(Warning! This may be too detailed for the squeamish.)
At the pre-op appointment, I realized I'd joined the Assembly Line. Stand here. Sign that. Wait there. Let us poke and prod and puncture you. Don't complain, you signed that, remember?
I also received orders there. When you're done here, go downstairs so they can take blood and urine. Oh, and the day before your surgery, give yourself an enema. They're available over the counter almost anywhere.
When they shut the doors behind me as I entered the blood test place, I almost bolted, but the vision of myself beating helplessly at the doors with both fists made me stand fast. I endured.
A week passed and I stood alone in the bathroom, facing the enema box.
I'd never had one that I remembered and had no idea what to expect. The box's illustrations were typically androgynous, and showed two different positions that probably came from the Kama Sutra.
I decided to take my shower afterward, in case it was messy. Let me just say it was a very interesting procedure that I don't recommend as a hobby. Trust me, you don't want the details: even J'Lo would not be attractive in that particular position doing that particular thing.
I had doubts on whether it worked (not that I didn't get any results, mind) because the next morning I did my usual duty in the toilet, just as if I hadn't had the enema.
At the hospital, there was more Assembly Line. I was quickly stripped (my oh-so-lucky MIL got to watch) and had an IV inserted. Various people introduced themselves (the surgeon is my regular Ob/Gyn, so I already knew her), including one woman with an accent who said she was my Circulation Nurse.
I couldn't resist. "What's a Circulation Nurse?"
Neither could she. "Oh, I run around the operating room during your surgery. You know, circulate."
Then she told me what she really did, but for some reason, I don't remember that part.
After that came the anesthesiologist, who told us (my MIL and me) the differences between general and spinal anesthetic. If there were no medical reasons to say otherwise, and if the surgeon had no preference, I could choose. Once they got to the "entubate" part of general anesthesia, I chose spinal. There would also be a sedative administered through the IV which would make me sleep through the procedure. Spinal would also avoid the nausea I had with general. (Spinal is often used with Cesarean sections, because there's a baby to hold afterward.)
The nurse who installed my IV taught me how to pronounce my procedure. Abdominal hysterectomy with salpingooophorectomy. Say it with me now... ab-dom-in-al hiss-to-rect-omie with sal-ping-o-ooph-or-ect-omie. It means they were going to take out everything. Father Rick showed up to bless me and ask for God to guide the heart and hands of the surgeon and all in attendance, then it was time for me to get on the Assembly Line for real.
My memories of most of the rest of that day are blurry. I remember amusement at being required to move myself to the operating table, amazement at all those lights, and not liking the feel of having a spinal. I remember tugging, and wondering if that was them cutting already. Now, I think it was the prep: shaving and cleaning the area.
Then I was in the recovery room. I remember I couldn't move my legs. They'd told me that would happen with a spinal, thank God. About the time I could again wiggle my toes, I was moved into a room.
With the first bump, my stomach muscles clenched (normal reaction to bumps, right?) and agony shot through me. It was much the same as having a Charlie Horse, but in the stomach, pulling on the incision. Tears poured from my eyes, and the act of crying itself brought me more pain. The nurses put a pain-killer (or a muscle relaxer?) in the IV once I was in my room and the pain subsided. Awhile later, I spasmed again, so they began giving the drug to me on a regular schedule. Thankfully, the spasms did not reoccur.
I soon found out I couldn't move. I had the IV out to the left, a catheter out to the right, my left big toe had an attachment for monitoring my blood oxygen level, and things (I know no better word) on my calves which inflated and deflated to some odd rhythm I could never figure out. I was strapped down at every corner. I also quickly found out the IV machine would scream if I so much as looked at it wrong. "Occluded" is what the display would say. With all this, I learned not to try to move, so imagine my surprise when the second day brought a nurse who scolded me, saying I wouldn't recover if I didn't move. Argh.
The rest of my time is a jumble of memories and impressions. I'm not totally sure of the chronology of most of it, so I'm not going to try very hard to get it right here. The food sucked. Did it suck because it sucked, or did it suck because I hurt so much? No way to tell. There was a parade of people through my "private" room. About six thousand people must work there, and each and every one of them came through my room for something in that very long three days. I had blood pressure and temperature taken on a regular basis. I had blood drawn with decreasing frequency (a lot the second day, not so much the third). I had a flock of nurses and certified nursing assistants who mostly introduced themselves to me at shift change -- which felt like about every half hour but I think was commonly at the four hour mark. The night nurse, however, works 7 to 7. Not sure what's up with that. I had people delivering food. I had one guy wanting to bathe me the second and third days. I had separate people, different individuals each day, to empty regular trash, empty biohazard trash, dust mop, and wet mop. One person delivered my supplies -- fresh towels and gown daily, though I wasn't aware of those till day three. One person provided my medications (except the IV), which included stool softeners, Vicodin twice, a sleeping pill once (I was sick the next morning and let me tell you, throwing up is no picnic), my asthma meds, and something else but I can't remember what. Perhaps I imagined that one. Or dreamed it. Twice people came in to ransack my room for equipment.
Most of the staff were polite and aware I existed, even when I wasn't aware of it myself. A very few treated me as just another "case." The ones doing the ransacking didn't even speak to me.
I remember a very, very few with some fondness. The night nurse the second night who correctly identified my tears as those of frustration with the weaknesses of my body and taught me how to more easily get into and out of bed. The CNA who lotioned my hand after a nurse had removed my wedding ring by inching the skin out from underneath it. The day nurse who told me the best way out of the hospital was to pee a lot and walk a lot.
There were stories most moments of the day. The man in the room next to me was getting enemas (the professional kind, not like the one I gave myself) every ten to twelve hours (it felt and smelt like a lot more often). The woman down the row who had more visitors than there was hospital staff. The nurses who giggled in the hallways in the middle of the night.
Probably the most descriptive way I can show you what it was like was during my third (and final) day. I was trying to have a bowel movement, and not having much luck. Remember, I had that enema four days prior and was on a primarily liquid diet for the first two days. If you want to create a similar situation for yourself, just so you know how it feels, wait until you have to go. When you do, travel to a very public building, one in which several dozen people know you and might want to talk to you. Tell six of them to wait about five minutes and then come looking for you. Visit the public restroom in the building and choose a stall where the door closes, but doesn't lock. Now go. Oh, wait. Two rules: you can't push, and you're not allowed to leave the building until you can go.
I'll save any recovery time stories for later. End result was that I came out of it not a whole person, but then that was the idea. Would I do it again? Yes. Would I do it again tomorrow?
No way in hell.
Copyright 2013 Michelle Hakala