Tag Archives: ICU

The ODNT guide to smooth hospital living

Please continue to excuse any typos, omitted words, nonsensical lines of thoughts, hysterical rants, etc. … for as long as I’m in my recuperative blogging mode. Actual pain, strong medication, inconsistent sleep patterns and unusual typing angles from my bed are all to blame for these sometimes annoying but always entertaining idiosyncrasies.


The night before my surgery was a busy one. I took care of a lot of things so that they could sit a week without my help. I packed everything I thought I’d need at the hospital. I hugged my kids (a lot) and did a few goofy things with them like indulging my daughter’s sudden desire to dress as Santa and be videotaped filling the stockings. I locked in my guest writers for the blog while I was out of commission. I wrote my final, pre-surgery blog post, A Letter to the Lung Mass, which went up in the wee hours of 12/1/11. And I thought about writing this entry in the days soon after the surgery, knowing full well I wouldn’t be keeping any notes and would have to somehow keep it all ‘organized’ in my brain, often addled even without the help of medicine. So, here goes. In completely random order, my thoughts on hospital stays …

(1) Don’t worry about getting to sleep on time the night before your surgery. You will not sleep anyway. It is, however, a great time to catch up on emails and manage things electronically before you check out for a while.

(2) If you are ridiculous enough … cough … I mean savvy enough to have a timer set on your hot water heater, don’t forget to adjust it the night before so that you have hot water for your very irregularly-timed, morning-of-surgery shower. It’s already bad enough that the hospital will require that you use an inexplicably red alcohol-ish solution (in place of soap) for this task. I just closed my eyes and pretended I was at summer camp again.

(3) Make sure the comfy, go-the-hospital-super-early clothes you lay out the night before are fully dry. Otherwise, they’ll do little to keep you warm on a chilly morning, especially after a frigid shower (see #2). I decided to join the legions of fools who believe rain on your wedding day is good luck and labeled things like ‘no hot water’ and ‘damp clothing’ as good omens. I had already taken a Xanax at this point in the morning so anything was possible.

(4) Don’t be surprised if you have friends who are amazing and crazy enough to wake up at that hour and start texting you funny, uplifting messages before your surgery.

(5) If your parents seem completely calm and collected throughout everything, they’re not. They’re worried sick. So, just hug them. A lot. And don’t make them watch Charlie Chaplin’s Smile on youtube. (This is my second reference to the post entitled A Letter to the Lung Mass, 12/1/11. Hmmm, maybe you should read it.)

(6) Wear your hospital-issue attire with pride. They tell you to open the gown to the back and eighty-six your underwear for a reason. It’s how hospital people survive. They work their asses off and their only means of entertainment from day to day is getting to laugh at ours. Our asses, that is. I’m pretty sure mine was out there for two solid days. And now I’m crossing my fingers for no tagged Facebook pics.

(7) The OR will be freezing. (Cruel, considering #6). But you’ll only be awake for a few minutes in that meat locker. They’ll start making plans to put you under immediately. I decided I was going to focus on my kids’ faces as I drifted off. In the hopes that it would inspire happy, carefree dreams. I remember thinking, “Wow, this is taking longer for me to fall asleep than usual. Picture the kids’ faces. Picture the kids’ faces. I can’t believe I’m not …”

(8) The human body can drop its core temperature considerably without sustaining permanent damage. Just as I was starting to come to, I remember hearing someone say, “No, she’s still 91 degrees.” And all I could think was “What?!!? That’s bad, right? Shouldn’t someone be slicing open a Tauntaun’s belly and shoving me inside it for warmth?” (Okay, that could not be a nerdier reference. I have no explanation why my bleary-eyed brain would turn to Star Wars. Oh … and yes, I did have to look up the term ‘Tauntaun’ for this post.) And the staff obviously felt differently because, rather than an intergalactic snow horse, they instead opted to warm me up with the aid of a heater/blower blanket used to treat hypothermia patients. (Sidebar: When I looked up hypothermia tonight for this entry, 91 degrees is listed on some sites as ‘mild’ hypothermia and others as ‘moderate.’ In any event, it’s over now and I’m warm and cozy in my bed at home with the heater on and the cat at my feet.)

(9) When given the chance, embrace the catheter. Love the catheter. Truth be told, I wish I was cath’d right now. Once I stopped telling them I felt like I had to pee (only to have them answer patiently, “so pee!”) and I let go, it was wonderful. As a rule, I can pee on command and, thus, it was very liberating to be able to ignore this constant urge at a time when movement, of any kind, was quite painful. And considering how many tubes were attached to me and how much I was sucking down ice chips to soothe a breathing tube-induced sore throat, not to have to get up to pee every five minutes = priceless. One small note that I would have been glad to know in advance – your body does in fact get lazy and “forgets” how to pee on its own when you’re home again. I had a lot of start/stop issues until the whole pee factory was up and running again. Which … is kinda weird.

(10) Chest tubes hurt. It was the first thing I moaned about when I came around, as it was inserted through my back and I was lying on top of it at the time. It’s also the part of me that hurts the most as I type right now, again lying on my back. And it hurts just as much coming out … but that’s only because they yank it out, like a band-aid. Which means that, for only a second, it hurts like a ….

(11) Ask for the nurse button to be put in your bed. After I’d been there for hours and they’d closed my curtains and door (glass wall) and we were on our third round of nurses, one of the staff people in the room asked me where mine was. I groggily answered that I had no idea that I even had one. And then he located it on a table far off in the corner of the room. He seemed pretty disturbed about it and said that an ICU patient on her first night there, closed off from the nurses’ station, should have had access to it. I appreciated his concern and rolled back over to sleep.

(12) Never refuse pain medication. It doesn’t go to work immediately and you never know when it will be offered again.

(13) Hospital ice chips are the best in the biz. Never refuse them either. I want to get a hold of one of these machines and open up my own new-fangled snowball (not snoCONE, this is not Maryland) stand. And I expect to make millions.

(14) Feel free to pass on hospital food, especially if you’re not hungry. Which I wasn’t. You don’t need to save it for later either. There’s not a chance in hell it will taste better when it’s cold and somewhat coagulated.

(15) When you hear sirens and robotic female voices over the loudspeaker repeatedly calling for a Code Red in the middle of the night, sleep easy. It’s probably just a test. I did. Good thing my instincts were right, especially in light of #11.

(16) When packing for the hospital, you will not need a laptop … or a book … or makeup … or even your toothbrush. When you leave, you’ll put on the same clothes you arrived in and go home. I could have packed in a quart-sized ziploc.

(17) Apparently, general anesthesia, certain IV medications and/or narcotic painkillers mess with your up-close eyesight. Or so I am theorizing. No one seems to know what I’m talking about. All I know is that I needed to wear Dave’s dimestore, Drew-Careyesque reading glasses for a few days to get by. Today is the first day I’ve been able to do without them.

Anyway, that’s it for now. It’s late and Dave and I want to watch 30 Rock on Netflix. If I think of any more of these “gems,” I’ll be sure to pen a part two of these useful items. Night, all.


Crazy ramblings from the day before my surgery (LUNG surgery, for anyone not up to speed)

I woke up this morning and shook off my crappy night of dream-riddled sleep. My husband and I attempted to have a calm, normal morning (which is a bit of a farce the last few days) for the kids. But I think they were fine and managed to get ready for school and out the door on time. I took care of a few things I wanted to get done before tomorrow and got ready for my 10am registration appointment with the hospital. I drove there by myself sort of in a daze and realized I probably shouldn’t have pushed everyone away who offered to come with me this morning. Still on autopilot when I finally arrived, I pulled in the skunky old parking garage and began circling for a spot. If I wasn’t anxious enough about the whole situation, the fact that the ceilings seemed to be only five feet high finished me off. I drive a Honda Pilot, not an overly tall vehicle but not a small one either. And in any garage with low ceilings, I have that cringing feeling whenever I drive under a concrete beam that it’s going to nail the roof of my car. Or least take off the luggage rack. This garage was so old that the beams looked to be covered in stalactites, or at least those free-form Biscuit drop biscuits we all ate as kids. Long story short, it was gross. But I trudged on, nailed nothing with my car, parked it and took the elevator to the first floor.

When I got there, I checked in with the receptionist and she told me to take a separate elevator to the fifth floor. Naturally, I walked into the elevator and pressed the ‘6’ button. I stare at the keypad as it started to ascend and realized my mistake in time to avoid extra elevator travel. When I got out on the fifth floor, I checked in with the receptionist and waited for their insurance person to get me registered. After we were done, there was more waiting. Next, I was called by the staff person who was responsible for explaining all of my surgical instructions as well as the terrifying consent forms. She asked where my husband was as he was required for this part. Crap, I had told him not to come. A quick phone call remedied that problem and he was there about fifteen minutes later. I don’t know what I was thinking. I should’ve had him there from the beginning. There’s just so much to go over and remember.

We signed everything mindlessly until we got to the Thorascopy/Thoracotomy Risk form. I found some of the information listed here to be a little frightening and others interesting. Here I share with you some of line items that jumped off the page at me.

10-15% of thorascopies are unpredictably converted to thoracotomies. Come on, 85-90%!

Nerves are always compressed between the ribs during chest surgery and will cause pain or numbness for four to eight weeks post-operatively. Crap. Four to eight WEEKS?

Chest tubes are necessary to drain the air space left in your chest and must remain until all air leaks have stopped, and only then can you be discharged, normally 6-10 days. My husband and I both did a spit take on this one, which was weird because neither of us was actually drinking anything. NORMALLY 6-10 days? When we asked about it, we were told that this “normal” range typically applies to older patients who are not in the good health that I am in. At this stage of the game, they are hoping and expecting that I will be able to have the chest tube removed earlier than this “normal” prediction. Crossing fingers on this one.

The overall risk of death is 1 to 3% when removing lung wedges, lung lobes and other chest masses. Well, yes, that number is very low but, you know, it would have grabbed your attention, too.

We glossed over everything else about possible hemorrhaging, infection, respiratory and pulmonary failure, nerve damage, chronic pain, fluid leakage, renal failure, myocardial infarction, stroke, paralysis and coma like champs. Once we were done, there was more waiting … this time for the anesthesiologist … or maybe it was the nurse anesthetist. I have no idea. Like everyone before her, she asked a million questions about my medical history in an effort to avoid any problems tomorrow. She explained that I will be given anti-nausea medication as soon as I arrive (at 5am!) and they will begin prepping me for surgery. She said the procedure takes about four and a half hours and that, once it was over, they will bring me to ICU and attempt to wake me, at least a little, as soon as I get there. Things like when I leave ICU for a regular room, have the chest tube removed, get to go home, etc. all depend on what type of surgery is performed (which will be decided on the table) as well as how I’m doing afterwards. All signs now indicate that things will be textbook case and I will be fine. I like those signs. They are my friends.

After we finished with the anesthesiology consultation, there was more waiting … this time for my lab work. They asked me what I’ve had done lately. I figured my response of “blood work, chest x-ray, EKG, CAT scan and MRI, all in the last two weeks” would have been enough to dismiss me and enable to go home … but no such luck. The blood work and the chest x-ray both need to have been done in the last seven days. So, off we went to see the nurse who couldn’t have been nicer but provided me with the most painful blood extraction of my lifetime. I know I had previously awarded this title to my MRI tech but this one topped it. The problem seemed to be my “tiny, rolling veins.” We tried … and tried …. and tried … and finally got the vein. But then, she needed to call in an extra nurse to push on the vein because it was draining too slowly and she was afraid she wasn’t going to get enough blood. By the time it was done, I was, too. And I told my husband that I would likely be taking a little anti-anxiety medication later today. (I don’t know why I’ve been fighting it really.) After the blood work, I had only to take a few more chest x-rays. Sure, all of these x-rays are slowly killing us but they sure are a walk in the park compared to the needles.

Now wound up like a top, I walked back to my car with my husband, thrilled to be leaving but as anxious as I’ve been since all of this mess started. And very happy that my wonderful friends were literally waiting for me with a cheese tray at a friend’s house to eat and dish and just chill out for the rest of the afternoon. (Thanks, ladies. It was both delightfully relaxing and delicious.)

It’s now the witching hour. The kids are home and toiling through homework. Dinner is looming and I still have to pack my bag. (Does anyone have any suggestions on what I should pack?) And there are several other little details I want to take care of before tomorrow. And, yet, somehow I feel this post still isn’t the last you’ll hear from me today. Writing not only chronicles everything for me but it also provides the greatest relaxation I’ve found so far. I think it forces me to process everything systematically and sensibly. And I need as much sanity as I can get my hands on right now. Though as the clock ticks and the meds permeate, you can likely expect typos, word misuse and other craziness in my ramblings. Enjoy the rawness.