It started well enough, scuffling through pre-op in a billowy surgical gown and oversized slipper socks. My nerves manifest in jokes cracked and talking baseball with the nurses. The room had a mellow vibe with chatter of weekend plans and vacation stories. My nurse, my surgeon, my anesthesiologist all talked to me as if I was going to just totally crush surgery. I was in there for about an hour staring at the ceiling relaxed by a drug cocktail and chanting the Gayatri Mantra in my mind. It’s my favorite for times of uncertainty, a little kick of faith to settle my nerves.
They’d pull my pesky uterus out of my belly button and I’d be leaving the hospital in an hour or two afterward.
Eventually when I was wheeled into the surgical room, I felt good, confident, ready. My young and talented female gynecological surgeon smiled down at me and explained where I was and what was happening while also introducing me to her surgical partner who would be assisting that day. The anesthesiologist put a mask over my mouth and nose and told me to take a few deep breaths. A champion of deep breathing, I was out in less than 10 seconds. One moment there and the next moment, who knows where. I was gone, there were no visions, no dreams, nothing to occupy the space of 4 + hours long surgery. I was just at once awake and then I wasn’t.
Until I was…
When I woke up, I didn’t feel like the star surgical patient. I felt crazy. I awoke in a totally different space of intense fluoresce and non-stop phone ringing hooked to beeping monitors and long tubes. My body felt like a foreign place for the first time in a long, long time.
I blearily opened my eyes to see my young surgeons face smiling but serious. “The fibroid was too big,” she said, “We had to cut you open.” This barely registered as I was supremely conscious of my pounding erratic heartbeat. My nervous system was working overdrive sending “Danger, Danger, Danger” signals up and down my spine. My body was on high alert. Simultaneously in searing pain and anxiety but trapped in a cocoon of complete numbness.
I’d lost a lot of blood in surgery, she said. My heart was in arrhythmia and I’d need to be monitored in the cardiac unit overnight. But first I had to stay in post-op until the nurses could sort out my heart beat. I was given electrolytes and magnesium. More time passed, hours according to my husband Patrick before they settled my heart and he was allowed to see me.
The chaos of post-op was overwhelming and did nothing to settle my frayed system. At one point the fire alarm went off and all the doors manually locked. Frazzled nurses yelled obscenities at the constantly ringing telephones. Patrick, a born problem solver and manager, asked lots of questions. “What do you need?” I didn’t know. I said, “Can you just sit there?”
I was wearing these mesh boy short underwear with a giant maxi pad. I could feel myself bleeding through my bandages a wet hot fury between my legs. I asked for a rag but my nurses didn’t oblige. I’d just need to lay in my discomfort for now.
Patrick walked with me as they wheeled me to a room in the cardiac unit. I got pulled out of my bed by a team of nurses the first time I used the bathroom. My abdomen screamed and that first pee I thought I might be dying. Aside from the shock of lost blood, the sensation of peeing was beyond pain, a sort of red hot electrical current.
I don’t remember how I made it back to bed but when I did I puked shortly after. This was extremely unpleasant. Patrick sat with me until around midnight when I told him to go home and sleep. I kept falling in and out of consciousness woken by nurses checking vitals and my roommate snoring wildly. When Patrick returned the next morning around 7, I was still in pretty bad shape but able to converse somewhat coherently. My doctor came around 8 and described the procedure with me and why they had to open me up. I remember being irrationally pissed at her and not really listening. I just wanted her to leave.
As the hours passed, each time I got out of bed got a little easier. Thank god for preternaturally strong triceps and mobile hips. I subsisted primarily on ginger ale, Lays potato chips, and narcotics. A friendly aide tried to bring me food but just looking at it brought back memories of the previous nights sickness and I couldn’t manage a bite. Around 1 o’clock Patrick walked with me around the cardiac wing and it was then my sense of humor returned. I walked around the unit like a pensive old man, bent over at the waist with a rounded spine not giving a damn if my giant pad was visible through the backside of my gown. Patrick kept trying to rearrange the fabric and I chuckled a little to myself until I realized it hurt to laugh which made me want to laugh more. Instead I just made ridiculous facial expressions and cursed at the absurdity of my appearance and the whole ordeal. I started to feel ready to go home.
We asked about discharge but no one seemed to know what to do with me. I wasn’t technically a cardiac patient so none of the doctors on that floor could sign on my leave. We waited for at least another 2 hours until I spied an all business nurse and asked for her help. She made it happen and in 30 minutes the doctor who assisted my surgery signed my discharge.
I was wheeled outside by a sweet orderly who was shooting the breeze with a co-worker while we waited for Patrick to pull around. Their wicked banter made me laugh out loud which again extremely painful but also a decent reminder that I’d be ok.
It is some kind of miracle that I didn’t get sick on the long drive home on country roads. Patrick helped me into the house and I showered up and went directly to bed to start my journey to healing.
Part 2 coming Soon…