Saturday, February 28, 2009

Post Op 2008

Today is the anniversary of my hysterectomy. Scott said maybe I should prank call my surgeon. (who is ranked among the top gyn/oncologists in the nation and works at the hospital that I don't go to anymore - which I won't name because I could get in trouble.)
Instead of making any prank calls, I thought I'd post an excerpt from my journal that I wrote last year. It is not a pretty journal entry, but it is my story. And I feel like I should tell it. If you don't like stories of post op surgery, this might not be for you.
Surgery February 2008
My naturopath gave me some advice about what to tell the anesthesiologist prior to going to surgery. So I told the beady headed man with a European accent and a tight multicolored surgical cap that I wanted to wake up with no pain and I didn't want to throw up.
He made it seem (in the whole 3.5 minutes I spent talking to him) as though this was easy enough to accomplish. Scott and I were watching tv behind the preop curtain. I was surprisingly calm and had no idea what was in store. It was 5 o'clock in the morning. My Dad poked his head through the curtain and said he was going to go move the car and he would be back. They only allowed one person in the little curtain room and Scott was with me.
I guess the next happenings are a blur because I don't remember having the mask on me or anything else until I woke up. In pain.
When I woke up my mouth was dry. I felt nauseous or like throwing up. The pain was bad in my abdomen, so much that I could not relax my back and kept arching and clenching my muscles. I also kept holding my breath. A bird looking nurse with a curly light brown bob and a pointy little nose was attending to me in some way or maybe helping my get ready to move to the recovery room. She had a weathered look and soft wrinkles. She possibly should have quit this job years ago when she first started tiring of it.
This nurse looked annoyed and I thought it was just her, but she let me know very soon that she was annoyed primarily with me. " You know, you keep holding your breath when you're sleeping and every time you do that an aLarm goes off and I have to come turn it off."
"I can't seem to unclench my back muscles. There's a lot of pain. Should there be a lot of pain?"
"Maybe you should try moving up a little bit. You look like you're laying in an uncomfortable position. Here - try putting this pillow behind you." And she started shoving a pillow behind my back. Which hurt. Things were happening fast and there were some other nurses checking tubes and things and moving around - a sea of blue scrubs. "Try to keep breathing," the bird nurse said. And then she was gone.
Ouch this pain was like someone was raking my abdomen into little piles of leaves.
Somehow I was wheeled to the recovery room which reminded me of a medical tent in MASH. There were about eight or ten beds lined up in bright crappy lighting, four or five on each side of the square room. I was put in the SE corner, furthest from the door. There were curtains separating us and I could hear other people's machines beeping and pumping. Some people were moaning. The man on my left was speaking an Asian language. He seemed pretty out of it and I had never heard someone out of it speaking in a different language before.
I had a pain pump which didn't seem to be working. I kept pressing it like a million times in a row. Finally I pressed the call button to say What the hell? and What time is it? and When can I go to a different room? The nurse who came did not speak much English. She was Asian and also had a bob and was moving mouse-like within the curtain. She only answered me with one word answers and sometimes did not answer me at all. I told her I think this pain pump thing is not working. She did not answer, but she turned the machine toward her and started to press some buttons and the thing made some beeping noises and then she left. She came back with a book and started pressing more buttons and I was thinking - Great she's got the flippin manual out?? I finally said in a voice that I wanted to try not to sound too racially offensive, is there someone else who could help me? Can you get someone else? I'd like Someone Else to come in here please. She did not acknowledge these requests and then she left. For a minute I thought about asking the guy to the left of me to maybe interpret because maybe this nurse did not understand me, but I didn't do that.
The thing still did not seem to work so I pressed the call button again and no one came for a while. Finally a concerned looking woman poked her head though the curtain. She was not a nurse, but a doctor who was checking on her patient.
I asked her what time it was and she said it was 2 in the morning. I told her I thought I was supposed to be getting a different room and she said yes, everyone was waiting because they didn't have any available beds. I asked how long I would have to be in here and she said hopefully I could move within the hour.
She asked me if I was uncomfortable and I told her the pain pump doesn't work. She explained to me how to use the thing correctly and then she reset some buttons and said It should work now.
In the middle of all of this, I was having trouble breathing with the pain and was having panic attacks. I was making a horrible noise through my throat trying to catch my breath. This doctor kept telling me to breathe and stayed with me until I was able to calm down. The pain pump started working. I was there till 8am and every time I started talking about the night, I had another panic attack so everyone told me to try to stop talking about it.
I have posted this excerpt not to say "poor me and my shitty surgery." Rather, I feel that if we are going to try to improve the quality of health care in this country, we have to share information about how things are. This post op experience was just the beginning of the less than mediocre care I received at this Hospital. I am now receiving outstanding care at a different Care Center and I promise to write a more uplifting post next time, my friends.


  1. I hear this, man. Had a three day stint in a hospital once where I was made to feel like a pest for being scared and confused. Multiple doctors with different diagnoses, no staff communcation at all, mean,impatient nurses, Someone Else never available, the wrong meds, etc...end result was panic, a full blown panic attack, for the first time in my life. Thats what hospitals can do. Because you tend to be treated as though you have less dignity than an upright person, when you are prone and dependant in a hospital. Nurses should be trained in "bedside manner". It's really good that you don't have to deal with that this time. Can you get in trouble for naming the good care center?

  2. Well Julie, in one journal entry, you've summarized one of the many depressing and disgraceful realities of the patient experience in our healthcare system today. The patient experience and caring for the human aspects of each individual is what nursing is and should be all about.

    But, the promise of nursing care is so often cast aside in recovery rooms across america because hospitals can't create an acceptable work environment for the staff, they can't retain good nurses, they can't staff the recovery rooms appropriately based on the number of patients and their needs, they can't train adequately, they can't respond to human emotion and suffering, and they certainly can't deliver on the promise of patent-centered, wholistic care that all of them promise to deliver.

    The cost of delivering all of this nonsense is just too high to justify in those executive boardrooms. A hospital executive today might be laughed out of the room for suggesting that the heart of healthcare is the patient experience.

    Today, the greatest concern to our hospitals is the cost of the patient experience and how to reduce or eliminate it. It is quite interesting and I have often discussed this aspect of healthcare to my superiors, at another unnamed hospital, who respond with blank stares. I have also pondered the idea of discussing my concerns with Dateline or maybe even Michael Moore, in hopes that some documentary set in a real recovery room or patient room, might give us a greater appreciation and understanding of the problem.

    But alas, we must move forward in a positive way despite our misfortunes and you have done this so gracefully and beautifully that it is almost impossible for me to put into words. You are the great inspiration of hope in our lives. Keep on writing, feeling, and fighting. I love you.

  3. Julie-- I wish I could take care of you. Larry Boymer

  4. Older Brother Kevin and Uncle Larry,

    You are two nurses that I wish lived in Portland, OR. (Along with Aunt Sue). I know you would have known how to fix the pain machine. And probably also the TV which did not work in one of my rooms for three days.
    I did have a 3 outstanding nurses while in the crappy nameless hospital for about a month. They were like angels. They made things bearable and I thank the lord they were there.
    keep on nursing - xo

  5. julie...i wish i could take care of you too!! makes me want to go to crappy nameless hospital and kick some #$@. those are the hospitals that give nurses a bad rap!

    cheers to the good nurses at the new hospital.