I’d never had surgery before, so I was uncertain what to expect when I walked through the doors of the Tahoe Forest Ambulatory Surgery complex in Truckee last week. It was 6 a.m. I was past being nervous at that point. I found myself determined, grateful, and open to magic. For over a year my right hip had been grinding in its socket, bone on bone. For over a year I’d been handicapped. A total hip replacement was the only fix, mild-mannered Dr. Cobb had explained to me in his office across the street. The anterior hip replacement he specializes in shortens surgery and recovery times. I was going for it!
The skinny version of a hospital bed looked very inviting once we got through the door. One of the many sweet nurses set me up there, and my husband, Jack, got to stay with me for the couple hours before the surgery nurse, Chris, wheeled me in. Sweet Nurse gave me a little cup of pills Dr. Cobb had prescribed: Tylenol, Lyrica, and long acting morphine. These, in combination with the spinal tap and other tricks Ricki the anesthesiologist would perform, would spare me the complexities and risks of a general anesthetic.
About 20 minutes before surgery, Dr. Cobb stopped by. “Any questions?” he asked in his soft-spoken, gentle manner. I shook my head. I’d taken my contact lenses out and the little cup of delights had begun working. I was in a most tranquil, silk-screened place. He smiled. “Just fix your hip?” he asked, and I nodded and smiled back.
Then Chris was there in his scrubs, with his surgery mask pulled down like a sloppy bandana. “It’s time, Carolyn. I am going to take great care of you, and everything will be fine, just fine. “
“I know,” I said. Ever since the first time I’d laid eyes on Dr. Cobb I knew he had me. I knew I had nothing to worry about.
I’d seen what I saw next dozens of times, since I watch t.v. It’s the camera angle from the gurney headed to the O.R. Usually it’s accompanied with suspenseful music, but not this time. I was amazed that it was I who was on the movie gurney, that this was in fact my movie. Chris pressed a large button in the hall and we entered the operating arena or auditorium. It was stunningly white, both walls and light. And it was cold. Very cold. I made an arc out of my back as I leaned against Chris, and Ricki poked me in the spine—the only thing I felt. Chris was next to me then, showing me the different people in the room. “She gives Dr. Cobb his instruments.” Masked people nodded at me as I grew even more deliciously hazy. Ricki was working some magic with my I.V.
It was then the silence was blasted away. Heavy metal music—loud—shook the room. “Hear that, Carolyn?” Chris said. “That means Dr. Cobb is IN THE HOUSE!” “Yeah!!” his compatriots chorused, and I could feel their energy multiplying with every beat. They suddenly became a heavy metal version of the Village People, except they were all dressed the same. I lay back, convinced I’d begun to hallucinate. I looked up to see that my legs had been placed in what looked like immobilizing casts, suspended mid air. I was completely disconnected from them, and I didn’t care at all.
I’d told Ricki I didn’t want to hear anything, and she said that was easily done. But toward the end of the 45 minute procedure, I heard a loud drilling and pounding above the pounding, matching beat of the music. I opened my eyes. “Hey, are you attaching the plate to my femur?”
“That’s exactly what I’m doing,” Dr. Cobb called out over the music, his eyes smiling at me.
“Do you want to be more out?” Ricki asked.
“No! I like hearing it now!” I replied.
“Yay! She wants to hear it now!” They chorused. I could feel how they were all supporting me with a powerful, feisty bandwidth of energy. My team.
It seemed just seconds later that the music stopped and Chris announced, “Dr. Cobb HAS LEFT the O.R.!” He wheeled me into recovery where I continued to be such a center of attention that it fascinated me. I began to see Escher-like visuals and joke with the nurses. They put this blue electric air blanket on me, and it was quickly my new best friend.
A couple hours later I was in my room eating French Dip, mushroom soup, and an arugula and heirloom tomato salad. After that, I stood up and walked on what felt like a new leg. The next morning Dr. Cobb stopped by to sign my discharge papers, looking placid as usual in a light brown pants and shirt. “How are you?” he asked softly.
“Was I hallucinating?” I asked. “I thought there was heavy metal music.”
He smiled shyly. “Yeah, I always play music in the O.R. Always.”
That morning and many times since, as I’ve reflected on my surgical experience, I realized that I never felt a moment of fear. It was one of the most dramatic moments of my movie, and yet it seemed to play out so naturally. It even had its own soundtrack. I signed up for another surgery in December, so I’ll have matching bionic hips. One of Dr. Cobb’s nurses told me that sometimes he lets patients pick out the music. But I’m not going to ask, since I so enjoyed his last selection. I’ll look forward to the surprise.