Diary Entry for October 13, 1998
It was during my surgery that I saw him again. Earlier that morning, around 6:10 AM, I thought I saw him then, too. But surely that was just my imagination running away with me during a vulnerable time. I was worried about my surgery, but at that point I was worried more about the fact that I had been sitting in the Pre-Op Waiting Area with my wife and father since 6:00 AM.
About every five minutes, a new patient would walk in, escorted by family and loved ones. I joined their ranks, so I was not concerned. But like clockwork, not five minutes after their arrival, a nurse would show up and ask for the recent arrival. The nurse would comfort the patient and family, making sure they had everything in order. It became very grim after a while. The patient would inevitably hug and kiss their loved ones like they were parting company forever, and then they were off.
I said I saw him then. I thought he was dressed in surgery scrubs -- blue and white clothing designed to equally protect patient and staff. He came to the waiting area like the other nurses. He looked at the patient's names. Did he shift them around, I asked myself. No. Just looking. Then he walked away.
I myself was never called in. By 6:30 AM I was very worried, to say the least. Of course Katie had been nudging me for the last ten minutes, saying, "Shouldn't they have called you in by now?" and "You should ask someone what is taking so long." I tried to console her and myself whispering back, "No, it's OK. It's a hospital, they know what they are doing," and "There must be some reason I'm not in yet. Surgery isn't until eight." But after the fifth or sixth patient had been sent back, my anger overruled my concern and patience.
To Katie I whispered, "I'll be right back." To my dad I said, "I'm going to find out what is going on." I stood up and half-sprinted back around the corner to the Registration Office -- more like a closet really -- and interrupted the nurse I had checked-in with at six, who was with another patient.
I didn't want to be rude -- always my nature, even when furious -- but didn't need to disturb them. The nurse, whose name was Barbara -- which by name alone set me at ease earlier in the morning -- immediately recognized me and knew I shouldn't be there. She looked up and said, "Didn't they call you in yet?"
Relieved in the obvious security of the moment, I said, "No, and I've been waiting for half an hour."
She looked at her watch and I could see her flesh turn white. Suddenly my concern jumped into her body. She said, "I'll call back there and someone will be right up."
"Thank you," was my reassured reply.
I walked back to the waiting room and reassured Katie and Dad that all was well and I should be taken care of soon. No sooner than I had sat down did a nurse come out and horribly butcher my name as usual, "Mister Shower-ette." I frowned. I jumped up at the arrival and quickly followed her back. In my haste I forgot to even say "Goodbye" to Katie, let alone give her a last kiss. I forgot where I was, lost in my worry that I was late for a very important date.
When I caught up to the nurse, and we rounded the other corner to Pre-Op, she honestly asked me, "Where have you been?"
My heart skipped a beat -- how dare she imply this was my fault. I bit my tongue and said, sweetly, "I have been waiting in there for half an hour. Nobody ever called for me."
She responded, "Well, I’m glad we have you now. We need to get you into a gown and get you prepped." She handed me a plastic bag with "Patient’s Belongings" written on it, and inside was a gown and foot covers. She pointed me to a bathroom and said, "You can change in there. Are you wearing any jewelry?"
Feeling naked already without my wedding ring and my ankh ring around my fingers. Nor did I have my chain with its silver ankh pendant that Katie had special-made for me with an amethyst mounted in it where the loop should be. I wasn’t even wearing my watch. I sighed, "No. No jewelry."
"Good," she said. "Come on out when you are ready."
I pulled the door shut behind me and looked around the sterile environment surrounding me -- and this was only the bathroom. I put down the bag and removed my clothing, throwing it all into a chaotic pile next to the door. I pulled out the gown and put it on. I tried to find all of the straps to tie everything down properly. I put on two of the foot slippers.
I say two because they gave me three. I had to assume there was an extra in case one tore, or perhaps one was given accidentally. The idea of some other poor soul only having one bootie made me chuckle. Then a horrible thought came to me -- I had seen other patients wearing a hair net cap and wondered if I hadn’t had one of those and put it on my foot by mistake. But upon examining them, all three appeared to be identical slippers.
I put all of my clothes on top of the spare slipper in the bag and let myself out of the bathroom. A different nurse had met me outside of the door. He stopped me and said, "Let me check your straps and make sure everything is secure."
I agreed, and it was a good thing because I had apparently mismatched the straps. When he told me they were wrong, I remarked, "Sorry, I wouldn’t want to offend anyone." He laughed.
He walked me over to my bed and I laid down. I tried to get comfortable on the skinny gurney-bed. When the original nurse passed by, I asked her, "So, are we too late?"
She said, "No, don’t worry about that. We’ll have you ready in no time. I’m still not sure why you weren’t called in earlier. We were about to send someone out to get you before Barbara called back here."
"Is it possible that the arrangement of patients could have gotten switched around?" I asked.
"That could have happened, there are a lot of names out there," she confirmed.
I reflected again on that nurse that I thought swapped names around. Was it him?
Katie and Dad eventually arrived to my bedside, after another nurse finished shaving my chest, "prepping" me for surgery on my stomach.
I had precious little time to spend with Katie and my Dad. I was lucky enough that they were both allowed back to see me. Normally, only one visitor is allowed. The time waiting in the bed seemed to go by too quickly. Before I was ready, I was kissing Katie and telling her I was going to be all right.
I remember being wheeled into the O.R. I remember meeting the anesthesiologist. I remember how white the operating room was. How sanitary, and frankly, how small. I remember moving over to the operating table. I remember remarking to the nurse, "I have a very technical question for you... do you have the machine that goes *bing*?"
She must not have been a Monty Python fan because she didn't get the joke. That was OK, I decided. I was happy that she spent her life studying medicine instead of watching British comedies. The last words I remember hearing were, "I'm going to start the drip now."
Suddenly, I saw everything in the room. The surgeon was working on a patient. The nurse and anesthesiologist were attending to the patient. I realized that I was the patient and that I must not have been under. I tried to speak, but no one heard me. In fact, I couldn't hear them. I bit my lip and felt no pain.
I wanted to see what they were doing to me, and that was when I began to float above my body. I looked down and was comforted to find the procedure going well. Everyone was calm and efficient. That was when I saw him. When I looked at him standing in the corner, he smiled at me.
That was when I found myself at his side. He was wearing a white trench coat that almost seemed to glow from the inside. "Don't panic," he said.
"Here I am, standing outside my body talking to you, an Angel of Death, who I hoped I wouldn't see again for a very long time, during a simple operation, and you calmly tell me not to panic?!" I said furiously.
"That's my job," he said warmly.
"It's the rest of your job that worries me," I said.
"Don't worry," he reassured. "You're not going anywhere. At least not yet."
"Then why are you here?" I calmly asked.
"To make sure everything is back in order. Did you see me earlier?" he asked.
"In the waiting room." It was half-question, half-statement.
"Yup," he smiled. "Seems you were almost sent the wrong way, and might have died undergoing the wrong surgery. I had to reorganize the names on the waiting room desk. I was about to 'remind' a nurse to come get you when you decided you had enough."
"Somehow I knew something was up, but I never imagined that you were involved," I said surprised.
"Well, after everything we've been through, and my vow to protect you, I knew how important today was. You have been given a second chance... for the umpteenth time, my friend."
"I know," I said distantly, remembering old debts. Just then, I felt pain. I looked at my angel and said, "What is that?"
"Time for you to wake up," he said as he walked away.
I woke up drowsy and extremely thirsty. I asked anyone who would listen, "Can I have a Coke?" Seemed like a logical request -- the caffeine would wake me up, while the soda would quench my horrible thirst. Everyone else just laughed. Katie and my Dad thought it was an unusual request since this past year I have not been able to drink soda because the carbonation affects my acid reflux.
Well, the surgery should have changed all that. Not that I plan to run out and become a "Coca-Cola vampire" again, but at that moment, a Coke would have hit the spot.
That was the last time I would laugh at a joke for a few days. After the surgery, it hurt to laugh, to move, and sometimes to breathe. The nurse gave me a relaxant to relieve the pain, but all that did was make me sleep. When I woke up after that, I refused to give in to the pain. No matter how it hurt, I wouldn't ask for a more sedatives. Upon reflection, I think it was because I didn't want to see my angel again.
Was it a dream? An anesthesia-induced hallucination? Or was it real? Well, judging by the previous times I've seen him, I'm sure he was real enough to be a warning.
That being said, no matter how I plan, no matter how secure my surroundings, accidents happen. Life changes, and my guardian angels may be able to help, but I can't expect them to every time.
Life is precious. Sometimes it takes Death to show us this.
© Copyright 1998 Dan Shaurette