I was scheduled for 2 Pm today. I probably went into the OR around 2:30. It is now 4:30 PM, and the surgery lasted around an hour, so I am approximately 1 hour out.
Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas as it is colloquially known, was my pain assistant of choice. I could've gone under general anesthesia, but something about being totally knocked out didn't appeal to me.
When they put the chamber over my nose, I must admit to feeling like I was being executed. I did not die, though, as evidenced by this post. Instead, it felt like everything around me was a dream. The surgeon asked me if it was starting to feel right, if I was starting to get the buzz. "I don't know," I told him. "I've never been high before."
Regina, my bubbly blonde Southern belle of a nurse who granted me a warm blanket beforehand and patted my shoe every once in a while for reassurance, told me that people often say they feel light, or they feel heavy. I could identify with both of those, feeling my body become tingly but feeling nearly incapable of movement (although I could move just fine when I wanted to).
My expectations: feel silly, think everything is funny, laugh at everything, be embarrassed later on.
In actuality, I retained almost full mental capacity. The closest thing I can compare it to is the feeling you get when you are about to fall asleep. My eyes couldn't focus, and as the laughing gas had essentially numbed my body and the Novacaine had taken care of my mouth, it felt like a dream world where nothing has real physical repercussions. My reactions to any questions or commands were delayed, if they came at all. I stared at my empty reflection in the surgeon's glasses. "Who is this shell?" I wondered to myself, my mind racing but my eyes staring blankly ahead.
Determined to remain in control, I laughed only once, I think, when the surgeon asked what neighborhood I lived in. Rivoli Downs, I tried to say, but it came out "Illy ow" because the Novacaine had rendered my tongue and bottom lip completely useless. This struck me as funny, not because my words were silly (although they were) but because I had never had something to say and been physically unable to say it.
Really, most of the things that could be counted as silly that I did were things that I did in full knowledge of my actions. I was enthralled by my teeth in the little envelope they handed to me, and I showed them off to every passing driver on the way home, but I think I would've done that anyways. I watched myself eat in the mirror just for kicks, with my tongue rolling around, using my teeth to guide things to a place where I could swallow them. I called a friend just to share with someone how ridiculous I sounded with the gauze in my mouth. I even tried to tell a joke: the doctor told me beforehand that if I didn't have the usual 1/8 inch of bone between my tooth and my nerve, my lower lip could get nerve damage and feel numb for the rest of my life (I'll let you know once the allotted time period is up whether this is the case and if I am doomed to this embarrassing chin dribbling for eternity). When he finished the surgery, he told me I would probably be numb for about 6 hours. "Or forever," I tried to kid. But the words came out, "uh furilla" which did not have the comedic effect I wanted. By the time I got the right words across, the timing was all wrong. How frustrating.
The more time I spent on the gas, the more I became more intensely aware of the fact that this must be very similar to what it is like to live with a disability that only slightly impairs mental faculties but devastates physical abilities. Like my sweet Miguel, who can nod or shake his head to any question you ask but can barely squeak out what he's doing this weekend, not because he doesn't understand but because he can't form the sentences. It reminds me of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I appreciated the good will behind the childish tones they were using with me, but wanted to assure them that I could understand sophisticated vocabulary just as well. The jokes that were told were not that funny, the compliments about my teeth sounded only mildly sincere, the pitying looks seemed unmerited, and the repetition got old after a while. "You told me that five minutes ago" I wanted to say. But I only smiled and nodded, because I knew they just wanted to make sure it got through, and because I can't even say, "Thank you," much less a full sentence.
I think of how many people make themselves this way recreationally. Then I think of Lisa, copying those definitions out of the back of her genetics textbook because at age 35, she just wants to go to college and live in a dorm. I think I am going to be sick. But it might be the pain medication.