. . . continued from Part 1
Back Surgery, November 7, 2001, 06:00, Piedmont Hospital.
2001 Nov 7, Wed
Karan, a woman I had met just a few months earlier, had offered to drive me to the hospital. It was not convenient for her in the least, either.
She had to drive an hour to get to my home from her’s, then travel another hour to get to the hospital. When we pulled up, I told Karan she could just drop me off at the entrance.
Her response was a very firm, “No way, I’m walking in with you.”
Karan won that dispute as she drove right to the parking deck and found a convenient spot. As soon as I checked-in, I was told they were ready for me in pre-op, so Karan gave me a hug, and wished me the best.
Within minutes of arriving in pre-op, they had run an IV, and suddenly, I had not one single care in the world. Shortly thereafter, my life was in the hands of an unnamed anesthesiologist.
Once again, my hearing woke before my other senses, and to my immediate astonishment, I recognized Karan’s voice talking to the nurses.
Right after that, I listened as Karan called my parents and gave them a great prognosis … once again, be careful with what you say in the presence of a “sleeping” hospital patient. Luckily, I heard nothing but good stuff.
Karan, a widow who lost her husband to skin cancer a decade earlier, waited there for over six hours just so she knew I was OK. A woman I knew for only a short time became one of the champions in my life.
My own siblings never even called.
2001 Nov 8, Thu
Waking up this morning was my first real complete consciousness since the beginning of my surgery yesterday morning.
I had little bits of memory in recovery, and being moved to my room when I heard Karan. But then I believe they kept me sedated for the night, which was fine, except for one thing …
A pseudo-umbilical cord?! The first thing I noticed when I awoke was that my catheter was still in, which meant I was going to experience something I was hoping not to: someone yanking my catheter out while I was awake. Big bummer.
Morning Rounds: Dr. Dale R. appears in my room, but seems surprisingly serious. He said, “You bled too much.” I first thought he must be kidding.
“The surgery took a lot longer than it should have.” But he wasn’t kidding, as he was angry at me for bleeding too much.
I really wanted to say, “Do you want to do it again, and I’ll try to bleed less? Silly me, but isn’t that why you get paid the Big Bucks?”
Big Bucks :: adj noun :: 1) billing my insurance company $34,000 for a 4-5 hour procedure; 2) insurance company paid him $11,000, which he accepted, and likely wrote off the rest (taxes, what taxes?). He performs about six surgeries per week.
That was a side of him I had not seen, but it would be virtually the only side I’d see going forward.
Just after Dr Dale left, two nurses entered my room. Liz, a middle-aged woman, introduced herself as the head nurse. She then introduced Bridgette as a student nurse. Liz wanted to let me know that Bridgette would be working with the staff nurses that morning.
A short time later, while lying on my left side, my back to the door, I heard Liz’s voice as she was again entering my room. She was explaining the proper way to remove a catheter. I glanced up briefly to see that Bridgette was getting the ten-second training.
Almost immediately, very mixed feelings overwhelmed me, as I recall thinking I wanted to ask Liz to slow down with those instructions … don’t make her nervous.
Since all I was wearing was a hospital gown, I moved it out of the way as they approached … and kept my eyes shut. As I waited for a moment to interject a question, things happened too quickly.
Suddenly, I was lifted, followed immediately by a very strong and uncomfortable tug … sort of like having the catheter attached to a slamming castle door. I emitted an unexpected moan, and folded right in half into the prenatal position.
I was still trying to catch my breath after they were gone. They walked out so quickly and quietly that I wondered if they laughed at my reaction once they got to the hallway.
I have no doubt that I was Bridgette’s first catheter tug. It made me wonder if a nurse with a thousand good tugs to her name would have left me in a different state, something other than a rope-burn in the urinary-tract kind of feeling. Or maybe given me a 1-2-3…tug.
But, I recovered just fine in what seemed like an eternity.
I had my first of two scheduled appointments with a physical therapist that Thursday afternoon. I had no idea what to expect. She told me she just needed to see me walk, and since she couldn’t keep up, she said I was doing great.
2001 Nov 9, Fri
Morning Rounds: Dr. Dale came by to measure the amount of blood in my vacu-something. It’s a spring-loaded pouch, with a tube going into my surgical wound. Its job is to keep the hemorrhaging from filling my torso.
Dr R. once again reminded me that I bled too much, and I certainly would not be going home Saturday, as it was the early-release possibility. I didn’t see this in him before, but he was holding a grudge that I bled too much. What’s with that? I was already getting to where I was not looking forward to his visits, as he just carried an attitude.
I had my second of two scheduled appointments with a physical therapist that Friday afternoon, and this time I was led into the fire escape and asked to climb some stairs. So I walked right up one flight, looked back down at her, and she waved me to come back down. When I got there, she was laughing.
She looked up at me and said, “I meant just three or four steps.” She also said I was doing great and I should expect a fairly quick recovery, as most people do struggle to get up a few steps after the surgery I had. I remember not being surprised, since I was in good shape and expected to recover quickly.
It was Friday evening, and after spending two nights, it was the longest I had ever been confined to a hospital.
2001 Nov 10, Sat
Morning Rounds: Dr. Dale came by to measure the amount of blood in my vacu-something. I asked him if it looked as if I’d be able to go home Sunday … now if I had kept my mouth shut, my foot would have never slipped in so easily.
I recall his reply, steeped in attitude, that if I hadn’t bled so much, maybe … but at this rate, he didn’t think I’d even be going home Monday.
A simple “no” would have sufficed.
Early Saturday Afternoon
As I was rolling over, I felt a sharp pain around my surgical wound area. I immediately envisioned that a staple had come loose. A few minutes later, I got that sharp poke again, so I page the nurse.
When the nurse took a look at my back, she reacted startled, “No, it’s not a staple … your drain tube came out. Here, I’m just going to pull the rest of it out.”
With that, she came around to the front of me, and said, “Look, this much was inside your back” indicating approximately 24-28 inches. She told me she’d leave a message with the doctor and let me know what he says.
About 30 minutes later, she told me he knew and he would see me in the morning on his morning rounds. Considering his reaction, I assumed it wasn’t that critical.
2001 Nov 11, Sun
Morning Rounds: With a nurse already in my room, Dale R, MD, entered, walked quietly to my bedside, and said, “So I hear you pulled the tube out of your back?”
I half-heartedly chuckled at his attempt at humor, and returned an equally humorous, “Yea.”
After a brief silence, he said it again, “I hear you pulled the tube out of your back?”
RED FLAGS APPEARED EVERYWHERE.
That time, I responded quickly and very directly …
“OK, that’s the second time you said that, so allow me to be perfectly clear about this: I DID NOT pull any tube out of my back. It would appear to me that the tube was not properly connected, and it worked its way out. Any other questions?”
He said nothing else about that.
After examining my back, he said, “Well, since the tube is out, I guess you can go home.”
If a surgeon, as well as the head of the Neuroscience Department, smiles and says I can go home, then it must be safe for me to go home.
At the time, little did I know that he had more than enough experience to be well aware that he was likely sending me off to my death … with a smile.
“You bled too much.”
continued in Part 3 . . .
Note: Critical Events to Remember from Part 2:
1) Both physical therapists, from Thursday and Friday, told me I was doing great and I should expect a fully successful recovery.
2) Dr Dale kept reminding me that I bled too much — frankly, I think he was angry too much.
3) Saturday morning, Dr Dale stated that I may not even go home Monday, based on the amount I was still bleeding internally. That also factored in having the vacu-something fully-functional and completing its job until I stopped hemorrhaging — at least through Monday.
4) A few hours later, the tube came out. From that moment, the vacu-something ceased to provide any more of its critical functionality — something emphasized repeatedly by Dr Dale.
5) When informed, Dr Dale stated he’d check it when he saw me the next morning, Sunday.
6) Sunday morning he immediately appeared to be attempting to audio-record an admission from me, as if I were deliberately responsible for the tube coming free.
7) Dr Dale states that since the tube came out, I can go home (re-read #3 above).
Additionally, Dr Dale released me without a bandage covering my surgical wound, nor with any antibiotics. My understanding is that he was 75 years old when he operated on me.
continued in Part 3 . . .