Monday, August 16, 2010

The great terror of surgery and prescription drugs

Years ago, my uncle once had nasal surgery to correct long-term damage caused by chronic infections that had gone on for years undetected and uncorrected.

Amazingly, when the surgeon reached the top of the nasal cavity, he discovered a layer of necrotic tissue on the lower portion of my uncle's frontal lobe. That is, the frontal lobe of his brain. Yes indeed folks, the nasal passages are that close to the center of reason in the human mind. The surgeon felt the situation was serious, and could not be left uncorrected. He literally scrapped the dead tissue off my uncle's brain.

The surgeon was nervous. His mission was to correct all damage done by chronic infection. Thisnecrosis was caused by the chronic infection. This procedure was covered under the mission statement. Necrotic tissue anywhere in the body is serious. On the brain, it is much more serious. Still, scraping a man's brain is no trivial thing. The surgeon was concerned about potential memory loss.

When my uncle came out of the anesthesia, the surgeon explained the situation, and asked him point blank: Have you forgotten anything? My uncle responded in his classic Sagittarian manner: "How the fuck am I supposed to know the answer to that question?"

This story was on my mind when I had my two recent knee surgeries. Brain damage occurs when they give you anesthesia. That is a fact folks. If you think Tokyo Ice Tea will kill a few brain cells, try Propofol. That really kills some cells.

I pride myself on my memory. I used to joke, in the words of Commander Data, that I retain every fact I am ever exposed too. That's not much of a joke, according to my brother. He tells people, in deadly seriousness, that this statement ain't far from accurate.

My brain is my one sterling asset and attribute. As a dude with no less than four (count 'em) four Virgos on my natal chart, you know I am all about the brain. I did not much appreciate the notion that Propofol might do some damage to this one marvel I have been given.

Those surgeries occurred in October of 2009 and January of 2010. My knees were not fine, but my brain seemed fine after that. I did some of my best writing in the prelude to the draft. I am sure Billy Devaney would disagree with that statement if he ever read any of it, but the "draft Bradford" campaign was horribly vexed by my writing. They still regard me as their arch enemy, although this is something of a misunderstanding.

Recently, I have had two moments at work that have caused me to wonder whether I did experience brain damage leading to some memory loss as a result of the propofol or the hydrocodone.

We had a complex situation at work related to networking where our network guys made a bad call. They wanted us programmers to use IP addresses in our code rather than DNS names. This recently exploded in our faces, creating a number of chronjob failures when network changes occurred due to Dynamic IP assignments.

When this happened, my bud Kapil chastized me for not speaking up in the meeting when the plan was laid out.

"What meeting?" I asked him.

"The meeting we all went to! The meeting where I fought them and you were silent."

I doubted Kapil's story. I almost never get invited to meetings. They don't like me in meetings. As a blunt, tactless Virgo, who never misses any error, I blow up a lot of the best laid plans of mice and men. I had no recollection of ever being in such a meeting. I knew I would have blown them up pretty good if they had thrown the idea past me.

A few days ago, a couple of other dudes in our section backed Kapil's version of events. They claimed I was there, and I was silent. I still doubted them. I would remember that, and I was sure of it.

Then came the scary event. The Feezone Archive. Inquires were made as to whether the Feezone Archive was running. "The what?" I asked. "The Feezone Archive" they responded. I had no recollection of what they were talking about. I mean zip, zero, nada, nothing.

They claimed they had a record that the Feezone Archive project had been assigned to me. I looked into it. I found a database called "Feezone Archive" on our main production SQL Server. I found a project in SubVersion called "Feezone Archive". It was written in C#, one of my trade marks. It was exceedingly brilliant, too. I was impressed by the code, and I don't impress easy.

Words cannot express the horror I felt for a couple of days after that. Yes, this was a trival task. Yes, it only looks like I worked on it for 2 days--this according to SubVersion audits. Apparently the job was done some two years ago by July 7th, 2008. Yes, it worked, and yes they dropped the ball by not scheduling the job. But still, that is beside the point. I had absolutely no memory of it, and I mean none.

I kept hearing the words of the great Peter Gabrial song "I can't remember."

I don't remember, I don't recall
I got no memory of anything at all
I don't remember, I don't recall
I got no memory of anything
-anything at all

This has never happened to me folks. Never once in my life have I forgotten a project I worked on. I can still tell you about the trivial password synchronizer I wrote for Wellpoint Pharmacy Management which made Mainframe and Sybase passwords identical. I can still tell you about stupid shit I did with VB5 for Transamerica in 1997.

I am horrified. You never know what cells the Propofol will take. You never know what you are going to lose when you go under the knife. I am grateful that the propofol only took this memory, if such is actually the case, but what else might I have lost? Like my uncle, I cannot answer that question.

All of this worries me greatly. I am going to go under the knife again sometime in October. This is going to be a longer and more involved, more dangerous surgery. I wonder about it. It worries me.