Is there a bright side to surgery?
MANILA, Philippines -- For the second time in my short life, i have to undergo surgery. Thinking about it depresses me greatly. So to pump my optimism, I'm trying to figure out if there is a bright side to surgery.
My doctor calls the procedure a "radical neck dissection." They'll be making a cut starting from below my left ear and curving down to the base of my neck then back up to the other ear. Then they'll lift the skin off my neck and remove any bad lymph nodes they come across.
It has occurred to me that the procedure would make me look like a biology class experiment. I would be like the poor unsuspecting frog we plucked out from his happy corner of the marsh back in high school for the education of future doctors and surgeons. That experiment was an eye-opener for me. It convinced me once and for all that I could never be a surgeon. (I wonder now how my surgeon did with his frog. I pray he did well.)
To cheer me up, I try to convince myself that the procedure would be simple and straightforward. But when I first talked to my surgeon, he said it would actually take twice as long (about four hours) and be more extensive than my first surgery. The word that caught my attention was "extensive." Until then, I didn't know how an ordinary word could sound so scary. Four hours is a long time! And the chances of things getting screwed up I don't even want to contemplate.
After going back to my surgeon for a final talk before surgery, I received a real shock about the risks involved. I had heard that one side effect would be that the skin around my neck will lose sensation -- maybe for the rest of my life. When I asked him if this was true, he said that was "part and parcel" of the risks because some nerves will be severed when they lift the skin off my neck.
That was already bad, but when I asked if there were any other risks, he said that there was also the possibility -- though uncommon -- that the nerve that allows me to move my shoulders would also be severed. So what am I getting into? If numbness was bad, this is a lot worse.
Am I scared? No, I'm not scared. Terrified? No, not terrified. "Terrified" only half describes how I feel. (Maybe, terrified times two?)
But what options do I have? There are only two right now: (1) go through with the surgery and accept the risks, or (2) drop the whole thing and face the possibility of getting more seriously ill.
My mother has been urging me to take "herbal" supplements in the hope that it would cure my ailment. But let's face it, we really can't put our faith on such stuff, especially when their manufacturers claim they can cure all deadly diseases known to man. That is a lot of bull, and to me that makes their products no better than money-making schemes cleverly designed to give us hope and take us for a ride -- straight to perdition. To put one's trust completely on such things is to gamble with one's health. And since I am not a gambler, it has to be surgery then.
Then I asked my surgeon if any other possible complications could arise. He gave me a curious smile, and said no.
I had the sinking feeling that he was hiding something. Maybe he just didn't think it wise to tell me lest I get too much worried and call off the operation. Or was I just being paranoid?
As I sat there listening to my surgeon explain things, I wasn't even sure if I was hearing everything correctly. Part of me wanted to shout, to curse the world and to break everything in the clinic. Another part was slowly tugging me to a more passive yet curious state. I wondered what it would be like to shave with the numbness on my neck. (No more sting after putting on after shave lotion! Yehey!) How would I carry my backpack if I no longer have full control of my shoulders? Would it affect my basketball or ping-pong? It's a defense mechanism, I think, a mental anaesthetic to numb our feelings lest the pain cause us to lose our sanity.
Times like this make me evaluate the status of my faith, or can I really call it faith? I'm not even sure if I actually believe in what I say, how much more in the Object of my faith. So now that my circumstances call for me to re-ignite my faith, I'm not even sure if it is the right thing to do.
My motivations are suspect. Is it right to believe for the sake of my own sanity instead of believing purely for the sake of believing? Is it right to believe because it feels good to believe instead of believing because you are convinced of its truth? Is it right to believe simply because you fear the possible consequences of not believing, especially going to hell?
That's what makes faith such a tricky thing. The Bible defines faith as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." This definition has an element of irrationality. You can believe (or say you believe) in something and either be considered a saint (if they agree with you) or a lunatic (if they disagree with you). Hmmm ... saints and lunatics, they could be the same really.
I've successfully kept the surgery a secret for some time now. Only a few people know of it. After hearing that I am taking a two-week leave of absence, my officemates have been asking what I am planning to do. Speculations range from the benign ("You're going on vacation? Bring us 'pasalubong' ha!") to the imprudent ("You're resigning? When's the 'despedida'?") and the ridiculous if highly imaginative ("You're getting married? Where will you be spending your honeymoon?"). Truly, man's imagination knows no bounds.
Upon hearing the truth, the inevitable question is bound to be, why? But I hate answering all the questions, which usually leads to even more questions, and so on and so forth. That would make me feel some more like some specimen placed under a microscope for analysis.
And there's always the chance that people will look at me differently, like I'm some freak show. The scar on my neck could define who I am for them.
But now that I think about it, what's the use keeping the operation secret? Assuming I come out of it alive, people will eventually notice the scar. I can't hide it forever, and I can't hide from it forever.
That's why, amid the depression, fear, paranoia, doubt and confusion, I need to find out if there really is a bright side to surgery, the proverbial silver lining in every cloud. Or if there is even a higher purpose to all this, real or imagined. I need to find a way to get through it intact. But up to now, I'm still trying to figure it out.
Kenneth Raymond G. Diaz, 24, is a software developer for an IT company in Cebu City.
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