If you’re looking for science this week, you can skip this column.
As I threatened last week, I am resorting to talking about my
operation, not having been up to any more complicated subjects
during my recuperation. But first, it’s October and the perennial
appearance of the New York Yankees in the playoffs, if not the
World Series. In the Book Review section of the September 28
New York Times, Michael Shapiro reviews the book “Taking on
the Yankees” by Henry Fetter. I didn’t remember that the
Yankees were immigrants to New York, coming from Baltimore
after being sold in 1903 to a group of “well-connected” New
Yorkers. The Yankees were then called the Highlanders,
possibly because they were originally stationed in Washington
Heights in northern Manhattan. It wasn’t until 1913 that they
became the Yankees when they moved to the Polo Grounds, with
the New York Giants as their landlord. It took another decade
and the acquisition of Babe Ruth before Yankee Stadium was
opened and the Bronx Bombers were born.
Of course, you’re wondering what happened to the land where
the Yankees played in Washington Heights? It is now the site of
the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, one of the world’s
premier hospitals. As you might suspect if you read last week’s
column on the kidney, I found myself in that establishment on
September 19 at 6 AM for surgery to remove a tumor in my
kidney. We live about an hour from the hospital and had planned
to drive in from home that morning.
The day preceding the surgery was rather hectic. For one thing,
you may remember that, after my column on pinhole corrosion in
copper, we encountered that same problem in our roof’s copper
valley, resulting in water leaking into our bedroom. With Isabel
bearing down on us we actually found Ben, a roofer who, late
that afternoon with Isabel’s winds picking up and rain
threatening, clambered up on our roof and completely tarred the
copper valley. Thank you, Ben.
After Ben’s departure, our Lamb creator, Harry Trumbore, called
to say that our governor had declared a state of emergency and
suggested we leave immediately for a motel just this side of the
George Washington Bridge. (The hospital is right at the GW
Bridge exit on the other side.) My wife and I have never packed
so fast in our life and within about 90 minutes we were settled in
the Englewood Radisson. This proved a wise move as the next
morning there were trees and power lines down in our town
along our route.
This was my first major surgery and there were some surprises.
For example, as I was being prepped for the operation, I asked if
they might have to break a rib. The chief resident replied that,
actually, they might remove a rib so as to better get at the kidney
and minimize the size of the incision. Sure enough, I am now
minus one rib and about 20 percent of the kidney. The curving
incision seems to me to be over a foot long and I wonder how big
it would have been if I had kept the rib.
Another surprise was in the field of pain management. I had
expected to be absolutely miserable but for the whole day after
surgery, as I lay in bed I felt absolutely no pain whatsoever. The
awakening came when I had to get out of bed to sit in a chair.
That hurt! Nevertheless, I was amazed and pleased at the lack of
pain except when having to move around. In fact, I was
chastised by the nurses and doctors for not pushing my morphine
button. Never thought I would be bawled out for not using a
There’s a price to pay for the use of the pain-killing drugs. They
shut down the peristalsis that pushes food and waste along
through your intestines. This caused me to be denied food or
water for four days! One gets very thirsty. But I was really
surprised when the physical therapist took me for a walk and we
passed a scale in the hallway. On no food or water, I had gained
8 pounds! Apparently, this was due to accumulation of fluids
from liquids introduced intravenously.
I also had not anticipated that both my first meals and my release
from the hospital would be determined by the occurrence of a
normally socially frowned-upon event, the passing of gas. I
qualified for both meals and release on the fifth day of my
hospital stay. Another surprise came as I put my pants on to leave
and I couldn’t close them. My belt wouldn’t even meet around
my so-called waist. This situation prevails even today and my
wife has found an old pair of pants with elastic. I now fit right in
with the younger, low-slung fashion scene.
I got some good news yesterday. My tumor proved to be an
oncocytoma, which my surgeon’s nurse assured me was the best
possible news. There apparently is debate in medical circles as
to whether this type of tumor is cancerous or not. At any rate, it
seems that no chemo is required. Now I can worry about more
mundane things like will my waist reappear or will I have to buy
a whole new wardrobe? I can live with that.
Allen F. Bortrum