Sunday, July 31, 2005

Surgery, Local Anesthesia, & Sally

This is the fourth part of the story the 1970 tank accident that I began on July 26 and continued on July 28 and 29.

By the time I arrived in the operating room of the Wurzburg Army Hospital, it had been at least seven hours since the tank accident. I can’t say that the Medic’s words—“It’s a standard form, sir. It simply says that you give us permission to dispose of any body parts the surgeon cuts off”—didn’t concern me. However, the need for some sort of relief from the throbbing pain in my leg concerned me more.

A couple of medics slid me from the wobbling-bobbling gurney that had transported me from the emergency room onto the operating table. When I looked up from the table, I saw were two doctors and two nurses in scrubs standing over me. Neither of the surgeons was the major who had seen me earlier; I assume that he was now teeing off back at the golf course.

One of the doctors introduced himself to me and explained that I had a very bad wound that exposed the bone below my left knee. (I knew about the wound; I really didn’t want to know about the bone). He then said that, luckily, my leg wasn’t broken and that they needed to remove some damaged tissue and close the wound. Unfortunately, he said, they had no anesthesiologist available: much of the hospital staff had been sent to the Middle East because of some crisis. Thus, he said, they weren’t able to sedate/knock me out, but would use local anesthesia.

“Local anesthesia,” I remember thinking. Like the Novocaine the dentists use that has never stopped the pain of drilling on a tooth? Shit!

I will admit that they added an additional pain killer in the form of a large bosomed, blond nurse who stood beside my chest and held my hand as the needles pricked my leg. She told me her name was Sally and she was from Kentucky. I told her that I was also from Kentucky and we talked about our homes as everyone waited for the anesthetic to numb my leg.

Of course, as I feared, the local anesthetic never did completely anesthetize my leg. And when the surgeon began “removing tissue,” I found that Sally had another duty besides holding my hand and distracting me with small talk: to lie across my chest and hold me down when the pain of the surgeon’s knife induced me to sit up. Under most conditions, two large breasts pressed against my chest would have been extremely pleasant. However, as well endowed as Sally was, she was unable to distract me from the pain.

After the surgeon’s first few snips—and in response to my scream—they decided to inject me with more anesthetic. It didn’t help; however, I did decide that screaming wasn’t appropriate for an officer and a gentleman in the Army of the United States of America. So I gritted my teeth and clamped my mouth shut. From then on, in response to the surgeon’s cutting, my response was to lift up my chest as Sally boobs push down on my chest.

I have no idea how long the surgery lasted. I do remember that the doctor eventually said, “Just a little more and we’ll be done.” That “little more” seemed to me to be the most painful of the cuts he made. Then one of the surgeons walked up to where I could see him and talked to me as the other one continued to fiddle with my leg. He said that because of the width and depth of my wound they were unable to close it using stitches. Instead they were putting in steel wires which they would later tighten after the wound had drained. When today I look at the 11 inch scar on my leg, I can still see some of the marks those wires left on either side of the wound.

When all was done, I thanked the surgeons and nurses, Sally kissed me on the cheek, and I was placed back on that wobbling-bobbling gurney and rolled to the recovery room, where I experienced a new episode of a different kind. I’ll write about the recovery room when my stomach settles from writing this post.


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