Waking Up is Hard to Do

Waking Up is Hard to Do

Everything went black as they wheeled me through the operating room double doors. The next thing I remember was faint sounds and confusion. A male nurse was introducing himself and telling me that it was time to move out of recovery and into my room. I gathered that he was in a rush, and everything seemed a bit disjointed. I faded in and out of sleep and don’t remember much.

What I do remember from the first night was extreme thirst. I’ve never been so thirsty in my life. I was not allowed to drink anything in case they needed to rush me back into surgery. Those first hours are critical for the blood vessels to connect to the flap (as boob #2 is now called.) I was too out of it to help myself, and am so grateful for Andy, who stayed awake by my side all night. He was able to use a little sponge on a stick to put water on my lips and inside my mouth. I think I begged for water all night. At some points, my mouth was so dry that my lips stuck to my teeth. The nurse finally slathered vaseline on my lips and that helped quite a bit.

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I also remember feeling my right arm puffing up like a balloon. Lymphedema does not like the trauma of surgery. I remember the nurses coming in every hour to check my vitals. I’d wake up enough to ask for water and push my pain med button. They used a doppler radar to listen to the blood flow to the flap. It sounded like a baby’s heartbeat. I couldn’t tell you much else about the night. I don’t know if I ever actually opened my eyes. I do remember once, when the nurse asked me if I needed anything else, I said, “a giant glass of water, please.” I did not get a giant glass of water. By morning, I was so parched I couldn’t talk. All I wanted was water, sleep and serenity.

Then, all of a sudden, there was a grating, raucous conversation that seemed all about sunshine and happiness but with a nasty undertone. It was the nurse’s shift change, and the raucous one would be my caregiver for the next twelve, long hours of my life. She was syrupy-sweet on the surface with an underlying toxic passive aggressive core. Let’s call her Nurse Saccharine. She managed to hold on to her tight smile as she insulted and criticized everyone around her, loudly. She crashed into the room, jolting me out of sleep every hour to check my vitals. She would be in charge of getting me to stand for the first time, which is never pleasant, even under the best of circumstances. She kept popping in telling me excuses and delays. In the meantime, the physical therapist came in to get me up for a walk, but I still had a catheter and was connected to drain suction on the wall. I told her the nurse was coming after lunch to get me up, so she arranged to come back around 1:00. Well, Nurse Saccharine did not like this at all. She thought it was ridiculous that the PT didn’t just do it herself and get me up.

I further inconvenienced her when I asked for additional pain pills before trying to get out of bed. This turned out to be a mistake, as she gave me something that made me very sick. Up until that point, I had a “magic button” that delivered dilaudid to me as frequently as every 10 minutes. It worked great on the pain, and didn’t cause nausea! A tough combination in my opinion. So now, nauseous and weak, it was time to let Nurse Saccharine pull my catheter and get me on my feet. Yippy!

The hospital bed did much of the work, but the final twist pulled hard on the fresh incision which spans from hip to hip. After the searing pain subsided, I put my feet on the floor and stood up. Next, three or four steps to the chair. I made it! I settled in and was finally able to sip on water. She told me that she would be back to get me walking to the bathroom in a couple hours. At this point, the water was too much for my stomach and just when the PT came to work with me, I started throwing up. I think this was Saccharine’s way of punishing the PT for not doing more earlier. We did not go for a walk. Instead, the PT wrapped my arm and I continued to sit in the chair feeling awful.

I asked for more anti-nausea meds, but the nurse said the doctor wouldn’t approve another one. I couldn’t keep the water down, and going on 30 hours without water, the nurse wanted me to pee. Not surprisingly, I could not. Saccharine threatened to put a catheter back in if I didn’t pee, so I started drinking my water a little more ambitiously. No way was I going to let this woman put a catheter in while I was alert.

I finally ordered some broth and jello to try to calm my stomach down. It was Saturday afternoon and time for the NFL play-off games. Andy came back from catching up on his sleep to watch the games with me. I slept through most of both games, though. The shift change came again and thankfully I got a much nicer nurse. She told us that the previous nurse informed her that I refused the additional anti-nausea meds. Imagine that. We told her that, despite begging for additional anti-nausea meds, Nurse Saccharine told us the doctor said no- an outright lie. Why would anyone make someone suffer like that? Once I got the nausea under control, I felt so much better. I had a pretty good night. I needed to rest up because the next day was the Packer game, and I didn’t want to sleep through that!

As 7am approached, and time for the shift change, I started feeling worse and worse, imagining another 12 hours with Saccharine. My whole day turned around when, at 7:15, a very nice nurse quietly came in my room and introduced herself as my nurse for the day!! No more Nurse Saccharine!! I later learned that Andy told them at the nurses’ station that we had trust issues with the nurse and did not want to have a repeat of the previous day! That made my day. Sunday was a turning point. I felt good. I could get up on my own, eat, manage the pain and nausea, and the Packer game was awesome!!!

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The Waiting Game

Sue and I have been through some pre-surgery time together. Too much time, but I want her strong and healthy, and this is the road she needs to take. I’m glad she lets me come along, but I think she still owes me a honeymoon.
The pre-op time usually wraps up the same way. We’re watching cat videos, and a team of people walk in. Usually, there is only one or two at a time, but this is always a group – three to five. They start going over the same basic medical information they’ve already asked a bunch of times, and while Sue is answering, one of them slips happy juice into her IV. She misses it every time.
This time, after she had clarified (again) what she was allergic to, I leaned over and gave her a kiss. “I wanted to get that in now, since you’ll be passed out soon,” I whispered. Well, I didn’t really whisper, but she laughed over missing the medication being given again.
This pre-op had been a lot harder. We aren’t used to being apart, and I sat for an hour in the waiting area (admittedly a really nice waiting area) watching the sky lighten. I like it better when Sue is happy and relaxed going into surgery, and I was pretty sure she was spending a lot of time by herself, waiting.
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When they rolled her off I got a few simple instructions. If I was leaving the building I had to leave a phone number, otherwise I keep my restaurant-pager and they would buzz when there was an update. There was no way I was going to be able to sit and wait without going nuts, so I got back into the car and drove to the field museum. I haven’t been since Sue (the dinosaur) arrived, whenever that was. A while ago. I thought it would be a good diversion. I should have gotten groceries and tried to sleep, but I needed to be doing something.
I sent text messages to family and posts to Facebook, trying to pass along the information I had. It was going to be a long surgery. We’d first heard 12 hours, but that was apparently both the surgery and recovery time. It ended up being more like 14 from when we arrived in the morning, since the recovery time is a minimum of six hours while they monitor blood flow to the flap – but that was in the future.
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Film image, scanned when I got home. With a cat’s help, if you can’t tell.

I wasn’t sure how parking worked at the Field Museum and ended up under Soldier Field. I left most of my stuff (including my coat) in the car, thinking it was attached to the Museum. It wasn’t, and the walk was…brisk…. Once inside I bought the standard ticket (less than the packages they have all the signs up for, but there wasn’t going to be time to see everything anyway) and went walking around. The lady who sold me the ticket gave me a map with what I could and couldn’t see, and told me her favorite parts.
As I was walking around the animal panoramas (there are a lot of animal panoramas) I realized my phone hadn’t fully recharged overnight. I have an iPhone 6s with Lifeproof Fre Power case – when everything is charged up power is not an issue – but the case hadn’t charged overnight and my phone was down 45%. I couldn’t risk a dead phone, so I limited my phone pictures. Luckily, I also had with my Minolta 35mm film camera, so it got to take more pictures than normal.
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Hours went by. I got calls saying everything was going fine with the surgery. I wandered around the museum. I thought I would need to be back in the waiting area around 1pm, based on what we’d heard in the morning, and I didn’t want to pay for museum food, so I was back at Chicago Medical at 12:15 in line at the Qdoba they have inside when my phone rang to say the surgery was done and Dr Chang wanted to talk to me. I got out of line and headed for the elevator, hustling past the security guard who wanted to stop me. He really just wanted to check to see who I was there for and give me a visitor pass, but I didn’t want to wait.
Up to the fancy lobby, then into a small conference room, and waiting. A few minutes later, Dr Chang walked in. He said everything went “perfect,” and I would be let down into recovery soon. Sue later wanted to know what else he said, but there wasn’t anything else. I didn’t ask any questions. What else was there to say, Perfect is Perfect.
I went back to Qdoba and got lunch. I was just finishing when I got the call saying I could go to recovery, perfect timing, and headed back upstairs. This time the security guard didn’t even look at me. Maybe I scared him?
Sue was still sleeping in recovery. I learned from the nurse that she had to stay for at least six hours, that she couldn’t have anything to eat or drink until the next morning. The flap part of her surgery was being very closely monitored, and if anything went wrong she was going to have to go back for another operation, and her stomach had to stay empty.
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I looked at the surgical sites and they looked good. I learned about the doppler checks and the imbedded sensor that was continually monitoring oxygen and flow levels inside the flap. And I drank some soda, wrote some, plugged in my phone and sent out updates. And waiting. Every now and then Sue would wake up and I would sponge some water around her lips and gums. Once we were in the room we were given Vasoline for her lips, which helped more, but it was still just the sponges. She was uncomfortable, even with a pain button, but there wasn’t anything else I could do. I watched her sleep, fitfully, and dozed a few times. The nurse came in regularly to check the doppler and sensor, get vital signs, see if I needed anything. The sky got lighter outside, and then it was 7am.
A new nurse came in for the day shift, and since I figured Sue was going to have more company for a while I would go back to our rental for some sleep. I ended up staying a few more hours, making sure Sue was as comfortable as I could get her (still no water to drink), then told her I would be back in the afternoon. I sent out another update, and then drove back to bed.