No matter how the medical profession tries, and no matter how well intended your friends or neighbors, preparing for ANY major surgery can be terrifying. Regardless of how “routine” the procedure may be made to sound. Hearing from the doctors, “We do these every day” or from your neighbor the plumber, how “…advanced…” the operation has become, there is always going to be an emotional rollercoaster. Well. Speaking for myself. Especially given MY health history! I mean, you’re reading about a guy who went in for out-patient shoulder surgery, and came out three days late with heart stents. And so on, throughout my medical life!
My neighbor, Tom (the one who gives me free art-related access of his flower garden, and who cared for Skip in ’08, during the first three months after my exploded intestine surgery), gave me a ride to Methodist Hospital Wednesday morning around 5:30. I was checked in and Tom was on his way home by 6:15 or so. I admit, I went through the entire rollercoaster range of emotions all over again as the nurse, Nancy, ran me through the prep. I did a little more bargaining with “Man Above”. “Just give me a little more time….” I negotiated. The anger returned. The mere thought of not being in control of my own body! Angry at everything, and nothing. I revisited denial; “This isn’t happening to me again! I WILL wake up from this dream!” And lastly, the feelings of depression set in again. I don’t depress easily anymore. It doesn’t just come and go. I think it’s more than “situational” depression. Mourning for myself, angry at the sensation of self-pity, knowing there are others going under the knife today, facing far worse odds than myself… But still, I wanted to wake up alive. Selfish of me I think.
Out of street clothes, into hospital clothes. EKG machine hooked up with those glued-on electrodes. Blood pressure and oxygen-reading machine, IV lines into both arms. ‘Ole Nancy floated around the bed-side just like the pro that she is. She wiped away my tears a couple of times and asked, “Don’t you have anyone here? IS there anyone I can call for you?” “No, but thank you for offering.” “You’ll do fine,” she replied, “You have one of the best surgeons…”
Some phases of this, I don’t remember well, but one part, I will NEVER forget. Being taken out of Nancys care by three surgically clad nurses. I remember their gloves taped to their sleeves. Funny what we remember. My bed being piloted through several hallways into the operating room and watching the ceiling lights wondering, “Is THIS my last view of life?”. How the temperature changed from comfortable to uncomfortably cold. When I commented on the temperature to one of the bed-pilots, she only responded by saying, “Germs don’t like cold weather!” Along one wall, I saw what I refered to in my mind as “the tool bench”. Reminded me of the metal-topped bench which runs the entire length of my garage wall. And the three or four unfinished projects I have there. Six or seven people, clad in operating gowns and caps, whose gender was unidentifiable unpacking, unrolling and clanging metal tools on the finely polished table-top. Three people at one end of the brightly lit operating table, and around THEM more monitors and graphs and hoses then I’d seen since heart surgery back in March last year! And finally, after scanning the room, I spotted Dr. Lodhia and his crew. “Well, the star is here!” he exclaimed, “Lets get started! You ready Dennis?”. One of the other “pilots of the bed” told me, “We’re going to give you this shot in your IV and when you wake up, you’ll be all done!” “All done?” I thought. “I hope she means the operation…” NOT “All done” as in “Call the morgue.” “OK” I agreed… Like at this point I could say, “Oh never mind. I think I’ll just go home.”
Thought I was dreaming. “Dennis? Dennis? How are you feeling? You did very well. Can you wiggle your toes for me? Can you wiggle your fingers? Move your left leg…” and so on. You’re in the recovery room Dennis, and you’ll be here a couple of hours while we observe you and make a spot for you upstairs.” If there’s anything you need, try to push this button… And DON’T MOVE!”
I learned MANY years ago, there is no sense of time when you’ve been in surgery. Over a year ago when this saga began, I went in for outpatient shoulder surgery on a Friday morning. I woke up three days later in Cardiac Care, searching my right shoulder for bandages, tubes, ANYTHING indicating I’d be back on the road soon… Instead, I came to, surrounded by beeping machinery and a nurse telling me that it was Monday morning! THIS time was no different. Went to sleep mostly naked and nearly frozen, under the bright lights. Woke up in a dimly lit room covered with blankets from head, no, make that lower-neck, to toe. And even MORE things attached to my body… Some “pumping things” on my legs to keep the blood going around, a couple of air hoses up my nose that itched but I couldn’t reach. LOTS of lines connected to the previously installed IVs… Lastly, I would have sworn someone ran my Western Star, fully loaded with California Produce over my body back and forth a couple of times. “How would you rate your pain on a scale of one to ten, Dennis?” asked the nurse. “500” I replied. The entire staff noted later, something about my sense of humor, but regarding the pain, I was serious! As I told them “dead” serious! If there was anything “nice” about this experience, when they gave me pain injections, they worked immediately! I got warm ALLLLLL over! And nodded off again.
Finally made it up to my 8th floor room around 5, 5:30 (or so they claimed). Must have been about then because I smelled FOOD! Not that I was hungry, it just smelled like dinner time at the hospital. You have to spend some time there to appreciate the fragrance. This shirt has “Dennis” all over it!
I remember Dr. Lodhias’ assistant coming in… “Things went pretty much as planned.” “Pretty much?” I thought.
“We widened out the canal. BUT we found it necessary to put two metal plates on the front and back of #4, 5 & 6. Here are some x-rays. This is why your outside hole is bigger.” Sure enough, right down there in my neck, assuming they were MY x-rays, I have new iron. “Crap, at this rate, I’ll NEVER get through another metal detector. Iron in my heart, iron in my knee, now, new iron in my throat!”. “What are these?” “Oh, THOSE are the screws we use to hold the plates in place”. “Rust-proof I hope?” “Medical Stainless” he replied. “Now you’re talking my language. Stainless, to a trucker is like platinum wedding rings to a bride! Stainless! Can I get in there to polish it? When I go to the chrome shop, do they have matching pieces for my heart and knee? Do they come in 300 gallon fuel tanks too?” Back to sleep.
Unlike the last operation for the heart, they didn’t want me up walking around. In fact, due to my reputation for escaping (literally) from the hospital (another story for later), they had an alarm on my bed. My medical records have me listed as a “Flight Risk” (I SWEAR!). I learned Wednesday night, the alarm worked! All I wanted to do was visit the men’s room, figuring after I studied the layout of all of the hoses and tubes etc. that I could gather up the attached machinery for the 20 foot walk to the head. Oh no. The alarms went off immediately, and less than a minute later, I had four new faces in the room. “And WHERE do you think YOU’RE going?” “Uhhh, the bathroom?” “You were told DON’T MOVE! Push this button when you have to go to the bathroom!” I think I used my “pouty, dejected, hurt feeling face” when she caved and said, “Well, now that you’re up…”
Unbeknownst to me, she’d wrapped this cargo strap around my midsection as I wavered there in the middle of the room during the negotiations. She says, “Lets go.” So I went into the bathroom and tried to close the door behind me. “Whats the matter?” “The door won’t close”. “It won’t as long as I have a hold of you” “Well, then let go!” “Can’t, sorry”. “Then at least turn around a little” “Can’t, strap won’t reach”. “Not even a little bit?” I felt the strap loosen. “Okay okay, let’s get this over with”. BUT, I DID observe how to turn that alarm on and off upon my return to the bed. “Next time” I thought. “Sly like a wolf!”
I remember the nasty hospital jello Wednesday night sometime. They already had me halfway sitting up (a position I’ve become accustomed to sleeping in for over a year), so feeding time was no big deal. I asked for “Jello Shots instead. They laughed. Back to sleep.
Around 4:00 a.m. Thursday I was “awake” for the last time for a while… I quit breathing. Bells, buzzers and whistles, nurses and doctors in my room, and I hadn’t even pushed the button or tried my next escape! I was impressed! Even MORE impressed when they determined that my airway had swollen shut, needing immediate attention. I got a new hole in the throat (actually, they used the existing one and made it even bigger) on the outside, a whole bunch of injected steroids in the IV lines and a whole bunch of morphine (to relax me they said). “Ahhh, if I die, I will die feeling warm!” Wasn’t long before I was back breathing on my own again, Nurse Gina telling me after the commotion, “This isn’t that unusual for the kind of surgery you had…”. “I think it was that dead guy not listening again…” I stated (more on that in another writing).
The begging (and negotiating) began mid-day Thursday. “When can I go home?” I’m pretty sure it was initiated by round three or four of the dietary jello cuisine. The nurses had all been very kind. Even let me sit in my chair and look out the window without the escape alarm. But I knew I’d slipped up when I saw their expression at my question, “Where are my clothes?” Heck, I figured it was time. I’d gotten more than I came for (the new iron wasn’t part of the original deal), I was satisfactorily glued back together. Heck, with a full crew working ’round the clock, I’ve had 550 CATS overhauled in about the same amount of time…
I had to establish to them that I could swallow. At least swallow my pills, finely ground and blended in with (what else) the Jello flavor of the day. I had to prove balance (I told them THAT was due to the “dead weight I’d inherited). I had to demonstrate a sense of “time” (I suppose so that I didn’t overdose after I got home). “Or…” I wondered, “…did they need assurance that I had a concept of eternity?” All of that aside, I failed miserably through Thursday evening. Gagged on the pills, couldn’t manuever out of the bed…
I had TWO visitors Thursday night. Tom came by to give me a “Skip Report”. Skip and Izzy were doing great together. Skip had made herself at home on her own blanket Tom keeps at his house, just for her. She’d visited Izzies food bowl, without protest from her pal. He teased that he had to recall HER methods of communication such as: “When I stand at the back door, I want out NOW!”. But Tom assured me, Skip was fine…. My dear friend Dr. Schmidt and her son Christopher stopped in. I guess she still doesn’t know me too well because she laughed when I told her “I’ll be home sometime tomorrow…”. BUT, she did get the low-down on my dietary requirements before she left.
I really don’t remember falling asleep Thursday night. You know how it is though. The nurses come in every hour and wake you. “You asleep?” “Am I in heaven?” “No. Room 836, Methodist Hospital.” “Then yes, I was sleeping”. “OK. Need anything while I’m here?” “Yes. Sleep”.
Friday morning early:
Nurse: “What do you want for breakfast?”
Dennis: “A large fillet, medium (from Big Freds) garlic toast (extra cheese), salad with house dressing (no anchovies) and pasta… Long Island Iced Tea to drink please. A double I think”
Nurse: “What flavor Jello?”
Dennis: “Crap! When can I go home?”
Nurse: “Doctor will be here in about an hour. What flavor?”
I’d determined to pass the “tests”. “Bathroom?” “You sure?” “Yep”. Took longer to unhook all of the medical paraphernalia than it did to actually “use the facility” but I DID manage to demonstrate my ability to manuever unassisted to and from. AND, she let me close the door! Next on the list, “time”. “I’ve been awake an hour, when’s the doctor coming?” “After breakfast.” “Good” I thought, another task before his arrival. But, let me tell you. If you think hospital Jello is nasty. Ha! Mix in two tablets of ground up Hydrocodone and one tablet of Dexamethasone, and you have a concoction that will burn your throat all of the way to the pit of your stomach, no matter WHAT flavor Jello you choose. I may have choked a little as it slid down, but I got it in… “Water please?”
Dr. Lodhia was there around 8:30. “Wanna go home?” I tried to not act too excited. “Yeah, I guess I could…” “Well, how are ya’ feeling?” Trying NOT to sound helpless, but not give too much credit to miracles or immaculate recovery, “Pretty good” I stated. “Well, if you promise the following: No twisting, turning, jumping, reaching, no lifting, (I laughed at the next one) no kinky sex ( THAT has been awhile, believe me Doc), no extra-curricular physical activity, I guess I could send you home.” I put on my “Awww shucks Doc…” expression and shook his hand. “Thank you. I think my dog misses me” I said. “The nurses will have your paperwork by the time you’re ready”. Dr. Lodhia doesn’t know me very well either. An old racing slogan came to mind: “When the green flag drops, the bullshit stops!” I was dressed, fed, packed and was “fake-reading” the morning paper, as if I’d been there for HOURS, when the discharge nurse came in with the paperwork. She expressed no guilt in the delay.
I already had a call into Tom (premonition?) to come get me after his morning chores. “The car” was there as the ink was drying on my paperwork. Tom had it all arranged. Skip was home and waiting. My mail was neatly stacked in the living room (including the shut off notice from the phone and light companies), and the trash cans back in their rightful place in the garage (I’d missed trash day but Tom saw to that on Thursday for me).
I’m home. I do have a fist full of pills to grind up several times a day, but I’m breathing. There is another batch I’m avoiding (the pain ones) for a number of reasons. There is much more to write about when it comes to this most recent experience with our health care system, and I may as well. I won’t be having any “extra-curricular” physical activity for a while and may as well start on a good case of carpal-tunnel for an encore. Besides, I think I hear the ice cream truck coming into the neighborhood. “Get out of my way kids… I’m on a mission! And when the green flag drops…”!!
Thank you everyone, for the thoughts, the prayers, for enduring and putting up with me…. More later… PS ALL of the posters, stickers, prints and photos can be clicked on for purchase. They aren’t all my own, but by investing in them, you’re helping me AND the other artists and creators. Thank you again. More later…