27 December 2009

Better now (2009 edition)

In memory, the room was so much larger: vast, cavernous, an endless sea of chairs populated by the worried and tired. In truth, it was near empty at 7:30 am, small and unimposing, with only a few people milling about.

What I'd remembered accurately was the freezing gale blowing in from the automatic doors exiting to the parking structure.

"Sit here," I instructed the daughter, who insisted that she'd joined me to give me "moral support," but was in reality the one requiring support, while simultaneously hoping for coffee and pastries in the cafeteria downstairs.

Within a few minutes, the spouse was called away.

"Family in 30 minutes," the elderly volunteer told me.

Two years ago, I'd been in the same place with the son, but because he was a minor, I was with him every moment up until he was wheeled into surgery. Now, I just got to look after the daughter, plugged into a cassette recorder with a book-on-tape, pushed into my arm for comfort.

When we were called back, the spouse was lying on a bed in a hospital gown, IV attached, looking annoyed.

"Nice flour sack," I commented picking up the edge of the blanket that covered him with my finger nails.

"My feet are cold," he replied querulously.

The daughter sat on the one of the chairs, wide-eyed.

"Glad no one's shaved your head," I told the spouse, conversationally.

A nurse who was inputting information at the computer next to the spouse's bed looked up, concerned. "Why would we do that?"

The spouse replied, "My grandfather went in for stomach surgery, and when my father went to see him before the operation, the nurses had prepped my grandfather for brain surgery by mistake."

"Ohhhhhh," the nurse shuddered.

"So I promised him," I nodded toward the spouse, "that I'd make sure everyone had properly autographed his shoulder."

When the son had knee reconstruction two years earlier, even I'd had to sign his knee cap.

Pre-op things continued, and more nurses and doctors wandered in. I liked this anesthesiologist better than the last one I'd met here. I asked the orthopedic surgeon a few salient questions when he came by. Everyone shook hands like opposing teams and we left the playing field as the spouse was rolled away down the corridor, shoulder autographed and glowing yellow with iodine.

I pulled my jacket around me in the freezing lobby and took the daughter for her promised coffee. The waiting had begun.

Once the daughter was sated, we returned to the lobby. People came and went. To my right an entire extended family was fretting loudly about Grandma, while to my right, a woman sat, looking nervous and jittery. Another family group, dragging a screaming and crying girl, paraded through.

Time passed. The spouse's OR nurse passed came through the door in the distance and smiled at me as she walked by, which was reassuring. Shortly thereafter, I saw the anesthesiologist walk toward the pre-op rooms. Eventually, the orthopedic surgeon came out to talk to me.

"No surprises," he told me. "Very straightforward."

Then he started talking about staples and removing dressings, and my stomach turned a little. I've been stapled and taped more than once, and coping with my own is one thing. Someone else's are a level of responsibility that sits uneasily with me.

(It was the same when my children were very young. Always the fear that I would miss the key symptom, the indicator that something was truly wrong.)

We were called back to recovery and the spouse was awake, looking unhappy. I checked his vitals on the monitor above his head, reading the level of stress and pain there. But it was nice to see that his heart rate dropped significantly with our appearance, that the very presence of the daughter and me was a relief for him, despite his cranky demeanor.

Talking with nurses, getting him water to relieve post-surgical cotton-mouth, filling prescriptions. As I had after the son's surgery, I got disoriented in the morass of twisting corridors in the recovery unit. A nurse saw me staring with confusion at the signs pointing all directions, and said, "That way!"

I looked into her face, and we smiled at each other.

"I recognized the name on the chart," she said.

"It's my husband. But you cared for my son when he was here!" I exclaimed. She was the sweet nurse who had been so good to him. "He's done well since his surgery."

"I saw you and your daughter in the lobby," she told me. "She's gotten so tall."

"I'm starting to feel like I live here," I laughed a little.

Suddenly, she threw her arms around me.

"It will be all right," she said.

Go listen to some good music: "Better Now" from the album Youth by Collective Soul. And that was how I got through last Monday.

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