• Kelly Owens

'Told Ya So': An Excerpt from 'Vagus Nerve Girl'

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

This is an excerpt from my book that tells the story of the day of my surgery to implant Murph, my vagus nerve stimulator.

I was super nervous when I first met with the neurosurgeon for my VNS surgery. At the time, I had never had surgery, and the idea of someone cutting into me freaked me out — let alone cutting into my neck of all places.

We shook hands and sat down, and his very low-key, go-with-the-flow Dutch mentality put me somewhat at ease — but because I don’t shy away from saying, well, anything, at the end of our meeting after he had shown me the device and gone over the surgery, he asked if I had any questions. And oh, I did.

With a straight face and as serious as a heart attack, I said, “So, what’s the likelihood that you’re going to hit my carotid artery and kill me right on the operating table?” He smiled and chuckled a little and said, “Well, it hasn’t happened yet, so you would be the first.”

Sean and I both laughed, and the neurosurgeon smiled and told me not to worry about it and that it wouldn’t happen.

As my anxiety level would have it, two nights before surgery, I had a panic attack. I couldn’t help but go to the dark place of wonder. I was scared of irrational things happening — what if the surgeon really DID hit my carotid artery and I bled out? What if I don’t wake up from the anesthesia? What if I wake up during surgery? What if, what if, what if.

Sean understood my fear but told me that this guy had been doing his job for probably longer than I’ve been alive and not to go there. He told me that none of that would happen and promised that he would be the first person I saw when I woke up and that he would look at me and say “Told ya so.”

As Sean and I were waiting in the prep room prior to surgery, we saw this guy at the nurse’s station that had this really awesome vibe — his green cap (that they all have to wear) was tied into a bandana, and he had this vibe like he just knew his shit. Sean commented on how much he liked the guy’s style. Turns out, he was my anesthesiologist. He came over and introduced himself, along with his two younger interns, who were lovely — I could tell that they really loved their professor.

And boy was he pretty. He was like Michiel Huisman but with a surgical bandana. Sean laughed because he knew exactly why I was smiling. Hey, I’m married, not blind. The interns and bad-ass Michiel Huisman-in-scrubs did their best to make me laugh — which worked — and I was at ease.

I knew the time was coming quickly, so I asked if I had time to go to the bathroom real quick — they said yes, so I went to get up to use the bathroom. Sean was told to go into the waiting room, so it was time to say my “See ya laters” — as I wrapped my arms around him, Bandana guy ran over very quickly and stood behind me — I guess my ass was hanging out of my hospital gown (finally, a gown!) and he wanted to block me from being the eye candy of the other men in the prep ward. Bandana Guy said, “Although I am sure all of Holland would be pleased to see your bottom, I will drive you in the bed to the bathroom so that doesn’t happen. We don’t want to shock all of Holland with your rear.” Sean and I smiled and laughed, and off my honey went to the waiting room — and off I went, driven via bed, to the bathroom on our way to the O.R.

As he drove the bed, he asked me where I was from. I said New Jersey and he said, “Ah, the Garden State!”

After I went to the bathroom, we went into the OR. It was freezing — they covered me with a warm blanket and I joked that they all needed a coat, and Bandana Guy said they couldn’t agree more. They helped me move to the operating table. The whole time, Bandana Guy and Young Intern Guy focused on keeping me calm and laughing.

Bandana Guy said all that he knew about New Jersey was pop culture references, and I said, “So basically, Jersey Shore and The Sopranos?”

And he laughed, “yep!”

“Well yea, that pretty much sums it up.”

For anesthesia purposes, he said to me, “ok Kelly now I’m going to ask you a very hard question — we ask tough questions in here — what do you weigh?” And I told him, and he said, “well here, we do it in kilograms, so now you are officially the skinniest person in all of New Jersey.” I laughed and he said, “but from what I see with all the pizza places, that might not be difficult to beat!”

Prior to my going into the O.R., a young girl came over to me in the prep room to try to start an IV on me.

I have very tiny veins and always get anxious when I see someone that doesn’t look much older than 14 attempt my IVs.

She sat down and began the process of looking for a vein in my hand, and I just laid there, quietly observing.

She then said, “You don’t have to look at me — just talk amongst yourselves” — which made me that much more anxious because that sounds like something a very new person would say.

Long story short, I looked away and talked to Sean, and as I did, she inserted the needle into the worst vein in my hand — I never cry when getting needles, I’m fine with them, but this hurt so bad I couldn’t help but tear up.

She apologized and said “sorry, I can’t see it so I’m feeling my way into it.” (In my head, all I could think was “you’re feeling your way into it?! That’s what pros do, you’re new. No trying to be impressive hero phlebotomist today, sweetheart.”)

Sean had finally had enough of her trying and he said “Wow, I’ve never seen her cry when getting an IV. This can’t be good.”

She shot him a look, and then said, “ok they’ll just do it in the OR.”

Now, on the table in the OR, joking with Bandana Guy and the interns about how fat we all are in New Jersey because of our great pizza, and Bandana Guy went to start my IV, and I hardly felt it — and I said to him, “wow, that was MUCH better than the first try out there” and he said “ah yes, the beauty of the academic hospital — second time is always better. Always have to let give the young ones the chance to mess it up the first time.” Then they all hurried about to get ready, and the Younger Intern Guy put the mask on my face for oxygen. I started to get teary-eyed because I knew it was getting closer, and he smiled and pet my head, and he said, “ok Kelly, I want you to pick your very favorite dream and I want you to go there — do you have it picked out?” I nodded yes, with tears streaming down my face.

Bandana Guy came over and told me to squeeze his hand because he “heard that helps.” I hyperventilated a little, and he told me to blow into the oxygen mask, which stopped the hyperventilating immediately.

My surgeon came over — the same one who promised earlier not to hit my carotid artery — and asked why I was crying.

“I’ve never had surgery,” I said.

He replied, “oh yeah, well that is pretty scary then now isn’t it?” I laughed, and he promised that I’d be ok and said, “don’t worry, with the stuff he’s going to give you, you’re going to love it — you’ll sleep like a baby, a wonderful, dreamless sleep, and wake up feeling superb, it’s the most wonderful feeling. Like walking on air.”

He walked away to get something, and then Bandana Guy started speaking in Dutch to everyone. I just laid there, listening, and he said, “sorry, from time to time we may speak in Dutch — it's just our nature.”

I responded, “That’s ok — you’ll only have to worry if I start speaking in Dutch.”

They all laughed, and Bandana Guy said, “well if that happens, I’ll be writing TONS of articles on you and will request that I can continue to put you under anesthesia to see what other languages I can get out of you.”

We laughed, and then he gave me a shot in my IV of a strong painkiller and Young Intern Guy told me it would make me dizzy — it did, and Bandana Guy told me to close my eyes. A few moments later, he said, “ok Kelly, look at me. It’s time to go to sleep, okay?” I nodded, and the last thing I remember seeing is their silhouettes against the lights above them.

While in the recovery room, still sleeping, Sean sat anxiously in the waiting room, determined to fulfill his promise. Once notified that I was out of surgery and in recovery, he went to reception to ask if he could go back into the recovery room to see me. Sympathetically, the receptionist said that he was not allowed to go back at this time. He sat back down, and moments later, the receptionist got up and left the area. Sean jumped at his chance, found the recovery room door, and stood outside in the hallway waiting for a doctor or nurse to go in so he could sneak in behind them.

Once a doctor and a nurse came along and swiped their cards, they went through and he snuck in the door behind them and, in his words, “walked through there like he was supposed to be there.” He bumped into Young Phlebotomist and asked where he could find me.

I woke up to him holding my hand — I looked up at him, groggy and sore but in that pleasant, sleepy, after- anesthesia state, and he smiled and said, “Told ya so.”

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