Todd is a recently retired Saunders Secondary School teacher. He loves sports, drives a Camry, and thoroughly enjoys discussing modern history. He’s soft spoken, enjoys a great joke, and has a velvet smooth radio voice. Todd also became my source of comfort while I was experiencing one of the most unsettling situations of my life.
In September of 2017 I was diagnosed with an inguinal hernia. In October I drove to Shouldice Hospital in Toronto as I was told they were the world leader in hernia repair, only to be told by a surgeon there that I had to lose at least 50lbs before they would operate. My weight loss has been well documented in our club, my goal was reached within 3 months, and I drove down to Shouldice on Jan 24th to finally rid myself of this inconvenience.
I had focused so much of my attention on my weight loss leading up to my surgery that I had no time to worry or concern myself with how I felt about the actual procedure. The moment I did my weigh in confirmation at Shouldice, 12 hrs. before my procedure, is when it finally hit me like a bag of bricks. Nervousness, fear, and upset struck my core like a lightning bolt from Zeus. I was in an unfamiliar place, around total strangers, and no family around. I don’t think I had ever felt so alone in my life.
Shouldice is eerily reminiscent of a 1960’s murder mansion you’d see in the movies. Outdated décor, cold, and not entirely well lit. The staff, although friendly in a sense, are more robotic than anything else. You just get a creeping feeling that something sinister is about to happen. As a patient, you have to stay 4 evenings, 1 prior to your surgery, 3 nights after. It’s not the ideal type of mid-week retreat I envisioned for myself this year, but typically anything with catered meals and a freshly made bed is something I can pretend to enjoy.
I had a semiprivate room that I shared with a young kid, his name escapes me, but his wails and moans all throughout the evening haunted what little sleep I was afforded that first night. I met him as he had just come out of surgery earlier in the day and he suggested that the surgery was a piece of cake, although I suspect he was still under the influence of the anesthetic when we spoke, because his screams later that evening told an entirely different story.
Now, before that kid was able to play Freddy Kruger in my dreams that night, all new arrivals for surgery had to attend an information session in a common room. This room was filled with people that looked like they were as thrilled to be there as I was. As I sat down for this orientation an older gent notices my London Knights sweater and asks..
“Knights fan? Are you from London?”
“I sure am!” I boast with an odd bit of swagger.
“Well, so am I! My name is Todd."
We chatted the entire evening, until midnight if I’m not mistaken (I’m not sure that I’ve even accomplished that with my wife yet), from topics that ranged from world history, what the hell was wrong with the Knights, to DCL. He was a sense of calm that cloaked me all while a storm of chaos was brewing inside me. It was comforting having someone to chat with, especially as he was from London, in this sea of strangers.
Thanks to my aforementioned roommate I woke up in the morning, the day of surgery, on about 2 hrs of sleep. I had to sit around and wait to be called into surgery. Minutes felt like hours until my name was finally called, and then a bunch of us were ushered into the basement of this facility. The one moment that I’ll never forget is lying on a gurney in a row that contained 7 other men on gurneys and feeling like I was waiting to be taken to slaughter. This “pre-slaughter room” had pea green ceramic wall tiling, light green ceilings, and a green and white floor pattern. The lighting reminded me of an alien abduction, as the fixtures were enormous domes with blinding soft, yet blinding, yellow lighting. I swear it was so cold in that room that I could see my breath. My nerves were uncontrollable at this point.
I wasn’t put out for the surgery, I was given a sedative, and essentially had a tent placed over my chest while they operated. I was shaking uncontrollably as my adrenaline spiked, and envisioned everything I had to accomplish if I made it through this surgery, while they strapped my chest and legs down. The nurse clearly picked up on my emotions as she stroked my head during the entire procedure and tried to calm me down. You’re supposed to be groggy during this entire procedure, but I was wide awake and heard every cut, every stitch, and even heard my intestines “squish” as they pushed them back inside my abdominal wall.
After my surgery I had to stay in bed for 6 hours, until the anesthetic wore off, and realized by hour 2, how much this entire ordeal sucked. After months of sauntering around with my intestines inside my scrotum, to having an incision from my belly button to my anus held closed with clips, all I wanted in that moment was the ability to stand up and go have a cigarette! When I was finally able to get mobile, I was regulated to a walking style called “The Shouldice Shuffle”, which resembles a modified version of the Humpty Dance as you realize how difficult it is to walk after having an operation on your core.
3 things hit me as I exited my room, into the hallway, and Humpty Danced toward the common area:
This was like no pain I’ve ever felt in my entire life
My intestines were no longer hanging outside my body
I needed to find Todd!
Over the course of the next 3 days we joked about the “slaughter room”, we attempted brisk walks to the variety store to buy newspapers and crossword scratch tickets, indulged in our prepared meals from world class chefs, went back for 2nds and 3rds during snack time, watched Maple Leaf games, talked Red Sox, he shared his retirement plans, I share my career aspirations, and Todd even had a chance to chat with my wife and son as they showed up to visit one evening. Upon release, we rode home together, and I had wondered if I would ever chat with the gentleman that I likely would have never met had I not sustained this injury.
I’m glad to say that we’ve kept in touch, and even recently went to a Knights game together, that I was originally going to take my son to, but he was unable to attend as he now works for the Knights organization.
It’s funny in retrospect the types of paths and people you cross in life. Todd, who lives minutes from me, is likely someone I would have never met, and at most, is someone I would have nodded to while crossing paths on the street. He may never understand, but he was such a comforting presence in a moment when I really needed someone, when I needed a friend, and changed this entire experience for me. He removed all fear, all anxiety, and all the loneliness I was experiencing when I showed up for surgery.
And for that, I’ll forever be thankful for him noticing my Knights sweater.
Nick Tountas, DCL VP of Operations