I’m just here to complain a little.
During the strip-down, put on the silly gown, answer the same fifty questions fifty times, “it’s my left breast you’re removing, nothing else, but thanks” process of being admitted for surgery, the pre-op nurse caught me, red-handed in the midst of mortal sin.
“Are you chewing gum?” she demanded, horrified.
I chew gum quite a lot these days. Between menopausal dry mouth and chemo weirdness, it’s the only way my mouth can tolerate its own existence. Throw in some pre-op anxiety, and my oral orifice becomes a non-functional, sticky-dry cave that tastes like it’s full of bat guano. Nice.
Feeling like a guilty schoolgirl, I came clean. “It’s the only way I’m able to talk,” I explained.
“SPIT IT OUT,” she ordered, actually holding a tissue under my mouth. I spit. “And tell your anesthesiologist. If you don’t, I will.”
Now, this is a little ridiculous. The theory is that chewing gum stimulates the production of gastric secretions, which belong nowhere except the inside the stomach. Let a few dribbles of stomach acid disregard the rules and roadmap, and wander into the lungs, there’s bound to be trouble. But this is taking things a bit too far. In the whole airway protection way of thinking, a couple of hours of chewing gum is not comparable to wolfing down three cheeseburgers and chasing them with a bucket of beer.
In my career as a flight nurse I have managed the airway of lots of individuals whose plan for their day included, “I’m going to get really, really hurt pretty soon; I think I’ll eat a lot and get drunk.” Inserting a tracheal tube to help these guys breathe is like battling the slime monster. Stick a laryngoscope down their gullet to have a look and you better have a wet-vac in the other hand, because here comes the tsunami of used Big Macs and Budweiser.
Chewing gum for a few hours is not an evening of burgers and beer.
Now chastened and sans gum, I fessed up to the anesthesiologist, who looked like a hypbrid of my high school math teacher and Santa Claus. “Ho, ho, that’s alright,” he declared. “I’ll just put a little tube in your throat and everything will be okey dokey.”
So I got intubated for a simple, hour-long procedure. And when I woke up, I discovered math teacher/Santa had dinged my lip in two places during the intubation. To his credit, he called my cell phone a couple of weeks later and apologized for the lip-dings. Thanks.
And next time, I may still chew gum, but I’ll spit it out before anybody catches me at it. Oh, and you know what else? On general anesthesia days, I always drink a cup of black coffee early in the morning, at least four or five hours before showtime, and then I lie like a rug to the nurse and anesthesiologist.
I mean, come on.