CoffeeBeer >> Warts & All >> Moon In Cancer

July-November 1992
Page 5

The Hysterectomy and the Hospital

Since I've never consciously spent the night in a hospital, my first and hopefully last experience doing so was probably better than the average person's for two reasons. First, my room was pretty isolated from other people, so I couldn't hear patients in other rooms moaning and chanting mantras like "ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod" and "nurse! nurse! nurse!" It was more like staying in a hotel.

My roommate was pretty cool. V and I had a lot in common and ended up becoming friends. Our first meeting was a surprise. I was operated on early on Wednesday morning and V (who also had a hysterectomy because of fibroid tumors) was operated on half a day later. As I was lying in my hospital room just starting to become sentient and fighting my way through the general anesthetic haze, she was wheeled in from surgery. That first time I saw her she was all wrapped up in blankets and wearing that silver shower cap which I guess protects you from alien microwaves from outer space and keeps your hair dry while they operate on you. All I could see was her face, and all I could discern was that she was a black woman. She was in her own anesthetic haze. and her first impression of me was of a white perky angel lying there looking perfect. She knew I'd had the same surgery, so she thought, "Oh, this is wonderful! I'm going to feel like that very soon!"

That's all we saw of each other for almost two days because there was a curtain drawn between our beds. We talked through the curtain and discovered we had so many things in common. We felt the same way about the upcoming presidential election and the Gideon bibles in our nightstands. We talked about ethnic food, and our first conversation was about our mutual search for perfect red lipstick. Finally I asked the nurse to pull the curtain aside so we could see each other. That's when V discovered I was simply a skinny white woman and I discovered that she was an obese black woman, 36 years old, with very short blonde hair and a ring in her nose. Since she sleeps au natural like I do, she went out and bought a bright satin teal nightgown with spaghetti straps that she looked great in. The first morning she felt good enough to do so, she put on all of her makeup including her perfect red lipstick.

When my mother and M and T would come to visit me, V would keep them in stitches. (Or are they called sutures in the hospital?) She would also tell me about things I would do when I wasn't quite aware of what I was doing and about what happened when I was asleep.

I was very impressed by the nurses. They were all so nice. I have a lot of respect for nurses now, especially considering the stuff that they have to do and that they can do. They can give you pills and injections, they can change your IV, they can look at the colour of your urine, they can clean up your puke, etc. The variety of stuff they do is amazing. There was Nurse H, a short round ball of energy. She was young with brown hair and one of those freshly scrubbed optimistic faces. Then there was Nurse B, who was a very tall librarian type and didn't have much of a sense of humour. Then there was Nurse V who only appeared in the middle of the night to change my dressings. She was an exotic West Indian woman who was very gentle but very strong. Then there was Nurse C, a young pretty blonde, serious at first but very nice. My favourite one turned out to be Nurse P, who seemed almost like a policewoman at first: "Suspect is a Caucasian female, blood pressure 105/62, pulse 60, temperature 99.3 Fahrenheit." She turned out to have a really good sense of humour and she was very nice and did a lot for me.

These nurses would come in every hour. They would give me anti-inflammatory shots (do those help counteract inflammatory remarks?), and they would change our sheets once a day. If I was on an IV and couldn't eat, they would bring me glasses of ice to suck on. When they removed our catheters, they would put plastic containers they called hats in the toilet for us to pee into so they could make sure the colour of our urine wasn't unusual. They would make me cough and tell me to breathe deep and listen to my chest. Occasionally a group of vampires would come in and take my blood.

There was one mysterious nurse who appeared late one night. Apparently I was very dehydrated and they weren't happy with the way my IV was running. "Super IV Nurse" was an older nurse, and she came in and woke me gently. The IV drip which was now flowing into the top of my hand was sluggish and she had to find a fresh vein. She poked around a couple of times and finally found one in my wrist. Then she wrapped my hand in a hot wet towel to try to warm it so that the IV would start flowing. Once she got a successful drip going into my vein, she flung her cape about her shoulders and flew off into the night. I never saw her again. I guess all she did was save patients' IVs.

As I was hooked up to a catheter and an IV I wasn't required to do anything except lie in bed and exist. They eventually took out the catheter and I would have to get up to go to the toilet. They would remove the IV when I didn't need it and hook it back up to me when I did need it. But the entire time I was in the hospital I had this thing hooked up to my wrist. It's called a hep-lock which is short for "heparin lock". It's like a wiring system in my wrist or hand which leads to my IV vein. There are various tubes that come out of the hep-lock so that the nurses can shoot medicine into this tube or a couple kinds of medicine into that tube, or they can hook up this input to this cord and have different things running into me. It reminded me of the various jacks and plugs used at M's recording studio. I noticed it made M a little queasy every time he would come to visit and see this thing. I became fascinated with it because it became a part of me. I kept showing M that he could probably learn to be one of these nurses and wire me up properly because he had so much electrical experience. I awoke one night from a sound sleep to find Nurse P hooking an antibiotic machine to my hep-lock. This machine would pump twenty minutes of antibiotic infusion into my body. If I hadn't woken up I would never have known about this particular event. It's as if these people have you under their control and they can give you any kind of drug they want to without you knowing. It's also like you're this serviceable piece of equipment. It's very strange.

Wednesday Week 12:

I had to be at the hospital at 5:40am because they were going to operate at 7:40am. My alarm went off at 4:45. I've never got up that early to go to a job. In fact, the only reason I've ever had my alarm go off that early has been to leave on exciting trips. So it was weird waking up and realising I couldn't have breakfast and I had to put on loose clothes and go to the hospital where they were going to stick scalpels inside me and rip my guts out. It's a very strange reason to have your alarm go off.

M, T, my mom, and I went to the hospital. I was led into this partition and the staff closed the curtains. They told me to take off my clothes and to put on a gown and slippers. Then they let T and M and my mother sit in chairs while I sat back in a recliner and the nurse attached the hep-lock to my hand. Poor M couldn't stay in the room, of course, because he's so squeamish. (At least he's not squamous.) So he left until the nurse had it hooked up to my vein, and then he came back. It was so funny: here I was lying back on this easy chair while T and M and my mother all sat on uncomfortable folding chairs, and they were all looking at me. I felt like I was some sort of art display.

Soon an orderly entered and asked me if I wanted to walk to surgery or be rolled on a gurney. I decided since I was perfectly well I would walk to surgery. So I walked down the hall with him, with everyone in my entourage following. Then we passed a bathroom. The orderly asked me if I had to use the toilet before surgery. Having not had a shit that morning, I was a little concerned about going through the next few days without shitting. They don't seem to worry about cleaning out your intestines before surgery anymore. So I decided I should try to shit. I went into the bathroom, closed the door, and sat down. I could hear M and T and my mother standing outside the door talking about me to all of the doctors, and I suddenly realised there was this whole group of people standing outside this bathroom waiting for me to finish having my shit so they could all continue with their lives. There's nothing quite like having a stressful shit. It's not exactly like waking up leisurely and going into a dark restful bathroom and listening to the birds singing outside in the fresh morning air.

I said goodbye to M and T and my mom and walked with the orderly into the anteroom of the operating room. There were three women and one man lying on gurneys. I lay down on the fifth gurney. We lay there from about 7:30 to 7:45. The anesthesiologists would come in and tell their patients what they were going to do. My anesthesiologist finally arrived. He appeared to be a young gay Asian. He talked to me and then he gave me a pre-op shot. These shots contain an amnesia drug so you don't actually become unconscious but you forget everything. After he gave me the shot I felt relaxed for a moment.

The next thing I knew I was being lifted into my hospital bed after surgery. I don't even remember going into the operating room. Doctor H was leaning over me. In my haze I heard her say that everything went well with the surgery. M and T and my mom were there, but I was very groggy and couldn't talk to them.

Later on in the afternoon I became clear-headed and woke up. I had an IV and a catheter in me. I was just a happy little vegetable lying there in clean sheets.

Nowadays they don't come in and give you shots of painkillers when you're hooked up to an IV. There is a painkiller infuser hooked up to the IV which has a long cord with a pushbutton at the end of it. It releases just a very small continual dose of morphine into your system. If you wake up in pain or you need an extra boost, you simply push the button and the infuser gives you a little shot of morphine if it's okay to give it to you. It keeps track and won't let you overdose, so you don't get anything if it's too soon for you to have anything. I would wake up in pain and I would push this button fastened to my gown up by my neck so I could find it easily. It was nice.

Thursday Week 12:

About midday they finally removed the catheter. It's very difficult to pee right after having a catheter removed. I was in extreme pain and started crying, so they gave me some pain pills. I complained that I had a bladder infection, so they took my urine off to test it.

Doctor H came in to check my incision. It was lumpy and oozing just a bit of blood from the centre staples.

They took me off the IV on Thursday evening and gave me my first meal, the "clear liquid" diet. It consisted of Day-Glo Jell-O and a glass of Day-Glo sugary liquid and some chicken broth. I told Doctor H when she came in that nobody had asked me about my diet. I asked her if I could let somebody in the kitchen know that I'm a vegetarian. She said, "Well, you're just on a liquid diet. It really doesn't matter." So I just nibbled on a bit of the Day-glo matter.

Our room was very hot and stuff. V and I had post-surgery fevers which didn't help matters much, so I fell asleep in the stuffiness. A little while later I awoke and V told me a nurse had brought a card in for me. It was a card from my friend R, and I think I hurt myself laughing so hard. I finally settled down and went back to sleep. A little while later I woke up feeling extremely nauseated as I realised these two male engineers had just entered our room and were checking out the air conditioning and vacuuming the vents. I waited patiently for them to leave the room. Then I grabbed one of the kidney-shaped pink dishes by my bed and puked into it. My timing was perfect.

Thursday night I kept waking up every couple of hours to find my gown soaked with blood. I would call the nurses, and Nurse V would come in and change my dressing and give me a new gown. My incision was bleeding quite a bit. They all thought it was a hematoma under my skin. When a surgeon slices into your body like that, they have to do different levels of incisions. They use dissolvable sutures inside and staples on the outside layer. A hematoma is a pooling of blood just under the outside layer of skin.

Friday Week 12:

I awoke and had another liquid Day-Glo breakfast with chicken soup. This time I complained about the soup to the orderly who brought it to me. Unfortunately he didn't speak any English.

Doctor H stopped in to see how my incision was doing. She'd heard that it was bleeding. She took the dressing off to examine it. I decided to look because I was interested in seeing just what she would do. She took a Q-tip and stuck it right into the incision between two staples, and blood spurted out. It was at that point I decided I wouldn't watch after all. Doctor H also thought it was probably a hematoma. She said she would come back to my bed later on to open up a couple of the staples in the center of the incision and put some packing between the outside and inner layers so that the outside layer could heal. They would hook me up to the IV and pipe in pain medication during this procedure.

After she left, V and I went out for a walk. When you're recovering from surgery you're supposed to take short walks through the halls. That's why you always see zombies in hospital gowns taking very tiny painfully slow steps through the halls, some pushing their IV units in front of them. I was a walking IV zombie! As we were walking Nurse C approached and told me not to drink any more liquid or food because Doctor H was coming in at noon to do this procedure. I became a bit nervous at this point. Wow, this is kind of like surgery, I thought.

At noon I was back in my bed. Nurse C hooked me up to the IV. She asked me if I wanted a shot of morphine. Since I wasn't in any pain and I wasn't groggy, I figured this would be a perfect time to experience just what the morphine was like. (As it turned out, it was a very good thing I got this shot of morphine.) After she gave me the shot, I lay in my bed floating on a pleasant cloud as everybody walked by doing their typical hospital things.

Doctor H finally came in with a couple of assistants and some nurses. They brought several bowls full of various devices and drugs to put into my IV. As I lay there, happy as a lark, Doctor H started to take out a couple of the staples. Suddenly I noticed that everybody there had very surprised looks on their faces. Doctor H leaned over me and said, "JC, we have to take you down to the operating room again because you've just burst open." V told me later that everyone moved very fast at that point. All of the nurses were suddenly running around and phoning the operating room to get a team together. I felt like looking down at my abdomen, but then I decided I really didn't want to see my guts coming out. Liquid was poured all over my stomach and my torso was wrapped up in dressings. Doctor H told me to lie there and not move.

The phone was next to my head, so I picked it up and called home to tell T and my mother that I was going back in the operating room. Then I called M at work and told him. I was very relaxed about the situation. I thought, Oh, okay, this should be interesting.

The same short Filipino orderly who walked me into my previous surgery came into the room with a gurney. He said, "Would you like to use the bathroom now?" I said, "Well, I can't really stand up." He said, "It's just that you aren't going to have a chance to go to the bathroom before your surgery, so I thought you might want to go now." I looked straight at him and said, "Well, my incision has burst open and my guts are spilling out, so I can't really get up." His face paled a bit.

A couple of nurses came in and helped load me onto the gurney. I got to see how they actually get you from a bed onto a gurney when your body's all broken or you're unconscious. They wrapped me up in a blanket and slipped this plastic human-body-sized spatula under me and scooped me onto the gurney like an omelette.

Then the orderly wheeled me down to the operating room. I was still happily floating in my morphine state, and I smiled at people and said a cheerful hello and watched the world passing by. We came to a stop in a room outside of the operating room. The surgery team was still being assembled. A young black man was lying on the gurney next to me waiting for surgery. He looked very nervous and depressed. I noticed the middle knuckles of his fingers on one of his hands were completely white. It looked like he was wearing white rings on his fingers. My anesthesiologist arrived finally to talk to me. I recognised him as one of the other anesthesiologists who had been in the anteroom on Wednesday. He said, "Hi, I'm your anesthesiologist." I replied, "Yeah, I saw you the other morning when I was operated on." I was so friendly and chatty with everybody. Everybody liked me. They were surprised how "perky" I was. That was the word that was used so much: perky. Maybe it's a new character trait I've acquired.

Then I heard the black man's anesthesiologist talking to him. Apparently he'd been on a fishing boat in Russia and had ended up with frostbite. He was going into surgery to have those fingers amputated. Suddenly I felt nervous because I was an emergency and they were still getting people together for my surgery, and I was hoping and praying they would not get the two of us mixed up and that they would sew up my incision and not amputate my fingers.

My anesthesiologist gave me the amnesia shot. The next thing I knew I was waking up in the recovery room. I was lying on my back with an oxygen mask on my face, and I had a nasty cough. I kept coughing and coughing. I finally got the attention of the nurse, and she gave me ice chips to suck on to stop my coughing.

Then I saw the black man being wheeled into the recovery room. He was surrounded by a lot of nurses and assistants. It must be a really traumatic thing to wake up after something has been amputated.

I was wheeled back to my hospital bed. Through my fog I saw my mother and T standing in the hallway waiting for me. I was once again hooked up to the IV and the catheter and a blood pressure monitor. I learned that my incision had burst open because of a bad piece of thread. They use millions and millions of spools of thread to sew up millions of people. In one out of a million spools of thread, there's likely to be a weak spot. And I was the lucky person who got to have the weak thread in my very inner suture, so it broke. That's what made all of the other sutures break. So this time Doctor H sewed me up really good. I have lots and lots of sutures in me this time.

That evening M and T and my mother came to visit me just as I was getting really thirsty and dehydrated. Since I was once again on the IV and the catheter, the nurses were giving me ice chips on which to suck. I reached over for my cup of ice chips and knocked it onto the floor. V's husband was visiting just then. He came over to help me pick up the cup.

I don't remember much after that. I remember being very confused when M and everybody came in. V told me later I had a major personality change and went completely psycho. She said I was mad because I was pushing the button for a nurse to get another cup of ice chips and they weren't bringing it fast enough. I was shouting, "Where's my ice chips? Where's my nurse?" My head was nearly spinning around on my head and I was close to vomiting out green matter and muttering, "YOUR MOTHER SUCKS COCKS IN HELL!" As V described it, I turned from the nice easygoing perky person into complete evil.

I remember hallucinating a lot and being very itchy. I was clawing away at my skin. I was having a lot of strange visions every time I opened and closed my eyes. I couldn't tell what was hallucination and what was dream and what was reality. The most vivid hallucination I remember occurred at one point when I closed my eyes for a second. I was in an elevator. The elevator door opened onto this big field which was full of men and women and children who were all dressed in sparkly white Las Vegas-style cowboy outfits. The men and boys had TOAD embroidered on their shirts, and all of the women and girls had TOADETTE embroidered on theirs. They were all trying to get into the elevator because they thought it was a toilet and they all had to go very badly.

V rang for the nurses and said she thought I was having some sort of bad reaction. It turned out that instead of putting me back on morphine they had put me on a painkiller called Dilaudid. Apparently I was having a very bad allergic reaction to the drug. Nurse P came in and changed my IV back to morphine. I started to feel better about an hour later and started to back out of the psychosis.

They gave me antibiotic infusions as well, because I had burst open and was at risk of infection. V told me three nurses were looking at me later that night because I was so dehydrated. So they stuck an extra bag of fluid on my IV and pumped the fluids into me in double-time.

Saturday Week 12:

I awoke feeling better, although I had clawmarks all over my back. The nurses took out my catheter again and took me off the IV. Nurse T, the heavy-metal big mamma nurse, decided that I should have my sheets changed and that I probably wanted to be washed. She carried me into the bathroom. Since they'd just taken me off the catheter she set me onto the toilet and said, "Take your time." She even turned on the water tap so it would inspire me to urinate. Then she took off my gown and started to wash my back and shoulders with a towel. The bathroom door was open. Suddenly I heard this voice and looked up to see a man standing in the doorway talking to me. He was the weekend stand-in for Doctor H. He said, "Hi, I'm Doctor L. Do you have any questions?" Seeing as how I was sitting on the toilet stark naked, I told him I couldn't think of any questions at the moment, and I would prefer to talk to him at a later time.

Nurse T put me back into bed in my new fresh sheets. They felt really nice. M came and visited me for a little while before he went to work. Then I was given a Benadryl tablet for my residual itching from the drug reaction. Immediately after M left I grabbed one of the kidney-shaped pink dishes. The Benadryl tablet didn't agree with me. I tried to daintily puke into the dish like I had the previous time but, to put it in V's words, I "arced". The dainty little dish was not big enough. My puke hit the bottom and bounced up and out all over the clean sheets. It was red, the colour of the Benadryl pill. The nurses moved me out of the bed and changed the sheets and put me back into bed. At this point I was very depressed because I figured they were going to keep me in the hospital another day because I'd been a bad girl and vomited.

When I woke up after my nap the nurses gave me a liquid lunch, so everything was okay. This time they managed to get it right and I got vegetable broth. It was really nice eating the vegetable broth because it wasn't Day-Glo-coloured. It didn't taste very good, but it's the thought that counts.

Saturday evening they again gave me Day-Glo Jell-o and juice and vegetable broth. This time the broth tasted like they had dumped a shakerful of salt into it, so I didn't eat it.

That night they took me off the IV. V's husband and daughter came in with a pepperoni pizza. They sat by V's bed and ate the pizza. V had thought that she would want some pizza by that time but realised, as soon as it entered the room, that pepperoni pizza was probably the last thing in the world that she wanted to be smelling. Fortunately I couldn't smell it from my side of the room.

We both slept really good that night. I slept in two four-hour chunks. The nights before I'd slept for only an hour at a time.

I awoke in the middle of the night to find Nurse P hooking me up to an antibiotic infuser. She was so gentle and trying to do it so quietly. It occurred to me that she might be an extraterrestrial and she was actually hooking me up to truth serum.

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