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Hernia and hisnia: he took the swelling to be an overdeveloped muscle, but was scared into an operation by his dear wife's admonition of 'a stitch in time....'


It couldn't have happened from lifting pages of copy; my writing isn't that heavy. Nor do I use a big word (usually because I don't know one) when a little word will do. To tell you the truth (which will be a switch, according to you-know-who), I took this swelling in the lower left sector of my abdomen to be nothing more than an overly developed muscle from power-walking my dog and my dear wife. Why I hadn't developed the corresponding muscle on the lower right side failed to occur to me. But one out of two wasn't bad.

That was before I went for my six-month checkup.

"Why, Mr. Stoddard," the doctor remarked jovially, "you've got a hernia." (The difference between a rupture and a hernia is about $200.)

Who, me? was my first thought. You don't get a hernia from banging on typewriter keys, was my second thought. (Hernias come with old age, I was told; what does that have to do with me? I answered.) And before I could come up with a third though--which would have been a record--the doctor cheerfully scheduled an operation.

Until the opeation, should I be doing any manual labor around the house? I suggested hopefully. No problem, do anything you are ordered to do. In that case, since the thing didn't hurt, why submit my unblemished Greek-god chassis to the knife? My dear wife, an R.N. who had hung up her pruning fork, or whatever, 10 years ago, stopped laughing long enough to explain that if I let the thing go I might find myself skipping rope with my lower intestine. Or worse.

With this in mind, I agreed to have my body delivered to the hospital by noon sharp the following Monday. But if you think one goes popping into the outpatient department at 11:55 Monday Morning and announces that he's up for a hernia operation, you're as crazy as I was. One must first pop in the Thursday before for a battery of tests.

"What tests?" I asked my nurse/wife. "I'm not too good at patting my head and rubbing my stomach at the same time, you know."

"Don't be silly," she cackled. "They just want to find out if your so-called body is qualified for an operation."

So I went slogging into the outpatient department on Thursday morning, wondering if maybe skipping rope with my lower intestine might not, after all, be the lesser of two evils.

For test No. 1, I was directed to follow the purple lines along the wall until they stopped. This brought me to Hematology--for a CBC (or Complete Blood Count, for you unhernias). How they count blood, I didn't ask. All I asked was that they leave me enough to get home on.

For test No. 2, I followed the green lines to Cardiology for an EKG. Don't ask; I didn't. It appeared to be only an excuse for one of the single nurses to get her kicks sticking tabs on my manly chest. If the console to which they were connected was to indicate if I was romantically inclined, she was disappointed. Then it was off to the green lines to x-ray, where I was ordered to disrobe to the waist and slip into a gown having three armholes. Since I have enough trouble getting into anything with only two armholes, I didn't sho up in the X-ray waiting room for another half-hour.

Two other gentlemen, both evidently escape artists, had gotten into their gowns first. One was absorbed in a book, the other a copy of Fortune. The only other literature left on the stand was a slim hardcover bearing the title, The Bingity-Bangity School Bus. I decided to waite for the movie. Forty-five minutes later, it began to look pretty good.

I won't give away the plot, in case you might be coming through later. But it was encouraging to read that the bingity-bangity bus, which "sounded like a thousand tin cans" after having an accident, became its old self again. While trying to relate this to my own situation, I was ushered into a room for a full frontal view and a profile x-ray of my chest. What the girl was looking for was never discussed. If she thought I had slipped the book under my gown, she also was disappointed.

Upon leaving the hospital, I received a sheet of instructions for the upcoming main event:

* Don't wear jewelry.

* Don't bring money. (I read that twice.)

* Don't eat or drink after midnight Sept. 30 (My operation was scheduled for the following day).

* Bring a driver (Indication, I foolishly thought, that I would be going home after the grand opening.)

* Do you have any capped teeth? (Indication that they might be taking my caps in lieu of cash.)

If the operation is scheduled for 1:30, as mine was, why, you might ask (as I did) must the victim--or patient, as the medical people prefer to call the victim--show up at 12 o'clock? For a hearty lunch, considering that his stomach growls by this time are no doubt registering on the nearest Richter scale? Nope. It's to give him time to undress, get into a gown and robe, stick his feet into a pair of brown disposable socks trimmed in white zebra stripes, insert his clothes into a six-inch-wide broom closet...and wait. Without so much as a bingity-bangity book to read.

Turned out that the zebra stripes were not for decoration after all. They were for the soles of the feet to prevent slippage, as everyone else in the room had known from birth. It also turned out that my operation would be delayed until 2:00 (my doctor no doubt having been tied up in rush-hour traffic at the cafeteria).

Eventually, one of the pallbearers--but I'm jumping the gun--came to escort me to a curtained-off cell, where I mounted some portable steps to a cot on wheels that awaited me. And here I awaited, counting the squares in the ceiling, then straining to overhear the conversation in the stall on my left. Finally, a lady--make that female--barber with a dishpan of suds entered my cubicle. After winning a short tug-of-war with my gown, she proceeded to lather and, with a disposable razor, defoliate my abdomen from bellybutton to the extreme southern border.

I was still licking my wounded ego when a seemingly benign gentleman stopped by to announce that he was going to relax me preparatory to renenring the coup de grace. Giving credit where credit is scarce, he relaxed me until 5:30, only to learn, upon regaining my faculities, that I would be spending the night in the hospital as an outpatient.

I can say this for an outpatient spending a night in the hospital: it's better than an outpatient spending two nights in a hospital.

Why, one might ask--I being the one--would I have to be checked on every half-hour during the night? If the doc had sewed me up with a good grade of catgut, surely my incision wouldn't be popping open. And if it did, surely with all the current medical technology available there would be a gadget out at the desk that would inform night personnel that the guy in #310 had ripped his stitches.

From a previous visit I had learned that the Hippocratic Oath or the Florence Nightingale Pledge of Allegiance or whatever calls for a nigt nurse to come busting into a patient's room 12 times a night under the pretext of taking his temperature and blood pressure. So with one of my rare smiles, I bribed a 3-to-11:30 temperature-taker to leave word before she checked out that she had taken care of everything, which might allow me to sleep right straight through from 12 till maybe as late as 2.

And did my ploy work? Does a concrete life preserver work? Not only was I monitored as usual, but at 12:20 it was discovered that my lower sheet had slipped its mooring, an emergency just short of Code Blue. AT 1:00 someone tippy-toed in with a flashlight to check my IV tank, and while at it why not flat the light in my eyes to see if they were open. They were open.

They were still open at 2:00, when I again was checked for vital signs. And my vital signs were such that I had no trouble expressing my opinion of the proceedings with a vehemency that must have threatened my incision. A nurse, at any rate, came in a half-hour later to check.

By 3:00 I had given up and turned on the TV. And just in time to catch the thrilling finale of "The Last Days of Pompeii." I also underwent a "Three Stooges" and an exercise program before getting to the calamities in the morning news.

At 7 a.m. my doctor, looking well-rested, came in, admired his handiwork, and said I could go home. BUt--no lifting, no riding the mower, no chopping wood, no shampooing the dog. I couldn't even carry out the trash.

Well...shucks. This meant that my dear wife would have to do it all. Too good to be true? Not exactly.

At that moment, dear wife is sawing the kitchen table in two. Something about needing more space. That it's a metal table and she's using a wood saw should keep her at it for at least a week. What other atrocities she will have committed by the time I'm again able to intervene--it's not a pretty picture. I'll more than likely be ripe for another hernia getting things back together.

Or maybe this time I can hold it to a mere rupture and save 200 bucks.

(P.S. Included in my hospital bill was a charge of $61.10 for oxygen. I really didn't need oxygen until I got my hospital bill.)
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Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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