I had what my surgeon said was the first of many meltdowns on Monday. He was correct, of course. I had many more on Tuesday.
I have been in the hospital, post surgery, for nine days. The days are all very similar filled with people whose job it is to help me heal and leave. There are people on the inside (my medical team) and on the outside (my family and close friends support team). They all have my best interests at heart, they all want me to heal and get out of here. There is no doubt about that.
My days typically run like this:
12:00 a.m. My nurse tech takes my vital signs. Most try to do this with without waking me up and I appreciate that. But, as I told one of them, if you are going to attempt to move my arm without waking me, please warm your hands first. Most knock twice, announce their arrival, flip on the light, ask me questions to confirm that I am who I am supposed to be, and engage me in conversation before completing their tasks. They turn out the light and tell me to “get some rest.”
3:00 a.m. Knock Knock, door opens, light flips on and a voice calls out “Lab!” A tourniquet is strapped on my arm, a needle jabbed into my hand, tourniquet removed, wrist band scanned, a quick “thanks,” lights out, door closed, silence. This one feels most like a mugging to me. I barely know what is happening, it is a complete surprise, something is taken from me and I didn’t even have time to get a good look at the perpetrator.
4:00 a.m. The morning x-ray. It is funny how the x-ray techs try not to wake me during this. They open the door, roll in a giant portable x-ray machine, slip a hard cold board under my back, click off a few rounds and leave the way the came. They attempt all this without the use of any light except the glow coming from the hallway into the open door. Bless them.
5:00 a.m. Knock knock. “Good morning, its’ (insert name of nurse tech here), I need to get your vitals. Have you had a bowel movement? Did you get any sleep? What is your pain level from 1-10? Do you need any ice water? Did you remember to order breakfast? Do you need help getting up? Anything I can do for you?” She scans my wrist band, takes my vitals, there is some conversation about them. She reminds me to order breakfast.
7:00 a.m. (after being asked numerous times if I had ordered breakfast), I order breakfast off a very limited low fat, low sodium menu. Charles arrives soon with a cup of fresh, low acid Lucy Joe’s coffee from home. He reminds me about my two breathing exercises (10 times each, every hour). He asks if I had breakfast and what I want for lunch.
8:00 a.m. Nurse comes in with all my morning medicines. She confirms I’ve eaten breakfast. She asks for my pain levels, and decides what pain meds I need. She asks if I’ve ordered lunch, how I slept, and what my bowel movements look like.
8:00-11:59 a.m. One or more of the medical teams arrive (I have 3) and give me their opinion on the lab results, x-ray results and my vitals. They tell me what the plan is for the day, week, and the rest of my life. More than one person has reminded me to order lunch. The respiratory therapist gives me a treatment, the physical therapist arrives to walk me down the hall, the occupational therapist comes to assist me in washing my face and brushing my teeth. I am reminded to do my two breathing exercises (10 times each, every hour). I’m asked about my pain levels, how much I have peed and pooped. The amount of food I have or have not eaten is critiqued.
12:00-8:00 p.m. Repeat everything from the above paragraph, except substitute lunch for supper.
8:01-11:59 p.m. My nurse arrives with evening medicine. I’m asked about my pain levels, my bowel movements, urine output, how much I ate, if I have gotten out of bed, how far did I walk, any thoughts of harming myself. I am reminded to do my two breathing exercises (10 times each, every hour), my IV is flushed and, because my veins are ridiculously fragile and the flushing makes them fail, it is usually replaced. (I am a human pincushion). Vital signs are recorded. I’m tucked in for the night around 9:00 p.m. which is the cue for my coughing to start.
During all this time I’m trying to find time to write and do my college studies. The medical teams and staff come in and out regularly. It is hard to put a thought together much less an entire essay that is due next week. But, I don’t feel I have the right to ask for that time. My medical team has a schedule to keep. If I’m not available when my surgeon pops in on rounds, he’s not coming back later. From their perspective, everything is going according to schedule, but I haven’t seen that schedule so I don’t know whether I have a minute or two to do some heartfelt journaling or meditation. Usually, the exact moment I write the date at the top of the page, or cross my legs in lotus, comes the “knock knock” and I am now on someone’s else’s schedule. It is hard to ask for a minute, because in the end, every single person on my medical team and personal support team are here for ME. I should make myself available when they show up.
Monday I was promised I could get my first shower Tuesday morning. I was so excited. There is only so much a person can do with moist towelettes and after a week I was really funky. So, when Tuesday morning arrived, I was excited. I had a fresh set of pajamas from home, my towels, and my body wash at the ready. My nurse tech waterproofed my lines with foam tape. I undressed, which is exhausting, put the shower seat in the tub, also exhausting, and turned on the water. Nothing happened. I called to Charles who came in and tried. Again, nothing happened. I sat down on the shower seat while he went for help. The nurse tech apologized, “The water to the entire floor has been turned off for a maintenance problem.”
Meltdown. Sitting on the shower seat, complete exposed, I wept, giant steaming hot tears that burned in my chest and flowed from my eyes like one of the geysers at Yellowstone Park. Resigned, I took out my package of wet wipes and washed my filthy body the only way I could. It takes about 20 wipes to wash a full grown body, by the way. By the time this was finished and I was dressed in clean pajamas, I was completely exhausted. I stumbled to my bed to rest. Then I heard the water come back on.
Meltdown. Same as the first, but this time with rage added in. The sobs were loud and angry and it scared Charles I’m sure. He went for the nurse. The two of them tried to console me. They asked the normal questions “What do you need?” “How can we help?” “Do you want to take a shower, now?” Through the coughs and gags and snorts I said “I don’t want anything right now except to be angry!” Nurse Jen said “Fine, be angry. You have every right to be. But then, what do you want to do?” Bless Nurse Jen.
An hour later I was sitting outside under a shade tree with Charles, taking in the breeze. There was a wheelchair and oxygen tank in case I needed it (thank you, Nurse Jen). My medical team had no idea where I was or when I would be back. I explained to Charles how powerless I felt. He listened without interruption. We had lunch and returned to my room.
Friends visited that afternoon. Good visits.
Today, I woke without pain, having slept all night without any need for additional pain medicine. This morning, I asked the respiratory therapist to come back later so I could finish my breakfast instead of allowing her to interrupt it. I told Charles I needed some writing time this morning. I asked my nurse tech to come back to the room at 10:15 so I could finish this blog and she could waterproof me for my shower. I’m still pain free, Maybe meltdowns are necessary sometimes. Maybe that’s what the problem was all along. The pressure had built up and it needed released.
Now, I’m off to the shower.
Thank you for reading.