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Part 6 of My PC Adventure (click HERE to read all parts in order)

YOU’D think a big, fat family wedding would be perfectly distracting in the lead-up to a major operation. 

wedding11Normally, you’d be right.

But the wedding of my niece Jaclyn to her Melbourne man, Ash, back in hometown New Plymouth just a couple of weeks out from the big day became a disaster that thrust the family briefly into national prominence.

The wedding itself at the idyllic Ahu Ahu Villas on the coast just south of the city was beautiful.

But within hours my other niece, Philly, the sister of the bride, lay dead after tumbling out of the mezzanine bedroom of her accommodation in the early hours of the morning and suffering an appalling head injury.

Philly and me.

Philly and me.

I was due back in Wellington the next day for a pre-op assessment, but all thought of that was abandoned as my brother (father of the bride) and I and our families struggled through media attention, funeral planning, the funeral, and more grief than you could ever imagine.

Any consideration of my own upcoming challenge simply seems selfish in the face of such emotional upheaval.

However, eventually I have to try to protect my place on the public waiting list, so some negotiating with Wellington Hospital gets the appointment changed to the following week, which will be just a week prior to the operation date.

When I explain the reason for the requested delay, they’re helpful, and assure me I won’t lose my date.

The extended stay in New Plymouth between March 6 and 11 has taken some precious teaching time from my students, who are working furiously to complete their last assignments (the course is due to end on March 20), so there is little chance to dwell on what’s coming up. I sleep well.

Pre-assessment is what it says: they check your fitness to have the operation.

After losing myself in a remote car-park somewhere a kilometre from where I was supposed to be (the signposting was temporary and confusing, given the new hospital building had only just been open a couple of days), I report to the new outpatients department.

wellingtonhospitalIt seems surprisingly cramped and inaccessible behind a vast atrium entrance (pictured, right), with pre-assessment hidden down a corridor. There are no signs up yet, but a string of smiling staff – no doubt thrilled to be in their new quarters – seems to know where I’m going and ushers me through.

I get to a counter behind which are three or four people who appear preoccupied. I put on my best, quizzical “I’m-not-invisible” look and finally someone notices.

She directs me to a small, internal, windowless, largely empty waiting room, where I watch an elderly couple in wheelchairs giving one another constant reassurance and occasionally being fussed over by solicitous staff.

A nurse (although it’s hard to tell: she might have some other, more elevated title) calls my name and takes me around a corner to weigh me and check my height.

ecg-traceShe then leads me to a room where I remove my shirt and jeans and lie on a bed. “Ever had an ECG?” she asks. Nope. “These might pull a bit when I take them off,” as she places small, circular sticky pads all over me, attaching my life forces to a machine whose readout I can’t see. “Keep very still for me, please.”

Back to the waiting room. Wheelchair couple still await their escort to the carpark.

Next, a man comes in and calls my name. He’s an anaesthetist, but not necessarily the one who will be involved in my operation. “I’m just going to run through a few things with you.”

My ECG is “splendid”, he says with a smile. He’s English, but has lived here a while, and says he finds it such a pleasure to deal with so many fit and healthy people. I presume I’m one.

I’ve had 30 years of house renovation work to give me inherent, anaerobic fitness. I’m a few kilos overweight now because the power tools have been retired a couple of years, but lately on the way home from central Wellington to Hataitai, I’ve been getting out of the car at the bottom of Marjoribanks St at the foot of Mt Victoria and tramping up over the top. It’s a tough, 40-minute walk.

My blood pressure has edged up above 90 in recent times, so now I’m on a low dose of blood pressure medication. The cholesterol hovers just above whatever new goal-post the undecided medical researchers are dictating, but it draws nothing more than reminders about diet, which is kept cheese-free but not entirely devoid of rich Sunday lunch desserts.

He explains that I won’t be getting a full dose of general anaesthetic.

spinalIt will be complemented by a jab in the spine with a mixture of local anaesthetic and morphine painkiller, a procedure that reduces the general anaesthetic hangover and boosts pain relief and recovery.

My next interview is with an impossibly youthful Asian doctor, who says he will be assisting with the op. He takes me through a questionnaire I’d filled out when originally responding to the hospital’s invitation to have the operation, re-checking the answers I’d given. He seems confident I’m going to get approval for everything to proceed.

The original nurse returns to fill out blood and urine test forms and directs me back out to the main outpatients’ waiting room, with an instruction to sit on the red seats and wait for the tests. Red seats. Got it. Clever.

carter1The weekend is spent on a couple of final, non-stop charges up and over Mt Vic, and shopping for a post-op “wardrobe” of OXX underpants of the Dan Carter design and very loose-fitting track pants. Classy.

Now I’m ready.

NEXT: Report at 7am – empty.

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