Definitely worth staying awake for

Surgery is too exciting for general anaesthesia: half way through an op eration on her ankle, Rosemary Graham forgot her queasiness and was craning her neck for a better view I wanted to look over the screen but had to lie still

Rosemary Graham
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:53

You know how it is: you're walking along, enjoying the sunshine, with not a care in the world, when snap, wobble and crack - you've broken a leg.

More precisely: in my case, I was making my way down a steep, sandy path, when I trod on a pebble and my ankle went from under me.

A few hours later I found myself prone on a hospital bed. I was told I had broken the left fibula, the long narrow bone running down the outside of the leg, just above the ankle. I needed surgery to realign the bones, which would be screwed into place bya metal plate.

The anaesthetist, who was charming and sympathetic, told me I would be taken to theatre that evening. "What do you think of having spinal anaesthesia?" she inquired gently. An anaesthetic would be injected into my spinal canal, paralysing my lower torso and legs and enabling me to remain conscious, she explained. The idea of staying awake made me feel distinctly queasy.

"For me? No, thank you, I would rather have a general."

But in the nicest possible way, I was persuaded otherwise. There did seem to be advantages. The anaesthetist - her name was Teresa - would chat to me throughout the operation and would have a "general" handy should I change my mind (I liked that); the anaesthetic would wear off slowly, so I would feel no pain through the night and would not need any further drugs (I definitely liked that); and I would be able to eat as soon as I returned to the ward (yes, please).

That evening, Rob, the nurse - first names for everyone were de rigueur - came to fetch me, now attired in an operating gown (but no silly hat - only the staff wore those) and it was all systems go.

I was wheeled straight into theatre, with Teresa unobtrusively appearing at my elbow as we entered. Chris, the surgeon, Peter, the registrar, and two nurses awaited us. It all seemed rather jolly.

I was gently lifted on to the table, where I sat up, shook hands with Chris and renewed my acquaintance with Peter. Then I lay down and decided to let things happen. A drip - "to make you a little drowsy" - was inserted painlessly into the back of my left hand. I was then asked to sit up and curve over my knee. Another needle was inserted between the lower vertebrae - again, I felt no pain - and I was asked to lie down again by the ever-encouraging Teresa.

While Teresa explained that my feet and legs would begin to feel warm, a green screen was fitted over my abdomen, shielding both of us from the working end.

It was then that I noticed that Rob was supporting a foot on his shoulder, a foot attached to a leg - my leg. Apparently they were putting on a tourniquet to help control the blood flow. It looked quite absurd from where I was lying: my leg, apparently detached from my body, upside down on a young man's chest.

Teresa asked if I was all right. All right? I was having a ball. All thoughts of general anaesthesia had vanished. This was much more fun. My legs, by now hidden behind the screen and attended to by five people, felt as if they were comfortably folded under me (they weren't). Teresa and I chatted quietly. It had been decided earlier that the break, just above the ankle, left fibula, would be set, then secured by a plate screwed into place.

I felt nothing at all as Rob made an incision about six inches long just above the ankle, to expose the break. I was still chatting as the bone was realigned and the plate screwed into place: the sound of the drill making holes in the bone was intriguingrather than disturbing. Ever attentive, Rob and Peter kept me informed of progress: "Plate's on, now ... just about to stitch you up.'' Fascinated, I wanted to look over the screen but had to lie still.

After the stitches - I needed nine - a drain was inserted and dressings applied. They put on a half-plaster to hold my leg in place, and then it was back to a very comfortable bed.

Two minutes later, I was drinking hot tea and devouring sandwiches. It was just after 11pm, only two hours since I had been wheeled into theatre. I felt as if I'd been to a party - and I did have a wonderful night's sleep.

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