November 24, 2017, Southern Georgia, United States, somewhere near the town of Tifton, I was riding around on a gravel bike, minding my own business. Tifton is known for many things, and most of them are related to farming. In the case of this story, that would be the farming of cotton. During late fall / autumn, before winter truly kicks in, Tifton and surrounding countryside are alight as the sun reflects off millions and millions of white puffballs that fill the fields across this vast area of land. They measure land by acres here in the United States, but to me, hectares would provide a better measure, such is the size of the cotton plantations I’m talking about.
At several points during my ride, I took the opportunity to stop, take some photos, and fly my humble and flighty assistant, the drone… aka JOM Fly Boy. This ride was about fun times, but it was also about capturing footage of the Lynskey PRO GR titanium gravel bike, a machine I am producing the review video for around the time of this article.
After calling this body of mine home for some 40-something years, I’ve gotten to know its virtues and issues quite well… no cheeky remarks, please! Taking a moment to glance downward, as you do, I couldn’t help but notice a new bonus lump just above and to the right of JOM Junior. This wasn’t a case of additional excitement or romantic blood flow, but rather, a squishy type of lump that I could push back into my body cavity. Ruh roh! A quick Google session on the handy mobile phone indicated this may be a hernia.
Hang on a minute? I thought hernia’s only happened to blokes who lifted big weights incorrectly, or to someone who may have been straining a wee bit much in the bathroom. Shows how much I know. Bugger, better have the doc check it out!
A few days later, a poke and a prod by my regular doctor bloke confirmed my fears… “JOM, you have a hernia. But, I’ll refer you to a surgeon for an expert evaluation”. Time to apply for a new zero percent credit card… even though I have pretty good medical insurance.
Fast forward the timeline to early December. I lobbed into a certain surgical centre in Gainesville, Florida, not at all looking forward to more people scrounging around in my pants. The session got off to a cracker of a start. The helpful Physician’s Assistant, a lady whose demeanor told me this wasn’t her first go-round, politely instructed me to drop my pants, to which I replied, “where I come from, it is customary to at least have a date or two before JOM Junior makes an appearance”. JOM Junior was cold, frightened and not at his best. Cue a reference to Seinfeld and George Costanza. Soon, JOM Junior and the hernial lump were revealed in all of their glory. After poking, prodding and feeling about, the P.A. said, “yes, you’ve got a hernia, and possibly another on its way on the left side”. Somehow, I verbalized the words “fer fark sake”.
The Surgical Doctor rolled in a few minutes later, and like his helpful assistant, had a touch and feel about the place and said, “yep, two hernias for you, but we can repair that in one operation”. Good news, maybe? It would seem those years of riding and racing bicycles hard since 1991 had taken their toll, along with lifting crap wrong since I was born and general use and abuse. But, there was light at the end of this tunnel! See, this surgeon is a genius. “JOM, take a trip to Australia, ride your bike a ton (but not too hard), and we’ll fix the hernia(s) when you return”. I booked my plane ticket and the rest is history. You can see some of my Australian gravel antics here on the site, but the best, the videos, are still to come from that trip!
January 25, Surgery Day
I’m the first to admit I don’t like surgery. I’ve been under the knife twice, both for clavicle repairs / plating. This surgery wouldn’t involve so much knife, rather, a laparoscopic surgery (“also called minimally invasive surgery (MIS), bandaid surgery, or keyhole surgery, is a modern surgical technique in which operations are performed far from their location through small incisions (usually 0.5–1.5 cm) elsewhere in the body” – reference, Wikipedia).
The only time I’ve woken around 4am is for a bicycle race or to dash to an airport, but a 6am appearance at the hospital called for an early start. There was a pre-surgery visit on January 24th, but I’ll spare readers those intimate details; just imagine blood draw, weigh-in, and EKG test). Within my circle of friends in Gainesville, there are at least three Mikes, one of whom would be dropping me at the hospital. The return leg would be handed by my long-time mate, Dr. Pain. Mike M. kindly dropped me off at the hospital entrance with just the clothes on my body and house keys.
Check-in was quick and efficient, which led me to a private room with a nurse who would stay with me until the surgery itself. It wasn’t long before I disrobed and was in the glory of my birthday suit, shod only with an ill-fitting hospital gown. Not so stylish. Toga party anyone?! Another nurse rolled into the room and installed the I.V., something I never like. Thinking about a bicycle ride or sumptuous meal is a quality distraction as a needle is stuck into a protruding vein. Thankfully, this nurse was an expert installer; no struggle, no pain, just a weird feeling knowing that fluid would be pumped into my body soon, knocking my proverbial arse out for a while.
Various people came and visited, including the anesthesiologist and surgeon. I must commend North Florida Regional Medical Center on a job well done. They really put me at ease during much of the process. With no family in the USA or lady in my life, facing these life-changing situations alone can be a little daunting.
A short while later, I was politely wheeled into the surgery room, where I was greeted by a team of mostly female surgical nurses. And that is all I remember. No time for conversation, out like a light.
For those who have never felt the effects of general anesthesia, I liken the experience to an alien abduction… which may be fact or fiction. I awoke in a groggy state in the recovery room, with a feeling there was an unexplained loss of time, yet I hadn’t gone to sleep. What the eff? Still, my groggy demeanor was pleasing. I drifted off to sleep for at least another hour or two.
My post-operative nurse, a lady well versed in the rigors of dealing with grumpy or groggy patients offered up the words… “if you can pee, you can go home”. Passing bodily fluids is something most of us take for granted. It’s a natural function in life, except for when you’ve had your lower abdomen manipulated a wee bit (see what I did there). I’ve suffered on the bike plenty over the years and can take a lot of pain, but the pain I felt as I attempted to exit the bed and stand up straight, had me to the ground. My lower left abdomen, where my second hernia had been forming, gave the feeling a knife was being stuck in and twisted about. Bloody hell. The prescribed pain tablet I downed a few minutes later, did nothing to dull the pain. Fiddlesticks!
Dilemma. Sit on my arse in the hospital all day, or suck it up and crawl into a wheelchair and exit the premises. I chose the latter, but only after I did pass a wee bit of fluid, into one of those handy containers nurses seem to have close by… aka the pi$$ jar.
My good friend, Dr. Pain, walked into the recovery area and witnessed many a pitiful sight. The journey from the wheelchair to his vehicle was a crawl at best, hunched over like a codger of a bloke with a knackered back. The journey from Dr. Pain’s vehicle to my front door was equally sad. If my neighbors were watching, they may have thought I’d taken a gunshot wound to the chest. I thank Dr. Pain for his kindness, discretion (he thought about taking photos and video but didn’t), and goodies he purchased on my behalf at the grocery store.
Rest and Recuperation
Like any post-surgery experience, rest is best. I’ve confined myself mostly to my bedroom, where I’ve been working remotely for my regular gig, and after hours, working away diligently – as much as my current energy levels allow – on material and content for the Gravel Cyclist website. I’m taking this recovery seriously.
The abdomen pain the first two days post surgery was pretty rough, and I’ve been eschewing pain pills. I greatly dislike the side effects they are associated with, mostly a blockage of one’s bowel movements. With that said, I almost experienced the miracle of childbirth two days ago (remember, surgery tends to block things up too), after I had to do an hour-long session of gentle coaxing in the bathroom facilities. I’ll spare you good readers those details
On the sixth day post-surgery, recovery seems to be going well, but much soreness persists. However, I hope to be active as ever, very soon!
What is the moral of this story?
- This posting isn’t a pity party, so no need to feel sorry for me. Life happens!
- Life is short, live and travel as much as you can. Relish those life experiences.
- Never take your health for granted, it can change in the blink of an eyelid. I’m thankful this experience is relatively minor in the big scheme of things!
- Money does not buy happiness, nor does the collection of stuff (yes, I do own too many bikes).
Thanks for reading, stay well!