04 – Pain and Waiting

Now I know why they call us patients.  It’s because we spend so much time waiting that we have to have patience.  We wait for appointments with doctors; then we wait in their offices to see them.  We wait in line to have our labs drawn; then we wait for the results.  We wait to have tests scheduled.  We wait in pre-op registration, in the Same Day Surgery lobby, in the pre-op cubicle, wait for the registrar, the nurse, the transportation tech, the surgeon, and finally the pathologist.  Waiting for pathology results is the most difficult yet.   What specifically is wrong with my body? Where exactly has it failed me? We cannot move to the next level until we have the results of the node biopsy.  And we cannot begin treatment until we know the answers to all of these.  I am in limbo.  My family and friends are in a state of suspended anxiety.  But I am patient.

I get ahead of the story.  When I get home from the oncologist’s consult, I have a call from his office. They have scheduled another consult with a surgeon on Monday morning.  So it will be a long weekend.  My fever arrives faithfully in the early evening – 99.8, never higher.  Sometime that night I am aware of increasing vague discomfort in my belly, broken only by occasional sharp, stabbing sensation in my lower left abdomen.  This pain gradually increases over the weekend, becoming more constant and more persistent.  I start to treat it with 1000 mg acetaminophen, Tylenol, though not too often as I do not yet know if anything is malfunctioning with my liver.  The pain seems positional, increasing whenever I move.  At times I grimace and clutch my side, somewhat embarrassingly.

Tish called Ben, my second son, and asked him to stop over on Saturday because we wanted to talk. I had already e-mailed news of my situation to Nathan, my oldest who lives in Boston.  We told Ben what we knew.  He sat in the chair, looking serious and not knowing what to say.  Nathan telephoned while Ben was here.  Ben has been planning to buy a new (used) car.  Selecting and test driving cars has always been my job, whether the car is for me, Tish, my mother, or any of the kids.  I look through the local papers, consult my consumer references, make the phone calls, and then set up appointments to drive the cars.  I try to never buy from dealers.  Fortunately the list of possibilities is short and on our side of town.  Fortunately because I am really tired and the pain is nagging.  On Sunday we test-drive three cars.  The second car has low miles, is in pristine condition, and features new tires, belts, and a fancy AM/FM/CD player. This CD clinches Ben’s decision.  We like the owner, a young woman who has a folder of receipts from the regular maintenance she has had done. We offer her a little less than the asking price and she accepts.  Ben is proud owner of a metallic green 1996 Saturn.  And me, I have discharged my paternal responsibility before I get too …?

The family has not been together for a while.  So I invite Ben and his girlfriend, Dorothy, and my mother over Sunday evening for homemade dumpling soup.  Aaron comes back from his convention.  Norma assures me that I did the right thing in informing Aaron about the cancer before he left.   We rent “Pearl Harbor”and watch all 3 hours of it. We need to get together more often, especially now.

Monday morning I feel exhausted, overwhelmed and depressed.  I tried to do too much on Sunday but I don’t regret it.  Friends call from work.  I only talk for a few minutes.  I sounded so depressed and weak that I am afraid that I may have upset them.

I drive to Tish’s office, which is only 5 blocks from the hospital.  We go in her car to Methodist.  We meet the surgeon, Larry Micon, at his office in the adjoining building.  He does a short interview and exam, especially of the inquinal nodes – one is quite large.  He agrees that we need a biopsy as soon as possible.  When he asks, I tell him that  No, I am not nervous and don’t need any medication outside of the local anesthetic.  I tell him that I have had nothing to eat or drink since midnight (NPO) and had my PT/PTT drawn the previous Friday.  That means we can proceed with the procedure later today. We get a surgery suite reserved for 2:30.  Larry says that I can have a Pepsi to drink– I am parched.  It is only 11:30 so Tish and I go to the cafeteria.  We both like the surgeon.  She asks me some medical questions.  I know the answers to some of her questions, but not to others.

We go to the information booth of the hospital and ask for directions. The lady asks for my name and then refers to various printed lists on her clipboard.  Then she makes three or four phone calls before finally sending me down the hall to outpatient registration.  There I wait in line until my name is called.  The girl at registration is pleasant but also has to make several phone calls in order to figure out where I am to report.  I am ready to have her call the surgeon’s office since they obviously know where the procedure is being conducted, when she finally figures out that I need to go to Same Day Surgery.  Reporting to Same Day, the receptionist again consults her clipboard and cannot find my name and she begins her own series of phone calls.  It finally becomes clear that my case is in that netherland known as “add-ons” – unscheduled procedures that have been added on with short notice.  This is the heathcare system that I have always been a part of and, for the most part, proud of.  Now I am a different kind of participant, a patient.  And now I experience an uneasy feeling.  What am I getting myself into?

My name is called and I am led back to a cubicle.  The nurse, Irene, is nice and begins her pre-op assessment.  We go through my medical history quickly as I essentially have none.  She is ready to go through just as quickly the question Have you been out of the country in the last 12 months? The flow of the interview is halted as I begin my listing of my last six trips abroad.  But she decides to interrupt me and to proceed to the next question.  As she places the ID and allergy bracelets to my arm, I recognize this as another rite of passage from personhood to patienthood.  After that of course comes the next rite of passage – the all too familiar patient gown.

It was now only 1:30 – an hour to wait.  Hospital TV was boring, not enough channels.  I read for a while then dozed off.  About 2:40 we pressed the call light.  We share a funny paranoia, based on the day’s confusion at this hospital, that my surgeon was in some other part of the building waiting for me to arrive.  Another nurse answered the light and said that she would check.  Twenty minutes later Tish went to look for her as she had not returned.  That nurse had passed it on to my nurse who had not gotten around to checking yet.  I still do not know what happened actually but about 3:30 the nurse came to tell me that Same Day was really busy and that they decided to move me to an Outpatient Surgery section back in the Professional Building.  Ten minutes later I was on my way, down to the basement through endless beige hallways, across to the Professional Building, up to the first floor then around the corner to Outpatient Surgery.  My first ride on a hospital cart.  Wee!

I talked with the nurses in surgery.  I knew one nurse slightly as she once worked at my hospital.  The doctor arrives.  Yes, he uses sodium bicarb to cut down of the sting of the lidocaine.  I am connected to a blood pressure monitor and another machine that monitors my heart rate and oxygen saturation.  Are you nervous? the nurse asked.  No, why? –  Because your heart rate reads 240! –  I reply  Now I am nervous! It’s just a bad reading.  Next she attaches the electrodes for the EKG monitor.  Then she apologizes as she wraps something cold around my ankle.  What’s that? I ask her.  Just your electrical ground for when the doctor uses the Bovie.  So I tell her I’m going to stop asking you questions.  They strap my legs down but leave my arms free so long as I don’t move.  The nurses stretch a drape across my chest so that I am not tempted to rise up to see.
The surgeon injects the lidocaine (it burns even with the bicarb!).  After it takes effect, he injects more into the deeper groin tissue. I have a sensation of cutting but not pain later so he injects more.  I feel as if I am fairly relaxed but then I notice my upper body tensing up several times.  We talk throughout the procedure.  I tell a few physician jokes.  We talk about physicians that we know in common.  The other nurse asks about people that I still work with.  He asks me if I want to see the node – yes – a pink fleshy piece of tissue about the size of a little finger.  It is 2 or 3 times as large as it should be.  And yes it is unnaturally rubbery.  But my surgeon declines to speculate on the significance of that.  Only pathology will yield the answers.

I scoot from the table to the cart.  Back in post-op I transfer to a recliner. The recovery nurse gives me water, crackers, instructions and a Lortab tablet, a mild narcotic analgesic.  After another 15 minutes Tish helps me dress.  I can actually walk pretty well.

Tish and I  have had a discussion all day about whether I should drive my truck back home from her office.  I suggested that we wait and see.  Now I decide to go ahead try it.  Tish is still hesitant as I have to lift my left leg out of the car – it’s a bit tender.  I climb into my truck, buckle up, and start the engine.  When I look up, Tish is gone.  I am gratified by her sudden confidence in my ability to drive by myself.  I arrive home a few minutes before her.  Where was Tish?  She has been distracted by everything going on in our lives.  About halfway home, she suddenly realized that she had driven off without me.  So she pulled over to the side of the street (during rush hour traffic) and waited for me to pass, hoping that I was taking the same route home.  I did not notice her but she sees me and follows me home.  It gives us something to laugh about – then and now.  The tale will become woven into the fabric of this story of my illness.

Nothing to do now but wait.  Longer than we were supposed to, longer than we were prepared for.

Write a comment