And How Was Your Week?

Finally.

So last Tuesday, the 10th of December, I went in for my surgery.

We reported in at just after 7 a.m.; actually, I was standing just inside the building near the reception door waiting for Mr. Stuck to take care of the parking fare when the check-in desk called to ask where I was.  I had been standing there a few minutes already, watching him through the window, but I hadn’t checked in because I was pocket-less and he held my ID and insurance card.  Eventually man bested machine, and then he was standing next to me, handing her my driver’s license.  We finished our paperwork and had just found a seat in the waiting area when they called me to prep.

At prep, all of the normal things happened: I was fitted with my bracelets, I changed into my hospital gown and non-skid, unisex tube socks, I settled into the gurney with a blanket (a heated-air blanket, even!) an IV was started, and my surgeon stopped in.  In between, I met several nurses, a nurse-anesthetist, my anesthesiologist, a patient care technician or two, and the assisting doctors.  I also said and spelled my whole name several times and confirmed my birth date to anyone who asked; in the fray I was also answering questions, the same questions I had been asked and had answered before: who is your doctor?  what is he going to do?

I remember being rolled out of there into an elevator and then into the operating room.  The last thing I remember is a nurse talking to me after emptying a syringe into my IV port and putting a mask on me, but even that’s a bit fuzzy in my mind.

Not me. photo credit Zdenko Zivkovic.

I guess it took me awhile to wake up; I was two hours in recovery before I was brought to my room and Mr. Stuck was allowed to visit.  Sure seemed warm in the room; I kept kicking off blankets and requesting ice chips and cold washcloths for my forehead.  No fever, but I was just too warm.  Besides my pain control IV, I was hooked up to a couple of monitors as well as oxygen, because my O2 level kept dipping.  My respiratory rate is slow and always has been, and the monitor didn’t like that at all.  Periodically, the respiration monitor (whatever it’s called) would go off because I wasn’t breathing fast enough and it apparently thought I had stopped.  No, I was still breathing, just at my own, slow, pace.

Each time I hit the button to get more hits of Dilaudid, a cycle began:  the narcotic entered my bloodstream; I would relax and drift off; the alarms would sound as my respiration slowed and my oxygen dipped; I would wake with a start and sharp inhale;  the monitor, assured I was again breathing, would go silent (most of the time), and with my muscles tense and heart pounding I would again feel the pain and need the Dilaudid.  Over and over and over this played out. The oximeter’s alarm was about four times louder than the respiratory alarm and sometimes the alarms wouldn’t cancel once my stats came back into their ‘normal’ zone, and I would have to wait for a nurse to silence them.  This went on from the time I came back to my room until after 2 a.m. — about twelve hours!  It was awful and it just wouldn’t stop.  If the nurses were getting tired of the routine, and they were, you can imagine how I felt.  When they called him, the doctor told the nurses that I was exactly the type of patient who needed those monitors on.  I’m sure he’s right, but it was a long, sleepless night.

Around 2 a.m., the doctor allowed the alarm to be turned off on the respiration monitor as long as they got me a better cannula (the nasal oxygen tube) so my oxygen saturation would rise.  Thank the Lord.  I was able to get a few hours of shuteye until the resident doctors made their rounds some time around 6 a.m..  But at least I finally — finally! — got some sleep.

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It’s me, but the pic’s a few years old.

It took a long time the next day to get discharged, but we finally did, and we made it home after stopping to pick up my prescriptions.  I suddenly took very cold and started to shake; even my teeth chattered.  I had been so overheated in the hospital, but now I was freezing!  This was the anesthesia talking.  Mr. Stuck tucked me into bed with extra blankets and got me my medication.  My belly was bloated and sore; I just wanted some rest.  After a few hours, I awoke to rejoin the family.

I’m glad everything went so smoothly for my surgeon; apparently, chaos reigned (rained, too) at home. Bo, the Epileptic Chihuahua had suffered a couple of seizures. Number One Son ran his car out of oil. Number Young Son’s car has to quickly be rendered safe and drivable to give NOS a way to work. Mr. Stuck’s truck has been inoperable for several days, waiting for a special tool, because it is leaking fuel.  But these are not things for me to worry and kvetch on; my job is to rest and get better.

Today, four days after surgery, here’s what I know:

  • Although at first disappointed that I didn’t get a heated-air gown, I found that the heated-air blanket is just as good.
  • I have five neat incisions from an inch to an inch and a half long on my belly, which is still a little sore inside.  No tape, because I’m allergic, but all 5 healing nicely.
  • I am still burping from a lot of trapped air (‘scuse me), but I am not so bloated now, and I am sleeping well.
  • I’m not hungry, but I am thirsty, so I am constantly sipping small amounts of fluids.
  • Last night I didn’t need to get up and take pain medicine at all during the night.  Yay!
  • I am tolerating strained soup, protein shakes, tea, jello, and water just fine.
  • Mixing ground-up prescription pills into your food and drink is worse than nasty, and I will stop doing it the very moment I can.  Bad memories of marshmallow creme and crushed aspirin came flooding back.  Mr. Stuck says Actigall is worse than anything I’m taking.  I’ll take his word for it.
  • Omeprazole is my new best friend.  After the couch and the heating pad, I mean.

And now, if you’ll excuse me…

liquids
a few of the things on my nutrition pyramid these days.

 

 

Remembering June.

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Been in rather a blue funk for a few days.  In addition to the letdown after the hyperventilation surrounding high school graduation for my youngest; the impending 6-week hiatus from our dear friends; and the sick week I just had, it’s June.  June is Father’s Day and graduation, or, for those with younger kids, the month when school lets out and kids are underfoot.  Roses fill the air with their perfume; gardens explode in green; we celebrate the summer solstice; and Sir Paul McCartney and my friend Chris blow out birthday candles in June.

And it is also my sister Missy’s birthday.  Next week she would have been 52.

Two years ago, two of my sisters and I flew down to Georgia to visit Missy and join the sister who was already there.  It was the occasion of Missy’s 50th birthday, and she was in the hospital.  We wanted to make sure to give her a 50th birthday none of us would forget.  We brought along goodies she loved but couldn’t get in Georgia and took decorations and funny things to make her laugh.  Once there, we went shopping for more.  We got her a cake and even a little contraband — small ‘splits’ of wine we thought she might like to try.

None of us could voice what was aching in our hearts.  We were there because we feared that this birthday would be her last.  She needed us, and we needed her.  So we went down to spend time with her, all of us, together.  We would bring some fun to her for awhile and show her some sister love. Our eldest sister was already there helping to care for her, which was a blessing.  We came to see her husband and children and give them some support, as well.

When we first surprised her in her room, on our arrival, it was wonderful.  She hadn’t known we all were coming, and it was a joyous occasion.  Missy perked up, and we set about fussing over her, laughing and joking like old times.

A couple of nights later, in the darkened and vacant hotel lobby, with poster board, markers, and stickers, the four of us made signs to brighten her room.  We laid the paper on the floor and drew around our feet; we traced our hands and thought of silly slogans to write.  We talked and sang and danced and laughed until we nearly wet our pants.  I haven’t felt so close to my sisters in a long while.

The day of her birthday, we arranged for her to be taken out of her room for a few minutes while we set up her party decorations.  We had hoped to put a sign on the outside of her door, as well, but the staff wouldn’t allow it.  No matter — we had streamers and hats and noisy things and cards and little fun gifts for her.  We had cake and shrimp and the contraband wine.  We had to stall the nurse a bit, but when it was all ready, we gave the high sign for her to come in.

She was happily surprised at the party; in addition to her husband and sons and us girls, she had other visitors and well-wishers.  We sang and chatted and she opened her gifts; we had silly hats and glasses for her, as well as a big round ‘button’ made of a paper plate pinned to her gown that said, “Ask Me about AARP!” (American Association of Retired Persons)  We all had fun.  Afterward, she was tired, so we toned it all down and left her to rest.

I will always remember that visit more for the bonding we shared during those days than for what specific things we did or talked about.  We all carry the scar of losing the sister who died with our parents fourteen years ago; that is a sad, but strong, bond we already share.  Even as different as we all are, our love for each other is steadfast.

I wish I could better describe that feeling of oneness with my sisters; it is rather new, as we are not all close in age, and therefore didn’t all grow up together.  We are of three different groups within the family: the two eldest sisters and my brother, who is firstborn, are the first group; after a five-year gap, there are two more girls; after another five years, Missy and me.  We have always been a close family overall, but after we lost our parents and sister in 1999, we realized how short life is and we drew tightly to one another.  We are not often all together physically, either, since one lives in Georgia, one spends half the year in Arizona, and the rest of us live in Washington.  For those few days, we were all together, with no agenda but to be grateful for them and enjoy ourselves.

There is a lot more to this story, but there will be time for that.  Let’s just say that she left us at the age of 50, which was far too young.  Life is so damned short.

So I’m blue.  My heart aches with the weight of memory and loss.  Junes will come and go, but they will always be Missy’s month: not only was it her birthday, but her husband’s birthday is the week before, and their wedding anniversary falls in between.

Dads and grads may take the spotlight, but June belongs to her.

A Greater Miracle.

Day 13;365 {{ 10 things about ME }}

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?
~ Henry David Thoreau

So opens a short video that was shared on my Facebook feed today.   It is a promo bit for Cleveland Clinic, but it shares a profound truth.  It is a series of silent vignettes of people in a medical setting: patients in a waiting room; doctors performing treatments; visitors; people sharing an elevator.  With each scene, some text emerges above the subjects: 19 year-old son on life support appears with a worried-looking couple in a hospital cafeteria; doesn’t completely understand displays above a vacant-eyed elderly woman sitting with her middle-aged son before a doctor.  In the elevator, a man worries about his wife who just had a stroke; a woman in a white coat is newly divorced; and another man just found out he will be a father.

Each bit of text leaves us with an impression of the subjects’ state of mind.  We see sorrow, uncertainty, joy, love, and worry etched on these faces, and we can empathize.  Immediately, our heart goes out to the little girl who is visiting her Dad and the woman who is in shock at the doctor’s news.  We see ourselves in the waiting area for three hours (or more).  These are actors, of course, but they represent a universal usWe are all the same.  Doctors and nurses have joy and pain just as patients do, just as the family does, just as we — I — do.

It never hurts to remember that we each have our stories.  That driver who sped recklessly through traffic may be on his way to the hospital to see his daughter who clings to life after a drunk driver hit her on the way to school.  The cashier at the grocery store who seemed to ignore you may be thinking about how to tell her children that she and her husband are divorcing.  Perhaps the reason your boss didn’t seem to be listening to your big proposal is that his wife is coming home tonight after a month-long work assignment in another city.  Your child’s teacher was just diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and that’s why she has been acting a bit ‘off.’

You just don’t know.

By the time the 4-minute video came to an end, I had tears welling up in my eyes.  Compassion is a vital virtue; a walk in someone else’s shoes may be your most valuable journey.  Too often we misread intent in others because we don’t know the back story or we misinterpret their actions.  Sometimes, it’s haste; sometimes, it’s indifference; sometimes, it’s just that we don’t see.

I recently spent the better part of two days waiting in a hospital.  I had brought plenty of reading material, as well as a tablet for surfing the web, but I passed a lot of time watching other people:  The shabbily-dressed, unkempt man sitting alone at the large cafeteria table looking only at the bag of chips he hungrily consumed.  A small knot of middle-aged women in the corner laughing heartily, drawing annoyed glances from a quieter part of the room.  The housekeeper pushing her cart from restroom to restroom, perfunctorily cleaning up after the steady stream of visitors.  The elderly couple checking their watches, anxiously watching the status board.  The gowned patient with the tube taped to her nose, noiselessly escorting her IV stand to the end of the hall.  Maybe they saw me, too, with my tote bag of crossword puzzles and bottled water.

There’s no way, of course, to know what’s in someone’s heart; we judge people by their behavior and assign our own meaning to their actions.  But just as we want people to treat us with compassion and respect, we must do the same.  We must learn to look beyond the overt, and resist the urge to ascribe our own interpretations.  We must not be so quick to assume, and instead, we must try to understand.

That short video spoke strongly to me.  It said I need to try harder.  It is far too easy for me to merely respond to the actions and not consider the reason.  What if I could step into their skin for a moment?  Would I treat people more gently and with greater kindness?

I may not see from their eyes, but I can be “a little kinder than necessary,” as Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie put it.

Watch the video.  Learn the lesson.

 

photo credit Nina Matthews Photography