"It will hurt for just a moment".
I say this often as I position the cannula carefully into the most accessible vein on the back of the left hand. After a brisk flicking of the skin to make the vein stand out, and a wipe with an alcohol swab, my left hand firmly but gently holds the surrendered hand; my thumb on the knuckles, pulling the skin slightly to anchor the vein. With my right hand armed, I carefully pierce the skin a few millimetres away from the intended vein. That’s the part that hurts. Then, over the next half second, carefully guiding the needle forward, I watch the vein wall flick over the needle tip as it enters the vein. In another half second I welcome the “flashback”; that first drop of blood that flows smoothly up the hollow needle and appears in the clear plastic hub, silently confirming my success. Then there is the satisfaction of sliding the outer sheath along the lumen of the vein. That necessary wounding is over in a matter of 3 seconds.
Not long after this, my patient is in theatre, attached by multiple wires and devices to the anaesthetic machine. I watch the glowing green line of the monitor bounce with the electrical beat of the heart, and a second line pulse with the oxygen reading. My ear focuses on that reassuring beep, noting tempo and pitch.
As I inject the Propofol, I explain that, soon, sleep will overtake. I give a final reassurance that I will be vigilant, steering safely through the proceedure.
As we reach completion, the surgeon gives a satisfied nod, and I am able to turn off all the anaesthetic gasses, leaving oxygen alone, allowing recovery to occur.
Once breathing rhythm and reflexes are restored, I help wheel the bed into the recovery area, the patient often stirring as we arrive.
“All done” is what we say in recovery, usually repeating it.
“What, already, that went quick”.
That seems to be the common experience. The passage of time has gone unnoticed. Somehow the anaesthetic has numbed the brain’s sense of chronology. Though hours may have passed, it feels as though in one moment there is sleep, in the next, waking. Or so it seems.
I wonder if this is how it is in death.
In one moment that final breath comes in the presence of loved ones and carers, in the next, resurrection, in the presence of Jesus, and all his gathered flock.
Though a thousand years may have passed, it seems just a moment.