Putting the “Am” in Ambulatory

I’m finally home. The hospital was a very nice facility – about the best experience one could ever hope to have in that situation – but it’s not home. I know it was only a few days, but between the physical / emotional “trauma” (for lack of a better word), the drugs and sketchy sleep patterns, it felt like I had been in there a month.

The procedure really started on Tuesday, when I had to start observing a special diet to “prep” me for abdominal surgery. There were other “preps” later that night and the next morning, but they are not for discussion amongst polite company. (Or here, for that matter.) I’ll just sum it up with one word: Yuck.

My surgery was at 7:30 so we were scheduled for a 5:00am arrival at the hospital. Fine by me, I didn’t get much sleep anyway, and it was only four miles away. Beau Hunk was restless too, and we ended up spending the hours between 2:30 and 3:45am snuggling in bed. That was nice.

We arrived at 5:00, on the dot. The next hour was spent answering medical questions and watching the sun come up out my room window. I didn’t have a big view, but it was nice. Trees, a rooftop, and the northeastern sky. I appreciated seeing nature out those windows.

At 6:00 I was hooked up to an IV and told I’d be taken off to surgery around 7. That was a long hour, spent sitting and staring at each other. Beau Hunk was clearly upset and I thought he might come unglued if we had to wait any longer. But 7am rolled up, I hugged him goodbye and crawled onto my gurney for the trip to the recovery room, which doubled as a pre-op. I chatted up the nurse, who grew up very near where we lived in the Bay Area. The anesthesiologist (I’m too lazy to check the spelling on that) showed up with the Magic Syringe. We chatted about my robust history of nausea, especially after surgery. He promised to take care of it, but warned it would leave me feeling tired. So? It wasn’t like I had a big date.

He plugged in the Magic Syringe, but didn’t administer right away. The nurse and I were chatting about the changes to the Bay Area. At one point we were about to get moving towards the Op room, and she asked me a question. The anesthe drug guy said he’d hold off on the Magic Syringe until I answered. “Once I give you this, you won’t be answering a lot of questions.”

He hit the plunger and we started moving to the Op room, next door. He said “give that about 30 seconds”. He wasn’t kidding. I was clear headed in the hall (all five feet of it) and when we entered the room. I even noticed the big lights and commented on the cold. Then they asked me to sit up and move to the table. By then I was saying “Oh yeah, I’m good and stoned now!” I halfway remember them moving my arms out to my side – then nothing. Bless good drugs.

I do remember them moving me to another bed – my room bed? – and having pain, feeling like my very lower abs were cramping and wouldn’t relax. I think I yelped, and a voice from somewhere said “she’s having pain”. More darkness – whew! The next several hours are a kaleidescope of sounds and images. I was amazingly aware of anyone who entered the room, and for reasons I can’t explain, kept prying my eyes open and trying to explain that I was too weak to open my eyes and talk. So apparently even my core brain functions make no sense.

Beau Hunk came by five times – only about two of which I remember. I remember hearing his cell phone ring on my bedside table and thinking “I’m just going to let that go”. I remember hearing him talk to my parents and tell them I was “in and out”, to which my brain replied “I’m awake!” – a thought in which my mouth refused to participate. He said he finally realized that the best thing was to leave me alone so I’d quit waking up and telling him I couldn’t talk because I really needed to rest. I had the nurses help roll me over off my back to my side so I was more comfortable. Other than that, I spent my time curled up, hitting my PCA (Patient Controlled Analgesic) button every time I had a conscious thought. Basically, my thumb was the only thing moving. Again, blessed be the drugs.

By 4pm I was awake enough to sit up, watch Judge Judy and talk to Beau Hunk on the phone. I chatted with my nurses, hit my PCA and dozed. The night nurse helped me get comfortable a few more times – in addition to the ab wound, I was on a five point hookup: IV, oxygen sensor, catheder and anti-clot infla-whosits on each leg – moving wasn’t easy. I managed to sleep, between nurse visits.

Somewhere in all this haze my doc visited and informed me that everything went really well. The bleeding was well controlled and I didn’t need a transfusion. She showed me a picture of what they removed, to which I responded “Dear god in heaven!” (at least it wasn’t “holy shit!”). She said that was the same reaction she had. This fucking thing was huge. We haven’t got the pathology report yet, but the estimate is that it weighed around ten pounds. TEN. POUNDS. (When I get stronger I do plan on scanning that picture, but I will only post a link to it here, not the picture. I figure if you choose to participate in the viewing process, you can’t get mad at me for grossing you out against your will.)

She said my intestines and the fat layer had “adhered” to the mass, and had to be pried off. There was also some entaglement of scar tissue from my appendectomy 25 years ago, which complicated things. She was only able to save my left ovary. The right was “engulfed” in the mass and scar tissue, and was basically toast. But as she put it “ovaries are like kidneys, you only really need one”.

Wednesday afternoon Beau Hunk rode his bike over for a visit. He not only showed up with flowers sticking out of his backpack, but was thoughtful enough to get a vase we received as a wedding present, wrap it in a towel, and bring that to hold the flowers. He also brought the laptop, wireless card and two movies for me to watch on the laptop’s DVD player. Why yes, I do live in heaven. Why do you ask?

During the night the nurse helped me get out of bed and sit in a chair. She brought me my toothbrush, and was instantly my hero. By Thursday afternoon I had been un-tethered from all attachments except my IV, which had quit administering drugs, except by PCA request. I took my first walks and oral pain meds.

Thursday also brought my first meals. Suffice it to say these were no ordinary hospital meals. I ordered fresh fruit and cottage cheese. Yes, “ordered”. I had a menu from which to choose. The food staff came in 15 minutes before serving and set up my food tray with a placemat, flatware and juice. The food was served…no, presented… on real dishes with garnish and everything. No canned fruit cup here. There were grapes, currants, strawberries, a plum, cantelope, and honeydew, all arranged around the cottage cheese and dressed with mint springs. The juice was served in a glass, not a disposable plastic cup. The napkin was cloth. I had soup for dinner, and it too, was fantasic in both looks and taste.

Friday morning there was a bit of a hiccup – I was running a very slight fever. I was told to walk and do my breathing exercises, since it was probably related to lung congestion. By Noon I had done as I was told and there was no more fever. At 3:30, Beau Hunk came to get me and we made the trek home.

Now I’m home. Which isn’t without its drawbacks, but I’m glad I’m here. Beau Hunk has given up our bedroom to be the “recovery suite”. I have all manner of electronica – the TV remote, my iPod, the remote to our stand fan, the coveted laptop and its wireless connection, and a two-way radio so Beau Hunk can leave the confines of “shouting distance” and still be at my beck and call. Add to that a book, and I’ve got more entertainment at my fingertips than a girl could ever wish.

Initially all pets were banned from the recovery suite. The big fear was that Bill The Cat (aka “The Red Menace”) would end up on my belly, since he is a known lap-napper. We also feared that Red Dog (our Golden Retriever) would try to mount the bed and put one of his big dumb paws where it ought not be. We can’t ban one dog without banning the other, so, no dogs.

There is one exception to the No Pets rule – my cat. My cat has finally, after several years, decided to acknowledge that 1) I exist, and 2) she’s a cat. She has been my constant companion since my arrival, spending most of her time sleeping at the foot of the bed. She hasn’t done that since before Beau Hunk moved in with me, almost two years ago. And when she did it then, if my foot came within six inches of her, she took off like a shot and didn’t return. But last night I was working my feet under her, lifting her up, and she didn’t budge. Although when I woke up a few times, she gently walked up beside me and purred, rubbing her head against my hand. This morning she lifted up a paw as if she were going to step on my belly. I put out my hand so it was in her way, to block her. So she jumped in the air and cleared my entire torso, landing on the other side of the bed. Maybe I’m attributing far too much intelligence to this animal, but it really is as if she understands.

My pain is tolerable, especially with meds. I’m getting up out of bed on my own and I’ve adopted a towel across my abdomen as my best friend. Call it my security blanket, but I don’t want to be without it. My belly is bloated and things are not quite back to normal in there, but I’m working on it.

I know that my insides have been highly offened and are incredibly pissed off, but they are getting over it. I also know that no matter how it seems right now, I just have to wait this out and I’ll be back to some kind of normal soon. I just have to keep waiting for the clock to tick. It’s going to do that a few million times and I’ll be right as rain.

Tick tock… tick tock. It’ll come.

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