What with one thing or another I didn't get around to scheduling the transesophageal echo-cardiogram (TEE) until June.
Briefly, a TEE test involves putting the patient under general anesthesia then sliding a tube with the ultrasound equipment on its tip down his throat, the idea being that an internal echo-cardiogram provides a better view of the heart.
Because general anesthesia is required, the hospital mandates that patients bring someone along to see to it that the patient gets home all right after the procedure. Although Dr. M_____ had agreed to fill that roll for me by seeing me to my car service, at the last minute it appeared that the Anesthesiology Department would not agree to the that arrangement. Happily, I had just run into a former neighbor, Mr. Lee, who agreed to perform that function on extremely short notice.
Preparation for the procedure is pretty simple: nothing by mouth after midnight on the evening before the test. I wasn't even allowed a glass of water. Apparently the fear is that if the stomach contains anything, there is a danger of vomiting, which could have very unpleasant consequences.
Mr. Lee and I arrived at the hospital at the appointed time, 9 AM, and checked in. Then Mr. Lee went on his way, leaving his cell phone number behind. I told him I expected to be finished by 11; at least that's what the instruction sheet had said, about two hours.
I was ushered into a changing area where I donned a hospital gown and proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait...
Finally around 10:15 (or 15 minutes after the procedure was scheduled to start) an orderly came to collect me. I climbed into a hospital bed, and the orderly pushed me through the halls, into an elevator, ending up in the little room where the procedure was to take place. It was a fun ride.
I met Diane, the nurse, Ben, the technician, and Jeremy the anesthesia nurse, who stuck a needle into the back of my hand. Finally Dr. M_____ showed up, and after describing the procedure once again he asked if I had any questions.
“Yes,” I said. “Could I see the tube you're going to put down my throat--after the procedure is over?”
He laughed. “We go to great lengths to keep the patients from seeing the tube ahead of the test, but no one has ever asked to see it afterwards. I think we can arrange that.”
The social graces out of the way, Jeremy attached a line to the needle in my hand and began to pump me up with drugs to put me to sleep, and Dr. M____ placed something in my mouth to keep my jaws open with a hole in the middle through which they could thread the tube that...
I awoke with a start, having no consciousness of the passage of time. Diane gave me a glass of water and said I had done very well and that I had woken up pretty quickly. After a while Ben came in to show me the tube and how much of it they had forced down my gullet. Impressive!
After some more waiting, another orderly came and wheeled me into a room where my clothes were waiting. I dressed quickly. A nurse came in and asked if I had someone to take me home. I told her that Mr. Lee's number should be on my paperwork somewhere. She found the number, dialed it, handed the receiver to me, and left the room. Getting Mr. Lee's voicemail, I told him I was ready to be collected. It was now about 1:15 PM.
As I walked out of the room, the nurse spied me and asked if I had reached my friend.
“Yes,” I lied, “he's on his way.” I got in an elevator, collected my cell phone and other personal effects, and went outside to get my ride. I guess I should put a disclaimer here. I recover very quickly from general anesthesia, but not everyone does. It is probably best to have someone see to it that you get home safely.
The next day I heard from Dr. M____. The test showed that he was right all along; I do have a severe leak. He referred me to a surgeon.
This Wednesday, July 2, I go to see the the surgeon. He will decide whether an operation is required. But really, when have you ever heard of a surgeon turning down an opportunity to cut?