The surgeon’s office called: pathology is benign fibroid.
I can kind of sit up straight now. I can do my granny shuffle walk, which looks comical if you ask me. But let me tell you, that first granny shuffle from my bed to the bathroom was quite a monumental accomplishment. I was cheered on like a rock star by the care givers at the Surgery Observation Unit (SOU), as I huddled over my i.v. pole, holding on for dear life for fear of flopping onto the floor face-down. God bless those good people. They were wonderful.
Yes, for a physician, it was very different being a patient.
The first night post-op was chaotic and blurry. MK was sleeping beside me in a lounge chair while Plum had a sleepover at a friend’s house. The SOU stall was so small that they couldn’t provide him with a sofa bed. I kept waking up from pain and noise, so that I’d push the Patient Controlled Analgesia (PCA) myself to adjust the pain medication. Because I wanted to get out of the hospital as soon as I can, I was a very motivated patient: I used my spirometer at least every hour throughout the first night. My routine went like this: after I pushed my PCA of Dilaudid into my vein, I knew I had about a minute before submerging myself again in that cloud of painlessness. So I’d push the PCA, do 10 puffs on the spirometer, then drift off; wake up again in half hour or an hour, and do the same routine over and over. By 5am the next morning, I was able to breathe in enough inspiratory lung volume to keep the ball on the top of the little gadget, and I thought to myself, ok, I don’t have to worry about my lungs collapsing now.
The second day (postop day 1), they still couldn’t find a room for me. I was told that there was a real possibility that I’d be discharged straight from my stall at the SOU. I dispatched a distressed text to my Mentor from the same hospital, asking him if there was any way he can help get me a room. My own doctor went upstairs, even saw empty rooms, demanded that they give out those rooms to admit his patients. But The Hospital refused, claiming those beds were reserved and his patients were “too healthy” to get a room.
I was even more motivated to get out of the hospital. To do so, I needed to get myself off the i.v. and the Foley catheter. Once they ok’ed me to take liquid, I drank and drank, to show that I had adequate urine output. I also needed to show that I can pee on my own as soon as they remove the Foley. Let’s just say the first time getting out of bed and “walking” to the bathroom was more than a little awkward and uncomfortable. I coordinated my hip and limp lower extremities, coaxing them to gather in a strange angle so that I can get out of my bed without hurting my surgical scar too much. When both of my feet touched the ground, my Care Partner reminded me, “breathe, breathe, don’t hold your breath! Look up, don’t look down or else you’d be dizzy.” I looked ahead, planted my feet on the ground, hovered over my iv pole, and started my shuffle along the hallway. I must have looked like Snow White’s stepmother when she was dressed as an old woman, walking out into the forest with her cane and that infamous apple. My Care Partner called it the “granny shuffle”. But she was so encouraging and everyone was telling me what a great job I was doing that made me really proud. Look, I can walk! Ha!
I started eating as well. Once I can show that I can take regular diet, it would mean I can take oral pain medication, which would mean that I would be ready to rid off my i.v. I opened the In Room Dining Menu on the table and was amazed at the variety of choices, and the around-the-clock food service. It was as if I was in an all-inclusive resort. For breakfast, they had pancakes with maple syrup, French toast with dust of sugar powder, breakfast burrito, etc etc. In the end, I settled for cream of rice, fat free strawberry yogurt, and a fruit cup, as I didn’t want to challenge my fasting gastrointestinal system too much and face the fate of nausea/vomiting. The first breakfast was amazing. I ate the entire thing and ordered a second tray: scrambled egg white with tofu, decaf coffee. I had three bites of those and considered myself overly ambitious. My eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach. By late afternoon, I took my first oral pain med, and the nurse came to take off my i.v. Second Barrier down.
By late afternoon, the only problem was the low blood pressure: my systolic pressure oscillated between mid 90’s to mid 70’s. And dizziness. I was drinking a lot and having good urine output though. My hemoglobin was ok. It was 14 baseline, 13 after autologous blood donation, and then 10 post-op. I got a text from my Mentor. He was “mad” but still determined, because it was that difficult to get a room for a post-op patient at The Hospital, even for a Professor Emeritus, ex-vice Chair of a prominent Specialty Department, chair of several charity cancer programs. You see, when The Hospital built the new hospital, they actually made LESS beds than the old hospital. They strived to be more of a high end hospital, so that every bed was private, with a view. Patients that they wanted to admit to these nice rooms were complicated surgery patients, like neurosurgical patients, organ transplant patients, patients who would be very ill and needed to stay for a long period. Young female patients who had myomectomies were “too healthy” to be admitted.
By 5pm, MK brought my little Plum over from school, and we were giddy with our little family reunion. So what if I had to stay here in this cramped stall another night. I’d be going home soon. MK was to take Plum home the second night anyway, so it didn’t really matter that I was in this little stall. Except it was noisy, it was right outside of the man’s bathroom, and I couldn’t rest. I suggested that MK take Plumster to the cafeteria for dinner. It was dinner time, and I needed Plumster to be on her routine so that she had a sense of normalcy. As they were walking out, the nurse bursted into my stall and exclaimed, “congratulations, you have a room!”
The Room, as promised, was on the top floor, with a view of the University football stadium. It had a little living quarter with a three seat sofa, a little coffee table, and two separate chairs, in-room bathroom with a shower. The cabinets were made of wood. The room was designed to feel like a hotel suite. The nurse’s station was sparse, minimalistic. The wall was decorated with original art work. The staff work area was tucked away, so that patients feel that– what– they are in a hotel? When we needed our nurse, we just had to push the call button. We even had their phone numbers and they all carried a cell phone. My nurses consistently turned out to be kind, compassionate, and diligent. By nightfall, I had moved on to work on my Third Barrier from discharge: passing gas.
For any patient with major abdominal or pelvic surgery, the ability to pass gas showed that the surgeon did not accidentally nick any blood or nerve supply to the gastrointestinal system. I remember my intern days, where someone’s passing gas would literally made my day because that meant you had one less patient to take care of in an overworked schedule. In order to pass gas, I needed to walk. A lot. When the new nurse came in to check up on me at 9pm, and asked, is there anything you would like me to do for you? I asked her to get my Care Partner to take me for a walk. Not just a small bed to bathroom kind of walk, but a real, let’s walk around the floor kind of walk. Walking patients were usually the Care Partner’s job, which also included jotting down the urine output and cleaning the patient, making beds, manual labor work. “Oh, I can take you for a walk”, my nurse said cheerfully. I mentally went through all the steps that my SOU Care Partner taught me, “gather the legs, move the hip, plant the feet, look ahead, breathe”, and came up on my feet triumphantly. My nurse and I walked on the 8th floor, chatting as if we were just two friends out for a night stroll. Another Nurse friend showed up, and we discussed the LA marathon and my goal of running it in a couple of years, making LA the third city I run a marathon in.
Right now, I was content just to shuffle along the hallway.
After my midnight dose of medication, I drifted off to Sleepy Land, feeling hopeful, fearing what the pathology report might say.
Post-op Day 2, I got up ready to fully commit myself to Barrier Three. I was given a walker by a kind nurse. So after breakfast, I pulled on my sweatshirt, plugged in my headphone, started my “Run Keeper” app on the iPhone, and headed out my room as if I was going out for a run… except the pace was a turtle’s crawl, and the distance was not even one mile. I listened to my Playlist which I put together for my 10k run, and strolled along the beautiful Hospital, admiring the carefully chosen original art works along the wall. I walked toward the 8th floor lobby which was glassy and polished, tempted to get in the elevator and visit the gift shop located on the first floor. I needed to keep moving so that I can get out of here. Sadly enough, after 13 minutes, I was completely wiped out. I returned to my Suite to rest. When MK showed up, I asked him to walk with me downstairs to the gift shop. There, in the middle of the elegant surrounding, I have conquered Barrier Three. But what an inopportune moment! I heard my intestines churning, then the long-awaited melodic sound of gas. I “quickly” shuffled myself out of hearing range, luckily no one heard me, I think.
Discharge took a long time, several hours more than necessary. One thing that impressed me was that the pharmacist showed up in my room with my outpatient medication, and personally explained everything clearly and had us pay the meds right there and then. Very efficient. The hours ticked by. MK left to go pick up Plum from school. Lucky for me, my good friend the Neuro-Oncologist was still working in her clinic and was about done with her day. So I hitched a ride back with her. The departure from the hospital felt like breaking jail. I breathed in the air of freedom.
Right now as I type this entry in the comfort of my dining room, I feel like someone who’s been dropped on the railroad track, tossed and turned in the last few weeks. From the moment I did the ultrasound, to my first consultation with the surgeon, to being discharged from the hospital, things were roaming by so fast. Now I’ve finally scrambled back up, sitting on the railroad bench, catching my breath. My husband is back at work, and my daughter is at school. The flowers and plants sent by loved ones are sitting atop the table. My dog sits besides me, protective and sweet. I feel blessed. Truly blessed by the Higher Being. Thank you, Sky God, for seeing this through.
I will work on walking without assistance soon.