There is a lot of talk in the news these days about privilege. Checking one’s cultural privilege, protecting the president’s legal privilege — it’s all important, above-the-fold stuff. But one critical privilege gets less press coverage, and that is most unfortunate.
For this privilege matters to the vast majority of middle-aged men and women in America. As our bodies break down, we increasingly find ourselves under anesthesia. Specifically, we find ourselves saying crazy things under anesthesia. Or so we are told in the surgical recovery room.
On behalf of those with active imaginations everywhere, let me go on the record: The protections afforded “bizarre things I said under anesthesia” had better be on par with Fort Knox.
I was reminded of this peril by a friend who had recently come out of a surgical procedure. The nurses wouldn’t tell him exactly what he said while under the influence, but from the way they looked at him he was pretty sure they weren’t sonnets.
His recounting reminded me of one of my own experiences under anesthesia, made worse than my friend’s by one distinguishing fact. My father-in-law, himself a surgeon, was present during the procedure.
It was November 1998 and I was having hernia surgery. I had let it go too long without repair. This was because like many Irish-Catholics, I was raised in a house where if the bone wasn’t sticking out and the aspirin or Ace Bandage in the medicine cabinet wasn’t enough, prayer was your best bet.
Letting Doc (as I called my father-in-law) scrub in was nothing short of lunacy, for three main reasons. First, hernia repair wasn’t his specialty. Sure, he was a doctor with hospital privileges – there’s the word again – and just checking on me, not performing the procedure. But he was in the room when Dr. Feelgood booked my passage to Crazytown, so he heard everything.
Second, at the time of surgery, I hadn’t even been married to his daughter for six months. As George Bernard Shaw said, youth is wasted on the young, and what I naively didn’t see then I clearly see now. In Doc’s eyes, I was still trying out for varsity.
Third, while I fancied myself quite the catch, as a father of daughters I can definitively say that no suitor is good enough for your angel. So I had nothing to gain and everything to lose in the arrangement.
Thankfully, the surgery was a success, but my recovery was another story. As I regained consciousness I noticed that multiple nurses were in the room, each expectant and, in one case, downright giggly. Sometimes laughter is the best medicine, but I don’t think that was at work here. The giggly one spoke first.
“You said some crazy things under anesthesia,” she said in a delightful southern drawl. I smiled nervously as I shook off the cobwebs.
“Crazy how?” I pressed. “Crazy funny, or crazy weird?”
“You know, just ... crazy.” That’s all she offered. By not answering my question directly, she had answered it directly.
I’ll say this for Doc. Whatever twisted things he heard me say, he took them with him to the grave. God willing, I’ll see him again someday. And if he wants to take a swing at me then, I’ll let him.