This time I was looking forward to my second operation on the varicose veins in my right leg, but was nervous nevertheless. My nervousness visible to anyone who would lay eyes on me while I was hopping on my chair, nervously twitching my feet incessantly.
A kind German friend had offered to take me to the hospital and after the usual, almost obligatory misunderstanding from the girls behind the reception desk, I was told to go to the ultra sound department, to my delight still fully dressed, for the ultrasound on my right leg.
Pretty much immediately after that I was taken to my hospital room for the night. I had plenty to read and write with me so I managed to calm myself down fairly well. My operation was scheduled for 17.00, but that must have been Spanish time and by 16.45 I had given up all hope that this would actually be possible.
At 17.30 I was picked up by the same young male nurse as almost three weeks before, when I had the first operation on my left leg. He recognised me which was a nice feeling, because it made me feel like a human being, not just a number. We had a pleasant but insignificant chat while he rolled me on my bed to the operating theatre.
I knew the drill and had already dressed myself in nothing more than the flimsy blue hospital gown, not feeling any more comfortable than during my first operation. Knowing what was coming couldn’t have prepared me for what actually did.
When I arrived at the ‘green tunnel’ leading to the operating theatre things seemed very much as normal, but I felt unusually nervous and uncomfortable. I seemed to sense that something different was awaiting me. Knowing that my intuition never fails me didn’t help at the time.
An extremely grumpy looking, unfriendly young male nurse, who I had never seen before, pushed me through the green hallway to the recovery room, apparently not capable of conversation, any explanation to calm me down or even a polite smile. ‘ Nada’, just a brusque push into the corner of the room.
There was a weird atmosphere in the recovery room that I shared with two other people awaiting an operation and one patient recovering from an operation. The male nurse on duty in the room, who I recognised from the last time and who was kind enough and pleasantly polite, but up to his eyeballs in work with quite a number of patients to attend to, understandably had little time to share.
There was again a busy coming and going of nurses and doctors, I presume, not entirely clear where they were coming from and where they were going to, but I imagined they were waiting for their shift in one of the eight operating theatres. They didn’t have to get involved with the patients in the recovery room, but it felt strange to be so totally invisible, or so it seemed. Nobody paid attention to any of the patients.
A little later a young woman came to my bed; she smiled and introduced herself as the anaesthetist. She briefly explained that she was going to put the stent into my hand, but while she was doing that she was chatting to another male nurse, totally oblivious, so it felt, to my presence. They were laughing and joking right over my bed and it gave me the impression that I was no more than an object to them… and I soon found out that I actually was.
Unlike the anaesthetist at my first operation who was kind and personal, and who explained about the operation; about what I was likely to feel and not feel and that I could let him know whether everything was fine, this time I was given no information at all. No questions were asked. I presumed she would attend to me just before the operation in the operating theatre, but I felt hugely uncomfortable.
I tried to distract myself by observing the good-looking and not so good-looking people that were running in and out. Around 18.45, shortly prior to my operation, the surgeon came in. At last a friendly face. He apologized for the delay and was kind and smiley and made me feel slightly better again. It was all going to be fine. I was told that my operation would take place in another ten Spanish minutes or so.
Finally I was taken to the operating theatre by Mr. Miserable, the unfriendly male nurse who by then had me convinced that he was actually incapable of smiling and clearly still needed to learn that the art of giving is very rewarding; even a simple smile can bring you sunshine. Uninterested, he rolled me into the operating theatre.
From my previous operation I remembered that I had to climb from the bed onto the operating table. Not all that easy wearing nothing more than the hospital gown, open at the back and with a painful stent attached to a drip in my left hand, leaving it pretty much useless to support my body, but somehow it was doable. However, to my absolute horror my unfriendly companion, who I presume was somewhere in his early twenties, ripped off my hospital gown, and before I knew it I was left completely naked while he told me to climb onto the operating table.
I felt stripped, not only of my gown but of my entire human dignity. There were other people present in the room, among them the female anaesthetist. I was too shocked to comment on the event. It felt inhumane and made me feel like a piece of meat dangling from a hook in the back of a dirty white van on its way to some shabby butchers.
Although I was soon covered by a piece of green fabric the damage to my sensitive soul was done. I tried to collect my thoughts at least to let the male nurse know about his unnecessary and disrespectful action when I overheard the anaesthetist giving him instructions to attach a small transparent tube to my nose. She was on the other side of the room and that is the last thing I knew.
She was not at my side when I needed her to ask me whether I wanted to be fully anaesthetised or not, she was not there to explain, she hadn’t in fact said a word to me since she inserted the stent about 1.5 hours earlier.
I woke up with a sharp pain in my groin and heard the pleasant voice of my surgeon telling me that the operation was finished. I was shocked. I really hadn’t want to be ‘asleep’ during the operation. I had wanted to be present. I needed that feeling of apparent control, able to ask what was happening, able to read ‘everything is going fine’ in their faces and voices and able to make jokes about my exposed body.
I had wanted to be awake during the operation. I was more upset than people could understand. Tears started pouring out of my eyes. I didn’t completely understand my own sensitivity and emotional state. In part it was my fear of anaesthesia. Years ago my mother almost died during an operation on her legs while she was under anaesthetic. But it was also anger. It freaked me out, I was angry about being treated like a number, like an unimportant object in a factory.
Back in the recovery room the tears didn’t stop and kept streaming down my cheeks. I felt lonely but I couldn’t understand why. I joked with the nurse that the fluid slowly dripping into my vein had started to leak out. It made me laugh through my tears when I saw him panic and check my drip until he realised when I pointed to my eyes.
The surgeon came to check up on me, assuring me that the operation had gone well. I tried to explain my sensitive state, but I’m not sure whether I managed to do so. He was kind and managed to make me feel calm again and I was able to see the unprofessional behaviour of the female anaesthetist and the disrespectful actions of the male nurse for what they were. Sadness; sad that they have lost the ability to see the human being behind the patient so early on in their care careers. No longer caring.
There is always a happy ending to every story, eventually. A successful operation, a kind and understanding surgeon and his kind assistant giving me my hospital release form the next morning, taking me back to feeling a worthy human being again and in the end, that is all that matters. ‘La vida en España’ I still love it, but this time I hope I won’t be back. At least not for another operation.
©Renate van Nijen