The gory details

Wow, time has sped by again, and it’s already two weeks since my operation (and already September, and spring!).  I did mean to come back and write something more substantial than my brief post-op note of stillalivitude, but for the first week or so sitting at the computer was painful and not conducive to writing blog posts, and then I’ve been back at work and trying to catch up with everything I didn’t get done while being distracted by bodily malfunctions, so just super-busy.  Anyway, I’m still super-busy, and it’s still a bit sore sitting at the computer for too long, but I’m in the middle of a long and tedious task at work that I needed a break from, so what better excuse to write a blog post and catch you all up on my medical adventures (warning, this could get long and tedious, but I’d never been to hospital before, so I found the process really interesting).

So, as I intimated in my previous post, the surgery was not quite as straightforward as expected.  Neither was the lead-up to the surgery, for that matter.  I’d been told to report to the hospital’s day surgery unit at 11.30 am, and that I was to eat only a light breakfast, then nothing but water from 7.30 am onwards, and once I got to the hospital nil by mouth.  The wonderful Lytteltonwitch had taken the day off work to be my chauffeur, so she dropped Mum and I off at the hospital (I was only allowed one visitor with me, because of lack of space in the waiting room) and went off to play Pokemon in the park, expecting to come back and pick us up mid-afternoon.  Well, the afternoon stretched on and on, and we were still in the waiting room, as everyone else was taken off one by one by the admitting nurses.  I worked out later that as I was one of the youngest people waiting, they probably put me at the end of the queue, assuming I’d have less risk of complications than the ones they saw earlier – but anyway, it was a very long and boring wait, especially because I was feeling pretty nervous, so couldn’t really concentrate to read a book or anything.  Oh, and nervous = nervous bladder, so the waiting was interrupted by several trips to the toilet.  This will become important later.

Finally the nurse called my name, and took us through to a consulting room, where we went through all the paperwork again, and I signed more consent forms, and she gave me a gown and surgical stockings… and a hospital-issue dressing gown and slippers!!! (so why did I have to go and spend all that money on ones of my own???).  Then she told me that standard procedure before gynaecological surgery is to do a pregnancy test (my jokes about immaculate conception not withstanding), so I’d need to provide a urine sample.  I said that might be tricky, what with having already been to the toilet a couple of times, and the whole nil by mouth since 11.30 thing (why couldn’t they have mentioned they’d need a urine sample when I checked in?  I could have easily provided one then).  So she told us she’d go and check with the anaesthetist whether I was allowed to drink some water to encourage things along, and told us to wait in the next waiting room in the meantime.

Note that at this stage I was still in my street clothes, having been given the gown etc, but not told where I could get changed.  There were two other people in this waiting room, both wearing gowns, and nurses coming in and out, but everyone just ignored me, and I never saw the admitting nurse again.  She’d left me a sample cup in case I did manage to squeeze out a few drops, so after a while I decided to try anyway, because there was no sign of the promised drink of water.  Having deposited my sample on the signposted tray, I went back to the waiting room, and waited, and waited…  After a while the surgeon came to talk through the procedure with me, and then the anaesthetist, and neither mentioned the fact that I wasn’t changed yet, so I assumed that next a nurse would come and show me where to get changed.  The other patients went into surgery, and I was still sitting there.  Finally, at about 3.30, a theatre nurse came in and called my name, saying as she looked up from her chart, “They’re ready for you in theatre… Oh. But you’re not ready.”  There was then a flurry of activity as she whisked me off to a private room and I was stripped and into the gown and stockings in record time.

I dashed back into the waiting room to say goodbye to Mum, and then was taken to the anaesthetic room, where the anaesthetist attempted to find a vein to stick the drip into.  Oh yeah, did I mention I have veins that disappear at the sight of a needle?   That was quite a process, and involved me sitting there for quite a while with my hands wrapped in heated blankets while clenching and unclenching my fists and attempting to coax a vein to the surface.  Eventually he found one though, and put in the drip.  Then the surgeon came in, and went through the checklist of making sure I was who I said I was yet again (they did this a lot – every time anyone interacts with you, they ask your name and date of birth, and check it against your wristband ID thingy to make sure you’re not the wrong person), then noticed what the anaesthetist was doing, and suddenly remembered she’d meant to ask him to take a blood sample before he flushed the port… but too late (they took a blood sample from the other hand during surgery, and, proof that once you’re unconscious they’re much less concerned about being gentle with you, that hand bruised spectacularly, while the hand that had the drip hardly bruised at all…).  Then I was wheeled through to the theatre, which looked just like in the movies, I got off the trolley I’d been lying on and onto the operating table, and after one last check of my name and date of birth the anaesthetist plugged in the drip.

I expected to be asked to count to ten or something, but no, I was just lying there staring at the ceiling and thinking that the anaesthetic obviously wasn’t working, and then next thing I knew I was waking up in the recovery room, with a nurse (a male nurse who I remembered seeing earlier in the day, because Mum had assumed he was the surgeon, and was horrified to realise she’d made a sexist assumption when she found out he was a nurse and my surgeon was a woman!) offering me a drink of water (at last!) and telling me that the surgery had gone well, but they were keeping me in overnight.  I was surprised to see it was dark outside the window – it was after 6 pm, and I was the last patient left in the day surgery ward (actually, I think that’s why they kept me overnight – the day surgery staff wanted to go home!).  The nurse told me they’d removed an ovary and some adhesions, but said he couldn’t tell me much more, because he was just reading it off my chart, so I’d have to wait to see the surgeon in the morning to get the details.

They removed the drip, then brought Mum in, who’d been waiting in the waiting room all this time, and an orderly came to take me up to the ward.  I told him it was just like one of those clichéd movie hospital sequences, watching the lights on the ceiling go past as my bed was wheeled along the corridor, and he replied that he’d try not to do a Monty Python and slam me into the doors.  So of course I asked him if they had a machine that goes “Ping”, which greatly amused him – he said I was the first person he’d encountered in the hospital who knew that Monty Python sketch, and normally he got blank looks from people when he quoted it.  So, much to Mum’s bemusement, we quoted Monty Python at each other in the lift 🙂

We reached the gynaecological ward (which turned out to be very small – only three beds), and I had to be transferred from the bed I was in to the ward bed.  Which was a very painful process.  The orderly suggested they raise me up to sitting, then I could swing my legs off the bed and they could help me swivel myself over to the other bed, which seemed sensible to me, but the nurse had other ideas, and wanted him to put the beds right next to each other and then I could “roll” across.  Did I mention I’d just had 4 holes poked in my stomach?  Rolling was not an option.  So I ended up very awkwardly trying to prop myself up on my elbows and drag myself across, with no help from the nurse or orderly (who couldn’t reach me because the beds were squished right together), and a lot of pain.  I still think the orderly’s suggestion would have worked much better!

Anyway, once I was finally settled into my bed they did all the blood pressure, pulse and temperature checks, and offered me painkillers and dinner.  I turned down the dinner (I just wanted to sleep at that point!), but gratefully accepted the painkillers and a glass of water.  Once I was settled in, Mum called a taxi to take her home (she didn’t want to bother LW, who’d gone home by this time), and I settled down to sleep (or so I thought – one of the many things I didn’t know about hospitals is that sleep is not really an option – they come round once an hour to check blood pressure etc, and give you more pain killers.  So no sooner are you dozing off than they’re waking you up again – and then they say “try and get some sleep”!!!).  A while later, what I thought was a nurse coming into my cubicle (or whatever you call the curtained-off areas) turned out to actually be Lytteltonwitch.  She’d come to see if Mum needed a lift home, but she’d already left.  She stayed to chat for a while, but I was pretty dozy, so I’m not sure if I contributed much to the conversation!

After a long and frequently interrupted night (not helped either by the fact that the woman in the bed next to me had some sort of electronic device strapped to her legs to massage them so she wouldn’t get blood clots – kind of an advanced version of the surgical stockings, but much noisier – which hissed and wheezed all night at just the wrong rhythm to be able to sleep to), I was wide awake at about 5 am.  The nurses had given me firm instructions I wasn’t allowed to get out of bed on my own, so I waited until the next time the nurse came round to do the checks (I did have a bell, but I didn’t want to ring it unnecessarily, because I’m sure the nurses are busy enough without constantly running to answer bells!) and asked her to help me walk to the toilet.  That managed, with only a little staggering along the way (and the discovery of just how difficult relaxing your bladder is when your stomach muscles are all clenched up from the pain!), I got back into bed and realised I did need to ring the bell after all, because I couldn’t reach my bag with my book in it (and I was still woozy enough that trying to lean over that far to get it was probably a bad idea), and just lying there without a book for hours while I waited for the official waking up time at 8 am was not viable.

Official waking up time finally arrived, along with breakfast (very cold toast, cereal and fruit) and more painkillers.  I tried turning them down, because I actually wasn’t feeling all that sore, just a bit uncomfortable, but the nurse insisted, because it’s better to take them before it starts hurting again.  I was allowed to get up and move around on my own (with care), so I went and had a shower, which went fine until I started to get dressed, when the last of the post-anaesthetic wooziness combined with the heat in the room (the bathroom was tiny, and very very over-heated) meant that I nearly fainted.  So I got to ring the bell again, and a nurse came and brought me a cold facecloth for my head until I felt steady enough to go back to my bed.

Once I was out of the heat I was feeling ok pretty quickly, and impatient to go home, but I had to wait to see the surgeon, and then to get my discharge paperwork.  After an hour or so the surgeon arrived, and showed me the photos of my insides (very cool!).  She said they’d discovered that my ovaries, instead of being nicely on either side of my body like every textbook picture you’ve ever seen, were actually hiding behind my uterus, and had tangled together and fused (a condition known as “kissing ovaries”, which I am greatly amused by and keep telling everyone about!), which is why the surgery had taken a lot longer than expected, because they’d had to separate the adhesions between them before they could remove the one with the suspect cyst (a procedure called a salpingoopherectomy, which is another seriously cool word 🙂 ).  They’d also found some endometriosis on the bowel, but decided it was too risky to remove it, so, as I haven’t had any pain from it so far, decided to leave it there.  Otherwise, everything looked good, and she hadn’t seen anything cancer-like, but would need to wait and see the biopsy results to be sure.  Then another doctor came and saw me, to write me a prescription for more painkillers (vast amounts of painkillers, which I’ve only used a handful of, so if you ever have a headache, you know where to come), and a medical certificate (she signed me off for two weeks off work, just in case I needed it, but I only took 7 days in the end).

Then I just had to wait (and wait, and wait) for the paperwork.  One of the nurses warned me not to arrange a lift home until after the paperwork was done, because it is the lowest-priority thing on the nurses’ list, so will keep getting dropped for more important stuff.  So I had no idea when I’d get to go home.  At one stage I thought I might be there until the afternoon, because someone from catering came to take my lunch order!  But finally at about 11 the paperwork was done, and I could call Mum and ask her and Uncle (who’d come up to Christchurch with her) to come and pick me up (LW was back at work by then, of course, so couldn’t be chauffeur, but by then Uncle was feeling a bit more confident about finding his way around Christchurch – he hadn’t been here since long before the earthquakes, so was finding navigating a bit tricky!).  So I ended up leaving the hospital almost exactly 24 hours after I’d arrived there.

The next few days were a cycle of me feeling fine, so suggesting an outing to Mum and Uncle (I was feeling guilty about them sitting around at home being bored when they’d come all the way to Christchurch – plus, I was getting bored myself – I’m really not good at being sick, especially the “patience” bit of being a patient!), during which I’d overdo things and be exhausted and sore and have to go back to lying on the couch for a few hours to recover – rinse and repeat.  But with much rest and many painkillers, I was feeling ok by the Sunday, so Mum and Uncle went home, and I spent the rest of the week feeling guilty for being at home when I wasn’t really sick (well, apart from the whole getting tired really quickly, and not being able to sit at a computer for too long without it starting to hurt thing…).

Not being able to use the computer was frustrating, because I’d hoped to be able to at least get some thesis work done, but I managed half an hour here and there, so I didn’t get too far behind.  And I discovered that I was able to sit at a sewing machine slightly more successfully than at a computer (probably because sewing involves much more getting up and down to go to the iron and cutting mat, not just sitting in one position putting pressure on my belly-button stitches), so I sewed an entire quilt-top (only baby blanket sized, but it’s still a quilt top).  I don’t have a photo of it, but I’ll try and remember to take one tonight.

Anyway, I came back to work on Monday, and although I’m still a little tender, as long as I get up and walk around a bit every so often (a good idea anyway!), I’m managing ok.  I got the results of the biopsy on Monday, and all is clear, so that’s good news.  I’ve still got to have another blood test in a few weeks, just to keep an eye on that marker, but otherwise it looks like I’m done with hospitals – hopefully for a very long time!

But still, despite my occasional criticisms, I was really impressed by my travels through the public health system (note for Americans – this means the entire thing (less the $15 prescription fee I paid at the pharmacists when I picked up the painkillers) was paid for by the government – I didn’t have to pay a thing).  Although people complain about long waiting lists, as soon as there was a glimmer of a chance of this being something life-threatening, those waiting lists disappeared, and (apart from the odd hiccough) I was treated really well by everyone I encountered. And this in an underfunded health district still struggling to pay for repairs of earthquake damaged facilities.  Well done CDHB!

3 thoughts on “The gory details

  1. Wow… what an… adventure?

    So glad to hear there were no scary bits in the long run.

    I haven’t ever had surgery either, so I totally relate to your nervousness beforehand.

    Hope you are right as rain soon!

    Gentle hug!

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