Gyro's Excellent Hernia Adventure!

On December 22, 1998, I went to the University of Washington medical center in Seattle for a hernia operation. This allowed me to avoid the stress of the pre-Christmas shopping rush by giving me a perfect excuse to do nothing more than lolligag around on the couch, read some P.G. Wodehouse, watch some teevee, and generally veg out. Having taken a camera along for some dental work at Greenlake Family Dentistry with excellent results, I decided to try it again and see what I could get away with.

It takes a confident sawbones to let a doped-up geek with a web server and a digital camera into the operating room in this day and age, and with a little cajoling from Dr. Andrew Smith, Dr. Mika Sinanan went for it! Woohoo! It was all pretty interesting to me, and I walked out of there (with a little help from Shirley Nelson, a post-op nurse) about 2 hours after Dr. Visha Kapoor had sewn me up. The operation was performed under local anesthetic, but the anesthesiologist had me nodding off through most of it, probably because they were getting tired of all my inane questions. Dr. Smith also took most of the pictures seen here (thanks Andrew - you ROCK!) and Karen and Tracy, the scrub and circulation nurses, took a few as well. I had such a rollicking good time that I can't wait to get another hernia, and now I jump with squeals of anticipation whenever an opportunity to do some really heavy lifting presents itself.

These pics are in chronological order. I'm medically illiterate and have no idea what's going on in them, but I won't let that stop me from captioning every one with a detailed explanation. I put this page together 10 days after the surgery, and after 6 weeks was back to deadlifting old water heaters.

March 29, 1999
July 7, 1999

A triage nurse with blood pressure cuff in hand.
I haven't eaten for 11 hours, so a glucose drip is a much welcome lunch. Ahh! Nummy!
13:11 - Dr. Mika Sinanan shaves the, um, area of interest while I laugh and play with the O2 sensor clipped onto my finger.
50 ccs of lidocaine local anesthetic. Yup, I was wide awake for this! It looked like it took a LOT of force to inject all this stuff, but nope, it didn't hurt. Ahh! Numby!
Tracy swabs the area with antiseptic before the drape and the initial incision.
Dr. Sinanan makes the initial incision while Karen preps some instruments and Dr. Andrew Smith adjusts my level of consciousness. I was pretty much out of it at this point.
Dr. Sinanan uses a "Bovie", a device like a pencil soldering iron, to cauterize bleeders.
13:34 - Not sure what the index finger is pulling up, but it could be the peritoneal sac that was my hernia. Check out the spreaders in the lower right holding the incision open.
Dr. Kapoor appears to be holding on to four instruments simultaneously while Dr. Sinanan pokes me with his finger and tries to shake Karen's hand.
An interesting shot - I think Dr. Sinanan is holding up the now-empty peritoneal sac (the part that squooshed down my inguinal canal) and preparing to cut it off at the base with the Bovie.
What is Dr. Kapoor holding up with the clamp in his left hand?
Equipment racks! Heart rate and oxygen level monitors, oscilloscopes, Pong and Asteroids... Now we're talkin'!
Is this a National Geographic shot or what?
What is that loop that Dr. Kapoor is holding out?
Dr. Kapoor sews me up and applies some steri-strips.
Dr. Sinanan tries to get a large pepperoni with mushrooms and black olives delivered to OR1...
14:16 - Dr. Smith wakes me up. "Duh, what? Was that about 20 minutes?" I ask. People must say the dumbest things when they wake up.
Thanks, Tracy and Karen!
Thanks, Dr. Sinanan and Dr. Smith! Thanks also to Dr. Kapoor, who ran out before we could get a pic of him.
Healing fast... 49 hours after surgery and 7 days after surgery.

"So what the heck is a hernia anyway?" you ask... Welp, hernias come in a variety of flavors, but the basic idea is that some of your guts have managed to weasel their way out of your abdominal cavity. It's not like that classic scene in Alien - it all stays under the skin, but a good-sized lump can appear.

In guys, a common way out is through the inguinal canal, which are the little holes about 6 inches below and to either side of the belly button that the vas deferens and some nerves and blood vessels go through. It doesn't matter how many sit-ups you do or how gnarly your washboard abdomen is - if your genes have set your inguinal canal up for it, the saran-wrap-like coating wrapped around your intestines can bulge out through the opening and start working its way down toward your scrotum. It doesn't really hurt, but your brainstem starts yelling at you that lifting and running are not a good idea. By lying down and taking the pressure off, you can usually suck it back into the abdominal cavity where it belongs. If you can't, then it could be a bit more serious because if a loop of intestine gets strangled in the opening, it can suffer a loss of blood flow and die. That would be very bad. If it's the kind of hernia that can be held in mechanically with a truss, or something like, oh, say a Microsoft mouse and some duct tape (I couldn't find a stupid truss, awright?) then they can be lived with for quite some time. In 3rd world countries and here in America, home of the Health Insurance Industry, people do live with them for quite some time.

If you're going in to get one of these fixed, take heart - it's not that bad. The recovery is the toughest part, and you should expect to take it pretty easy for a couple weeks afterwards. Be sure to follow the pre-surgery instructions. Shower with the nuclear soap that they give you, dry with a clean towel, sleep in clean sheets, wear clean clothes to the hospital, etc. Immediately after the surgery, I felt as if I could run around the block. 3 hours later, the local wore off and I had a tough time swinging my legs off the couch and standing up on my own. Definitely have someone around to help you out for at least 2 days after the surgery. Without my sweetie around to help me out, I'd have been thoroughly up a creek. A little shock had set in, and for about 40 hours after the operation, I could stand up and shuffle to the bathroom to take a pee, but started to feel very faint after about 60 seconds on my feet. The evening of the 2nd day I felt much stronger and there was no chance of fainting during a shower. I took percocets for pain, but they caused my intestines to stop squooshing stuff through, so I couldn't poop very well at all. Along with the percocets, I was given stool softeners. Drink water, and lots of it. Don't stop drinking the water, or you'll regret it. I wound up backing off on the pain pills and drinking a cup of senna tea (it had a fairly violent effect on my guts) to get things moving again. Dependant edema, where the surrounding tissues swell up and turn purple, was a little scary but not painful, and I understand, quite common. Your wanger and scrotum will look totally horrifying. Watch teevee instead, and thank me for not putting pictures up here. Do be on the lookout for redness or fever or any other signs of infection. I had zero problems with it, but if there're any hassles, infection is a high-probability candidate. Also, do not catch a cold, and send anyone with a cold away from you. Coughing or sneezing can be excruciating, and laughing is no picnic either. After about 7 days I was back to work (I sit in front of a computer, so you carpenters and bricklayers, plan on taking a LOT longer than that off) and found that a jockstrap made getting around a lot more comfortable. For that matter, it even made sleeping more comfortable. Good luck!

Here are some links to a couple interesting things going on at the UW Surgical Center...