Warning. This post—my three V-s of cautionary surgical warnings—is not for the squeamish. I just read it over again, and had to sit down. With, thankfully, a cup of coffee.
“We heard about you.” The young doctor didn’t look up as she tapped a promising spot on the back of my hand. “They said you have no veins.”
“My veins just have performance anxiety,” I protested. “I’m almost positive I have them. With blood and everything.”
“Don’t worry.” Her tapping moved to the other hand. “All I do, all day long, is put needles into veins.” She moved to my wrist. “When I meet anybody new, the first thing I look at is their veins.” She frowned, and moved to my other wrist. Then to the inside of one elbow, followed by the other elbow. “Make a fist.” She paused to tighten the rubber tourniquet on my upper arm, then went back to the first hand. “I can always get a needle in. You’ll feel a little scratch.”
She stuck the needle in, and she was right. I did feel a little scratch. Followed by a bunch of MUCH bigger stabs as she dug around for the elusive vein. She put a cotton ball over the spot, and repeated the exercise with all the other likely spots. I was polite, only whimpering once or twice, with minimal tears and snottage.
“Good thing I didn’t take up a career of IV-drug abuse.” I was trying for a little needle-stick humor, but the young doctor wasn’t amused. She left me with cotton-ball covered needle attempts up and down both arms, and went looking for a sympathetic nurse to take my blood samples.
With pre-op formalities out of the way, I was more concerned with the surgery scheduled for the next morning. Specifically with the admonishment that I was supposed to fast from midnight the night before.
“But I can have coffee, right?”
“No coffee.” The doctor handed me a pill. “Just take this with a sip of water in the morning.”
“How about I take it with a sip of coffee? That’s mostly water, right? Because…what if you don’t operate right away? What if I’m stuck waiting all day and I haven’t had any coffee since before midnight the night before? I’m pretty sure bad things—possibly involving complex litigation and significant jail time—will happen. I’m really just thinking of innocent bystanders here.”
“No coffee.” Two nurses and an orderly repeated when I tried negotiating.
This would not end well.
Bright and early—well, actually, this is Scotland, so bright wasn’t scheduled for another three hours, or possibly never if somebody didn’t get me some caffeine—the Hub and I were in the surgical waiting room. A brisk seven hours later (7!), I was offering to trade my life savings or possibly a spare child or two for a cup of coffee.
“Sorry.” The nurse was sympathetic. “I could probably get you a sip of water. Maybe.”
“Could you mix a tablespoon of instant coffee with the water sip? That would work for me.”
“You should have just had a cuppa this morning. It would have been fine up until about 6:00.”
I’d like to blame my reply on the drugs, but I hadn’t had any yet.
Eventually, I was in the theatre for my tête-à-tête with the anesthesiologist. [NB: medicine is just SO much more dramatic in the UK. A regular doctor’s office is called surgery, while an operating room is glamorously titled theatre.] He explained that they would deliver the good drugs via a needle instead of gas.
I showed him the one spot on my hand where a cannula had (after several false starts) been inserted.
He looked at the inferior vein offered, showed me his proposed needle, and assured me that he was an expert. All I can say is that I’ve regularly sucked down milkshakes through smaller diameter straws. Several attempts later, I was covered with yet more cottonballs. AND I STILL HADN’T HAD ANY COFFEE. None. Politeness and I became total strangers, and I was frankly screaming anatomically improbable suggestions for where he could put that needle.
The doctor and I looked at each other. Nurses on either side fell silent. He slapped a mask over my nose and mouth and grimly told me to inhale the gas. A lot.
I’ll just draw a curtain over the hours (days? months? eternity) spent in the recovery room, where a group of extremely concerned nurses and doctors risked their very lives by denying me coffee. Oh sure, they had morphine and other interesting things on offer, but I. Was. NOT. Pleased.
Finally, after about twenty caffeine-free hours, I was back upstairs in my hospital room and a beautiful angel brought me a cup of coffee. I can’t be sure, but I think he was glowing. He was followed by a nurse who took care of a number of nurse-relevant things and offered me a teeny shot glass of morphine. As I knocked it back like a wee jello-shot, I heard the thump of my emergency call-button hitting the floor.
One second later, the door closed behind the nurse and—with absolutely no warning whatsoever—my coffee and morphine cocktail made an explosive reappearance.
“Help?” There was no answer. I reached for the call button, and remembered its floorward plunge. “HELP!” No response, not even when I increased the volume. This wasn’t good. Clearly, I would have to retrieve the call-button myself or be prepared to spend the rest of the night wearing the coffee I’d so recently achieved.
“You can do this.” I started with a little pep talk.“You’ve been getting yourself out of bed for over six decades. Okay, maybe not after abdominal surgery, but how hard can it be?” That’s when I realized I couldn’t sit up. Well, all-righty. I’d just have to play a smarter game. Luckily, the bed remote, with its confusing number of up and down arrows, was still clipped to the side of the bed. After several fun minutes of my legs going up and my head going down, I managed to have the bed raise me to a sitting position.
And that’s when I realized that my right arm was attached to an IV-drip bag on one side of the bed, and another line which I have no memory of even being attached, was fastened to my left leg. To actually exit the bed I’d have to feed out all the line attached to my hand. Only…for some completely mysterious reason, that line was inside my hospital gown. Seriously?
Only one thing to do. I reached up with my free hand, and undid the tapes fastening the gown. Again using my free hand, I shoved my extremely reluctant stomach over the edge of the bed, leaving the gown gaily waving on the IV line like a coffee/morphine-covered flag. With my hand still on the bed and the IV-line played out as far as it would go, I lowered myself to the floor and inched my way along it until I could reach the call-button. Success!
As I waited for someone to answer, I took stock of my situation. There was pretty much no part of me that didn’t hurt, I was lying on the floor, and oh yeah—I was naked except for a pouffy pair of paper surgical undies. Now, I’ve had four kids so self-esteem and I have been strangers for a long time. But even I had to admit this was a new low for me. I pulled a corner of the bed sheet over my front and decided to look on the bright side. Maybe they’d bring me a cup of coffee while we waited for the psych evaluation that was probably in my very near future.
Only…when the nurse bustled in a few seconds later, she told me that they couldn’t give me more morphine, or (even more tragic) more coffee for another four hours.
Let’s just draw another curtain over the next hours. I’m pretty sure nobody at the hospital is going to press charges…
Very tiny muggers
Eventually (very eventually) I was again caffeinated, medicated, and reasonably coherent. So when the nurse came in, I asked her why my left foot hurt so much. She looked and told me there was an IV line attached but that I wouldn’t need it any more. Like the certified angel of mercy that she was, she offered to remove it.
It was hard to move my foot, but I’d learned my lesson. I wasn’t getting out of that bed again until very strong people were around to hold me up. Preferably, after offering large quantities of really good drugs. So it wasn’t until the next day that I got a look at my foot. It was a swollen, lumpy, black and blue mess. I counted at least six puncture wounds, not one of which I remember receiving. Nobody knew what happened or why.
My working theory is that I was mugged by really pissed Lilliputians. (Those really were very good drugs.)
So in summary:
If you have to go in for surgery, watch out for the three killer V’s: bad Veins, unexpected Vomit, and marauding bands of Very tiny muggers.