Back in the Operating Theatre

No, we haven’t experienced any new emergencies. This one is a scheduled operation to remove the plates and screws from Jabulani’s forearm, which if you remember he broke back in May. We have since then switched hospitals, as the last one was too far away, plus we weren’t overly impressed with the doctor, who it turns out might have been a bit too quick with the knife. But what’s done is done and it is now time to brave this last hurdle, and hopefully improve on that angry scar in the process.

These are the plates and screws that needed to come out!

Everything about this day has been routine – starting with a breakfast I tell Jabulani he can’t eat, following doctor’s pre-op instructions. He goes to school like every day, suffering through two breaks where his friends devour their lunches, and by the time I pick him up he is already more than slightly crabby. We arrive at Life Fourways Hospitals right at 1:30 in the afternoon, as planned, and the checking-in procedure begins. The usual forms, disclaimers, signatures, and of course a rather large credit card payment. We get led into a room where the obligatory wait begins.

I, for once, have come prepared. I have brought my Kindle and my book, an extra battery for the phone, as well as my computer (which came in handy when I had to find the email with the cost estimate, as it was nowhere to be found in the hospital’s records), so I settle, almost happily, in a chair to read. But unfortunately Jabulani has other plans. Almost immediately, he begins to complain about the wait, the noise of the A/C, and why do we have to have this operation in the first place? When the nurse comes with a gown to put on, and worse, a pair of sterile puffy hospital underwear, he just about loses it and pitches a huge fit, flat out refusing to wear anything of the sort.

At around 3:00 pm we get a visit from the doctor’s assistant, who informs us that the anesthesiologist is delayed for some unknown reason so that every procedure on the calendar today has had to be pushed back. She can sense Jabulani’s wrath building like a tsunami, I think, because she quickly signals me 5:00 with her hands and then flees. But at least this encounter has woken up the roommate in the bed opposite, who cheerfully tells us that he also didn’t have any food for 24 hours the previous day. While we wait, he tells us his story, which once again reminds me that it is not crime you need to fear most in South Africa, but road safety (or, rather, the lack thereof).

Through no fault of his own this guy, in his mid-thirties, is here to have reconstructive surgery on his elbow and a total knee replacement. He was a passenger in a car on the highway not far from Joburg, when an oncoming vehicle smashed into them. The driver of that car, who had been drunk and fallen asleep, was killed instantly, making it look like this roommate was actually lucky, if you look at it that way. But he was not so lucky in that he didn’t carry any ID with him that day, nor any medical aid (health insurance) information, so by default he was rushed to Joburg General, a government hospital – not where you want to be if you’re looking for the best medical care. When he came out of surgery, his kneecap was sewed on backwards, which is how he has ended up at Life Fourways with us today, getting his knee replacement. What, upside down, I ask? No, on the back of the leg, he says. I find this somewhat hard to believe but why should he lie to me? Oh, and he was actually supposed to go to Union for this particular surgery, but a terrible virus has taken hold of that hospital, which is why he was transferred once again. 

I find all this talk a bit disconcerting, but Jabulani doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, he – the roommate – creates another diversion distracting Jabulani from his rumbling stomach, in that he wants to smoke a cigarette. I’m quite sure that this is against all manner of hospital policy, but obviously he has done this before, because somehow he summons three nurses and gets them to wheel him out through a sliding glass door into a courtyard I haven’t noticed until now, chatting and joking with them incessantly all the way out. Jabulani is clearly taken with such feistiness and, as I can see from the triumphant look he shoots in my direction, resolves right then to double down on the “no changing underwear” stance he has taken.

It is already past 6:00 pm when our moment has come and we are wheeled to the OP which here is called Theatre. Or rather, Jabulani is wheeled, and I am struggling to keep up, what with all the stuff I’m carrying. Having brought the computer and books now seems less wise than it did earlier, as in addition to my things I’m now also having to lug extra clothes and shoes, plus the lunch bag with the carrot cake I had to promise to pack for Jabulani this morning. Here is a tip for you: If you find yourself in a South African hospital, bring a trolley to wheel about your possessions. Leaving your purse or even clothes somewhere in the ward is out of the question. When checking in, you have to sign all sorts of forms that you’ve secured your possessions, which is always one of the signs that stealing is going on. Same as when you’re getting your car serviced.

By now I am actually quite hungry myself and longingly consider the lunch bag and its contents. But I might as well resign my motherly duties and go into witness protection if I so much as touch that carrot cake. Jabulani has already directed all his wrath at me, as he usually does when frustrated, and finding out from the assistant earlier that he actually could have eaten breakfast, just nothing after 7:00 this morning, didn’t exactly make him any happier with me. Oops! I guess I didn’t listen to the instructions very carefully.

My ridiculous overshoes; I was not permitted to photograph the ridiculous underwear
Luckily, I get a chance to redeem myself, in the form of the rather humiliating hospital gown and cap I have to don, so as to be allowed into theatre with him. He snaps away at me happily with his Blackberry, sending the picture to God knows who, and by the time several nurses come to introduce themselves to him, he greets them with his usual broad smile. As is so often the case, however, it is as if all the fear that so recently held him in its grip has now jumped over to me, needing to inhabit some other being in the vicinity. While he is now joking with the nurses I feel a huge lump growing in my throat, as I begin to realize that I will have to watch him fall asleep. I almost faint at the prospect (I have been known to faint in hospitals before) but somehow manage a crooked smile while kissing him goodbye. Tears are streaming down my cheeks while I watch his eyes droop as he slips into his sleep. I can’t believe it works so fast! This is all the anesthesiologist has to do? This 5-minute job is what has delayed us today for over three hours? I find comfort in feeling a sliver of annoyance pushing into the space that was only filled with sadness moments ago. I wipe the tears away and make my way back to the waiting area where I’m now inspired to write it all down.
PS: The operation lasted about 90  minutes and everything went well, except Jabulani is now back in cast for the next two weeks.  

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