Thursday, November 25, 2004

Suddenly/I'm not half the man I used to be...

There is a man, currently on a different floor of the hospital, who will be coming to us after his next surgery. His previous surgeries have been to debride decubitus ulcers (pressure or bed sores) and to create an ileostomy and urinary diversion in his abdomen.

His next surgery will be a hemicorporectomy.

Think about that word. "Ectomy" is a suffix meaning "to remove." "Hemi" means "half," while "corpo-" means "body."

This man will have half his body removed, a la the magician's trick of sawing the lovely assistant in half. Only for him, it'll be real. And dangerous; there's a strong chance that he won't survive the surgery. Even a high amputation of one leg is tricky; taking a person's lower half off is bound to be a stinker.

He was sent home to die by several other hospitals. He has chronic infected bedsores (he's paraplegic), has become septic, and was seen as a non-starter by surgeons. He's also in his early forties and is intact save that his legs don't work and have turned against him with gangrene. So he decided to take the chance of dying during surgery for the opportunity to live a whole life in half a body.

If I sound lighthearted, it's because the thought of this surgery scares the bejeezus out of me. Imagine waking up after surgery with your lower spine, your buttocks and genetalia, your legs...gone. On purpose. It sounds like something out of a bad horror movie, doesn't it? But it's an option that this man discovered on his own, researched, and then convinced one of our doctors to consider. She did, and now he's scheduled to be sawed in half (in a measured, careful way) so that he doesn't die of various infections.

After which he'll come to our floor for recovery, then move on to rehabilitation. Most nurses might see one or two hemipelvectomies (those are amputations that remove a leg and half the pelvis, usually for cancer) in a lifetime; the chances of seeing somebody with a hemicorporectomy are quite slim. For that reason we've all been researching and reading articles and discussing this case for the last two days. It's a way to prepare; the nursing care is sure to be challenging.

So will the emotional aspects, and not just for the patient. When you see somebody who's shy an arm or two or a leg or two, you don't automatically assume that that person is thereby less of a person. The idea of losing so much of your body, though, makes you question whether or not the person's person-ness will be adversely affected. It also makes me face my fears of traumatic amputation (or planned amputation, for that matter) and the fears I have of something so uncontrollable, so horrible happening that I would consider such a thing.

On to lighter topics

My Culinary Institute of America-trained, three-star chef boyfriend asked me today how to roast a turkey. "Bake at 325 or so until the thigh registers 180 on a meat thermometer...wait. You don't know how to roast a turkey? You've never roasted a turkey??" Turns out he doesn't like turkey and never bothered to learn how to roast one. If he gets any compliments on the turkey at La Schwankienne Restaurante today, I'm taking credit.

Which might just balance out the fact that the rolls I made for his family dinner tonight, to his instructions and with his recipe, suck. Maybe they're supposed to be that way. All I know is that if he'd've let me make my own damn rolls, we'd be chomping our way through mounds of doughy goodness tonight rather than breaking teeth on hockey pucks the way Grandma used to bake 'em.

Speaking of, I have just over an hour to shower and dress for The Big Family Dinner. Yes, Mom, I am bringing a hostess gift. Hope everybody has a happy Thanksgiving, no matter what bits of you may or may not still be attached.

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