The middle-aged nurse came in shortly before 3pm with an electric razor. I dropped my pajama pants and the artist went to work, removing all evidence of puberty below the waist. This was a necessary precaution, she explained, as bacteria can easily stick to hair follicles, leading to an infection. Plus, they would need to tape my entire groin area after the procedure, which would cause a lot less pain and friction if taped to a smooth, hairless surface. Still, it was much better than my last operation, where the nurses shaved me from my neck to my knees.
The following day, a Thursday, I was scheduled for an early morning procedure to stop the bleeding in my lungs. Around 8:45 in the morning, the pre-op preparations commenced. The on-duty nurse entered my room with a variety of instruments, one of which she referred to as a “balloon”. Upon closer inquiry, I realized to my utter shock and horror that she was about to insert a Foley catheter into my manhood. I tried to reason with her, even convincing her I could hold my urine for the entire duration of the operation. As the tube came closer, I braced my body for impact. Kanako looked on with horror as screams of suffering echoed throughout the room. The tube seemed to be several kilometers in length. I felt as if I was being belated on a multi-pitch climb: the catheter inched its way into my bladder in agonizing stages. By the time the tube came to a complete halt, my cheeks were filled with tears and I truly thought my baby-making days were ruined forever.
Next came the IV in the right arm, which was a piece of cake compared to the tube dangling below me. At 9:20am three of the strongest nurses invaded the room, picked me up, and put me on the gurney for transport to the operating room. Dr. Ishikawa greeted me with ease and started the preparations for the surgical task. The room itself was set up a bit like a recording studio. On the far side of the space there was a rectangular glass window that ran the length of the room. Behind this partition, two doctors looked on and gave instructions to my surgeon. Kanako was also allowed to set in mission control and overlook the proceedings. To my immediate right was a small computer screen where I could watch the procedure live. After some local anaesthesia in my right thigh, Ishikawa made a small incision and inserted a tube into my right femoral artery. Inside this tube, he inserted a series of smaller catheters that ran up towards my bronchial artery. From here, the current of the blood took them to smaller vessels aligning my left lung. Here, the master technician inserted tiny platinum coils to cut off circulation to the damaged blood vessels that were causing the bleeding. The operation is known as a Bronchial Artery Embolization (BAE), and Dr. Ishikawa is one of the world’s leading experts on the procedure. In fact, the Osaka-based doctor has designed and patented catheters bearing his name.
About 20 minutes into the operation, I felt a strong pain in my lower back. I desperately needed to stretch or at least change positions, but I wasn’t allowed to move. The nurses came over and slid some cold compresses in the small space between my muscles and the table, which helped alleviate some of the discomfort. The procedure itself didn’t hurt very much, except when they inserted the contrastive agent into the arteries surrounding my chest. Three hours after starting, the surgeon signaled the end of the operation, and I was carted back to my hospital room with stern instructions not to move for another 5 hours. The muscle pain in my lower back intensified, but there was absolutely nothing that could be done about it except to bide my time until 5:30pm. Lunch was served at my bedside, but I wasn’t allowed to sit up or even lift my head. Kanako spoon-fed me like a child as I struggled to chew my food without choking on it. Swallowing proved more cumbersome, as the food seemed to stop short of my stomach and gather at the bottom of my esophagus like a poorly-designed septic system. I gave up on food after a few mouthfuls and retreated to the comfort of my I-pod. Music was the only way to forget about the paralyzing pain shooting through my back muscles.
Around 5pm I gave up and secretly thrusted my arms beneath me, lifting up my body like a clumsy gymnast. I counted down the minutes as if waiting to open a birthday present at midnight, and at preciously 5:30pm, I rang the nurse call button and braced for the inevitable. “Oh, it’s 5:30 already”, she exclaimed, before grabbing the tube levitating between my legs. The removal of the bladder drainage mechanism wasn’t nearly as traumatic as the insertion: painful it was, but it was over in a instant. I slowly sat up, being careful not to pull a back muscle in the process. The back pain eased, and after 20 minutes of walking, gentle massaging, and slow stretching, I was pretty much back to my normal self. Dinner was served at 6pm, devoured at exactly 6:01pm, and I drifted off to sleep before the nurse could come back and remove the tray.
Two days later I was released from the hospital, where the real recovery began. Dr. Ishikawa reassured me that the chest pain would ease after about a week and he was right. What I didn’t know is how unbearable the pain would be at times, and the sharp jabs kept shifting. One day I would have agonizing pain the minute I laid on my back and exhaled, while the next day sitting up straight nearly had me in tears. My energy levels have slowly returned, but the 3km I lost in the hospital has not. I’m not coughing up any more blood, but the cough does remain at times. I think I am finally ready to embark on a short hike to test out my lung capacity and to begin rebuilding some of the muscle tone I have invariably lost after spending a month without exercise.