October 16

World Anesthesia Day


“You’re going to count backwards from 100.”

A countdown.   With current international tensions, that’s not something the medical professionals should mention as you’re going under.

100. 99. 98…

“You might feel flush for a moment.  That’s normal.  Now you’ll start drifting off…”

They’ve put a mask over your eyes, so you can’t see.  You try to keep a mental picture of the doctors and internists in the room.  The anesthesiologist is behind you, to the left of your head.  A nurse stands near the I-V line in your right arm, and supervises the metal tray topped with shining, sterilized instruments.

80. 79. 78. …

Should it work a little faster?  You’re ready to panic, to spin the terror tale of a patient who remains fully conscious during a procedure, paralyzed but unable to protest your agony as the scalpel digs in, as forceps pull back skin and bones are split apart, blood vessels snipped and internal organs roughly rearranged.

Each minute of surgery would feel like hours.

You try to wiggle your toes.  You imagine the sensation of movement, but aren’t sure if it’s actually occurred.

52. 51. 50. …

“Did the lights flicker?”

Then a loud and hollow thump, like some vast machine coming to life.

“That’s the generator.”  You recognize the nurse’s voice.

37. 36. 35. …

You try to say the numbers out loud, and don’t know if you’ve succeeded.  At any rate, nobody in the room responds.

Unless hitting the side of your hospital gurney is a response.  Slapping the bed, telling you to be quiet.  Because you don’t matter.  They’re professionals, trying to do a difficult job, and they don’t need your input.

No backseat driving during surgery.

24. 23. 22. …

A clatter, and you hear tools hitting the ground, the cymbal crash of a metal tray.

“Careful!”  That’s the surgeon’s voice.

As you struggle to open your eyes, you can’t feel your lashes scratch against the masking bandage. Your lips attempt to shape the words, “I’m still awake.”

Before the advent of anesthesia, what did the doctors do? Perhaps they got the patients drunk.

In more primitive times, they would have conked the patient on the head. One swift knockout punch, to avoid hours of slicing, probing pain.

The gurney shakes beneath you. An I-V line tugs at your arm. Behind you, the anesthesiologist cries out.

You wish for sweet, measured oblivion.

4. 3. 2. 1.