“I love you! It will be over before you know it!” Mom tells me as she lets go of my hand. I can tell she is nervous but trying to hide it; she always is when I go into surgery. You see, when I was born, I was diagnosed with an arterial switch, an atrial septal defect, and an interrupted aortic arch. This pretty much means that my heart is all screwed up. When kids were playing outside or learning to throw a baseball, making friends at school, or learning how to ride a bike, I was stuck at home with my mom taking loads of medication every day. My doctors were always afraid that I would catch a sickness that would weaken my heart even more.
I am fifteen years old, and this is my 5th surgery. I have had 4 to deal with my heart problems, and there are still more to come.\. Today, I am having my second surgery to “fix” my atrial septal defect because the first one was unsuccessful. The second time’s the charm? The hallway doors close behind me, and I watch my mom get smaller and smaller the closer I get to the operating room. When we arrive at the place, I am greeted by my surgeon, Dr. Mulaney, who has been operating on me since I was born.
He starts talking his professional doctor language, “Today we are operating on…” My mind goes blank as I get lost in the ceiling tiles. “We are fixing his atrial septal defect. Our patient has gone through many cardiovascular surgeries in his lifetime. Our goal is to make sure that this is one of his last.” Those last words briefly fill my brain with joy. This could be one of my last surgeries. I quickly shut it down because the possibility is extremely slim. The surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurses all nod in agreement after the surgeon said some important medical thing. My whole body chills as I lay on the metal operating table. They insert an IV into my arm to administer the anesthesia. I hold a mask up to my mouth and start to count backward, “Thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-eight…” the room begins to swirl around me as I feel my eyelids grow heavier. “…Twenty-seven, Twenty-six, Twenty-five…” My eyelids grow limp.
I hear the quiet sound of metal instruments touch each other — the constant beep of the heart rate monitor.
“Everyone ready for the first cut?” Dr. Mulaney says.
This isn’t normal. I’M SUPPOSED TO BE UNCONSCIOUS NOW NOT HEARING THE DOCTOR TALK! A sharp pain strikes me between my bottom ribs and I am screaming in agony . . . but no sound escapes my lips. My yells and screams are locked in my body.
I can’t move. I try to open my eyes, but they won’t budge because they are taped shut. I can’t talk because the endotracheal tube is down my throat. My throat is dry and uncomfortable.
My thoughts jump to an article I had read several years ago in a medical magazine about heart conditions. I remember reading an article about people who went mentally insane after “waking up” during their surgery. Is this me? Am I going to go insane? I try to distract my brain from wandering by focusing on my body touching the cold metal operating table and the heart monitor beeps.
As the pain moves upwards stopping just below my collar bone, I feel forceps clamp down and pull apart my skin. A thousand hands with sharp nails are ripping my organs. I am on fire. The pain is unimaginable. I can smell my bones as they are being sawed away. The pain is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Each rib that is being sawed away hurts so much worse than the previous one. I feel hopeless. I hear all of these sinister squash and squirts, and I realize that it’s the sound of my guts and organs. The pain is unlike anything I have ever experienced. I honestly think I that I am going to die from the shock of this as much as the pain. Maybe if I stop breathing, then the nurses or anesthesiologist will notice me? I try to prevent myself from breathing, but I hear buzzing as a ventilator comes on and starts to breathe for me. There is no use. My brain starts to wander to conclusions again, and then I begin to have a full-on panic attack. I hear the heart rate monitor begin to speed up as I feel an excruciating amount of pain deep in my chest.
I would rather die than stay here for another minute. As the realization of what is happening settles in, I can’t fight it anymore. I let the bright white light seep into my eyes before my eyes open to the cold, ugly sound of the machine flat line, and everything goes into the darkest black I’ve ever seen. Then, the bright white light finally reaches me. I’m finally through.