Friday, March 19, 2010

My Surgery

RAPIDLY RECEDING HAIR-LINE with advancing age, I noticed, was getting balanced by equally fast and copious growths. Thick and jet-black, one covering the forearms the other jutting out horizontally from the ears; a most ungainly sight. Being a bit fussy about grooming one fine morning just after the 'shave’ I applied the Gillete Sensor Excels with it's self adjusting twin blades, on the black crop on top of my left ear. Possibly the angle was incorrect or I was careless and in hurry; I nicked the skin a bit too deep. The suddenly oozing red blood was not a very pleasant sight. The flow had to be stopped and the cut camouflaged quickly to avoid awkward questions, in which the bottle of Dettol and talcum powder came handy. Soon the blood coagulated put the pain remained for a few days.

I soon forgot the incident till a couple of months later I noticed a small growth,a small pimple, at the site of the forgotten cut. The body was reacting in its own way to the intrusion by the blade.

I did take my own time to visit the Army clinic. A boring task to be avoided as long as possible. A tedious necessity of sitting outside the Medical Officer's room among the other patients waiting for their turn to be called in with their minor and some not so minor ailments.

After the regulation wait time, I was finally called in. Following a cursory inspection and considered advice by the doctor which was not much reassuring...since post surgery the growth could once again reappear...I was prescribed some ointment. However, the dutiful application for a few days proved to be ineffective.

A visit to a homeopath confirmed the earlier opinion of the doctor. This time I was promised that the growth, with treatment, would shrivel and soon fall off. Week after week I would walk the short distance to the clinic of the Homeopath and exchange Rs 100 for the weekly doze of pills. The growth did shrivel but did not fall off. In fact it grew and grew like a horn and I would trim it off and on with scissors.

A bit frustrated with the lack of relief, I once again landed at the Armed Force’s clinic. This time, not only was I advised immediate surgery but also given a dire warning.

Post-haste I drove to the nearby Hardpan Hospital. The surgery was scheduled for the next morning. After a few mandatory tests, I signed a few forms that absolved the hospital and all concerned of their acts of omission and commission on my body when on the table and unaware of what was happening to me and my body.

Next day at the hospital I was moved into the freezing OT and was asked to don a green surgical gown. At the side of the operating table was a wired man with all sorts of pings and beeps emitting from the various monitors along with the background hum of the air conditioner.

I had not informed anyone about my operation and as such I was now alone with only myself for company to share my worries. I had the not so pleasant thoughts of the frequent visits to the various hospital in the past. This time Jeet, my late wife, "The Patient" and I "The Attendant". Vignettes of that time flashed before my eyes...of her being wheeled towards the OT, while I was left behind, waiting at a distance, scared, worried, confused, apprehensive, and uncertain of the outcome of the operation, the gravity of the problem foremost in my mind as I saw her disappearing from my vision,

Next I was covered with a green sheet. Another piece, one with a hole exposing just the area required for the procedure, was placed over covering my neck and the head.

A pin prick announced the inflow of the anaesthesia in the periphery of the ear soon making it numb. As the operation proceeded, I could hear the clipping of the instruments cutting the growth but felt no pain or sensation except a mild heat as the cut was cauterized.

The now dismembered part of my body, 'the growth, was placed in a vial with the most dreaded post-operation remark...‘For Biopsy’, a process requiring a few days to arrive at a conclusion about its nature.

A few days passed by and in due course I was called for the removal of the stitches. While I waited in the Minor OT, for the now minor, yet painful operation, Ranjit, my son, who had accompanied me this time, was asked to fetch the biopsy report from the laboratory.

I was a bit worried and apprehensive, not for myself but for Ranjit. If the report happened to be malignant, remembering my own inner turmoil when I had walked the short distance from the Command Laboratory in Army Hospital to the car park with a malignancy report in my hand, where Jeet, with a brave face, was anxiously waiting for the reprieve or the death warrant.

My fears came true Ranjit entered the room with the envelope containing the report in his hand and the statement `Malignant` on his lips and his feelings bottled-up inside of him.

Strangely I felt relieved. The guilt I had harboured all these years with Jeet suffering her cancer and me hale and hearty, albeit with a turmoil of foreboding inside me, was slightly less painful. The guilt of 'survival', a feeling difficult to explain but experienced by surviving soldiers more often than not when returning from the battlefield with friends, comrades and colleagues left behind, dead or injured and battling for life had been tormenting me. Now I was also a battle casualty and in the same league as Jeet.

Apart from Ranjit, my son, and Jeet, my late wife the other affected party was the surgeon Dr Arora, unfazed and upbeat..."Nothing to worry about," he exclaimed, "There is enough additional territory for surgery if required," he continued, leaving me to decide for myself whether to feel relived or apprehensive about what future held in store for me.

Dr Arora was referring to the 99.9% of my outer ear still available to him to explore.

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