Post-surgery Party Time

'SQUEE!'

What the hell was that?

It was my first night in the hospital and I woke with a start in my darkened hospital room, disoriented, and really uncomfortable in my bed. I always sleep on my side and so I was developing a really sore lower back and bum from being in that one position on my back for so long, I guess since about 8:30 that morning. I spent the whole night tossing and turning, sitting up, laying back, and futzing with the Craftmatic Automatic Adjustable Bed.

The result of all this flopping around was a lot of bleeding from my incision, and it's probably my own fault. Twice through the night I had to have the dressing on the wound, my gowns and all the sheets on the bed replaced. There was blood everywhere and I was totally freaked out. I felt like Carrie. My all time worst pain record when waking up from the surgery the day before was quickly topped when the nurses removed the dressing from my wound. I'm not a baby about pain but I really let out a groan when they peeled it off. I guess someone figured out at some point that it's best if they don't shave you too much because you're more likely to get an infection or something, so in addition to the pain from the incision I got a bunch of hair ripped off my stomach. Ever seen a video of a man getting his chest waxed? I got that on a 12 hour old incision. Where the hell is that magic morphine button? The second time they took off the dressing, I ended up with a large pressure bandage about the size of a folded newspaper, that would stay on for two more days. Thankfully it stopped the bleeding.

My remaining dignity was obliterated the next morning as the nurse washed me.

The rest of my notes from the hospital that week are a litany of aches and pains and complaining, but I'll spare you the details. I had plenty of visitors and phone calls, and watched every single televised match of the World Cup from South Africa (the vuvuzela is relegated to the same status as my IV pump). I started slowly ingesting clear fluids - water, consomme, tea and all that - and worked my way up to Jell-O and then on to solid food over the course of a few days. And I was miserable. I wanted visitors but when they were there I wanted them gone. I was just a bitch, and Madeline later told me she and Dale couldn't wait to leave during their nightly visits. I feel really bad about this now. I'm so sorry guys. In my own mind I was Paul Courageous Cancer Fighter. In truth I was a total jerk to the people who love me. What a dick.

How do people who stay in the hospital for weeks and months avoid going crazy?

Commenting about the hospital food seems like low hanging fruit when trying to play this experience for laughs, but really it's not that bad. And if you think about it, the goal isn't really for it to taste good. It should be simple and healthy and assist you in getting back on your feet. I mean, how good can they make it in one kitchen in the basement of this huge building anyway, trucking it all around the place in elevators and all that? It's amazing it's as good as it is. Jell-O sucks though.

In the middle of the night on my second or third day I was awakened by the nurse coming in to do the hourly check of my vital signs etc. I was very anxious, grumpy and tired and let the nurse, Noelle, know it. I wanted to crawl out of my own skin.

"Many people have this type of reaction after being on morphine for a couple of days. You should be switching over to oral medication in the next day or two and you'll start feeling better," she said calmly.

"But I can't sleep! There's so much noise in the ward," I complained.

'squee!'

"You really shouldn't expect to be able to get sleep for long stretches in the hospital. Grab an hour or two whenever you can and expect a lot of interruptions."

This was kind of a startling epiphany. Reading between the lines, she told me the surgery ward of the hospital I was in was not a theraputic, healing environment. Hmm. Awkward. But I was better off after realizing it. I shouldn't expect to be up all day going about my business, and then turn in for the night and sleep until morning. Not realistic. OK let's adjust then.

She wasn't supposed to, but Noelle got me a big fat bag of Gravol and hooked it up to my IV so I could sleep for the rest of the night.

It wasn't just my friend the IV pump either, or the hourly interruption from the nurses. My room was right across the corridor from the nurses' station, where phones rang and machines beeped all day long, the nurses would convene to chew the fat, and virtually every person who came into the ward interacted with someone at the desk.

There was plenty of noise from the other patients too. I'm not the only one who reacts badly to the pain meds, and the guy in the room next to me was crying out all night long in this melodramatic voice, "Oh my god you've GOTTA help me!" I might as well have had Stanley Kowalski yelling "STELLA!" all night long.

Walking is prescribed as an important way to get the digestive system going, and I conservatively estimate that 50% of the IV poles that patients shuffled up and down the halls with had ear splitting squeaks that were so loud and awful they actually made my teeth hurt.

They would come in to bring my tray of food. They would come in to take away my tray of food. They would come in to clean the room. And I mean they really cleaned the room: top to bottom, every surface wiped down and wiped dry. Hourly check of vital signs. Come in to draw my blood for daily tests. Change the bags on my IV.

I couldn't wait to go home.

By Thursday things were looking up though. Dr. B came by first thing and removed the huge pressure bandage, and the catheter (for the rest of my life I will spit on the floor every time I say the word). Everything was looking good. I got to mostly wash myself and have a shave and was feeling kind of like a normal person. I was disconnected from the IV pole and put on oral meds, although the IV lead stayed in my hand just in case. I didn't care though, because I could move around freely and no more 'squee'!

Getting in and out of bed was pretty easy, to my surprise, and pretty soon I was striding around the ward like a champ. The ward consisted of two long hallways with a bunch of short hallways connecting them, and I started off lapping the nurses' station, then the whole ward and pretty soon out into the waiting area and the elevators. And let me tell you, I was stylin', in my XXL pajamas (for the bloated stomach), brown plaid housecoat and slippers. Damn!

I could also do simple things by myself that you normally do everyday, but that take on a whole new level of awesomeness when you're in the hospital. Like flossing and brushing my teeth. I got to take a shower on Thursday, and it felt so good I think I peed a little.

Touring the ward made me realize yet again that I should be grateful to not be sicker. Way at the end of the ward were all the brain surgery patients, with great giant bandages wrapped around their heads, and they were some pretty serious looking cases. In some rooms, I would see a nurse putting on what can only be described as a low level haz-mat suit, and then going in to 'assist' a patient. The odor that followed is something I hope you never have to experience. And I would always see lots of teary faces.

Doing my laps was a great reliever of stress and my lower back pain, and I would keep on walking and walking for many months to come as part of my healing.

My sleep was restless and patchy but I didn't care. Wake up after an hour of sleep? Fine, I would watch TV or whatever until I was tired again, then doze for another hour. I could see how staying sane in the hospital had a lot to do with how you managed your time.


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