Rituals of the Medical Kind

Spring                                                                               New Shoulder Moon

No Kate in the bed last night. Kep was there, though. Medical procedures upend regular life in so many ways. Kate had to stop most of her meds, use special cleansing soaps, sleep on clean sheets (yes, that was a requirement), stop eating. Then we have to leave our home, drive in to the hospital early, always early. Once there the ritual of checking in and paying, followed by pre-op disrobement, placing of iv’s, lots of conversation about medical history, warm blankets, lying in hospital bed on your back connected to various machines with many different numbers: O2, blood pressure, heart rate among others.

This is a gradual relinquishing of control that culminates in anesthesia and allowing someone, paying someone, to violate one of the most persistent taboos in our culture, the literal integrity of your body should not be disturbed by another. The surgeon cuts into the skin, goes inside where we never see, into the most private and intimate of spaces. And, in this case, takes out bone and cartilage, sets aside nerves, and installs titanium in a location known before only to flesh and blood.

Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic) Thomas Eakins

Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic) Thomas Eakins

The process begins to reverse in the recovery room as questions about nausea and pain depend on your answers for treatment. Modest control returning. Once in your room you begin to eat again, determine your pain medications, walk, use the bathroom. Finally, if no complications arise, the wheel chair ride to transportation home. Even at home the post-op plan governs a lot of your life. How much and how long of course depends on the procedure. Not sure quite what this looks like in Kate’s case yet, we’ll learn that today.

We agree to all this because we trust, more or less, the institution of medical care and the people who make it work. Of, if we don’t exactly trust, then we realize our options are few if we want the painful right shoulder to stop hurting, become useful again.


As a physician and a former nurse anesthetist, Kate knows the parts of surgery usually invisible to a patient due to anesthesia. This is, as the Bible says, a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in that there are fewer unknowns to give anxiety, but a curse in that surgery does not always go well and she knows that from personal experience.

I look forward to picking her up today, bringing her home and helping her through recovery. As Schneider’s interviewee said, then she can live on and give on.