Surgery is an Ordeal
Wow. What a fucking ordeal this is.
Ted and George drop me off in the front of the hospital at about 9 AM yesterday. After a long hug I grabbed my backpack and headed in. I have to say it felt weird walking in alone, it’s not an alone kind of thing. Once I made it past Covid questions and temperature checks I went to registration. I was about 10 minutes early. We did the normal “sign over your life” stuff and then he said, “Let me get a bag for your valuables and we’ll secure them here.” Great. I had called the surgeon’s office a couple days before and they said to bring everything I might need to the hospital. He returns with a bag the exact size of a brownbag lunch sack and says, “okay, I need your phone, any jewelry and wallet”. Then I ask, “what about this backpack?” He said, “we only store your phone and valuables”. I say, “okay, there’s a computer and iPad in here”. He agreed those were valuable but wouldn’t fit in the lunch sack. “So, just take them with you.” I’m fine with that and turned to leave. “No! Mam, Mam, we need to take your phone.” I question this policy as ridiculous and he agrees that it’s stupid. I think about lying and saying, “I don’t have a phone”, even though he’s already seen it. I decide to follow this stupid rule.
I enter the waiting area. When it’s clear that they are running way late I do yoga to stretch out and generally baffle people. “What is that lady doing?” Whatever, people. Stretch and move your damn bodies. It’s good for them.
About an hour later a nice guy comes to bring me into the surgery pre-op area. He struggled to pronounce my last name then became interested in its origins. I said it was Irish. Somehow, in his eyes, this fact made me an expert in British colonialism. I made some stuff up. I hope I didn’t disappoint.
In pre-op I’m in a “room” right across from the nurse’s station. I change and get in bed. The new thing for me are these fancy blow-up blankets. They are just like Amazon’s plastic air packaging packets but tubular. And they have a fairly large hose attached blowing in hot air. They are hot. I contemplate the incredible waste being generated by my surgery. Whew, hospitals and waste. There must be a better way.
Another nurse comes in and does the usual pre-op stuff. Temperature, IV, one million questions testing my knowledge of myself. Then she left. So, I have nothing, no book or phone or anything. Just me watching the nursing station and my IV drip, drip, drip. For 2.5 hours. And no one said a word to me that whole time. Not one word. No one said, “your doctor is running late”. Or anything. So, I counted drips to keep my mind off things and imagined alternate universes where I just got to go home.
The surgeon came first and asked what questions I had and how it went with the stoma nurse. I told him that I had two marks, but they had mostly come off in the showers I had to take pre surgery. I lifted my gown to show him the faint marking, assuming he could see them well enough, but he grabbed a marker to darken them. Then he said, “So which one do you want?”
Oh my gosh. I couldn’t believe that he expected me to choose. I told him the stoma nurse didn’t do much of what I’ve heard other people say they consider, like talk about what clothes you wear, where you’re pants hit, etc. etc. etc. etc. The surgeon replies with “Why not get out your jeans and we’ll see”. I say, “I didn’t bring jeans.” Which seemed to really surprise him. I brought “lounge wear” i.e. sweatpants. Isn’t that what everyone would bring to a hospital when you are having stomach surgery? It didn’t occur to me to bring jeans. He marks a brand-new place based on what, I don’t know, and I’m hoping it works well. For the rest of my life.
Then the surgical nurse comes in and I immediately get into relationship with her. I thank her for her time, expertise, and the hard work it took to become a nurse. She was lovely. And kept telling me she would be with me the whole time. She thought I was afraid but I wasn’t. Then the anesthesiologist came in and pulled up a chair. We hit it off right away. Again, I thanked him for all his effort and expertise so that he could save my life. I cried. He assured me that “weeping” was a good thing and no one would judge me. Again, I wasn’t crying because I was afraid, I was crying because I have cancer, which kills you, and these people did whatever they had to do so they could save my life. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and good fortune.
The anesthesiologist gets up to go but turns around and says, “What’s your biggest fear?”
“Global Warming,” I reply.
Anesthesiologist, “Right, what your next biggest fear?”
Me: Conspiracy theorists and Maga Republicans.
Anesthesiologist: “What’s your biggest fear today?”
Me: That something bad happens to my kids.
Anesthesiologist: “hmm, You’re kind of special.”
Me: “I’m confident in you and your team. Thanks for saving my life.”
He leaves and the nurse comes back to wheel me into surgery. What a bizarre experience that is. People always say, “it’s nothing like Grey’s Anatomy” but there are similarities. Although the room I’m in isn’t as fancy. Mostly, it’s all the people zooming around getting things ready. They all come to say “hi” and I thank each of the them for gaining the expertise to save my life and for being there and for staying late.
Then they knock me out which is what I’ve been waiting for all day.
It’s currently about 10 AM on Tuesday and when I looked at the clock, I expected it to say 3 PM. I’m so very tired. Last night was a nightmare of sorts. I had a lot of pain and for some reason my surgeon had me on a small dose of Dilaudid. Dilaudid is the good stuff but the amount he had me on didn’t touch my pain. And I had to ask for it every hour. Not to mention that the call buttons are not working. I was so frustrated and confused by having to ask for it every hour. 10 minutes after getting it I’d feel some relief but 30 minutes later I had more pain and had another 15 minutes to go. I was practicing relaxation/breathing techniques that helped me drift to sleep but within one minute I’d wake up in pain. I asked the nurse to call the doctor to up my dose, which he did, but only if I needed it. WHAT THE HELL?! That’s why I asked you to up it. Because. I. needed it. I still had to ask and still had to wait. Twice I demanded, really demanded, from the nurses that they give me it all at once. One of the nurses was sort of okay with this plan, I think mostly because I was bawling my eyes out. The other nurse wasn’t having anything to do with it.
This morning my surgeon came to see me. I told him I wanted to understand his approach to pain management. He got defensive with me. I wanted to scream. But of course, I cried. From frustration and exhaustion and pain. He apologized, which is good, right? Cause I don’t think I should have had that much pain. I really thought they would be dripping the pain meds in me on a constant flow. I’m just so tired. So pain today is not great but it’s tolerable. I struggled with the night shift staff, I didn’t feel they listened to me at all. I tried to thank them between tears and frustration. The day shift staff is better. My nurse is kind and she listens. God, listening makes such a difference.
I hope the above is mostly coherent. I’m so tired. Afreesa, the stoma nurse, just came in and I’m in tears all over again. I think I just need sleep.
Thank you again for all your support. Last night, when the pain was bad, I imagined all of you thinking of me and received your light, and love, and strength. It made the difference. It really did.
More soon. Writing helps. Thanks for reading.