Thar She Blows!
I woke in the OR’s Recovery Room to the staccato order to “wake up!” I had been moved to a hospital gurney and was wrapped in a blanket. The back had been raised so that I very nearly sat up. To say that I was groggy was an understatement. I was overwhelmed by the return of my senses. Every word spoken by the surgical nurse was an assault on my ear drums. I was numb over most of my body, but my bottom lip was raw from where a breathing tube had crushed it against my teeth while I was unconscious. The nurse asked me how I was doing. I know I nodded, but I wanted to go back to sleep. I stared at her and had the distinct impression that she was about to say, “Use your words.” I was not a toddler, but I felt like one.
“I’m fine.” I said, although it was way too soon to come to that conclusion. My joints were stiff and yet my arms and legs felt as loose as jelly at the same time. It reminded me of Harry Potter’s broken arm after it had been “mended” by an inexpert sorcerer. The story of my life had paused for my surgery in a manner entirely different from a night’s sleep. A gap had appeared. My worst fears had not been realized. But I was not the same person either. I was slower. Deliberate. Lost. Fuzzy. “Fixed.”
The area surrounding my incision was numb, but more so even than when I was a young person and had too much to drink. In those times, my lips could be open with drool pouring out and I would not know it. The numbness was what I imagine I might have felt had I lost a limb. I knew where the top of my body had been sewn back to the top part, but I could not have found it. I thought fleetingly of a sobriety test. If someone had said, “Put your finger on your incision.” I would have fared no better than if someone spun me around, handed me a stick, and told me to break a pinata.
I vaguely recall the surgeon telling me his findings. There had been a tumor the size of a four-month pregnancy in the uterus and another in the right fallopian tube. But it did not appear that the cancer had spread to other organs in the abdomen. He thought they had removed all of it. I might not need any further treatment. We would wait for the pathology report. I nodded, but this had no meaning for me yet. I was somewhere between insensibility and closing my mouth while breathing. It was not my finest hour.
No rest for the weary. An orderly wheeled me to a room on yet another floor. We sailed down the hallways between the Recovery Room and my room. Every jolt of the tires over a threshold rattled me. I knew who I was and where I was, but I thought of my Grandpa K, who, after months of hospitalization, asked us to remind him why he went to the hospital in the first place.
Post-surgical treatment is much harder than what precedes it. When we reached my new room the nurses asked me to get off the gurney and walk over to my bed. It was not painful, but it was difficult. I had no idea how much stress my incision could bear. I guarded my stomach with a pillow that I clutched with one hand that sported new needles and tubes. My other hand and arm still felt useless because of needles that had been left for future use. Each step was feeble and rewarded with the nurses’ words of encouragement. Climbing into bed proved to be more than I could manage. I sat in a chair so that I could feel the floor beneath my feet.
My family came to see me. My mom, sister, and brother were there. My mom seemed focused on how long the day had been. They had risen early, driven downtown, waited a long time due to the delay caused by my having started to bleed and the length of time I was in recovery. My mom seemed inordinately upset about the fact that they had to pay for parking. People who live in the suburbs are not used to paying for parking. My sister and brother laughed about “why we had the boy (my brother).” Apparently “we” needed the boy to drive on expressways and city streets and to parallel park. Not that he had to parallel park. They circled back to the fact that there was a charge for parking.
What followed was a long night focused on one goal and only one goal: passing gas!
I did get into that hospital bed. It was an obstacle course. The bed and its rails had to be lowered. I had to climb up at the place the mattress folded. Someone had to help me swing my legs up onto the mattress. Plastic sleeves were applied to my legs. They massaged my legs to prevent blood clots. I had a morphine drip that I could activate a certain number of times per hour. Another tube ran from my catheter to a bag attached at the side of my bed. There was a TV remote and a call button. I had a cell phone and a hospital phone. I had a big cup of ice chips. It wasn’t as demanding as my desk at home, but it felt like command central. Lying in a bed had become a production.
I had a roommate. Like me, she was uninsured. The hospital was in a hurry to get her out. While I tried to drift back to sleep, she called her daughter trying to get her to come pick her up. She asked the nurses for extra medical supplies so she would not have to buy them. She ended up being discharged at about 10 p.m. in a taxi. I kept thinking about that saying about guests smelling like fish after a few days. I worried that I, too, might be kicked to the curb as soon as I was able to leave.
A couple of hours after others were settling down for the night the nurse had me up and walking. It was not all that painful. But I felt shorter in the front than in the back. Standing straight took effort. I feared that I could rip open at my new “seam.” I shuffled from my bed to the bathroom and back several times with a nurse or orderly watching my every move, measuring whatever fluid leaked from me. I sat in my chair until I was tempted to nod off. However, as each hour passed, it felt like my stomach expanded. There was pressure building. I felt like a tire rather than a balloon. It was going to take quite a bit of gas before I popped, but the tension was unrelenting. I would have begged for relief if I thought it might be forthcoming. Every nurse who passed through my room that Friday night and Saturday morning urged me to walk, then marveled at my “loco”motion.
I would have given a fortune for a dose of Gas-X. When I called my mom she told me to ask the nurse to insert a tube to help the gas come out. Yikes! Of course, when she was a child it was common to tell a sick person, “Come over here and I’ll give you something to cry about.” I got up and walked around the hallway while my nurse dragged my morphine drip. Things were not yet so painful that I wanted any more invasive procedures.