(Note: This one is epic.)
For those of you who’d like a more succinct version of this part of my story and just want to cut to the bit about Walt Disney World (meet me under the castle), let me sum the surgery and it’s fallout up in three words: Pain, crap, and frustration. Yeah.
In January, I went to see my doctor for a checkup and, just off hand, told her that I’d been suffering from some fairly scary bouts of heartburn over the summer. They weren’t chronic or anything, it’s not like I had bad gas every night, but when I did get it, it was painful enough for me to be worried. She gave me a prescription for Omeprazole and recommended that I get an Ultrasound just to make sure there wasn’t anything wrong with me.
The Ultrasound was very educational. I got to watch the screen and learned that, all those lovely biology textbook illustrations notwithstanding, our internal anatomy is actually very ill-defined. We are indeed squishy bags of mostly water. So when we actually saw solid objects inside me, it didn’t mean good news.
I had some “evidence of gallstones”. Gallstones are themselves not always something to get worked up over. Certainly they hurt, but they usually aren’t dangerous. They are dangerous if they get too big, or if they cause any blockage. Therefore, I had to get a Hydroscan next.
Nuclear Medicine sounds a hell of a lot more interesting than the reality. I had to sit still for an hour inside an excruciatingly slow machine as it took pictures of the inside of my body, tracing the journey of an isotope through my bloodstream. Mr. Isotope had a nice journey, it seems. There didn’t seem to be any blockage in my system.
Of course, gallstones can also be dangerous if they compound other digestive problems, such as ulcers. I had a Gastroscopy (which I will forever insist on calling a “craptastic voyage” though it mostly concerned the other end), and I’m sure it was fascinating to watch if I had any recollection of it. My stomach, fortunately, was perfectly fine. I had a “perfect” cholesterol rating.
But I still had gallstones. And my doctor was concerned enough about them that she sent all the findings to a surgeon friend of hers, and set up an appointment for me to talk with him. On Valentine’s Day. The surgeon was very, very nice, and I am very glad that it was him who had to give me the bad news:
My gallstones were the size of peas. Relatively speaking, that’s very large. This was consistent with the fact that I’d complained of digestive ailments for several years now, but until just now, none of us thought very much about it. As to why I had this problem, it was a big damn mystery. (Gallstones are usually associated with high cholesterol, or high fat diets, or they can be a hereditary condition. None of these applied to me.) The whole diseased sac of bile would have to come out.
I will invite you to take a look at the Wikipedia Page explaining the procedure for a Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy (the photos alone will make your toes curl). Just reading it again, I understand why I still feel icky even weeks later. I find it funny that they left out the part where I had to drink an entire bottle of Citrate of Magnesia and two liters of water the day before to (ahem) give the surgeons a clean playing field.
I don’t remember much about the day of surgery itself. I came to the hospital, met all the doctors, and asked the doctor in charge of the IV drip that I’d rather have the catheter in my arm; he was about to put in in the back of my hand. Given how annoying the IV was in my arm, I can’t even imagine dealing with it in my hand.
I also remember being in terrible, terrible pain. Enough to keep me in the hospital overnight. I had to go to the bathroom frequently, which meant that I had to get out of bed by myself. My stomach muscles hurt like hell, as if I’d been stabbed in the gut repeatedly (understandable, as that’s basically how laparoscopic surgery works). Plus I had to carry my IV drip everywhere I went. I cheered when the nurse finally removed the catheter in the morning.
And I cannot even describe how much my incisions hurt. Heck, they still hurt today, though the pain has gone down considerably. (EDIT: the largest scar is still very sensitive even now, more than a year later.) I would find out later that I wasn’t stitched together, nor was I stapled together.
I was GLUED together.
I could include a photograph here, but I won’t. Some of you might be reading this before eating. Suffice it to say, it currently looks like I am being held together with masking tape and super glue (an explanation can be read here; now it makes sense why that stuff sticks fingers together so readily). This is actually an improvement. Just after coming home from the hospital, my stomach was covered in gory-looking bandages.
I had the operation on a Monday. Tuesday, I went home in the afternoon. Wednesday is just a blur of pain. Thursday, I actually started to feel like myself. I think this is because the anesthesia was wearing off. My strength gradually came back over the weekend but it still hurt to laugh. My back hurt because it was now having to support my upper body, something my stomach muscles were in no shape to do (I will not take my sexy abs for granted once I’m back to normal). My shoulders hurt because of the CO2 used in the surgery. On top of all this –and there is no polite little cutesy euphemism for this– once I first pooped, there was no turning back and I’ve been crapping like crazy ever since. This last part will be important later.
I had a follow-up appointment with my surgeon and he assured me that, while I should take it easy for the rest of the winter and spring, my incisions were healed and I’d be able to gradually exercise more and more often. I should be physically back to normal by May. My digestive system will take longer to recover, but should be fine eventually.
So I had just gone through several minor medical procedures, a major surgical procedure, and was still recuperating. What a great time to go to Disney World!
I should explain that my family had been planning this trip since December. It wasn’t as if we could just, like, not go. I suppose I might have been able to postpone the operation until after the trip. Huh. Oh well.
I haven’t mentioned this yet, but it’s very important: Prior to this experience, I’ve never had any surgery more elaborate than getting my wisdom teeth out. Having major muscle groups rendered useless and being held together with super glue and masking tape is new to me.
As I said before, my surgeon was very nice and very helpful. He gave me some excellent advice. The best tip was this:
While in Disney World, do not keep any special concerns you may have a secret. If you are recovering from surgery, for example, everyone should know about it. Oh, and rent a wheelchair. You don’t want to be on your feet all day.
I had read something to this point in nearly every guidebook I’d consulted since December (you know, back before I had any idea there was anything wrong with me). At most, I figured, I’d let people know it was my birthday on the twelfth. Yeah, the big three-oh. Excuse me, Thirty Magical Years ™ of me! (I am not going to start acting like an adult anytime soon.) You may have noticed that Disney has gone crazy about pins. They’ve got pins that let everyone know that it’s your birthday, your first visit, your anniversary, and so on. I was genuinely surprised that there was no “I’m Recovering From Surgery” pin. Trust me, I asked
They gave me the inevitable “W00t It’s My Birthday” pin on the first day we were in the park. Told me to wear the thing all week. Hilarity ensued.
And I’ll be truthful here: I was frustrated a few times during this trip. I had several of what can only be described as “Tyra Banks Epiphanies” (“Oh, it was so hard being not pretty for a day!!!” “Wha!!! Being a fat lady for a little while was not fun at all!!!” “When I was unable to walk for a week or so and then stuck in a wheelchair for a few hours at a time I blah blah blah and whine whine whine whine!!!”)
And yet, I think if I had to travel to anywhere in the world while still recovering from surgery, I wouldn’t go anywhere but Disney World. (Which is to say, you shouldn’t go anywhere. But if you’re going to be crazy like me, and travel while still recovering from surgery, go someplace where you’ll be safe as a kitten and everyone is paid to be nice all the time.)
Rambling and incoherent? Yeah, I realize this. How about that? On with the story.
We stayed at Port Orleans French Quarter in a room amazingly close to the main building. It’s just amazing how well this place worked out for us. Amazingly amazing. Amazing.
For our first night, we had tickets to LaNouba, the Cirque du Soleil show. Now, it’ll surprise a lot of people for me to say this, me being a crazy artist chick, but this is the first Cirque du Soleil show I have ever seen.
If the only bad thing you have to say about a show is that you didn’t know where to look because amazing things were happening all the damn time, and that everything following the experience looked a bit dull in comparison, then you’ve got yourself an unbelievably good show. We were five feet away from the stage. The second row. That is to say, if anyone screwed up, they’d be in our damn laps. I was uttering “Oh… My… God…” every three minutes or so – and the best thing is, so was my mom. Aww. Amazing.
I need a thesaurus.
For dinner we went to Raglan Road. I guess Pleasure Island used to be the happening place about twenty years ago, but now it’s the usual ill-defined collection of shops, restaurants, music and dancing venues, and a few assorted oddities that don’t really fit in. Rumor has it they’ll probably tear all the unpopular stuff down and start over. As usual. That right there is one thing I do not like about Disney.
Raglan Road is popular; it’s the Obligatory Irish Pub. Yes. We did the grand old Clan Ness tradition of going all the way to (wherever) to go to an Irish Pub. (For those not in the know, there are at least two hundred Irish pubs in the greater Boston area – at last count, twenty of these are in the suburb I live in alone.) It was good though. It was a darn good sign that I was able to handle the reason why my ancestors left traditional food.
The next morning, we went to EPCOT. This is where our wheelchair rental paid off. I received what came to be named the “Golden Ticket”. As I said before, there’s no “Be Nice To Me, I Just Had A Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy” pin – but a visit to Guest Relations scored me a “This Visitor May Require Assistance” pass. Short waits, secret entrances. Sweet.
Dear Impressionable Youngsters: Don’t misuse this system. Hell, I felt guilty using it and I was (and still am and maybe I haven’t emphasized this enough) RECOVERING FROM FREAKING SURGERY.
Now as I’ve said before, “Journey Into Imagination” is just about the saddest thing ever in it’s current iteration. Of everything in Disney World, this one ride has suffered the most in the new “it’s not as popular as the new stuff so let’s tear it down and start over” policy. However, this time through (not my choice), I noticed a lot of visual shout-outs to the original. I loves me a good Writer Revolt.
The Living Seas (now known, awkwardly, as “The Seas, with Nemo and Friends”) is very nice now that the exhibits are the focus of the attraction. I remember in the olden days, you’d do the overblown movie, the ride through the tanks, and then you’d leave. It is a little character crazy now, but whatever gets the kids excited about the science is okay, I suppose.
“Turtle Talk” is the star attraction here and deservedly so. I can’t quite figure out the trick but it’s also used at something called the “Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor” over at the Magic Kingdom. “Turtle Talk” puts “Laugh Floor’ to shame, mostly because it’s in a smaller venue. That means there’s more interaction with the kids. And the kids are freakin’ adorable.
Typically for me, I couldn’t help but notice that the music in the queue line for “Soarin'” was recognizably from “An American Tail” – a Don Bluth film. As an animation geek, I could only assume that there’s got to be an interesting story behind that. By the way, the ride was amazing. Ride it with your shoes off and in the little pouch thing below your seat.
The new “Three Caballeros” ride in Mexico was cute. I had forgotten just how cool the greenhouses in The Land were.
Funny enough, one of the day’s major highlights was the restaurant Spoodles. I let our waiter know about my condition just offhand. Dude comes back with one of the chefs, who happily accommodated my every concern. Staggering. Also, Magical Glowing Blue “MagicalDreamMagic-Tini”:
Seriously, this thing was sold in nearly every restaurant and they go down way too easy. I must figure out the recipe.
That brings us to the magic and wonder of touring Magic Kingdom at night, utilizing Magical Extra Magic Hours. Making a long, long story short, there is a hell of a lot more to consider here than, “Oh, the castle will look so pretty at night!” The place was crazy crowded. I wasn’t a bit happy with the people who walked up to the Central Hub and just stopped because, “Duh-hurr-hurr, the fireworks are gunna start any minnit now even tho the p’rades still on!!!”
I got 50,300 on Buzz Lightyear. The Spectromagic night-time parade was very nice, and this time we were close enough to notice all the lovely little details on the floats. “Carousel of Progress” is a big damn classic but you don’t want to sit in the front row: Audio Animatronics are creepy. All told, we stayed for twenty Extra Magic Minutes. Wee.
Hot tip: We didn’t bother with the parks’ parking lots once all day. We parked at the Boardwalk and walked over to EPCOT. Then we parked at the Contemporary and rode the Monorail over to the Magic Kingdom. No sweat. Literally, no sweat; Orlando was actually kind of chilly during our stay. Who’d have thought?
I was on excellent authority that Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure (how’s that for a convoluted theme park name) was amazing and worth going to. I won’t get to involved here (this is a Disney World trip report after all). Islands of Adventure was a very nice park and they were just as accommodating as Disney with regards to my condition.
Which brings us to one of the two big, big differences between Islands and the Magic Kingdom. (Many Magic Kingdom fans have caught on very quickly that Islands Of Adventure sends you down a “Main Street”, if you will, and has a land of cartoon characters, a land of fantasy characters, a land of science fiction characters, a land of animals and adventures, and… basically, the whole park layout and theming feels a little familiar.) This is one of the warning signs posted outside one of the rides at IOA. Read all the warnings, and try to guess what ride it’s from:
It’s got to be from “Dueling Dragons” right? No. Then it must be from the “Incredible Hulk” coaster. Wrong again. I’ll tell you the answer in a minute, after I explain something.
The first thing the folks at Islands gave me upon entering their customer service building was a hilarious (at the time) pamphlet. The pamphlet explained, in ridiculous and hysterical detail, all the myriad reasons why I, as an ailing person, shouldn’t have bothered to come to the park. I decided to use my common sense instead. The roller coasters were out and so were the “LOL you’re gonna get soaked” rides. I was sure most of the other rides would be fine for me in my post-op “you shouldn’t do anything rougher than Star Tours because your insides haven’t recovered yet” condition.
That warning sign is from the freakin’ “Cat in the Hat” ride.
But here’s the thing – every thing they warn about here is absolutely valid. The biggest difference between Islands of Adventure and Magic Kingdom is that, at IOA, even the kiddie rides at are wild. “Cat in the Hat” puts you in a car that spins wildly like one of the teacups as hideous rubbery robot beasts scream at you. I damn near got whiplash. The whole thing has got to be horrifying for people on acid little kids.
So the rides that, as common sense would dictate, are cutesy-poo and okay for the kiddies are not as innocuous as they look. Here’s the other big difference, which made up for that:
Magic Kingdom = No alcohol. None.
Islands of Adventure = Happy Hour!
You can imagine, dear reader. You can only imagine.
Oh, and Islands of Adventure is a very pretty park. The “Spider-Man” ride is amazing (funny it’s advertised as a thrill ride but it wasn’t half as wild as “Cat in the Hat”). Best of all, it wasn’t crowded on the day we went and we had a very relaxing visit.
Magic Kingdom has one huge, huge advantage: You won’t get to drink, but you will recognize all of the characters.
After we got back to the hotel, I had a couple of great little spontaneous moments. I found a tree frog with two little kids and their grandfather. We all chatted with the folks who were hanging around the pool. And it hit me that down here in Disney World, everyone is so much nicer than they are in reality. What if we were all that nice every day? I understand why there’s such a thing as “post Disney World depression.”
We did a whirlwind tour of the Magic Kingdom again the next day. We did “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Haunted Mansion”, which had both just recently been revised and looked amazing. The new “Winnie the Pooh” ride was surprisingly good. And, oh, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. How we love it so.
On (ahem) THE ILLUSTRIOUS DATE OF MY BIRTH we went to Animal Kingdom, and I think we did this park right. We did a lovely, leisurely tour of the whole park, concentrating on the animals themselves. (The park is not called “Disney’s Thrill Ride Kingdom”.) We saw all kinds of animals on the safari and it occurred to me that the guides are doing everything they can to phase out that dreaded Big Red story. If they could get rid of it altogether, it’d be great; why should I get all excited that we saved a fictional baby Elephant when I just rode through a herd of real ones? And Okapis! I ❤ Okapis.
Still to be answered: WTF is up with the big dragon in the Animal Kingdom logo?
(OK. I do know the answer [link goes to somebody who will explain more succinctly than I would]. Of course I know the answer. I even explained this curious artifact to people staring at it with confusion:
Look at my damn avatar; why wouldn’t I know the answer? Sigh…)
Anyway, later that night we booked it to EPCOT to see “Illuminations”. We had a hell of a preshow-of-sorts. My digestive system, let’s be frank, ain’t what she used to be. When something doesn’t sit well, I know within a few minutes. Long story short, we didn’t have time for a nice sit-down dinner, so we went to the (I can only hope this is Disney’s idea of an elaborate satire) fast-food restaurant — in America! The crap-sandwich stayed in my gut for about five minutes. Everyone in my party had similar reactions and the meal, all told, cost fifty f***ing dollars. Dude.
“Illuminations” made up for it, though. When was the last time you were moved to tears by a laser show?
I believe we’d all be in a happier place if we got to start off every day by explicitly being invited to eat Mickey’s smug face.
Doing some research for this trip, I learned that Stacy, the hostess of Disney’s Resort TV, has developed the kind of cult following we never heard about in the pre-Interweb days. Any one of us could easily do her job, as long as we had about fifty Espressos each.
I’m probably the only person who’d notice something like this but the calls of the Boat-Tailed Grackles really made me realize that, yup, we’re in Florida on our arrival day. As far as other exotic wildlife I spotted: Coots (so damn cute), Moorhens, Anhingas, lots of Turkeys, Herons of all species, Wood Storks, Sandhill Cranes, Armadillos trotting around like our Woodchucks, honest-to-goodness Alligators, lots and lots of Bald Eagles and Ospreys, a Swallow-Tailed Kite on the wing (gorgeous), and… Emus? I know what I saw.
When I last went to Disney World, I went off on Pin Trading. Well, go figure, this time I became a total Pin Trading geek. Here’s my Official Lanyard at the start of the week and at the middle of the week:
I am not a proud woman. 😦
Actually, I got into this thing mostly thanks to peer pressure from my father but also due to the more offbeat and thought-provoking pins available. They’re tucked away on Cast Member’s lanyards, in hidden corners of the gift shops, and in the collections of the people hanging outside Pin Trading Central in Downtown Disney (for whom this hobby is serious f-ing business). You’ll find a surprising variety of “Roger Rabbit” pins out there. There’s evidence of weird marketing experiments (we all know Disney Princesses and Disney Fairies – but how about Disney Horses and Disney Dragons?) And there are just those pin designs that make you go, “Hmm…” I learned that the Cast Members have a periodic contest where they may submit designs for new pins. You have to wonder if certain pins were submitted on a dare. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a close-up of what I can only rightfully call the Figment/Dreamfinder Ho-Yay Pin:
Now I absolutely had to have this one but here’s the thing. I think I spent about $150.00 on pins, all told, and my credit score has yet to recover. It is very definitely something they put in your food.
I saw an extraordinary number of rather smug-looking little girls strutting around Downtown Disney wearing gowns with glittery crap all over their faces and paint in their hair and pink sashes. Turns out that they had all just had makeovers at the already notorious “Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique“.
Their parents, according to the complimentary brochure, have spent upwards of $200.00 for this experience. $200.00. So some Disney person can stick your kid in a Princess costume and coat her in glitter. Kids as young as, like, three. Ugh.
If your going to spend $200.00 to make your kid happy, do it on something that won’t wash out next time she washes her hair.
For what it’s worth, I feel very much the same way about Victoria and Albert’s. Never mind reserving a table up to 180 days in advance to eat whatever they happen to want to cook at the moment (and you damn well better like it) and paying an insane amount of money for the experience. The thing that gets me is that you do not have to go all the way to Disney World to do that. (I understand it’s a surprisingly popular honeymoon destination, but come on.)
And let’s not even get into Cinderella’s Royal Table. Grr. Argh.
So we went to Disney’s MGM Hollywood Studios and I’m sad to report that the park is a shadow of it’s former self. Seems they didn’t just close down the animation studio, they’re hardly doing any filming at all there. Heck, I remember back in the day when “Mickey Mouse Club” was filmed at the studio, and “Newsies“, and there were totally insane specials filmed there almost monthly. Now Disney doesn’t seem to know what to do with the place.
I couldn’t help but notice immediately that there were more screaming, crying children in this one park than in any of the other parks combined. It didn’t take me very long to figure out why this was so. The only new attractions were explicitly designed for little kids (“Playhouse Disney Live” anyone?) We did see some great shows and rides — but they were “MuppetVision”, “The Great Movie Ride”, and “Indiana Jones”, the park’s oldest attractions. (Remember the less sedate rides like “Rock-N-Roller Coaster” were out.) They’re still good, and they put the newer attractions to shame.
Take the new Block Party Bash, please. What the hell was that supposed to be? The captain of the boat we took over to the park told us we’d be among “the first Disney guests who’d get to watch the new parade!!! It starts at three! Don’t forget! Line up along the route by three!” Really, this is only a parade in a very technical sense. The floats, characters, and everything traveled for about twenty feet down the parade route, STOPPED, put on a half-hour show, and then moved up another twenty feet. Seriously. You could be at the end of the route waiting up to an hour for the thing to get going. There has got to be a better way to perform this thing.
The best reaction to this “parade” came from a family right in back of me. They decided that, while waiting for the show to stop in front of our part of the route, they had enough time to change their baby’s diaper. And so they changed baby’s diaper. Right there. In the middle of the crowd.
Repeat: A Disney theme park is a fantastic place to observe some truly astonishing human behavior.
There was one new attraction I did like: “Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream”. It’s an amazing museum of Disney history, with exhibits that made this little theme park geek gape. Go figure, the Disney literature doesn’t hype it at all, and it’s tucked away down a side-road that appears to be blocked off due to construction. Make sure you don’t miss it. (Funny thing only I’d notice: there is not one mention of Ub Iwerks during the whole show.)
Last Day Blues suck. We spent our last day walking leisurely around World Showcase. I’d wanted to look at the gardens. Topiary for the (Mickey-head) waffles! They were obviously setting up for the Flower and Garden Festival, and they already had some of the displays uncovered already. The gardens really are amazing. The pints at Rose and Crown are pretty amazing too and both of these helped alleviate the pain of leaving.
Actually, let’s be honest — this day was hot. It was the hottest day we had in Florida and I think I lucked out. If it had been this hot all week, I’d have been miserable. We wound up poolside drinking iced teas a few hours before leaving.
It’s going to take me a while to digest this whole trip. I enjoyed it so much. I was afraid I was going to be sick and useless and at the mercy of my recovery pains. But I had just about the best possible time at Disney World. Magical Glow-tinis and getting to skip lines certainly took the edge off.
Mouse World Radio – The station that kept me from going nuts while writing this thing.