So I had my surgery on Thursday. Some of it is blurry, especially from the first day, but there are fragments of things that stay clear in my mind.
It was a long wait between checking in at the hospital and actually going in for surgery. They had a shortage of people to clean the operating rooms, so my surgery started almost two hours late. By then, I just wanted to get it over with, and waiting was hard. But listening to music on my iPhone helped more than I would have imagined. I closed my eyes and listened and breathed deeply. I didn’t leave my nervous body.
I texted E.
It’s okay to feel vulnerable. I don’t have to run away from the feeling or check out and float away from my body even though that’s my inclination. I can breathe and be here with it..
She was going to a retreat for the weekend, leaving that day, but still she wrote back to me,
Yes, you are safe. I’m holding you in the light.
I was still awake when they took me to the OR. It was big and cold. Everyone in the room, the surgeon, anesthesiologist, robotics director, scrub nurse and another nurse were all women. My surgeon asked, “Shall I hold your hand while you get the anesthesia?” Yes, told her, and she didn’t let go while I was still conscious.
I only remember a flash of the recovery room. It seemed long and thin, greenish, like a distorted shot from a movie. I can’t remember much else until they were rolling me down the hall to a regular room, and my husband touched me on my shoulder. I just held on to his hand. The holding of another person’s hand is a precious way to feel you are not alone.
Ice chips. I love ice chips. That’s what I next remember. It was 9:30 at night, and I had had nothing to drink or eat for over 24 hours, plus I’d had a breathing tube down my throat for nearly five hours. The cold water running down my sore throat was a gift.
I had only that morning finally written my letter to the floor nurses. I’d left it with my husband, and when I got to my room, he’d already given it to Dina, the nurse on night shift. I’d written
To my nurses,
First I want to thank you in advance for the care you’ll be providing me for the next two days.
I’d also like to ask you a favor. Because of prior negative experiences, I am very sensitive about my medical treatment. I’d like to request that you do not touch me or do any checks on me without first telling me what you are going to do.
Also, if you could please keep the door to my room closed and have people knock before entering, I would really appreciate it.
I know that paying attention to these things will make the whole experience much easier for me. Thank you for accommodating my needs.
First Dina said she would put the note outside my door. Then she thought a little more, and said, No, I don’t think everyone has to read it. Instead, she typed up a note that she put on my door that said, Please keep this door closed. Read PT note by computer before doing anything.
Dina was fantastic. I didn’t sleep much that night, and I felt confused some of the time, but she was patient and calm throughout. At five thirty in the morning, she had to guide me through a bladder test to see if I could get rid of my catheter. I had been dreading this because of my experience with a different bladder study last fall. But she was so respectful and tender. She had me mostly covered with a sheet as she removed the initial catheter and checked my incisions (five in my abdomen, I don’t know how many in my vagina…). She empathized when it hurt to pump I don’t know how much clean water into my bladder.
She helped me take the few steps to the bathroom and sit safely on the toilet, then mostly closed the door to give me privacy. I had up to half an hour to pee that water out if I wanted to get rid of the catheter. But I couldn’t do it. I just remember feeling frustrated, because I knew what it meant: I’d have to keep it until Monday. Dina was comforting, It’s okay. That happens a lot when the bladder has been affected by surgery. I know a catheter isn’t fun, but it will be better than having no way to get that liquid out of you. She was sympathetic as she put the catheter back in, which hurt. The test and that sharp pain are the first things I remember clearly from after the surgery.
In the morning, Dina went home and Valerie came on duty. My door stayed closed, and no one came in without knocking; not a single person violated that boundary I had set. I couldn’t eat much, but my husband cut up an apple for me, much more appealing than the room-temperature powdered scrambled eggs that were supposed to be breakfast.
Later that morning, a cheery CNA helped me walk down the hallway, short little unsteady steps but not too painful. I felt better than I expected, actually. Valerie offered me narcotics, but I didn’t think I needed them. My husband and I dozed off and on through the morning. E. sent me several short texts. The surgeon came by and told me everything had gone according to plan. I’d given up my uterus and Fallopian tubes but kept my ovaries and cervix. I played music. I couldn’t concentrate to read. I stared at the wall.
When it was time to go home in the late afternoon, Valerie came to go over the discharge instructions with me and then to help me get dressed. She was gentle, like Dina. She thanked me for writing the note. It’s good, she said, for patients to express their needs. We know it can be hard to be here, and we really want to do what we can to make the experience easier. She gave me the note back, so it wouldn’t go in my medical file. That way you can use the same note or something different in the future, if you ever need to. She shook my hand, and my husband’s hand, and wished me a good healing.
I did not dissociate the entire time. I was afraid, but I was not overwhelmed. I leaned into the love and support from my husband. I made requests of the hospital staff, and those requests were honored. I’ve got a lot of healing left to do, but I feel very satisfied and relieved about the hospital experience–and above all, grateful to nurses who are both caring and competent.