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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Surgery: God's Work and The Surgeon's Hands

[Editor's note.  Bob wrote the following sketch in the morning, at the Hartford Public Library's computer center.  He needed to work off his anxiety about his wife's surgical ordeal, since there was nothing for him to do during the surgery.   Dr. Schwartz had said the surgery would probably last from 8 a.m. to noon, and he would call Bob as soon as the operation was finished.  Bob kept calling the surgical floor when he hadn't heard from the surgeon by noon.  The nurses who answered the phone told Bob that Susie was still in the operating room.  Although Bob began to wonder if he should start worrying, he told himself that Susie was in God's hands and everything would be okay, no matter what the outcome.  By 2:45 p.m., Dr. Schwartz called Bob on his cell phone.  He told Bob that the surgery went very well and was actually over by 11:15 a.m. but the doctor was immediately called to deal with another patient's emergency.  Bob began to cry but didn't want the neurosurgeon to hear him weeping.  Bob thanked Dr. Schwartz for taking such good care of Susie, the surgeon pleasantly accepted the thanks, and the men ended the call.]

After I told Susie how much I loved her, and had absolute faith that God would take care of her through the mediation of  The Surgeon, in whom I reminded her I had total confidence, I looked at my wife's beautiful face one last time, took a gulp, and walked the other way.  I left the hospital at 7:45 a.m. and walked north through the Hispanic section of Hartford, on my way to get a coffee on Asylum Street, work off some of the anxiety I did my best to conceal from Susie, and headed north towards the Park Street neighborhood.

As I reached Wadsworth Street on Park Street in Hartford, a man named Chris was standing outside the bodega.  He had a white cap, thin, armless teeshirt, plaid pants, and white sneaks.  "Good morning," I said to him, as if greeting an old friend.  "What's up, man?"  "Beautiful day, isn't it?  What's your name."  "Chris."  "That's my oldest son's name, Kevin Christopher."  This Chris spoke English with a Hispanic accent, just as my son, (Kevin) Chris(topher) speaks Spanish with an American accent, or so I believe I've heard it said he does.

"I'm kinda strung out on dope, can you spare me some?"  "Sure, wha-dah-yah need?"  "Two?"  "Okay, here's two dollars."  "Can you make it three?"  "Not really, but here's two, have a great day."  With that, Chris reached out his right arm and slapped my right, outstretched hand with a hard "Snap!"  I think he was showing his appreciation of my open-ness to him, as I was an obviously non-Hispanic Pink-Skinned Older Man.

Further on, once I'd reached the Hartford Public Library, where I'm writing this blog entry, I came across Kevin sitting on the steps outside the library, waiting for the library to open.  Kevin was short, had a rich, deep chocolate skin tone, dark opaque sun glasses in large red frames, and a very friendly smile, once I said hello to him and let him know I was enjoying the sunny warm morning air in downtown Hartford in pretty much the same way he seemed to be soaking in the rays.

I told him that Kevin (Christopher) is my eldest son's name and recounted the story of the marriage of Adiele Nwachuku and Peggy at First Church.  At the wedding reception, I met an old man from Nigeria, from the community where Adiele was the Esse, or king.  I asked this wise man whether his Nigerian people would accept me if I went there, given the fact I'm white and most of them are black.  "Listen, Bob.  Look at yourself.  Are you white?"  I looked at my arms.  It was August and my normally pink skin color was darkened to a uniform tan from the sun I'd gotten that summer in Rhode Island.  But I was not white.  "Only Albinos are white.  And I'm not black, am I?"  It sure looked like this wise man was a rich, dark chocolate color, and in no way, shape, or form, white.  "In our community, we would look at how you treat your family, your friends, yourself, not at the color of your skin, to find out what kind of person you are."

The Kevin I met on Main Street in Hartford liked this story and let me know so.  "You got that right, man."  We smiled at each other, did a The Dude kind of handclasping, and, after determining that the library would be opening at 9:30 a..m., I said goodbye and walked off to find a coffee place up on Pratt Street, which is managed by an Asian American whose name is Bill, just like my brother. 

What's all this got to do with the surgery Susie's having on her neck, as I write this blog?

Surgery on the neck involves the surgeon cutting an incision into the body and repairing the physical problem confronting the patient, after creating an opening in the patient's body.  Interacting with strangers on the streets of downtown Hartford involves cutting open the calluses we grow on our souls in a misquided attempt to protect ourselves from something we fear in each other, and repairing the emotional challenge confronting the city dweller who has erected defensive walls around his God-given natural affinity for interacting with other people.


Susie and I woke up at 3:45 a.m. this morning, got dressed, made sure the house was in perfect attire for the Broker's Tour Luncheon which our realtor, Jackie Williams, was going to host at our house after a number of heads of local real estate agencies in town walked through a few other homes on the market for in excess of $300,000. 

We're not in the habit of arising that early, but today was a special, and anxiety-producing, day, the day of The Surgery.  Susie was going to let another human being, a man we hardly even know, cut into the front and the back of her neck, thereby penetrating my wife's God-given, natural outward integument, that beautiful outside wrapping which so appealed to me on October 26, 1968 that I fell instantly in love with her and have been with her ever since, and therefore found myself standing next to her surgery-transport bed-on-wheels, holding her hand, trying to calm her jangled nerves, on the fourth floor of Hartford Hospital.

When we arrived at the hospital at 5:30 a.m., we joined a roomful of surgical patients-in-waiting in the Admitting Office on the first floor.  I looked around and joked, to Susie's displeasure, "This is the sorriest-looking group of American tourists I've ever had the pleasure to associate myself with at an un-godly hour of the morning.  If I had to guess, I bet half of you need some immediate sir'-jer-ee!"  About half of the group of 30 people smiled, some of them being the ones who seemed to want to have surgery, and the others being those accompanying the first group for moral support.

A friendly man from Puerto Rico, Hosea, led the "tour" group to the elevators and on up to the 4th floor of the hospital.  Like tourists on a guided European tour, a pleasant woman in a hospital smock identified each of the surgery-wannabes by name on the large sheets of paper she was holding, and told each of them, and their spouses or other family members where to go next.

When Susie's turn came, Hosea led us through double doors into a large room with a center work station surrounded by curtain-enclosed  room-like spaces with transport beds with wheels.  Susie undressed and I helped tie the back of her Bair Claw blue smock.  A nurse's aide named Joanne told us that Moire would be by shortly to ask Susie some background information.  Joanne tried to confirm Susie's birthdate of April 22, 1949.  Susie was a bit irritated when I told Joanne there must be some mistake.  "Look at her, Joanne.  There's no way Susie's that old. She still looks the way she did when I met her, not so very long ago, when she was 19, and I was 18."  Joanne laughed, but Susie didn't. 

Moire, who's part Irish and has, Susie says, a Celtic name, took a lot of information about Susie's past medical history.  Maria, from Portugal, a very pleasant older woman, came by to make sure everything in our area was clean.  Sue, who was wearing a pink fleece with a Hartford Hospital logo, stopped by to explain what the time-frame for the rest of the morning would be until Susie would be wheeled into the surgical suite.

Next, Mike Summa, whose name is Latin for "highest," " in summa cum laude," Mike said, with seriousness and pride.  Mike is our neurosurgeon Dr. Schwartz's summa nurse anesthesiologist.  He didn't look Italian-American to me, and that was a correct inference.  "I'm 100% German.  Summa's Latin, not Italian." 

Mike's about 45, thin and wiry, has penetrating deep blue eyes, a serious and all-business demeanor, and strong-looking long fingers which look like they could crush a lesser man's fingers in an alpha-man's handshaking contest.  When I first walked by Mike, earlier in the two hours and fifteen minutes that Susie and I were in the curtained holding cell during the pre-op prep, I tried to elicit a smile from his serious mien with a friendly ""Good morning," but got no response.  I thought maybe he was one of the surgeons, and took an immediate dislike to him when he failed to respond in anything resembling a friendly manner.  However, while he was thoroughly explaining to Susie everything that was going to be done to her in the upcoming four-hour surgical marathon, I tried to let him know by my demeanor and my way of asking him for clarification, that I respected his knowledge and experience.  Evenutally, he began to loosen up.  But the really impressive thing about Mike Summa is this. He takes his job seriously.  Very seriously.  And I loved it when he turned the laser-like intensity of his blue-eyed stare directly into my wife's equally beautiful blue-eyed anxiously receptive patient's innocent trusting return gaze, as he reassured Susie by his knowledge, his intensity, his certainty, his self-assurance, that she was going to go through a procedure he acknowledged under my gentle questioning he'd gone through hundreds of times with "his surgeon," Dr. Schwartz, every detail of which he knew as well as the best student in any elementary school graduating class knows, and can recite, without even breaking an intellectual sweat, the English alphabet.

Next in the booth was Dr. Kuperman, the anesthesiologist.  He was in his 50's, reddish-gray hair, freckles all over his thin, untanned arms, and his face, and he wore owl-like round-lensed Tortoise shell wire rim glasses, with those nerdy plastic splash guards which fit over the left and right sides of the frames, where the temple horizontal struts meet the front lens structure of a glasses' frame.  I was mostly interested in making sure that Susie would be sure to get enough anesthetic to insure she didn't experience that horrible situation in which the patient is just sedated enough to not be able to say anything to anyone in the operating suite, but not sedated enough to not feel the exquiste pain of having both sides of her neck sliced open and the neurosurgical "carpenter" drilling holes in her backbones and filling them with titanium surgical screws. 

"Dr. Kuperman, is the algorithm by which you determine that my wife gets sufficient anesthetic to deaden the pain completely, but not kill her by giving her too much, based on objective factors, or primarily your subjective sense of how far "under" she is from the chemical brew you'll make course through her veins for the four hours she'll be under Dr. Schwartz's knife?"  "Yes, its an objective set of criteria--heart rate, breathing pattern, that sort of thing."  He shot me a look which seemed to be saying to me, without saying a word, "Who are you, guy, with that beard and long hair and the Berkeley CAL tee-shirt and the khaki shorts and the gray Teva sandles with no socks?  Shall I laugh at your comic look, or worry that if I mess up you'll somehow get my ticket to practice in the operating suite lifted by the Department of Public Health?"  I tried to do my best to nod my head and grunt in just such a way that he'd interpret my act as that of eager and idealizing college freshman than skeptical and cynical threatening trial lawyer.  Dr. Kuperman seemed comfortable with the personna I was trying to project to him in our interaction.

And then the lead actor, the star of the show, entered the room.  Laid back, genial, friendly, relaxed, well-rested, hopefully VERY well-paid.  Our Neurosurgeon.  Susie's highly-educated (PhD in neuroscience from Johns Hopkins; M.D. from Albany Medical School; lengthy post-medical school residencies in neurosurgery), highly-skilled, neuro-surgical spinal-carpenter.  Dr. Schwartz again explained the complex procedure he needed to perform on the front and back sides of Susie's neck, in order to make absolutely sure that her vertebrae will not shift position and cause even more complications in her bodily life and even greater disruption of her, and our, overall life on earth.

[Fortunately or unfortunately, I am writing this blog post at the Hartford Public Library and am almost out of the time they allow for public computer use.  Unedited blog posts can be too long-winded and detailed.  I apologize for not spending more time editing them to make them more readable.  Hopefully, over time, my skill as a writer will increase and Bob's blog will become a more felicitous and welcoming place for you to distract or amuse yourself, or allow yourself to be provoked by my sometimes peculiar perspective on life.  The Editor.]

With that, The Surgeon assured me that he would take good care of my wife.  I told him I had total confidence in his motivation and ability to get it right, for Susie, our children, our grandson, our friends, and me.  I ended our interaction by saying to him, "Dr. Schwartz, I believe that God is going to be performing this surgery on my wife, the love of my life, the woman who has loved me, put up with me, for almost 43 years.  And I don't believe for one moment, one single instant, that YOU will be doing this surgery on my wife's beautiful body."  And Dr. Schwartz looked at me for a moment, and a smile began to form on his beautiful, friendly, face, an ironic smile, and he said, with a big smile, "So who do you think WILL be fixing your wife's lovely neck, Bob?"  "God," I replied, with tears in my eyes, "God will be operating on Susie, but God is invisible, he has no hands.  So he had to borrow your steely, strong, steady hands to do what has to be done to save what can be saved of this miraculous spine which He created, which He knows many people are relying on to remain steely, and strong, and steady, for them, just like your hands."  As Dr. Schwartz left the little cubicle and turned the corner, I said to his back, "Break a leg," which is what people say to actors as they are about to take the stage.  And, like any seasoned actor, The Surgeon just laughed.

Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.

Bob Dutcher, Hartford Public Library, Hartford, CT

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