Tuesday, February 16, 2010

home is the sailor, home from the sea

Well, I'm back home after surgery, and I shouldn't complain, but yet somehow I do. Overall the surgery went very well indeed, better than expected, and my recovery is trotting along, but it's still early days yet. Right now, I'm having considerable pain still (for which I have a variety of medications), and I'm generally feeling very weak and shaky. On the other hand, it's not as bad as it could be, and I have every hope I'll be feeling better soon.

The actual surgery experience itself was very good, much better than my prior surgeries. I highly recommend the Mt. Zion Hospital to any of you who may be in need of surgeries, and I strongly prefer it to any of the other hospitals I've spent time in here in SF. (Pathetically enough my dear friend Kim called me on an odd behavior of mine once some time ago. She pointed out, rightly enough, that wherever I took her in San Francisco, I would stop to point to some hospital and then share a medical horror story which had occurred there. I told her that I thought we'd worked through the list by then, but now I have a new hospital to add to the Marvels of San Francisco Tour). After I checked in for the surgery, I was stored in a pleasant, private room while waiting, and various medical people would stop in to place an IV, review my history, take my blood pressure, etc.. When the time came to whisk me away, I was given some powerful sedatives there in the room and wheeled away on a bed, which was a very big improvement over a prior experience over at California Pacific Medical Center (where a person waiting for surgery must sit in a public waiting room with other surgical patients, all pathetic examples of human suffering in undignified cotton robes, and then we had to walk by ourselves --- after having our spectacles confiscated -- down a long, scary hallway into a big, scary operating room). By the time I'd entered the OR, I was exchanging pleasantries with a surgeon about my tattoos which I didn't remember later and feeling just fine.

The recovery room was also much nicer at Mount Zion. My prior memory of a surgical recovery room was of a full-voiced nurse bellowing into my face, "YOU'RE... IN ... THE... RECOVERY... ROOM!" as though exactly what one wants to shake off a general anesthesia is a good scream. This time around, there was a kind, caring nurse using a pleasant, low voice to chat with me until I was deemed ready to be taken off to my room. I do have to say that the aide charged with transporting me complained that my bag (which really was a light bag, containing some underwear, a couple of novels, a toothbrush, one dress, a hairbrush, and not much more) was too heavy and she couldn't bring it and my bed as well. After taking me to my room, she later arrived with the bag and dumped it in a corner, churlishly announcing, "Here is your HEAVY bag!", which I found as amusing as annoying.

The worst thing that happened to me was that my first nurse didn't want to give me any pain meds. It had been spelled out to me, over and over again, by my surgeon, the anesthesiologist, the recovery room nurse, the admitting nurse, etc.., etc... that I had a carefully prescribed pain regime for after the surgery, which was completely normal for this surgery. I was to be given a button controlling a powerful narcotic, which I would give myself whenever I needed to (but no more often than every six minutes) for the first day or so, and then I would be transitioned onto oral painkillers of a less strong nature but able to call for heartier injections as necessary. A goal would be for me to manage my pain on oral medications alone. I was also given some hearty prescriptions to get filled before the surgery, so I'd be dosed up and comfortable at home.

However, this first nurse, a rather annoying woman named Patricia, had no respect for my surgeon's orders. She started getting a pill for me, which I was in no condition to swallow. Here I should say that the one thing which is worse than I expected, which I wasn't prepared for, is how much my throat hurts. Whatever was put down my throat during surgery really ripped it up. It didn't hurt my throat this much when I had a gastroenterologist perform surgery exclusively by little tiny knives and a little tiny camera which were shoved down my throat to my bile ducts on great, thick metal cables. My speech was an agonized croak for the first two days, and my throat still hurts a lot now, five days after surgery (if you have tried to call me and I haven't spoken to you, that is why and it should have been explained to you by either the husband of the house or a child of the house). The idea of swallowing a pill was ludicrous, and I said hoarsely I was supposed to have a button. The nurse hissed at me, "I had this same surgery as you, and I didn't have a button. I didn't take anything for it at all! You don't need a button! You don't need anything!" She made some other remarks about how my surgery was nothing, really nothing, and I shouldn't get anything for it. I mumbled, "Morphine" a few times, and with a lot of hostility she eventually gave me a single injection of morphine into my I.V. and flounced off, holding her ground about the magical button.

Later my surgeon came by to check on me, and by that time, my pain had gotten out of control. It was agonizing, having built up over the hours. I asked for the button, and she got someone to install it quickly. A lovely male nurse came on duty much later, and when he left in the morning, I asked him to make sure I didn't get Patricia again. Instead, I got another lovely and kind nurse (with the exceptions of the bag-hating recovery room nurse and the sadistic Patricia, every nurse and doctor I had at Mount Zion was good looking and kind, with a pleasant bedside manner).

I had a large, private room, which was a happy surprise indeed (I'd expected to share a small, noisy room, like I did at CPMC before), and the Sober Husband was encouraged by the staff to spend the night there, on a chair which folded out to a rather uncomfortable bed. A kind nurse brought him sheets, blankets, and a pillow, and the visiting hours were not enforced at all. This was really very helpful all around, as I didn't need to ring for the nurse every time I needed to get handed a drink or some ice chips the first day (the first day, I was really just lying there in bed, doing nothing at all except clicking that button once I managed to get it, submitting to having my vitals taken, and gesturing for a drink) or be assisted to the bathroom the second day (I had to have my oxygen unplugged and get some assistance with my massive IV stand, which would have to have the special button draped around it).

On the second day I had a lot of trouble with nausea, and I didn't eat those first two days. I was supposed to start getting up and walking around, but I hadn't felt strong enough. Even though I didn't feel ready to, I decided that I had to make myself get this convalescence off right and do what I could to get better, and that meant getting up on my shaky feet and stumbling down the hallway with my IV, so I did. On my first, wobbly walk, the nurses and doctors (with the exception of the pain meds-withholding Patricia, whom I swear hissed at me, probably having heard that I had asked not be assigned to her again) rewarded me, like a good little dog, with a lot of generous positive reinforcement. This did help motivate me to get out and take other shaky walks on that and the third day. The Sober Husband and I took field trips to other floors, getting off the escalator and slowly exploring the new hallways.

On Day Two, as well as nausea, I was beset by an intense itching all over my body, a reaction to the other drugs I was on. This was maddening, and the poor Sober Husband was continually having to scratch different parts of me, until a kind doctor gave me a really stiff dose of Benadryl in injection form (who knew it wasn't just a pill?).

While I was in the hospital, Iris uber Alles was often on video conference with us. I didn't speak to her at all that first day or so, as my throat was so sore and my voice so lacking, but I waved occasionally. At Mt. Zion, children are strictly forbidden from visiting, but the video conferencing made up for that. We felt as though we were hanging out with Iris, who saw my undignified old rump hanging out of my hospital gown as I teetered past the computer on way to the bathroom. The Sober Husband made up for my lack of talking (indeed sometimes I put in earplugs so I could doze off while he addressed Iris in stentorian tones).

There was a lot of talk of having me stay a third night as it didn't seem I could meet the criteria for leaving the hospital if I couldn't eat anything, but I managed to get through that on the third day and get discharged in the afternoon.


hughman said...

sorry about the nurses. on my last hospital stay i thankfully had amazing nurses (who even yelled at the other patients for bothering me). it can make a big difference.

also, pain killers are our friends. i made sure my vicodan script was filled for months afterward. NOT THAT I ABUSED THEM but, you know.

Dread Pirate Davi said...

That nurse will burn in hell. I'm sure Lola will see to it.

Joyce said...

rump hanging out, ha ha.

i will never understand why they're stingy on the pain meds for chrissake.

when do you want your black bean delivery?

Claire M. Johnson said...

Glad to hear it went well. I had a similar experience with the nurse from hell who insisted that I got up and walk, like four hours after surgery. I protestsed, but to no avail. It was agony. When my surgeon came to visit, he saw my chart and said, "WOW, you went for a walk already. That's amazing!" Yes, it was pretty amazing. AMAZING I DIDN'T DIE FROM PAIN.

Anyway, so glad it's over and done and that it went smoothly.

PHX Mama said...

I don't know WHY some nurses want to compare their hysterectomies to yours....I watched it happen with my mother (who also had all sorts of sparkly-cancer-crap requiring said hysterectomy)--the nurse actually told MM that the nurse was vacuuming her house the next week, so why was MM so lazy? Oy. Male nurses are (usually) a magnitude of order better than the female ones. Feel better!

Emma-Louise said...

I am very glad that you had such a pleasant hospital experience. Like you, I have horror stories at any hospital you can drive past in my area.
I have been reading your blog for almost a year now, and when I first started reading I read through your entire archive. It's amazing how much you can connect to someone without even speaking to them when they have so much of their life on a blog - I was worried about your surgery, and you're someone I don't really know! I think I might comment from now on.
Iris did a lovely job of holding down the fort in your absence but I'm glad you are back.

Amy said...

Welcome home!

the Drunken Housewife said...

Thanks, all... Emma-Louise, thank you for reading and commenting! i hope you will speak up more!

Jane Lebak said...

Glad it's over. :-)

When you're feeling better, report that nurse to every single human being you can find who will take a report. The doctor, the surgeon, the hospital ombudsman, the hospital administrator...everyone.

Nurses who think pain strengthens the spirit should not be caring for post-operative patients. Nor, in fact,anyone. What she did to you she's doing to three or four other patients every day.

Missy said...

I'm also horrified at the comments of the cruel nurse; I agree she should be reported. This is sadistic and as well said already, is being inflicted on other patients every day. You never know when your words might be the needed thing to let a truly unsuitable person go--think of it as saving others, because it very often is.

I'm glad everyone else and the new nurse was better.

(My FIl had the same attitude about surgery, and it infected my MIL as well. If he didn't feel pain or nausea, there was no excuse for you to feel that. It's bad enough from a relative; it's horrific from a hospital employee.