It’s my first general anaesthetic. I’m due to go under in 45 minutes. I’m at the threshold of the hero’s journey into the abyss. In this instance, the eight steps of the hero’s journey go like this:
Step 1. Disrobe and Body Paint.
The surgeon comes in and we shake hands. I pull down my pants, exaggerated ‘low-rider’ style, and hitch up my T-shirt to my chest. He has a green marker pen which he uses to draw arrows and lines to indicate my groin hernias, then three shorter lines where he intends to puncture my abdomen. The first of these goes just under my naval (for the camera), the second directly below that to inflate my abdomen with gas so he can see where he’s going (like using a torch under the blankets), and the third (to insert tools through) below the second.
“See you soon.”
Step 2. The Trim.
The young nurse asks me to shave any body hair within cooee of the green lines, then to sponge the affected areas without erasing the pen marks. She indicates an electric shaver and soapy sponge, then leaves. I crouch over a little paper mat on the bathroom floor and try to keep the trimming even on both sides. This makes my ‘hairline’ lower and lower. I think of the swimming club shower-room.
Step 3. The Sponge.
I wash the operation area carefully with the soapy sponge. It makes the green ink run. When I straighten up, I notice several of the green marks have imprinted themselves in mirror image on my abdomen. Shit! He won’t know which holes to use! I rub out the replicas, desperately hoping they are the replicas. The rubbing produces vivid red patches. What will the surgeon make of those? I bend over too far and it happens again. I rub the replicas out again. The original marks are getting fainter.
Step 4. The Underpants.
Baggy, white, translucent paper underpants. Sorry, I’m not asking you to imagine that.
Step 5. The Gown.
The nurse is back. “Put it on like this. Some people put it on the wrong way round, then walk to theatre like that! Ha!”
The pale blue gown, on backwards, is a huge improvement – I could almost be the surgeon.
Step 6. The Socks.
White, super-tight, knee-high socks to prevent clots. I no longer feel like I could be the surgeon.
Step 7. The Dressing Gown.
“Would you like to walk or be wheeled to theatre?”
“Then you’ll need to wear this dressing gown over your surgery gown – it’s a bit cold out there.”
The dressing gown is white, with ribbed cotton like a judo top – for a ten year old. The sleeves hug my arms to the elbow, then disappear. It just meets at the front. Thank goodness my blue gown is on backwards: blue gown for dick, white gown for bum.
I am complete, or think this cannot get worse. I am wrong.
Step 8. The Grip Socks.
“Oh, and you’ll need to wear these [pale brown, calf-high] non-slip socks over your [knee-high, white] clot-protection socks.” The socks have thick grippy ridges on their soles. Did they already give me the drugs? How steep are the corridors? I imagine Dunedin residents using them to get down icy footpaths.
Step 9. The Walk of Shame.
At last, I’m walking down the corridor toward the abyss, past the other patients’ rooms, past the waiting room. We wait for the lift near the front doors. I look out into the shrubbery.
Nurse: “Feel like doing a runner?”
Me: “How far do you think I’d get?”
When conscious and properly dressed, Chris Todd works as a nature guide in the Russian Far East, subantarctic islands and Antartica.