Last week, I wrote up my account of how I single-handedly ended up single-handed, which was no small feat in itself, as obviously, I only had the single hand to type it with. Now that the back-story is public knowledge, I thought that I should probably go ahead and fill in a few more of the follow-up details, as I’m sure you have just been DYING to get a detailed first-hand account of what it’s like having a 6 centimeter laceration on the back of your hand scrubbed clean with the medical equivalent of steel wool. I’ll do my best to do it justice, but it will be tricky. You know how it is: so much gore, so little time.
So, I left off my account with me getting back on the chopper, with my butchered left hand wrapped in bloody bandages. It’s a 45 minute flight from our location to our support center, and my initial shock was beginning to wear off (AKA: my hand was starting to realize what had happened to it, AKA: “ouch.”), so I struck up a conversation with Mike (our pilot) to help get my mind off of my bedraggled appendage. This only kind of worked, as we somehow ended up settling into a story about how Mike was once recruited to transport the 3-day old, burned remains of passengers from a crashed commercial airline flight in the back of his chopper (where I was now sitting).
“It took us a full day of flying to transport all the [cargo].” Mike informed me. “The worst part was that the bags we were moving the [cargo] in kept leaking all over the place! Man, I was gagging and choking the whole time! And it turned out that the cause of the crash was pilot error. They flipped a switch the wrong way and instantly blew both engines right off the plane! Crazy, isn’t it? One simple mistake and it was all over. It was a full flight, and only 3 people were able to walk away from it. It was really gross.” If there’s one thing you can say about Mike, he’s a gifted conversationalist: gruesome details about our fuselage AND a horrific aeronautical crash, all in one story.
When we finally landed, one of our NTM* doctors met me at the hangar and drove me back to our clinic, where a full staff was waiting, ready to try to fix me up. Seriously, I can’t say enough good about our medical team over here. Just about every medical complication that has come up for me over the past few months has occurred after regular office hours, and often on weekends, and our medical team has bent over backwards each time to make sure that I was taken care of. They even went the extra mile this time and lied to my face, reassuring me that I wasn’t being a big baby, and that lots of people ask to hold the nurse’s hand when they are getting a shot.
After they got me numbed up, they started poking around and informed me that my hand “looked like a small grenade had gone off inside of it.” I don’t remember a whole lot after that, because at about that point, they decided to up the ante on my anesthesia and gave me a good, hearty dose of ketamine. For those who have lived as tame a life as I have in regards to narcotics, let me just say that if there was ever a silver lining to a traumatic injury, then its name is ketamine.
Wikipedia says that, “[interactions with ketamine] often include profound distortions in or complete loss of bodily awareness, sensations of floating or falling, euphoria, and total loss of time perception. Users may experience worlds or dimensions that are indescribable, all the while being completely unaware of or having lost their individual identities or their sense of an extant and external world.” And to that, I say, “Right on.” That was, hands down, the best doctor’s visit I’ve ever had.
As I started coming out of my 4th dimensional play-space, and began once again entertaining the notion that maybe I did, in fact, have a body, and maybe that body might possibly be in our clinic, and its being there might have some remote connection to a distant memory I had about me cutting my hand in the jungle, I also started to get the vague idea that my body didn’t seem to be wearing any pants. I went through my jumbled memories a few times trying to decide if this made any sense, but finding no reasonable explanation for my “free bird” status, I asked the male nurse next to me to clarify my situation a little.
“Yah?” (Christian is German.)
“Am I not wearing pants?”
“Yah. Vee had to take zem off.”
“Oh… Hey, Christian?”
“Why did you take my pants off?”
“Vee had to put in a catheter.”
“Does that mean I can go pee right here in the bed?”
From what I understand, we had this same conversation about 8 times. Ketamine, though experientially extraordinary, is not what I would call an “intellectual stimulant.”
Following a brief post-op recovery, a friend of mine brought me over to his place for the evening, where I was able to slowly come out of my stupor. Our Doctors had told me that I’d need to be out on center for a minimum of 10 days, as they were concerned that they hadn’t been able to get all of the debris out of my wound,** so I called Mike and asked him to bring Rochelle and the boys out of the bush when he went in the next day to pick up our technicians.
The family made it out safely the next day, and then that evening I got a surprise call from our clinic’s secretary telling me that the doctors had heard back from a specialist they had emailed my X-rays off to, and they were going to have to open everything up again and try to extricate a few rogue pieces of shrapnel that had lodged themselves several centimeters further into my hand than the initial laceration went. And, as if that wasn’t demoralizing enough, I was also told that they had decided they were going to go in with only local anesthetic this time.
Like I mentioned earlier, I’m usually pretty supportive of our medical team, and I generally hold their judgments in pretty high esteem, but I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure I’m behind them with this whole general anesthesia deal. When they explained what the procedure was going to entail, they told me that I wouldn’t feel any pain, just pressure. I don’t mean to argue semantics, but having now come out on the other side of the experience, I think I might describe what I was and wasn’t feeling a little differently than the doctors did. Maybe something like, “You are probably going to FEEL like we are mutilating the insides of your hand with knives and forceps, but don’t worry, we are going to hold you down so you can’t run away.”
I will omit the more grizzly details of this second surgery for the sake of my more sensitive readers, but the general summary of the operation is that it was a partial success: the doctors were able to remove some of the embedded shrapnel, along with my entire sense of humor, but the rest of the debris was lodged too deeply for them to access with the limited means at their disposal. Just leaving the “foreign body” in my body wasn’t an option (believe me, I asked), because it was guaranteed to cause massive infection. That being the case, I was referred to the closest orthopedic surgeon available, in Cairns, Australia.
But I guess I’ll have to pick the rest of the story up in a later write-up, because this one has definitely already exceeded what is generally considered “acceptable blog post length.”***
*Though NTM-USA has recently changed its name to “Ethnos360,” NTM-PNG has chosen to keep its name unchanged. They both have good reasons for their decisions, and I’m fine either way, but it does make it a little weird. Technically, Rochelle and I are “Ethnos360 missionaries working under New Tribes Mission in Papua New Guinea.”
**They WERE able to confidently get out 100+ pieces though, so that was good.
***This is a semi-official determination based off of how much material an average Millennial can get through before they are overcome by the insatiable urge to stop reading and Tweet about something they recently ate. Numbers vary, but the general consensus is that they can usually get through about 3.5 sentences.