Coming back from anesthesia is like flicking on the lights in a gym. It’s pitch black and when you throw the switch it takes a few minutes for them to warm up. You can hear them hum as they slowly come to life. When I came back to reality in the PACU I remember I was awake but so tired. I could hear the buzz of activity around me but I was having trouble opening my eyes. I would fight for consciousness and then lose it again. I could hear the nurses around me talking. I finally burst through the fog in my mind and was able to open my eyes when one of them mentioned I was tachycardic.
“Wh-What does that mean? Is it bad?”
I wrenched my eyes open and looked one of my startled nurses in the eyes. “No dear it’s just a really fast heartbeat. Most likely because you keep waking up and then falling back asleep.”
“I’m trying to stay awake but it’s hard.”
“You don’t need to stay awake Stephanie you can sleep.”
“Okay…By the way I can’t feel the roof of my mouth.”
I said it at the same time that I realized it. It was completely numb. The nurses looked at each other and without a word one reached for the phone on the wall.
“Yes Dr. M we’re down here with Stephanie and she can’t feel the roof of her mouth. Ok we will see you in a moment.”
Now I was wide awake. And definitely tachycardic.
Within ten seconds the phone rang again. “Yes Dr. M… Oh good…ok…uh huh… I’ll let her know.”
She hung up the phone and looked at me with a smile of relief.
“Not to worry, Dr. M forgot that he had used cocaine during your resection and graft procedure. But he said that you should begin to have feeling there again as soon as it wears off.”
Cocaine? What kind of operation were they running in surgical suite 7? I had a vision of glass table tops, a disco ball, a strung out Jenny from Forrest Gump in scrubs and techno music playing while people in blue buzzed around my unconscious figure. I smirked thinking, well, he is an ear NOSE and throat reconstructive surgeon. And why was I so tired? Shouldn’t I be ready to party like a rock star? Man, the movies made it look so much more glamorous.
(Evidently it is very common practice to use cocaine as a vasoconstrictor and local anestethic in ENT surgeries. I had just never heard of it and it took me quite by surprise.)
Then I remembered that the nurse had mentioned something else in the same sentence as illicit drugs
“What did you say about a graft procedure?”
And she hesitated for just a split second but that was enough for me to know that something hadn’t gone as expected. I looked down and began my own systems check. I could see fine out of both eyes and my blind spot had once again receded. I reached up and felt my head, all my hair was still there, ran my fingertips across my face, no stitches, what had gone wrong? I felt the same except my head was pounding more than usual.
The nurse who had hesitated walked to her computer and read from Dr. M’s post surgical notes. “outcome successful. See? Everything is fine.”
But I wasn’t so sure.