaked in blood, intestines draped over his shoulders and several days growth of filthy beard.
When the Daktari came in right on cue I instinctively snapped up to a full standing position and extended a right-hand greet to him. Taken aback he shook my hand and insisted that, under the circumstances, I need not and should not attempt to stand, though he complimented my extension and flex range of motion on day one.
We two bro’d around for a few minutes talking about women, whiskey, cigars, guns and MMA until he insisted he had to get for his first round knee replacement procedure of the day. I liked this guy immensely: he was a devout professional, serious, competent, personable and respectful.
He never condescended or baby-talked. I noticed that he could tell when he was aware that he had said enough to me on a particular subject, as he would often stop mid-sentence, and just grin waiting for my retort.
It was my primary care Daktari who had recommended this orthopedic surgeon Daktari to me. He said he knew a great knee guy, and that he had gone to medical school with this knee guy. I remember dieseling just a bit when he said that, as being pals with the brother doesn’t make him (necessarily) a good surgeon.
But therein lies the relationship: I have great admiration and respect for my prime care Daktari too, so… guilty by association, I say!
Back at home, I find myself 12 full days post-surgery and still in a respectful amount of pain, as I pass yet another sleepless night dominated by an agony that brazenly shoots my Oxycontin the middle finger.
“This too shall pass, motherfucker!”
I pause momentarily to look at myself in the mirror. I realize I can only see the top of my head because I am still in a wheelchair, but I raise my glass high as I challenge fate:
“Here’s to round two!”
By God and with honor,
Feature Image: Author’s knee on June 20 taken at clinic just prior to removal of staples