"Every government interference in the economy consists of giving an unearned benefit, extorted by force, to some men at the expense of others." Ayn Rand

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Hospital...part 4

I left you with Richard entering the OR high on valium, and me in the waiting room breaking all the rules with my chicken salad sandwich and diet coke. I had a good book to read, and there was a television and lots of magazines that I hadn't seen before to keep my occupied for the short time that I'd be waiting for Richard. Plus, as always, a bevy of interesting people to peruse; a hospital, like an airport, has lots of people and lots of interesting stories.

I ate my sandwich and tried to read, but I couldn't concentrate on the book. I sent out a mass-message letting everyone know it had started, and that I would let them all know when I knew something. I stared at the tv, and started listening to all the conversations around me.

The group of people sitting to my right were all there in support of their aunt/sister/cousin/co-worker, who was in surgery to repair an ankle with a compound fracture. She had been getting ready for work early in the morning, and a man had broken in to her house. In her attempt to get away from him and out the window, she fell and severely broke her ankle. (The guy ran away when she fell.) This lady was in her 60's, and I couldn't believe how awful this story was; I could only imagine how frightened she must have been. Can you imagine?

The people to my left were odd; an older man and his daughter. His wife was in for kidney stones, and the daughter spoke to him like he was three years old. I first thought alzheimers or dementia, but as the conversation went on, I discovered that they were just strange. When the surgeon came out to let them know all had gone ok, he gave the husband the kidney stone in a test tube. They were very excited about it. It was bizarre.

A third group near me were waiting on their husband/father/brother. It was another large group of people; Dr. Chin (my Dr. Chin) came out, and he called them into the little private room within the waiting room. They all came out about fifteen minutes later crying. It was pancreatic cancer. I can only imagine how Dr. Chin delivered this news; he's a great surgeon, but has zero bedside manner. I felt so awful for these people, that they were having to deal with this blow in a public place, in front of all these people. It was like the lady who died in the ER, I just wished I could have been anywhere else in the room, just to not intrude on this awful time for them. They just cried and cried; I looked down and tried not to intrude on their grief.

Little by little, people's surgeries were ending, and their families were being called in from the waiting room. I looked up to see the hospital volunteer packing up her tote bag and taking her cardigan sweater and going home for the day. It was 5:00 pm. Diane contacted me, and asked what was going on. I was clueless; there was nobody to ask. No hospital personnel, no nurses, no volunteers. By six, it was just me and one other family still waiting. By this time, I was extremely nervous, wondering what was happening, why was it taking so long, is he ok. A bit panicky. It was at that moment I regretted not having anybody come and sit with me.

All of a sudden, the door opens, and out comes Dr. Cuomo, Dr. Internist and Dr. Anesthesiologist (their names escape me at the moment). They ask me to step outside into the hallway. Talk about moving through wet cement, running to get the answer and at the same time afraid to get the answer.

They said that there had been a problem. AFTER surgery. The surgery had gone really well, although the break had been worse than they expected; the bones were all broken and pushed up towards his elbow. Richard had been wheeled into the post-op anesthesia recovery room, and within minutes had stopped breathing. They immediately put a breathing tube into him, and got him breathing again. They believed it was a reaction to the pain medication that they had given him. He was ok now, thought, they said, and they said a nurse would be in in a few minutes to take me back. I was trying to process all of this, trying to remember everything they said, and I couldn't. I just wanted to get behind that door. I gathered up my things and waited, tearing up and trying to control it. I sent out a very generic message to everybody, not saying anything but that he was out of surgery. I didn't really understand what had happened myself yet, so I couldn't explain it to anybody else. After what seemed like hours, but was only minutes, she came and got me and took me back to Richard. You know how usually your imagination is usually worse then the actual picture? Not this time.

Behind a maze of tubes and wires, behind an oxygen mask and a breathing tube in him, was my Richard. Looking tiny, and so very sick. There was no color to his face; what's the first thing you want to do when you see someone? You want to hug them, and hold them. Poor thing, there was nowhere to hug...everything had tubes and needles and wires going to contraptions on the wall. He was going in and out of consciousness; I told him I was there, and he was ok, it was all over. He was very agitated and confused; but he was also pumped full of drugs, and couldn't form words. Everything came out garbled and there was no volume to his voice due to the breathing tube. There were nurses everywhere, and a monitor that I soon learned to monitor myself. I finally understood Richard's confusion; he was asking if he had been in a car accident, or did he have a heart attack? I tried to explain to him that it had been his surgery, and that there had been a problem, but all was ok now. He went back to sleep, and woke up again, and we went through it again. This happened several times; I later learned from him that he would fall asleep and dream that we had left the hospital, but had gotten into an accident on the way home. He looked at me and said "I don't want to die"; this was the proverbial "straw" that made me lose control over my emotions, and the tears came.

When he would fall asleep, he would gradually stop breathing; I watched the nurse for a few minutes, and then I took over. When his respiration would fall below 6 per minute, an alarm would go off, and I'd shake him to wake him up. It kept happening, and due to the what had happened, they were going to put him in ICU, which in itself is scary. We waited in post-op for what seemed like hours, and finally transportation came to take him upstairs. While waiting, I got to watch the operations of the post op anesthesia unit, and I tell you, those nurses work their tails off. I don't think I could do it. There was this one man right across from Richard, and he woke up from anesthesia, and he was phycially fighting the nurse, who was trying to take his blood pressure. They were wrestling back and forth, and he said "I'll bite your boob!" I turned around because I was so surprised; she laughed and told me that people say the strangest things coming out of anesthesia; you never know what's going to happen. Once again, nurses, the unsung heroes.

I texted Diane at some point during this, I think it was when I went out to use the bathroom. She wanted to come down right away, with Katie. I told her to stay home, to come in the morning. There was nothing that anybody could do at that moment, and it was just going to be a long night. She said she'd be there first thing in the morning.

We got up to ICU, and it didn't resemble the ICU's I'd seen on television; it was very quiet, and the two nurses assigned to Richard were all over him, doing everything that was necessary; they let me stay for about a half hour until they threw me out. The ICU has very strict, very enforced rules. I told them that I would be waiting in the waiting room. They presented me with all the stuff from the old room, including the two gift baskets.

There was nobody in the waiting room; I decided that I would take all the stuff home, shower, change, and get back to the hospital. I packed up everything (there was a lot of stuff!) plus the two heavy fruit baskets, and went downstairs. As Murphys Law was in effect, I couldn't get to the front of the hospital; the exit was locked. I had to come out by the emergency room. It was cold, and I was planning to walk around. The security guard saw me and took pity on me; he picked me up and drove me around. I've never appreciated a warm car so much!

Got in the car and started the drive home. Of course, the waterworks started. I really couldn't believe everything that had happened. This was a simple wrist surgery, for pete's sake! I kept saying to myself "did this really happen?" There was a strange unrealistic quality to all of it.

Got home, let the dog out, showered, changed and went back. Nothing else happened that night; just a long night in the waiting room. They really don't make it comfortable for families that want to wait there. There's nothing to stretch out on, and it was cold. When I got back there, there were two other families on vigil, and we all spent the night in the same room, not really talking, respecting each others privacy and worry. I went out for coffee for all once, and another man did the same a few hours later. I know I could have left the hospital and slept at home, but I had promised I'd be right down the hall. Not because I felt like he was in any more danger...it was just that I felt better being close. And because I had promised.