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.