2-23 Surgery Outcomes and Summary

I went into surgery on Monday afternoon. I tried very hard to convince them that I didn’t need a general anesthetic. I don’t like general anesthesia and I know it really knocks me out. Combine that with not having anyone in country to take care of me, I was a bit nervous about being put under.

They explained to me that because they were potentially working directly with the nerves, a nerve block might not work and that would be bad. Basically, if I felt something I could twitch and make them slip and that would be Bad.
I went to sleep

Three hours later, I woke up speaking Bislama. The nurse was a little confused. I’m just impressed with myself. I’ve managed to internalize Bislama to the point that I woke up in unfamiliar circumstances and immediately asked where I was in Bislama. Go me.
Once my brain worked enough to start asking questions, I did. The story as I understand it goes something like this.

They opened up the incision in my wrist to get access to the nerves. Once in there, they found the nerves fully intact. The surgeon cleaned it out really well and stitched it shut then wrapped it up in a lot of bandages.

I still don’t have feeling in my thumb. There are two explanations and no way of knowing which one is true. Explanation A) I damaged the skin nerves. They are too small to be repaired but will hopefully regrow on their own eventually. The problem with this explanation is the way the numbness maps to the nervous system and that it is such a large area. I’d have to have damaged/severed several skin nerves to take out that much of my thumb. Explanation B) I contused (bruised) the superficial radial nerve. It is now swollen and not letting the signals go through. I should get feeling back in a few months when the swelling goes down. The problem with this is that the surgeon didn’t seem to think I’d managed to hit it, at all.

Under either explanation, I will eventually get sensation back in my thumb. This is a good thing. I’d like to be able to feel my thumb.

Now, my hand hurts more than it did. I haven’t actually seen the incision. I know it is a lot bigger but I was told to keep it wrapped until the stitches come out in ten days. I’m not convinced with will happen because I know I’ll be sweating in Vila and that will make the bandages unsanitary. We’ll see what the Peace Corps Medical Officers have to say about it. I also want to know how many stitches I got. I’ve got a record to update…

All in all, this has been a pretty awful trip. I don’t like being cooped up inside. I don’t like waiting. I don’t like surgery. I spent most of it hungry and all of it lonely. It has been really hard to be on my own in a medical system I don’t know and to be without resources outside of myself to draw on. For instance, knowing that I couldn’t get checked out of the hotel unless I could get out of the ER but that getting out of the ER would mean I would have to officially refused care meant that I would then have to sit through the wait again to be seen. If I’d had someone available, I could have had them check me out and run errands while I waited. Not having an advocate at the hospital was hard, too. I had to both think about my own care and what I would tell me if I were not the patient. I had to run the line between being a pushy pain in the ass as my own advocate while being the patient that the nurses had to take care of. It was not fun.

I am now on my way back to Vila. I will write more about my one free afternoon in Brisbane after I fill out my immigration card.

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