Saturday, May 29, 2010

Post-Op Notes

Post-Op Notes

The night before the surgery, I got the call: be at the hospital at 5 AM. Of course I said yes. Then I checked the bus schedule. The buses don’t start early enough to get me there before 5:15. I didn’t want to be late, so I scheduled a cab. I could have been 15 minutes late, but I didn’t learn that until after my husband, the alien, and I arrived.

One other couple was there ahead of us. Oddly they were scheduled at the same time with the same surgeon. He was having a rotator cuff repair that was estimated to take 2.5 hours. Since my plate and screw removal was supposed to take 20 minutes, the man’s wife kindly said I could go first, but of course it wasn’t up to us. I thought it was sweet of her to offer.

The morning was a series of hurry up and wait. Get a bar-coded bracelet put on your right wrist. Then the man getting the rotator cuff had to have another bracelet made because his damaged rotator cuff was on his right side and his bracelet needed to be on the left.

Go to the room where they wash the incision site. Sit around. Put on the paper costume with impossible side ties. Put all my stuff, including my wedding ring, into a plastic bag that they bar-coded to match my bracelet, and said they’d lock up. Somebody came to take me to the next room. I had to remind them that nobody had washed my incision site, yet.

The woman who did the washing was curious about why my scar is nearly invisible. I told her about using comfrey oil. She said she has a scar on her belly from a kitchen accident in which she dropped a plate. Then slightly embarrassed, she said she wasn’t going to tell me what she wears when she cooks. I assured her she has every right to cook naked if she wants to. We both laughed.

In the next room my freshly washed shoulder got marked up with blue marking pen.

My surgeon’s resident came in, coughing. I asked if she was feeling okay – if she was catching something. She said she’s getting over something and it was just allergies. She was from India so I asked her if she’d tried a neti pot. She had never heard of one. I explained it’s a tiny tea pot that holds warm salt water that you pour through you nose. It washes the pollen out. She seemed interested, so I told her about where I bought mine.

My surgeon came in and asked how I was feeling. I told him “nervous.” I asked how he felt. He smiled and said “wonderful.” I had never seen him so happy before. This man must love his work. I told him he’s the one who needs to feel wonderful this morning, so I’m glad it’s him. He said he’ll be even better after he gets his 2nd cup of coffee. He says he runs on coffee. I told him he’s the one who knows his body. He gave me an odd look. I told him one of my physical therapists also runs on coffee, but I quit drinking coffee in 1968.

Then an anesthesiologist and her resident in training asked me for my birth date, height, weight, and how to spell my name. She told me that after the surgery, I’d feel like I was drunk. I told her I’ve never been drunk. This got me another odd look. I told them I don’t drink alcohol.

Then they tried to talk me into getting a shot in my neck that they said “would take the edge off” for 12 to 18 hours. I told them I’ll skip that. They said most people get it. I told them I don’t like needles. They said I could be sedated during the shot and I probably wouldn’t remember it. I had to refuse quite a few times before they gave up. I’m now about 24 hours after the surgery. The first 12 hours are not the worst. I’m more sore now than I was right after the surgery. I’m very glad I didn’t get a shot in my neck.

The resident anesthesiologist wiped a local anesthetic on the back of my hand before putting in the needle. It hurt a lot less than the needle I got at the physical exam to take blood, or the needle I got for the IV 10 months ago when the metal was put in. I wonder why nobody thought of this before. My dentist always uses a numbing solution before injecting me with novocaine. Why didn’t doctors come up with this before?

She also hooked up my paper costume to a tube that she said would turn my “gown” into a hot air blanket. She turned it on and it blasted me with cold air. I told her it was cold. She said it would warmup. Then she gave me a control dial and said I could adjust the temperature, but not to do it now because the air was going to warm up. I put my arm across my belly to keep the cold air from coming to my upper body, and eventually the air did warm up. It was so warm that I turned the dial down.

The resident said “I’m giving you your happy juice.” I asked what it really was. She gave me a polysyllabic gobbledygook answer, and cold stuff flowed into my vein.

The next thing I knew I was awake and hooked up to a monitor that had alarms sounding because I was only breathing at 7 breaths per minute. A nurse came by and told me to take deep breaths. That’s what I was doing. After a while she turned off the alarm. The machine had a graph showing the shape of my breaths. The deeper the breath, the higher the bump on the graph. And when I paused at the top and bottom of the breath, it made a flat line. The machine also counted my heart rate and every few minutes a cuff squeezed and measured my blood pressure.

I said I was thirsty, and a nurse brought me a spoonful of ice chips.

Eventually a man came to push my bed to another room. He told me that he meets a lot of people who aren’t special. I figured he was trying to start a conversation. I said, “You may not like them, but somebody loves them.” He insisted, “Some people aren’t special. My cats are more special.” For the rest of the ride, we talked about his cats. He has 9 cats now, but he used to have 23 cats. One of his cats recently had $300 surgery.

By the time we got to the next room, the anesthesia had worn off and I wanted a pain pill. The nurse in that room told me I couldn’t have one until I ate something. Then she brought me some cranberry juice, and asked if I would prefer graham crackers or saltines. I tried a graham cracker. It tasted worse than cardboard. “The anesthesia affects your taste buds.” I tried a saltine. It was almost as good as cardboard. The pain pill took about 20 minutes to start working. Then I was put on the list to get a wheelchair to be pushed out of there. I saw the man with the rotator cuff was ahead of me on that list. I know my surgeon hasn’t cloned himself, so I’m guessing that the resident did my surgery. The surgeon called my husband, told him everything went smoothly, and told him he could come up to be with me.

My wheelchair pusher told me about his cell phone plan. He pays $46 a month, and he has friends who pay $200 a month for their phones. I told him I pay $100 a year for mine, it’s a prepaid phone plan, and I don’t make many cell phone calls. He said he makes lots of calls on his.

As soon as he pushed my chair out the door, I got up and walked to the curb to catch a cab. I was not feeling strong enough to walk several blocks to bus stop.

It’s over. The metal is out. They took an x-ray, but they wouldn’t let me see it. Maybe I can see it during my post-op visit to the surgeon. I told my mom, I really want to see that x-ray to be sure all the metal is gone. She asked, “Why? Don’t you trust them?” This has become a family joke. Even the hospital seems to be in on it. There was a sign in the lobby where we first entered, entitled SPEAK UP. It’s main point is that you are your own primary advocate. You need to check on everything all the time.

Right now, I home and sore and sleepy. And I think all the metal is out, so I’ll be able to wear a backpack when my skin heals.

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