Hoag Hospital sits on the bluffs in Newport Beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In the north end of this Southern California playground that has captured the country’s attention through the silly TV program “The O.C.”, the hospital is the tallest structure around. Angie pushed me to the nurses’ station after checking in. Sitting in a wheel chair with my Bolivian splint in this modern, high-tech and clean hospital, I suddenly felt I was checking into a four-star resort rather than a hospital — quite the contrast from my last couple days at Daniel Bracamonte in Potosi, Bolivia.
My room wasn’t quite ready, so we slowly wheeled down the corridor until the nurse’s assistant prepared my bed in my private room with a view of the ocean. Amazing.
Soon I was stripped and put into a hospital robe. And why is it these things never cover your back? When the nurse tried to start my IV she gulped. And I said ouch. A second try yielded the same results. It’s the small vein, big heart syndrome, I guess. She wasn’t about to put me through another needle in the arm for a third time, so she recruited another nurse. They said maybe I was dehydrated and therefore making it more difficult to locate the vein. I had a nice vein at the end of the elbow. But she explained that it’s important to start the IV closer to the hand, because if there are problems the IV must move up the arm. Starting at the elbow would be doom if a problem occurred. The new nurse shook her head and said this is a job for Lydia who was recruited form the 10th floor. A thing and charming redhead in her late 30’s showed up and in seconds fluids were flowing into my vein. Morphine was too.
The little button I got to push would send a drizzle of morphine into my body and smooth out the scenery while making the pain take a back-seat.
As I noted before, my favorite and best damn orthopedic doctor in Orange County had fallen ill. Later I learned that he ironically was diagnosed with bone cancer. I felt so bad. But I was nervous as it was clear that my leg was going to require surgery with hardware. I was referred to Dr. Chang. Speaking on the phone I could feel his defensiveness as I interrogated him about his experience and why I was so adamant about Dr. B, my “regular” orthopedist. We agreed we needed to meet each other and during his lunch break from his clinic he stopped by the room. About 5’8″ with a very boyish round Asian face and a disarming smile complete with clear braces, he introduced himself, reviewed my x-ray and told me his plan. I was still nervous.
“I’m not sure, Allan,” he tried reassuring me, “but you still seem hesitant, maybe you should get a second opinion from another doctor.” I thought about this and the timing and the hassle. But he was right.
“Maybe,” he jumped in with an off-the-fly idea, “I can get Dr. B to give you a call. He’s very sick and I’m ‘just not sure, but I’ll try to call him.”
Several hours later the phone by my med rings. It’s Dr. B. “Hi Allan, it’s Chuck,” i was amazed. It was my friend and my doctor. He explained how he wanted to be there for me but that he was just not well and could not perform the surgery. He reviewed with me the details of my fracture and Dr. Chang’s plan. He agreed. And he gave glowing reviews for Dr. Chang. I wished him a
successful recovery and in moments my anxiety and apprehension disappeared.
Chang didn’t think they could get an operating room that day, but at 7pm I was wheeled out of my room, down the elevator to the operating room. It was 7pm. Once again the plan was reviewed, I answered the anesthesiologists questions. My girlfriend Angie and good friend Rob stood by the bed as they fitted me with another silly surgical cap and prepped me and my caretakers of the process. Taking all the precautions to make sure surgery would go smooth, they took a black Sharpie to my right (good) leg and scribbled “NO” on my skin. They just want to keep Dr. Chang honest and make sure they don’t go after the wrong leg. Surgery would take 1 1/2 to 2 hours. I’d be in recovery for an hour or two. Then I would go back to my room.
Dr. Chang assured me things would be okay. “You’ve got a real tough fracture there,” he said referring to the break in my tibia close to my knee.” I’m going to put a plate in there. And for the other fracture in the tib, I’ll put a rod,” he calmly reviewed his plan which sounded like he had to make a stop at Home Depot for some hardware before joining me in the O.R. “We’re not going to touch the break in the fibula,” he said, because there is a nerve that controls the lateral movement of the heel and foot which was in jeopardy if compromised.
“if you come out of the surgery with a splint below the knee, I’ll be very pleased with the surgery. If not, well it’s a longer road to recovery and the operation was more complicated. Great words and hope and fear as I closed my eyes.
The anesthesia starting doing it’s business. Then I was out.
The only thing I remember when still three quarters out of it and moving from recovery to my room is yelling at the nurse interns to “take that tube out of my dick.” I’m sure they were laughing, but it wasn’t funny to me. “Take that tube out. I don’t like that. Why’d you do that.” Angie later told me they pacified me by saying it would only be in there temporarily because coming out of surgery I couldn’t go to the bathroom. The nasty catheter would be my urinal drain, I guess. Good god. Turns out it was there for more than two days. Liars!
As for the operation: The splint started below my knee!
Chang told Angie and Rob that he was extremely pleased with the procedure. He had started to use the plate in the upper tibia, but was able to stabilize and secure the fracture with three screws instead — a much better option. Another screw anchored the rod close to my ankle. When I asked Dr. Chang the next day how he felt about everything, he told me that he was energized coming out of the operating room and it was one of those procedures he felt like telling all his peers about. I could see Chang with his youthful exuberance excited and talking shop with his ortho friends as much as we motorcyclists or macintosh users like sharing new discoveries. I knew I was in good hands and was confident things would work out alright.
I soon had the morphine button, a beautiful girl by my side and an ocean view. Things seemed to be going alright for me. I’m very lucky.