NOTE: This is part three in a three-part series on
about knowing your audience as a storyteller.
I am sitting in a surgical prep room about forty minutes before major surgery, one week and a day before Christmas.
As I sat hooked up to an IV fluid drip, which would be my tethered companion for the next thirty-six hours, the anesthesiologist entered the small enclave where my sister and brother-in-law were keeping me company. He then proceeded to deliver what I could tell was a very well-rehearsed speech:
“I’m Dr. Baxter," he said. "How are you this morning?"
"Well, ok given the fact that I am about to have body parts removed," I said.
"I understand," he replied.
"So here is what is going to happen. In about ten minutes we are going to wheel you into surgery. We will give you a sedative through your IV and then when you get into the operating room, we will put a tube down your throat to help you to breathe during the surgery and administer anesthesia through a mask over your mouth. We will also catheterize you. I will be there the whole time. I will not leave your side. I will monitor your heart rate and blood pressure while Dr. Albini does the surgery, which should take about 90 minutes. Before you wake up, we will take the tube out of your throat. You may experience a sore throat or other discomfort afterwards.
"Shortly after the surgery, you will wake up in the post-op room.
"You may experience aftereffects of the anesthesia in the form of fatigue or nausea, but it shouldn't last more than a few days to a week.
"Now. There are risks in life. Between traveling on a plane, driving in a car and being put under anesthesia, you are more likely to die driving a car. Anesthesia is just as safe, if not safer than being a passenger on a plane.
"Do you have any questions?”
I smiled and said, “No, but can I tell you something?”
Dr. Baxter looked very confused.
“I own a communications training company and I teach scientists and engineers how to better communicate, and that was awesome. Very well done!”
He smiled and became very warm, connecting with me more.
As I said, the description above was well-rehearsed. And frankly, I am omitting many of the details, because, well—10 minutes before major surgery—whatever they put in that IV line had me dead to the world before they pushed me through the surgery room doors. But Dr. Baxter's description was also clear and concise. He did not dumb things down, but he likewise did not give my any more information than I needed just minutes before being wheeled into an operating room.
After all, what is the one thing we want to know when we have major surgery? That you will live through it!
In some ways, I was just another patient to Dr. Baxter. But here is what was an interesting side effect of what I said to him. It jarred him out of his very rehearsed speech. And when I told him more about what I do, he responded by talking about his music and secret desire to be a rock star. I don't know, because I didn't see him after surgery, but I would like to believe that my odd response to his well-crafted, well-rehearsed speech might have made me slightly more than just another surgical patient to Dr. Baxter.
Moreover, I appreciated the fact that he understood the value of telling a clear concise narrative of what I was about to go through while unconscious—no matter how well rehearsed.
Either way, Dr. Baxter understood who his apprehensive audience was for the very important story he was telling, and I thank him for that.
And for the fact that I woke up afterwards, of course.
*P.S.: I am well past the six-week mark and, while I am still feeling the fatigue of having to get back into my work and workout routine, I am feeling fine. It’s amazing the pain we tolerate—some of mine for almost two years—when we don’t need to. Thanks for wondering!