|Free at last, free at last: thank God Almighty, free at last. A parting photo of my bed.|
I'm not the kind of guy to hang around hospitals. Chances are pretty good that if you find yourself checked into a hospital, I won't be visiting you unless you owe me money. Then I will be there in a nano second, arriving with your check book in hand. I don't want to be in the hospital, be around a hospital nor drive by a hospital. If I find a photo of a hospital with a red circle with a line through it, it will appear immediately below this paragraph. NO HOSPITALS! Get it?
It's not that I personally have had a bad hospital experience. During the last half-dozen years of my father's life, while I was in high school and until I was out of college, he spent a lot of time in hospitals. He had a bad ticker was scheduled for his third open-heart surgery when a heart attack took him in his early 50s. There were significant periods during those years that my mother and I spent a lot of our time in hospitals. But, that in no way scarred me. It was more than 40 years ago.
In fact, until last week, I had clocked exactly one night in a hospital in my 66-plus years. I'm fortunate that I've never been hospital-class sick. I've had fewer than 20 stitches in my life and never a broken bone. My knee surgery (Read about it here), roughly a year ago, was the first procedure for which I was put under. That one night I did spend in the hospital was for a concussion caused by falling off a seesaw backwards on my head in the second grade. Yes, at one time I did my own stunts. The result is the man you see before you today.
So, basically my brush with a hospital last week sent me into uncharted waters. Here's the scoop....
If you've ever experienced the joy of my company at a meal, you know I am always the last one to finish. This is true whether it was just you and I, or a 500-person banquet. As everyone else ordered coffee after desert, I was still working on the main course. Few were the meals that I didn't launch into a coughing fit of varied severity. The medical term for my affliction is Zenker's Diverticulum. I have no clue who Zenker is; but if I ever run across him (or her), I'm going to kick his ass.
In layman's terms: I had a swallowing disorder caused by some little flap in my esophagus not operating properly. It's caused by acid reflux, which I didn't even know I had. Apparently the sneaky little bastard comes out at night to reek havoc with the esophagus, leaving scar tissue behind. Who knew?
Growing somewhat worse over the past couple of years, I decided to bring it up to Doc Budelmann, my primary care doctor, during my last visit in September. That got the train rolling. First stop: an upper GI. Because of my travel schedule, I didn't see Doc Sellner, the ear, nose and throat surgeon, until late October. Then more traveling, the holidays and blah, blah, blah, meant the surgery not being scheduled until the beginning of this month.
I kept my impending surgery pretty much on the down low. Some of the Wednesday Night Irregulars were aware of it, primarily because I needed a lift to and from the hospital. I told my Autotrader editor only because I didn't want an assignment with a deadline during my three-day recovery springing up. And, I told my friend Amy in Florida, who holds the much-sought-after, esteemed role of executor of my will. My Sunday beer-drinking pal Big Jon (and our bartender) also knew because I had to present some reason for drinking mainly water the day before the surgery. No small feat of will, it being Super Bowl Sunday and all.
I did not inform my sister's family, most of which is in New Mexico more than 1,500 miles away. They were not pleased when I finally fessed up after arriving home from the ordeal. My reasoning was, what would they do but worry, which they (particularly my sister) would have done like they were trying to medal in it. It would have meant someone – probably me – would have had to keep them up to date on my condition and so on and so forth, the thought of which was exhausting.
I didn't want visitors. Nothing I hate more than entertaining people from a bed with my ass hanging out. I didn't want colorful “get well” helium balloons tied to my bed. I didn't want flowers or cards decorating my room. All I wanted was for the whole damn thing to be over. My phone and Kindle were fully charged, and I had downloaded several episodes of a TV series I wanted to watch from Netflix. I was good to go.
My buddy Jeff drew the short straw, serving as my ambulance driver and the repository for my personal belongings during the surgery. He picked me up at my house on Monday morning around 9:00 and hung out at the hospital until after 3:00. Nurses ushered me into the prep room around 10:15 and then into the O.R. around 11:30.
Doc Sellner is a relatively young guy with a great bedside manner. I liked him immediately at our first meeting. That he's a big Steelers fan doesn't hurt either. He advised me earlier that morning that the surgery would take between 20 minutes and three hours. The person making my cable-installation appointment provided a tighter window. The huge swing in time was based on whether he would be able to perform the procedure by going down my throat or through it. Down: quick. Through: long. As it turned out, it required about 30 minutes because of the amount of scar tissue. But, it was down rather than through.
As with my knee surgery, in the recovery room I transitioned from sleep to wake in a heartbeat. The second I opened my eyes, I was totally coherent. Because I spent more than three hours in the recovery room waiting for a bed to open, I discovered many patients don't wake up knowing where they are or what is going on. It's like an anvil dropped on their head as they were taking their morning walk. A younger lady in the bed next to me was so out of it she kept trying to throw herself off the bed. The recovery-room nurse I shared with her couldn't do anything else, but hold her down and try to calm her for about 10 minutes. At one point, I thought I was going to have to get up and help.
As the hours ticked by in the recovery room, I began stressing. I hadn't been to the bathroom in six or seven hours. Mother Nature wasn't just calling; she was screaming like her ass was on fire. I was also stressed over the fact that my buddy Jeff had to still hang around with my bag full of belongings in his care. He hadn't signed on for all-day duty. As my anxiety grew my blood pressure began to escalate. My anesthesiologist happened to walk by, glanced at my blood pressure reading and immediately ordered some sort of meds to calm it down.
Finally, around 3:45, I was wheeled out of recovery. I had been in there so long that when one of the other recovery-room nurses was passing around a birthday card for the staff to sign for a co-worker's birthday, I piped up that I thought I had been there long enough to qualify. That got a smile, but I'm not confident she was amused.
Next stop: I.C.U. Yep, I.C.U. Although the operation hardly qualified as major and I had come out the other end with flying colors, there was a small chance of things going sideways, suddenly affecting my ability to breathe. Doc Sellner was adamant that I needed the sort of one-on-one care you only get in I.C.U. I had a big, bright corner room with several windows, a sink, a toilet and a comfy recliner. I was living large! It was like being on vacation without the sunshine and beer...and food.
I wasn't allowed so much as a sip of water until Tuesday morning. My nurse that day was an older, experienced lady. My night nurse both nights and my daytime nurse on Tuesday and Wednesday morning were both, young, cute and easy to make laugh. They soon discovered I was a low-maintenance ward. Because it was I.C.U., I had to be attached to a heart monitor and some sort of monitor to track my oxygen intake. I also had a blood-pressure cuff that automatically took my pressure every hour during the day and every two hours at night. I also had wraps hooked to an air pump massaging my calves to prevent blood clots. The nurses would personally check on me every 90 minutes or so. When I was awake, that often meant they'd take a temperature reading, as well as an unscheduled blood-pressure reading. They never failed to apologize for not being able to do more for me. The truth is, I was as healthy as they. Other then emptying my urinal, there wasn't anything I needed or wanted that I could have. I could get out of bed, but that entailed a nurse unhooking and re-hooking all manner of gadgets.
Doc Sellner ordered a morphine-based pain med, if I required it. I didn't, but I asked for it around 9:30 Monday night in the hopes it would make me groggy to help me sleep. It didn't do anything. I mean anything. It didn't take the edge off my throat discomfort, make me groggy nor provide a buzz. It was as though I was participating in a blind-drug test and was in the placebo group. I'm not sure exactly what the typical reaction to morphine is, but I sure didn't have it. All it did was affect my oxygen intake to the point the oxygen-monitor alarm began sounding. Suddenly I was breathing through an oxygen tube. That didn't help my chances of sleeping either. I slept not one wink the first night.
My getting sprung was handled like a flight delay at the airport. It continued to be postponed in increments. First it was after noon on Monday and then after dinner and then Tuesday morning. The doc had warned me that it wouldn't be Monday morning and to not even ask, but as Monday passed, it became increasingly apparent that it might not be Monday at all. Finally at 7:00, I texted Jeff, telling him to stand down. I didn't expect to be released that evening. Still somewhat optimistic, I waited until after 8:00 to tell the night nurse that if I was going to sleep that night, I would need a sleep aid of some stripe. She offered to call the doc.
She returned 10 minutes later with the offer that I could either get a sleeping pill and spend the night with an after-breakfast release, or I could go home that night. Well, the go-home-that-night ship had sailed. I wasn't going to try to scramble someone at 9:00 at night to come get me. I opted for the sleeping pill and Tuesday morning departure. I clocked about five hours of sleep Tuesday night.
When my night nurse opened my room door at 6:00 Wednesday morning, I was fully awake, and ready to rock and roll. After taking my vital signs, I had her unhook me. I dressed and plopped down into the recliner. I realized I needed to ask her something. Rather than ring the call button, I opened the door to my room and skipped out to the nurses station. Three or four staff were huddled there talking. They broke into applause and my nurse remarked that I was the first patient to ever skip out of an I.C.U. room.
They rushed my breakfast of grits, yogurt and some other nearly inedible things. It was my first cup of coffee since Sunday morning. Perhaps the best cup of coffee in my life!
By 9:30 a.m. I was home and cranked back in my recliner. I had an assignment due on Thursday morning, which I wrote that afternoon. Back in the saddle again.
I am currently on what they call a full-liquid diet; although I cheated last night and had spaghetti. I won't officially be on the soft diet until my appointment with Doc Sellner at noon on Tuesday.
But things couldn't be going any better.