Faithful readers of this blog will note that it has often been top-heavy with complaints about the incompetence, insensitivity, and inefficiency of different hospitals, doctors, and medical practices. I am very happy to report that my experience Wednesday was exemplary in every way.
I am home right now, typing at the living room table while watching the snow fall and accumulate outside. Like most other snowy days, the world seems to have turned down its volume today. I haven’t had any fresh air since I came home from the hospital, so I’d love to step outside, but I’m scared to death of falling.
Grant Hospital gave us the word: Be at surgical check-in at 12:20, and plan to be on the table at 2:20. We made all the plans, and then the hospital called and changed it to report at 2:20, surgery at 4:30. So, we changed our ride on Project Mainstream and where Susie would spend the day. Then I get another call–my surgeon had a cancellation, so be there at 12:20.
We arrived a little early at the hospital, but that was no problem. Soon I was in a curtained cubicle and out of my "civilian" clothes and in the paper-thin, all-revealing hospital gown. I was allowed to keep my glasses, since I’d be filling out paperwork, but I had to take off my wedding ring, watch, and necklace. A very cheerful nurse came in and injected a blood thinner in my thigh. (The needle was thinner than a pencil lead or an insulin syringe needle, and stung a little, but she applied Lidocaine first.) I almost didn’t realize what was happening when she put the IV in the top of my right hand, she was that efficient and that painless.
The anesthesiologist and the surgeon came by and paid their respects, and they were able to put me at (relative) ease. They answered my questions, and prepared me further. (The surgeon initialed my stomach and marked where the gallbladder was. I guess that beats going into surgery and hearing the surgeon say, "I can’t remember–Is the appendix on the left or the right?")
Steph sat there in the cubicle, amused and a bit baffled by the turn of events. She was totally floored when the surgeon’s assistant came in to speak to me, and I saw his nametag, and realized I had been in middle school with his older brother. Surgery went by the wayside for a few minutes as we exchanged "Hey, how’s…?" and "Didn’t you used to live near…?"
Steph was quite pleased (as I was) when the cubicle clock read 2:20 and they moved my gurney out into the hall toward the elevator. Steph headed to the waiting room, and I was lying on my back while the two nurses began rolling me down the hall. (They made some pretty tight turns on the corner–I wish I had been strapped down.)
We went up one level, and then I was in the O.R., which was as cold as a meat locker. (That may have been because I was lying there naked except for a very thin surgical gown.) The room was also a lot smaller than I expected. The big digital clock on the wall read 2:29 p.m. when I rolled off the gurney and onto the operating table.
Based on movies and TV, I expected the last thing I’d remember would be the mask coming down over my face. That wasn’t the case Wednesday. I got on the table and tried to make myself comfortable.
Then I remember asking a nurse, "We still in the O.R.?" She laughed and said, "No. You’re in Recovery. It’s all over!" It was a little after 4:30, and I did not feel hungover or groggy, and the room was not spinning. I had difficulty speaking, but other than that, I felt quite alert.
That was when I first noiced the pain in my right gut. I opened my gown a little and saw the four dressings on my stomach, including one over my navel, and every time I took a deep breath, there was a bad stitch in my right side, as there still is. (It feels a little like the way your side cramps when you run too hard.)
"Your wife and your pastor are here," the nurse told me. I lay back a little and tried not to drift off to sleep. (Because of my narcolepsy, they didn’t want me to go home until my blood oxygen level consistently stayed above 95. When I was awake, it’d be 93-96, but I’d start to doze off, and it’d fall into the 80s.) The nurse let me have a nasal oxygen feed so I could rest, and got me some Sierra Mist and graham crackers. I looked up, and I saw Steph, her friend Anne, and our associate minister, Eric Meter, enter the cubicle. Steph said the information monitor in the waiting room flashed up that I was in surgery, and she posted that on Facebook, and not 10 minutes later, the woman at the information desk said, "Your husband has been moved out of surgery."
Eric drove us home via CVS, where Steph filled the oxycodone prescription the doctor had written for me. Although I didn’t expect to, I slept in my own bed Wednesday night.
Again, Grant Hospital was fantastic. I was on the table just when they said I would be, and they treated this patient with the utmost consideration and respect. I had no idea that I could be knocked out, operated on, and lucid within two hours.
I am home, on the mend. Yesterday I was in quite a bit of pain, and I took the oxycodone almost every four hours, and kept a batch of folded blankets up against my stomach in case I needed to cough. I’m still walking like a 95-year-old, and getting up and down the stairs is a major achievement. I’m sleeping propped on several pillows. I can’t lift anything above 20 pounds, and I’m minimizing bending as much as I can.
In addition to the oxycodone prescription, the hospital sent me home with the gallstone. Steph posted on Facebook, "LMAO! They just brought in Paul’s gallstone!" I didn’t see it until I got home. It’s black, and about the size of a Chinese checker marble. I can imagine the havoc it was wreaking when it was clogging my common bile duct. Yesterday, while Susie was doing her Buckeye Online School for Success coursework on the laptop in my study, I thought the plastic jar for my stone was missing. I wonder what a casual observer would have thought had he/she heard, "Susie, have you seen my gallstone?"
Below is a picture from a medical journal of the affected area. I no longer have the gallbladder. I’m eating very cautiously–I had two pieces of pizza last night, and an egg sandwich for breakfast today. The liver has to adjust to the fact there is no longer a gallbladder there to store bile, so it needs to adjust its output approrpriately.
This is a picture of President Lyndon Johnson after his cholecystectomy. During a press conference, he nonchalantly lifted up his shirt and displayed the scar. (One reporter whispered to another, "Thank God it wasn’t a hemorrhoidectomy!") LBJ had the open procedure, which left a much more visible–and indelible scar–and which required weeks of recovery afterwards. I heard over and over again how fortunate I was to undergo this surgery in the 21st century.