Comments & Curiosities: Trading some dignity for health

September 11, 2010|By Peter Buffa

Ever had surgery? I have. Had some last week, in fact.

I had a torn rotator cuff, which has now been trimmed, stitched, un-torn, fluffed and folded. Your rotator cuff, as you know, is the part of your shoulder that, well, rotates and looks like a French cuff, pretty much. I had a crackerjack surgical team, with Dr. Russell Petrie at the Newport Orthopedic Institute large and in charge.

Everything went fine, and it's much better now. It only hurts when I breathe or when I'm standing, sitting or lying down, all of which I try to avoid.


I also try to avoid the industrial-strength painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet, which are what make you say things like "My flame is Payta Boofar" when someone asks you your name.

Eighteen Tylenol Extra Strength an hour, more or less, have done the trick so far.

If you haven't had surgery and general anesthesia, I can tell you it is a strange experience. Experts say that what causes the fear of flying that so many people have is the sense that they are locked inside a machine they don't understand and have turned their life over to someone they don't know. I love flying, but that's a good description of how I feel about surgery.

To me, you can sum up the whole experience in two words: the gown.

If you've been through boot camp, the surgical gown makes perfect sense. The whole point of basic training is to tear you down completely then rebuild you from scratch; to make you feel like you are a worthless, pathetic excuse for a human being, then slowly restore your confidence. Surgery is exactly the same except it happens in a matter of hours instead of weeks. The key is the gown.

You arrive for your surgery at the appointed hour. You think of yourself as a reasonably intelligent, somewhat dignified and fairly well-groomed person. First there are the usual 40 or 50 forms to sign — 12 of them having to do with patients' rights, which apparently do not include the right not to sign forms. Then there are forms that have to do with payment responsibility. You have to agree to pay for everything and anything, billed by anyone at anytime in any form whether or not your insurance pays it, whether or not you have insurance, doesn't matter, just pay it, no questions.

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