Life Lessons: Adventures in anesthesia

‘They laid me on the table and explained that I was to be given general anesthesia...’

January 12, 2017 15:22
4 minute read.
Medical office

Medical office. (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)

I’m a stoic about everything but pain.

For more than 60 years, I was fortunate to experience scant significant pain and zero serious diseases. Then the old compression of morbidity kicked in with cancer, plus a half-dozen related and not-so-related conditions.

Baruch Hashem, thank God, I’ve yet to endure major cancer pain or become dependent on drugs, but the diagnostics and needles are driving me crazy.

It started with the CTs and PET/CTs and those claustrophobia-inducing little tunnels they ram you through. It moved on to biopsies and a procedure which I shall not name, but may describe as both invasive and undignified. And then there’s all those blood test needles and IVs that rarely get inserted right the first or second time, and a group of otherwise excellent nurses whom I’ve come to think of as the Committee of the Hole.

They say finding a decent vein gets harder the longer you’re in treatment, which is doubtless true. But I sometimes wonder if they belong to a secret voodoo cult and I’m their, well, doll.

Anyway, after the first few claustrophobia attacks, plus the discovery that they never gave me enough local anesthesia for biopsies, which always take longer than they predict, I decided to get proactive. So now, 15 minutes before every procedure, I take a Tramadex and a couple of Benadryls, the former being a moderate pain reliever, the latter a very old allergy medicine, guaranteed to induce drowsiness.

Benadryl isn’t available in Israel, so my rabbi smuggles it in for me from the States.

We begin The Procedure.

Hurts like whatever, but who cares when you can just lie there and watch the room meander around? And a couple of my docs and nurses now regard me as a bit more Israeli male, a bit less American wuss. After one bone marrow biopsy that lasted several minutes longer than the anesthesia, and I cut loose with nary a gewalt, they sat me up and said, “You are a hero.”


I almost wasn’t, just prior to the afore-unmentioned procedure that is both invasive and undignified. Expecting the worst, i.e., insufficient local anesthesia, I’d taken a rather hefty dosage of Go-Ahead-and-Do- Me. They laid me on the table and explained that I was to be given general anesthesia. Befuddled as I was, I nodded a bit of gratitude, then asked if I might use the facility one more time. They handed me a pair of strange looking gauzy things which, in my stupor, I almost mistook for bedpans, but which turned out to be little booties.

Ah, well. No harm, no foul. Still, perhaps in admonition, they started the procedure before the anesthesia kicked in. Not long, just enough time for one anguished shriek, then nothing...

Until the lymph-node biopsy in my neck, which required a second dose of local because, I think the doctor said, my beard follicles were soaking it up. True, no doubt, and for the next several hours, the right half of my beard stayed happy.

Then there was the inoperable hernia, inoperable because they wouldn’t operate while I was in chemotherapy.

The (expletive deleted) thing incarcerated, i.e., twisted, so I staggered from bus to bus to emergency room, having forgotten that as a cancer patient I rated an ambulance, maybe even a helicopter. They told me what I already knew. No surgery, but they had a doctor who would pop it back into place manually, just as soon as they found him and a couple of guys to hold me down.

Which occurred. Which provided me with a rare opportunity to employ all the questionable vocabulary I’d learned in the Marines, plus a smattering of Hebrew, Arabic, Yiddish and something a Cherokee sergeant had once invoked in a somewhat different context. Then the hernia reset and the pain stopped.


“That was very well done,” I said to the doctor.

He may have smiled.

Come to think of it, as a young man I did experience some pain. In the Marines, of all places. At one point, I had to have an ankle screwed back together. The anesthesia wore off just as the nurse with the only key to the narcotics locker took off for the standard 90-minute military lunch. When she returned two hours later, the entire corridor agreed with me emphatically.

Shut this guy up.

Several years later, as I was leaving active duty, I decided to have the pin removed. So I checked me into the vintage-1943 Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital. A couple of hours later, the corpsman (Navalese for medic) brought me some Valium.

“I didn’t ask for this,” said I.

“The doctor prescribed it.”

“No, thanks.”

This repeated every six hours for three days until, as I was leaving, I asked the doctor why he’d prescribed tranquillizers.

“We don’t have television here,” he answered, “and the patients appreciate it.”

The writer wishes all cancer patients could receive the quality of care that Israel has given him.

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