Monday, 20 February 2012

The Operation - 10th Feb 2012 [Part 1]

I had to be at the hospital at 7.30am. I'd been told I was second on the list.

I'm always early but I was a little disappointed to walk into the reception of the Treatment Centre at 7.10am and not find anyone there to take my details.

I sat in the comfortable chairs, alone. I've not had an operation since I had my appendix removed in 1973 so I was a little nervous but not overly concerned. I needed the operation, I wanted the operation because I wanted to play football again. Plain and simple. This was my only motivation.

In walked a woman in her 60s. "Ah. Welcome to the torture centre." She was what Joanna Lumley would be like if she was a normal person. It looked like she'd just been shopping. She sat three chairs down from me. Not too near, but not too far. Wouldn't want to be rude.

Others started arriving, and still no nurse to check us in. Some were limping, one had a massive cast on his hand, others seemed perfectly healthy. I looked healthy, I wasn't limping, if you didn't know I had no ACL in my left knee you would have thought I was fine.

Eventually, at about 7.29am, the nurse came in and took our names.

A minute or so later Joanna Lumley-lite was taken through. As I was second on the list I assumed I'd be sitting here for a while but just then my name was called and I went through to the changing area.

"Go in there, change into these gowns, this one opens at the back, first, this, opens at the front, second. Put this sock on your healthy leg."

I closed the door and slowly started undressing. I couldn't seem to fit everything into the two plastic bags she'd given me. I started again, refolded, swore a bit, refolded, sat down and tried to calm myself, refolded and finally squeezed everything in.

I opened the door and stood in the corridor holding my two plastic bags, dressed in fading hospital gowns. Usefully they are covered with the repeating message - For Hospital Use Only. Phew, without that I may have tried to nick them and use them for office wear.

Nurse Molly came to collect me. I felt like a refugee from planet healthy. I followed her to the lockers and tried to shove my bulging plastic bags into a space which was obviously too small. She watched. She's seen this a thousand times. She waited. I shoved. She watched.

"There's bigger lockers over there."

"Oh, thanks."

I followed her again to the Male Waiting Area. It was a screened off zone, with a large flat screen tv tuned to BBC Breakfast, I programme I never watch, but for which I was now grateful. With me in the male waiting area was an Indian man, aged 60ish, with two friends, not in gowns. These turned out to be his interpreters. There was a Scottish fellow reading the Sun, and a Spanish looking bloke reading the FT. He had long hair which had been tied on to the top of his head like a bun. I hoped this was a surgical necessity rather than a fashion choice.

Scottish bloke was called and I nicked his Sun for a bit. Then I was called. "This is quick, I thought." I followed a teenager in surgical gowns into a small cubicle.

"Hi. I'm Nikesh, one of Dr Knee's surgical team. I'm going to explain what's going to happen and talk to you about the possible risks and about what you'll need to do after the operation."

"I'm worried that you might operate on the wrong knee."

"Ha ha ha, so are we." This didn't reassure me. I had thought of putting a cross on one knee and a tick on the other but I thought they might think the tick meant that knee was ok rather than that it was the one to operate on. It was the only thing I was worried about. "Don't worry. I've got this." He took an indelible marker pen out of his pocket. He patted his knee, "Put your foot up here."

I lifted my foot and watched in wonder as he draw a massive arrow on my left shin, pointing up at the offending knee. I felt reassured.

"Even with this we don't start till everyone in the room agrees it is the right knee."

"Left knee." I'm panicked again.

"Yes, left knee. By right knee, I meant the correct knee."

"Do you think the use of the word right instead of correct could be banned? Just for today. Just in case."

He chuckled. "Don't worry. Even once we go into the knee, we look around first before doing anything to make sure the injury is actually there. So even in the totally unlikely event that we go into the wrong knee, we won't do anything."

"Ok. Can I borrow your pen." He handed it over, and I coloured in the arrow he'd drawn, made it bigger, bolder and, in my mind, better.

"Nice work. Ok so do you know what the operation involves?"

"Yes." He ignored me and described what I already knew.

First they take a little bit of hamstring, God he explained, has given us some spare parts, and then they drill a tunnel in the fibia, and one in the femur and pull the hamstring through, wrap it round a few times, making sure it is going where the ACL should be. This becomes a scaffold on which knew ligament will grow. Simple. I found out afterwards that ACL reconstruction was first discussed as long ago as 1845. There is a good look at the history of the operation here:

Nikesh then went through the various things that could go wrong. All of them had an "infinitesimally small chance" of happening but he was obliged to tell me. It didn't matter what he said, I was going to have the operation so I stopped listening, sorry Nikesh.

When he'd finished he asked if I had any questions.

"Which knee is it?"

He looked down at the arrow. "The left?" He added the query in his voice as a joke so I replied likewise; "Right."

He took me back to the male waiting area.

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