The summer before last I had to have an endoscopy.
It turns out I have acid reflux, or something of that nature. All things considered, it’s nothing I can complain about.
When you go in for an endoscopy, they typically sedate you. The whole thing’s over in a matter of minutes; so I suppose it makes sense that not everyone gets knocked out.
Still, if given the option, I’d really rather not be awake when they stick a camera down my throat.
I remember lying in the chair as they got ready to start the procedure. I honestly hadn’t been worried up until that moment. What worried me wasn’t the procedure itself- that they’d find something wrong or make a mistake.
No; it was that, for just a few seconds, I was worried they weren’t actually going to put me to sleep.
* * *
When I was in middle school my best friend broke his leg during a basketball game. I was there. I saw the whole thing.
You might think it was the screaming that bothered me most. That, or the sight of his leg bending where it shouldn’t. And it’s true, I won’t deny, that these things were quite terrible. But I wouldn’t go so far as to call them disturbing.
Disturbing was what someone told us when we asked if he could be given some stronger pain meds, or if they could even knock him out entirely.
“No,” they said, “but it’s okay. They’ll given him something so he’ll forget about it after.”
I can remember staying up many a night thinking about this notion. That you could experience something so terrible and yet have no memory of it after the fact.
Twilight anesthesia is the term for it, I’ve since learned. And honestly, everything about it seems perfectly logical.
If you can’t knock someone out, why not keep them from remembering it? Why would anyone want to carry those scenes, and that pain, around with them for the rest of their life?
Something about it felt off to me, as it still does today. Try as I might, though, it was hard to find a good argument against it.
* * *
Lying in the chair, mere seconds from the start of my endoscopy, a terrifying thought crossed my mind:
They’re not going to sedate me. It’s the same thing they gave Austin. It’s going to be terrible. And I’m just not going to remember it.
No sooner had I thought this than the anesthesiologist steps over and mentions something to the effect of “Goodnight”. That was when I felt the icy warmth of whatever it was he’d put into the IV. This is the last thing I remember.
Ashley and I learned a lot about how memory works that day.
Fifteen minutes or so later she came in to get me, and to keep me from saying anything (else?) stupid to the nurses. As she tells it, I “discovered” her sitting by the bed half a dozen times. This was one among many repeat conversations.
Looking back on the experience later, I think it finally occurred to me what had bothered me so much about the whole concept of twilight anesthesia.
* * *
Life is not a fairy tale.
Or at least not the kind told by Disney (although who knows, now that Disney just bought the Star Wars franchise). Bad things happen. Terrible things, too. Things we don’t want to read about, and certainly not experience.
Sometimes you have an endoscopy and they say it’s nothing, just acid reflux. Other times it’s cancer, or a “sorry, there were complications with the procedure”.
But the bad things are just as much a part of what defines us as the good things, the things we love to remember. If I told you about my life through some highlight reel of my successes, it wouldn’t just be short. It’d be inaccurate.
To tell you who I am, truly and completely, I have to tell you about the bad things. About the places I wish I’d never gone but did.
And how can I tell you about both the mountains and the valleys if I have no memory of what the valleys were like?
The answer, of course, is that I can’t. And that is why I prefer to remember.
*Photo Credit: Trey Ratcliff (Creative Commons)