I was not really ready for emergency surgery. And he did not need one anyway.
“I shall fill up the insurance paperwork and will then book you for surgery in a week or so”, I assured him at the end of history and physical examination.
“Can I have the surgery tomorrow?” he wondered.
Just as he did when I explained that it would take the paperwork at least a week. Hence why I was giving him a theatre booking in two weeks.
“The diocese will take care of it”, he declared matter-of-factly.
Meet Fr X.
He had come to clinic around midmorning and had been patiently queuing outside with the rest.
I had seen him at around lunch hour. My sugar levels had dipped and with them they had carried the attention, leaving behind a heightened sense of impatience. Under these circumstances, nitty gritties like self-introduction are jettisoned as my mind keeps shouting “this last patient then I take a lunch break”.
I have realized that this is the watershed moment of my clinic room consultations. I find that as I take my lunch or coffee, I keep remembering how I could have spent an extra second listening, an extra minute explaining, an extra moment showing empathy to that last client.
I filled the insurance forms anyway and told him that I would be more than happy to repair his hernia as soon as he was ready.
And ready he was, sooner than I had anticipated.
When I passed through the theatre that evening to check the list of scheduled patients for the following day, his name was there.
The diocese had taken care of it real quick!
The morning of surgery came, and I showed up early as usual.
Early Morning Surgery
I changed from my khaki blue pants, checked shirt and maroon sweater and strolled through the theatre corridor. I carried a book in one hand and my coffee mug in the other. It would be another 20 minutes before everyone would be ready, assuming there was no emergency. I have always appropriated those minutes to a great length by reading a book. It helps keep me occupied and protects me from my impatient self.
“Cometh the day cometh the hour,” I announced as I met Fr X at the receiving area.
He was cool, calm and collected. No qualms. No repeated questions.
He followed our directions. Turn here. Step here. Lie here. Put your hands here. We are now checking your blood pressure. All the motions before the surgery he bore with the same calmness.
The door swung as the trolley with the operating buddle of linen and equipment was pushed in. Then it swung as the anaesthetist stormed out to get the correct sizes of the breathing tubes. The adjacent one swung inward as the scrub nurse came in, hands in the praying position, having scrubbed and ready to slide into the sterile gown and gloves.
The cardiac monitor bleeped from the left side of the room while the anaesthesia assistant ensured the oxygen piping was properly hooked to the gas cylinder. The aircon had just been humming for a few minutes, making the chilly morning less hostile.
We were done with “cockpit checklist” before putting him to sleep. He then sat up and suggested that he prays for us before we start. We all welcomed this gesture.
Silence descended. Only the cardiac monitor bleeping went unchecked.
I do not know whether his prayer was spontaneous or a recital from one of the many customized catholic prayers. His command and brevity bore the hallmarks of seasoned intercessor.
“We make our prayer through Christ Our Lord.”
We were done with induction of anaesthesia as soon as we were done praying. We did not have any difficulties pushing the breathing tube down his throat.
And the surgery was over in an hour’s time, as had been projected during our time-out session.
He could eat as soon as he was fully awake, I advised in my post-operative orders.
He is okay to be discharged
The next morning, I passed by his room in the hospital’s private wing. He was up and about and had cleaned up. The dressing covering his surgical site was clean and dry. He could walk and he could go home later that day. I only reminded him to be cautious not to lift heavy weights for a couple of months.
Midway through my ward rounds, while engaged in another wing of the hospital, I got a phone call.
He was preparing to go home. Staff were apprehensive that it was too early.
“Let him go. I already saw him earlier this morning”, I concurred.
“He will be okay, do not worry”, I was now trying to convince a colleague who called minutes later.
It so happens that Fr X was headed to chair a school board meeting. A driver was at hand. And he carried his pain medication. The dressing would be removed in another day or two from the nearest health facility.
Confession before Wedding
Years later. Saturday morning. Hundreds of kilometres from the hospital. The weather is clear though the forecast warns of afternoon showers. I am already at the venue. It is my wedding day.
Most of the groomsmen have arrived.
As I say my “nice to see you”s and “looking sharp”s, I run into a catholic priest. He is strolling the pathway from the main church towards the priests’ residence. His pot belly holds the stole as he strokes it with his right palm.
“Huyu ndiye bwana harusi?” he chuckles upon setting his eyes on me.
From his unmistakable voice I can sense a de javu. We both take off our masks (yes, corona has already introduced a new normal).
You can pick the “Eureka!” expressions from our faces.
After another eternity of waiting, it is time to start. The program indicates that Fr X will be in charge of confession. It is customary practice for a Catholic to receive the sacrament of confession before a wedding.
This time round we both sit in plastic chairs two meters apart. There is no bleeping cardiac monitor or the buzz of nurses setting up a buddle of surgical instruments. There are no doors swinging open to accommodate the anaesthetist with a tube, or the scrub nurse ready to slide into gowns and gloves. The room is warm but misses the humming of an aircon. There are only two souls engulfed in an eerie silence behind a closed door. He is in a cream cassock and his stole now hangs free from his neck without resting on his pot belly. He leads and I follow. He speaks softly, having heard me. We are done quickly. And I step out, my hands in the supplication position, heading to a serene corner of the church. To complete the remaining session of my private prayers.
When I resumed duties after a brief honeymoon, I had a 4-year-old boy booked for repeat surgery.
He had been born with undescended testicles. Nine months earlier a colleague had performed the initial surgery. The plan being to free the testicles from high up in the groin and create a new abode for them in the scrotum. There they would be safe from trauma. There they would be shielded from sudden changes in temperature that can be inimical to their crucial work of producing sperms and perpetuating a generation.
When my colleague got underway, he realised that he couldn’t bring all the testicles home as yet. He had to tether the left one somewhere lower in the groin for a second attempt months later.
When I had seen the boy, I had ordered a scan to ensure that the testicle was of good size and did still have good blood flow. The results came back in the affirmative.
And now we were here for that second bite at the cherry.
I noticed that as soon as he got to Theatre, most of the nursing and anaesthesia staff knew him.
“This is the prayerful boy,” they said.
When he got to the Operating table, he pulled out an A4 foolscap with a page full of handwritten prose.
Learning from history, the nurses paused from their pulling of trolleys and stocking up of consumables. The anaesthetist put aside her tube and turned off the gases. I stood next to the theatre table, on the right side.
Our patient began to pray, reading from his foolscap. For his age he had a great command of the English language. He prayed for himself and his family. Then for the team of doctors and for the surgery ahead. His tone was constant and his voice audibly clear.
“Amen” came at the end.
Then he lay on his back as he handed me over the leaflet. I could glean the original prayer in good calligraphy. Then there were a few corrections. A crossed word replaced with the appropriate one, a letter inserted here and there to ensure proper spelling, a tense adjusted from present to past and vice versa. But the original version carried the bulk of the message.
I did manage to bring down the testicle to the scrotum and tether it there. And he went home after two days. There was no prayer session during his clinic review in two weeks.