I’m usually pretty choosy when it comes to hospitals. I like them to be shiny and heavy, with free parking and good roast beef. I like tall doors and uncluttered hallways, high baseboards and crown molding. It’s important that if I were to suddenly find myself on the ceiling, I could still navigate the corridors with little difficulty. I prefer a floor plan that’s closer to “labyrinth” than “well thought out.” In the spirit of coziness.
After being diagnosed with more than one, but fewer than several, sports hernias, my running doctor recommended two surgeons. The first surgeon specializes in this kind of thing, does the sports hernia surgeries for all the famous athletes and only accepts cash. The second surgeon accepts insurance, and… No, no, that’s enough. I’ll take that guy.
In choosing a surgeon, I implicitly chose a hospital as well: Pennsylvania Hospital. Subjectivities like heft and neatness were difficult to ascertain from the internet, but my due diligence did uncover the following:
1. Pennsylvania Hospital was the first hospital in the United States and was founded by Benjamin Franklin
2. Parts of the movie Rocky II, starring Sylvester Stallone, were filmed on the Pennsylvania Hospital campus in 1978
3. It is nicknamed “Pennsy”
Pennsy?? For real? Barf. I began counting my cash, but then saw this: “On September 2, 1751, Mathias Koplin donated the first pot of gold for the new hospital.” Never mind! Ben Franklin, Rocky II, a pot of gold!?! I’m in.*
So a few Fridays ago, I walked into Pennsy at 6:00 in the morning primed for adventure. Two pieces of mesh, which began the day on the outside of my body, would be put into it. The mesh would reinforce damaged tendons where they attach to my pelvis and allow them to heal. When I closed my eyes I saw little snippets of screen door hugging my tendons will all their might. “We’re not going to let anything happen to you,” they’d whisper.
I was also getting my torn, frayed and painful left adductor longus tendon fixed. And by fixed, I mean severed. When Pennsy opened over 250 years ago, it wouldn’t have been uncommon for a man to come in with, say, a painful toe. His surgeon, who was also the town barber, paperboy and farrier, might have said, “Toe’s a hurtin’? What say we cut it off? Toe can’t hurt if ye haven’t got one!”
So in the spirit of 18th Century medicine, my surgeon suggested we simply finish the job and cut that tendon all the way through. I was staunchly hesitant at first, but apparently the longus tendon isn’t that important and was doing little at that point besides causing me pain. Furthermore, it was not going to heal on its own, at least not while I was running. So I went all in. Hey, you’re the doctor that takes insurance. Whatever you say!
After trading all of my clothes for a pair of traction socks and two hospital gowns (the first one like a smock, the second like a bathrobe), I kissed Mrs. B and headed down to pre-op, which was in the basement, or dungeon. My only previous experience with pre-op came just a couple months ago when my seven year-old son had his appendix out, so I knew the drill – I climbed onto the bed and waited for nurses to lavish me with attention and call in nurses from other departments to marvel at my long eyelashes, good looks and unflappable bravery.
Nurses came and went, and were cheerful, but I didn’t get the sense that any were smitten with me. One was taking my vitals and asked, “Are you a runner?”
“Your pulse is in the 40s,” she remarked. I smiled. She walked away. I’m brave, you know! I felt less like an adorable seven year-old with appendicitis than I ever had before.
At some point a nurse slid a tube into my vein and put a shower cap on my head, and I noticed that it was getting crowded around the bed. My surgeon stopped to say hello, someone said we’d be heading in soon, the anesthesiologist said I’d probably get a sore throat from the breathing tube and another nurse approached with a syringe.
“I’m going to give you something to relax you.”
“This is like 3 cocktails, all at once.”
“But I’m totally relaxed.”
“This stuff is awesome.” She dumped it into my blood.
My brain got warm and swimmy, the parking brake was dislodged and I was rolling down the hall. We quickly turned two corners and went through a set of double doors. The soup in my skull sparkled and my sense of direction was unhinged. I’d totally lost my bearings, which pleased me. “IwanttorunamarathoninDecember.”
We entered the walk-in refrigerator where they open and close people and I spotted my surgeon.
“He wants to run a marathon in December,” a nurse announced.
“You got it,” the surgeon replied.
I tried to give him a thumbs-up, because it seemed like the right thing to do, but my arm was strapped down. I looked at the other one – also strapped down. I was Vitruvian Bacon in a shower cap. I wanted to make a lethal injection joke, but the bright lights had hijacked my neurons and I couldn’t make out the punch line through the clutter. The moment passed and a silly plastic mask descended over my nose and mouth.
“Take a couple deep breaths, we really want to oxygenate your lungs… Okay, this next one is going to smell funny.” It does smell funn…
From the moment I woke up, it felt like I’d been awake longer. My throat felt awful, the time made no sense and two nurses were ignoring me. My body hurt, but I didn’t care. After living in the moment for several moments, someone wheeled me down the hall and into an elevator.
Mrs. B and a tray of snacks were waiting for me upstairs and once I got settled, my nurse came in to check my incisions. When she pulled my gown aside I peered down and got my first glimpse of the damage.
There were three incisions fastened snugly with Steri-Strips, which was just what I expected. What I hadn’t expected, however, was the amount of landscaping that had been done to my unconscious body. I’m not stupid, I knew they had to shave a little bit, but this was just so… unnecessarily generous. I looked closer. Oh, so uneven and slapdash. It was intuitional and indifferent. It looked like I got into a fight with a little lawnmower.
“Looks good!” the nurse declared, and began tucking me back into bed.
“Wait,” I interrupted. “Is there another incision somewhere in here?” I waved my hand around the top of my left leg. “It really hurts up there.”
She pulled my gown back again and looked for a second. “Nope. Nothing there.” She tucked me in again. We talked for a few minutes and then she zipped out the door. She was very nice, but seemed overworked.
After she left, I took off the shower cap.
For the next fifteen minutes I drank all the juice and water I could get my hands on so that I could pee, which was a prerequisite for leaving. My nurse came back in, helped me out of bed and walked me to the bathroom. At some point during the morning I’d lost my bathrobe gown, and Mrs. B had a front-row seat while I shuffled across the room. I got into the bathroom and stared at the toilet. What the hell am I going to do now?
“Do you need help?” the nurse called out.
“No, too weird.”
I probably should have sat – I was wearing an ankle-length smock for crying out loud – but I knew if I sat down there was no way I was getting up, and I decided I was too young to ask a nurse to help me get off the toilet. So I figured it out. I waddled out and took five minutes getting back into bed. The nurse left. Then, a few minutes later, the most inexplicable thing happened.
I talked to Mrs. Bacon about this last night and neither she nor I can remember how this came to be, but for some reason I was alone in the room, out of bed and walking toward the door. I was nearing the hallway when all of a sudden a dissonant roar rushed into my ears and pinpricks of brilliant light flooded my vision. Mrs. B walked into the room and I mumbled, “I’m going to pass out. I’m going to get sick. I’m… I’m going to pass out.”
The nurse wasn’t far behind and they got me back into bed. “I’mgoingtopassout. Wait. Wait… I’mgonnagetsick.” The roar in my ears was getting louder and I could hardly see at all; everything was awash in bright white. The nurse calmly told me to breathe and keep my eyes open, told Mrs. B that she’d be right back and rushed out of the room, presumably to retrieve a cutting-edge, life restoration machine or crack squad of all-star doctors.
She came back with a wet paper towel and held it to my forehead. “Ooookay. Shhhh. You’re okay. Just breathe. Keep your eyes open.”
She turned to Mrs. B and smiled, “It’s always the young guys…”
I don’t get it… what does being a perfect physical human specimen in the prime of his life have to do with almost passing out? … WAIT A MINUTE!
They giggled. I didn’t come here to be ridiculed! I came to be swooned over! Why did I even bother having surgery?? My blood pressure was 80 over 32, I couldn’t see and was pretty sure I was going to die. Won’t they both feel dumb when I pass out and gurgle up blood and flatline and then oh brother, I’m coming back. Yes, I feel better now. It’s getting… I can see. Dammit, I’m fine. Laugh it up, ladies. I’ll run circles around you, just as soon as one of you gently helps me out of bed and dresses me.
A short while later I was dressed and riding in a wheelchair to the main entrance. The wheelchair man helped me into the car and Mrs. B and I drove off, stopping on the home way for take-out. It took me a while to finally sit at the kitchen table, but once I did I made it count, consuming an amount of Chipotle that could only be described as: inordinate. I powered through a burrito bowl with a sense of purpose unique to endurance athletes and wondered, as I started helping Mrs. B with hers, if it was smart to assault my digestive system like this three hours after hernia surgery.
My recovery largely consisted of a series of naps and irrational concerns, upon which I globbed heaps of illogical melodrama. Mrs. B was the recipient of the lion’s share. She was a real trooper.
I was ready for my first nap and after somehow getting myself comfortably arranged on the couch, I turned on the TV to find a gift from God himself, something that could put even the most jacked-up insomniac into a bottomless slumber – an afternoon Phillies/Cubs game from Wrigley Field.
If Harry Caray were still alive, I might still be asleep.
After my nap, I went in to the bathroom and came out in hysterics. The area below my belly button, including my downstairs, was numb. One hundred percent dead to the world. Mrs. B reassured me that they’d simply shot me full of local anesthetic for the surgery, but I was worried they’d accidently nicked a nerve. I lifted my shirt and poked around. What if it’s permanent?!? Oh God, it is. It was permanent; I was sure of it. I was too devastated to cry.
Bedtime rolled around and the numbness in my midsection was gradually replaced by agonizing pain. It felt like I’d been hit by a cannonball and I silently reminded myself that every silver lining has a cloud. My throat was still killing me from the breathing tube and it took me five minutes to climb the stairs. My left groin was a problem. I hobbled bent-over into the bedroom and stared at the bed. I looked down at my legs, then back up at the bed. Impossible. It may as well have been a 15 minute 5K.
I trudged back down the stairs and made my way to the couch. I slept poorly and had unsettling dreams.
It was Saturday morning, so the little Bacons bounced down the stairs at 6:00 to watch SpongeBob. They were unfazed by the sight of their garbled, postoperative father drifting in and out of a restless sleep on the couch. The elder Bacon spoke up. “Dad. SpongeBob.” The younger Bacon kissed my cheek.
I rolled off the couch and stood. AAAAAAH! I walked, stooped over at a 90-degree angle, to the stairs, which I climbed on all fours. I was freezing cold and drenched with sweat. I clomped into the bedroom and roused Mrs. B. “I don’t feel well. Wake up, I don’t feel well.” I walked into the bathroom to take my temperature. 100.0! I called out through the door, “I have a fever. A fever!”
I took some Tylenol and went back downstairs to look over my discharge instructions. It turns out I was supposed to have been taking my temperature every three hours! I didn’t even read that part! A few hours later, I took my temperature again – 99.4. Okay, that’s not bad. I immediately took it again – 100.1! Oh my goodness.
I was concerned, first of all that our thermometer sucked. One minute I was 99.4, the next minute 100.1. That can’t be right. Secondly, and this was much more serious, my body was apparently rejecting the mesh and, on top of that, I almost certainly had sepsis. I made Mrs. B drop whatever she was doing so I could tell her all about my potentially fatal blood infection. I also asked what she was making for lunch and, in case I lived through the afternoon, dinner as well.
Day 2 was the worst. The pain was constant and exhausting and I couldn’t get comfortable. The aching in my left groin was especially bad. I moped about the house all day in a feverish stupor, moaning quietly and doing crossword puzzles. I got myself into bed that night and remember thinking as I dozed off, “I will likely never wake up.”
Made it! It was a beautiful morning. The sun poured in through the windows and I could tell my fever was gone. I did not sleep well, however, and turned my head to bring Mrs. B up to speed. “I’m alive!” I prodded her with my elbow. “Hey. Wake up, baby. I slept like crap.”
First order of business was a shower. I’d been putting it off because I was nervous that if my bandages got wet, they’d peel away and my insides would spring out of my body like coiled snakes. That didn’t happen… but something else did!
I was in the shower carefully washing myself and trying not to get my stomach too wet. It was taking forever. I was just about done and reached down and… What. The hell. Is that? I tried to breathe and backed out of the water to get a better look. It was another incision! Nobody ever told me about that one, but there it was! It was about an inch and a half long and high, HIGH up in my groin, right in the thick of my belongings.
“I have another incision! I have another incision! It’s huge! Ohmygod, I knew it!” The pain in my left leg made perfect sense now. I also felt a little faint. The new incision was not stitched or Steri-Stripped, but simply glued shut. There was a lot of glue, but still… That seems like something that’s going to open up and never heal.
I was feeling well enough to get dragged to a movie my son was super anxious to see – Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. We all went. It wasn’t terrible, I guess. I kept referring to the protagonist as Perry Johnson, which drove my son bonkers and made me happy. I was feeling a little more like myself.
My four incisions came with prescriptions for Percoset and a stool softener. I never opened them. Twenty years ago, I would have eagerly gobbled up all the Percoset and tried to get a refill for weekends, Phish concerts and parties at the shore. But I didn’t feel like sitting strung-out and backed up on the toilet all day, which, for whatever reason, apparently sounded so appealing in high school. Call me boring, but I did okay with Tylenol.
Anyway, I decided that I would try to go the entire day without Tylenol. I had some around lunchtime. After dinner, I decided to join Mrs. B and the kids on a walk around the block. I got about 100 yards before I had to turn around, and stopped twice to rest on the walk back home.
First day back at work! I think I played it off; nobody seemed to notice I was limping a little. That night, I did the whole walk around the block.
My limp was pretty much gone and I did the elliptical for 20 minutes at lunch, which was probably about 10 minutes too long. My incisions started to itch.
I noticed in the shower that morning that the glue was beginning to peel away from my fourth incision, which had not totally, 100% closed up yet. It’s in a spot that is very hard for me to see, and since I trusted that doctors know how to handle this kind of thing, I figured it might be okay. But it was kind of open and that worried me. So I indulged and allowed myself to ponder and worry as much as I wanted. All day at work I kept expecting to look down and find that I was sitting in a pool of blood.
We took the kids and a friend out to dinner that night and at some point, after we got our drinks but before the food came, I turned to Mrs. B and whispered “There was no blood in my pants today.”
I had been feeling better and better every day, was walking relatively comfortably, and decided that it was time to try running. The doctor said I could start “light jogging” on Day 11, but it was a gorgeous afternoon and how would he know? I charged my Garmin, which was so dead the screen was blank, and got changed. It was glorious. I was bursting with hope and rainbows and told Mrs. B that I’d be back in 20 minutes.
I walked to the end of the driveway and began to jog up the street. W O W. Everything was wrong. My left adductors were extraordinarily tight and I couldn’t extend my left leg behind me. To avoid running in circles, I had to shorten up my stride on the right side as well, and I chopped up the street.
After a quarter mile, I did not feel good. The tightness in my groin was getting painful and was moving down the inside of my leg. My stride was uncomfortable and I turned around a few minutes later. I was sad that I was not ready to start running, but was overjoyed at how my pelvis felt. For the last two years, my pelvis hurt at the beginning (and often middle and end) of every single run I did. I had zero pain on Day 10. It was incredible.
I was drying off after my morning shower and leaned over to inspect incision #4, which had long since lost all its glue and looked kind of open and a little puffy. Oh no. Gross. No matter how I craned my neck and arranged my stance, it was impossible to get a good look at it so I called in Mrs. B, the level-headed yin to my excitable yang, for a second opinion.
“Hmm,” she said, taking her time. “It’s not really closed and a little red. You should probably get it looked at.”
It was like landing the Hindenburg on a campfire.
I could not concentrate for the entire day. I sat at work in a cold sweat, imagining the incision opening up more and more and turning inside out and back on itself before eventually swallowing me whole. I made a doctor’s appointment for 5:45 that evening and spent the rest of the day envisioning a series of extreme scenarios. “Oh God! You need to get to the ER!” I imagined the doctor screaming before vomiting into a trash can.
I was convinced I would end up in the hospital. Amputation was likely. I had a terrible headache and was so, so tired. I tried to start writing this post, but figured I’d never finish it before I died, so what’s the point?
The doctor poked around a little, sent a swab to a lab for testing and slapped a band aid on it.
It turns out the incision was infected and I got a prescription for antibiotics, which I finished yesterday. No amputations were necessary.
I consider myself recovered, as far as day-to-day activities go, and for the first time a couple days ago forgot that I had surgery. I’ve been running more and more, but still feel rusty. I’m still just running easy, but every time out is an improvement over the last, so I feel like I’m making progress. I did a three mile tempo last week just to see what would happen – 7:09, 7:07, 7:06. It was very uncomfortable.
I’m still tight in my adductors and my body is adjusting to new and different stresses. Every day, I’m sore in a new spot, but I keep feeling better. My longest run so far has been just seven miles, but I’m consistently doing fives and sixes. Yesterday was the first time I ran without needing to stop and stretch at some point during the run. Things are looking up.
I decided to do a half in December as opposed to a full. We’ll see how it goes!
* I was so excited about the old-timey nuttiness of donating a pot of goddamn gold to a hospital, that I frantically copied the quote into an e-mail to Mrs. B. I prefaced it with something like, “Holy bejesus, get a load of this nonsense!” and then pasted the text. Right before I sent it, I read the quote again: “On September 2, 1751, Mathias Koplin donated the first plot of ground for the new hospital.”
Plot of ground. My brain does that sometimes; actually, more often than I’d like. Anyway, by then I’d already made up my mind. Ben Franklin and Rocky II would have to be good enough.