Saturday, January 30, 2010

My Week At The Hospital

HOLON, ISRAEL - OCTOBER 15: Israeli paediatric...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
It started innocently enough.  "Mom, I have this pain in my left side." my daughter said, kind of squeezing her left hip just above the bone.  I sort of laughed it off.  "You're ovulating." I said, remembering my own monthly cycles and how later on in life I could feel when I was ovulating on one side or the other because of a pinching pain there.

Her pain only got worse, and the next day when my monthly trip to the mainland had been delayed because the ferries were out of commission, I took her to the clinic.  By this time it was obvious that something more was going on.  She was in a lot of pain and now had a fever as well.  The doctor sent her for blood tests and said it could possibly be a gall bladder attack or gallstones.  He gave her a prescription for a fairly powerful pain killer and we went home.  By this time the ferries were running again and since I had to get my father to an appointment on the mainland, I had to go.  I hoped she could hold out until she could have an ultrasound to confirm the diagnosis.

But that evening, when I was at my parents' place, I got a call from my daughter on my cell.  The clinic had contacted her and said that her white blood count was very high and she should go to emergency.  My husband took her immediatley and that began a long night of testing and waiting and testing again.  By 1 a.m. my husband called to say that she had an ovarian cyst and that they had to transfer to another hospital so she could be prepped for surgery.  I was beside myself with worry, but had to get my father to his appointment in the morning.  While I sat waiting for my father at his doctors', I called the hospital in Victoria to check on her.  "She's a pretty sick girl," the nurse told me. Not the most comforting thing to hear.

Once my father's appointment was done, we drove back to Richmond and he had some lunch.  I couldn't get to the ferries fast enough, and by that evening I was finally back on the island and on my way to the hospital.  I rushed in to see her.  She was much worse than when I had last seen her, with a fever of 40C and excruciating pain that was only relieved by doses of morphine.  There is nothing worse than seeing your kid so sick, even if your "kid" is 23.  The doctor said that he was pretty sure it was a cyst, but the unusual thing was that a cyst doesn't normally cause a fever, and it was so large that it stretched from her ovary right across her lower abdomen.  He was worried that something else was going on, so he ordered more tests;  the delay just made her pain and fever more acute for all of us, but we put our trust in the doctor and tried to hang in.  My husband was completely exhausted, having been by her side for most of 24 hours, so he went home while I took over.

Over the next three days, we were back and forth, trying to stay with our daughter as much as we could, alternately getting her warm blankets or ice packs, holding the garbage can while she vomited, helping her to the bathroom and trying to ease her fears.  She cried, she slept a little, she woke up in pain again and then repeated the cycle as we kept vigil.  The nurses were wonderful to her, and patient with our questions and concerns.  But when you're that worried, every little thing becomes a potential threat and nothing can really relieve your fears.

When I couldn't sit anymore and my daughter was sleeping, I started wandering the halls of the hospital floor.  They allowed cell phones in the surgical wards, so she had hers and could text or call me if she needed me.  I started to notice things outside of the little world of my daughter and her illness.  On the second day I bumped into an old guitar student who had just had a hysterectomy, on another day I bumped into another acquaintance wandering the halls and hooked up to an IV, just having had surgery for a hernia.  We were in the gynecological wing, so there were mostly women, but the other half was the surgical wing where more males slowly wandered around with their IVs and bags and gizmos attached.  I would say hello to some of them as the hours and days passed.  Bits of conversation would escape the rooms as I wandered past;  "Did your bowels move today?"  "How does that feel?"  "What is your pain level on a scale of 1 to 10?".  The nurses flew in and out of rooms, occasionally chatting to each other about their normal lives.  "Can't get to Mexico soon enough!" one said laughingly as she grabbed a chart and dashed off.  "I brought chips today, they're in the back." another said.  Twelve hours on, twelve hours off, and still they smiled and comforted and handily dealt with each small crisis as it arose.  "I work twelve hours straight,"  I heard one say one day.  "You'd think one of my kids could do the dishes while I'm at work!"

There were certainly light moments.  At one point, my daughter's IV came out of her arm and had to be replaced.  An IV nurse was contacted to come in to replace it.  My daughter and I looked at each other when he came in the room.  Hmmm...very nice :-).  We winked at each other.  I tried to engage him in conversation.  "So is that what you do all day?"  Smiling broadly.  "Yep." he said.  Okay, not the chatty type.  My daughter grabbed my hand, anticipating pain, and then looked at me surprised when there wasn't any.  "So was that worth holding a hand?"  he sort of smiled to her.  She smiled back.  I'm not sure if the IV needle was painless going in that time because he was good, or because he was gorgeous. "Thank you!" I chirped as he cleaned up and rolled his cart away.  Her IV came out a couple of times after that, but much to our disappointment, the nurses were different each time. 

On one of my wanderings, I saw a small, elderly woman holding the arm of a nurse as they rounded a corner walking slowly.  "I used to have a talk show on TV,"  she said.  I looked at her again and recognized her.  "What was the show called?" the younger nurse politely asked, although I could see that she was a little dubious about the older woman's claim.  "The Ida Clarkson Show,"  came the answer.  I smiled and walked up "Ida!" I exclaimed.  She turned to the nurse "You see?"  Ida and I worked together at CHEK television when her show was still on the air, and I wrote a story about her for a local newspaper on the occasion of her retirement.  We chatted briefly and then she and the nurse continued on their way.

My daughter's fever started to wane with the antibiotics they were giving her...her white blood cell count also improved, and the doctor finally sat down with us to discuss things.  He seemed hesitant to do surgery at first when he wasn't sure what exactly was going on, but on the fifth day, he concluded that enough was enough and she had been through too much pain already.  She was put on the list for surgery and we prepared ourselves.  It was going to be a long wait, even though she was fourth on the list, but she was relieved to finally know it was going to be over.  "I just want to go home." she sighed.

All day and evening I waited with her.  The regular surgeries were supposed to end at 3:30pm and that's when the un-scheduled surgeries began.  I reported to my husband as we tried to pass the time, and he joined us after work.  The waiting was occasionally broken up by my walks around the floor as other patients wandered around and visitors came and went.  Every two or three hours, my daughter's pain would return and more morphine would be administered.  "I just want to get this over with and get out of here." she would moan.  She was terribly thirsty but we couldn't allow her anything because of the surgery, so she endured. 

Finally at about 8pm, the nurse came in and said that we were going to have to wait until the morning.  The first thing we did was rush off to get her some ice water and apple juice.  I came back in the room with the apple juice after she had downed a half of the ice water my husband got her...she grabbed the apple juice and drank half of that when the nurse rushed in and said "Stop!"  Apparently, they had decided to go ahead with her surgery after all.  The nurse rushed off once again to report how much fluid had been consumed, and after what seemed like a long 15 minutes, she came back again and said they couldn't risk the surgery with the amount that our daughter had already swallowed.  It was another letdown, but we resolved that the morning might be a better option anyway and my husband and I said our goodbyes to our daughter and headed home for a fitful few hours of sleep.

We were back in her hospital room again at 7:15am, relieved to finally be over with the wait.  We walked down with the orderly pushing her on the gurney to the surgical floor.  She was nervous, but we kissed her goodbye and assured her that she wouldn't feel or know anything until she woke up after it was over.  We were all feeling good to finally be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

My husband and I ventured up to a small sitting room armed with newspapers and magazines to occupy us as we chatted and waited.  While I felt surprisingly calm, my husband told me about feeling welled up with emotion as she was wheeled into surgery.  As we turned on the TV to watch the morning news, in wandered a male patient in hospital garb, hiking boots, sunglasses and a toque.   He said hello and plopped himself down on one of the chairs, immediately engaging us in conversation.  He was from Sooke, a kind of a gruff character who was obviously a little deaf, and who reminded me of an old hippie with his long salt and pepper hair and biker moustache.  Somehow or another during our conversation, we realized that we had all graduated from the same high school, he ten years earlier than us.  He had been admitted to the hospital after he had gone to his doctor thinking he had H1N1 because he couldn't keep anything down.  But it turned out, he said, that something in his bowels and colon was twisted around and he ended up with surgery to correct it.  He laughed and patted the colostomy bag under his hospital pants..."At least I can go on a bus with this!" he exclaimed.  He had been practicing walking to the bus stop in his hospital clothes with his bag to prepare for his release from the hospital.  He laughed and complained about his "skinny ass", having lost a great deal of weight during his ordeal.  He didn't stop talking.

At one point he asked us what we were "in for".  We told him we were waiting for our daughter who was having surgery.  "I figured you both looked too healthy to be in here yourselves!" he said, and went on to say how wonderful the surgeons were and how he knew she'd be just fine.  As he left, he raised a cup of orange juice  "Here's to happy times!" he said.  We smiled as he sauntered out, briefly adjusting his bag and humming to himself.

I was in and out of the waiting room several times during those hours, pacing the floor as usual, surprised at my sense of calm.  I walked to the end of the floor by the service elevators where there was a large, floor-to-ceiling, south-facing window revealing the Olympic Mountains and sparkling sunshine.  It was a pleasant and warm Saturday in January for a change.  As I stood there basking in the sunshine, I was secretly hoping that I'd catch the service elevator doors opening and my daughter being wheeled out, but it wasn't going to happen.  Back in the waiting room, I started to pay closer attention to my watch.  Two hours.  Three hours.  Two men came in the room and sat discussing their friend who they had just been in to see.  They were speaking quietly, but I got the sense that their friend was dying and that he had been in and out of consciousness.  I looked at my watch again.  "It's been over 3 hours now," I said quietly to my husband.  That's when I realized that my anxiety level was rising.  I tried to keep my mind calm, but inevitably the worried thoughts would pop up:  "Is this taking too long?", "Should I be worried?", "What's going on down there?".

At the three-hour-and-fifteen-minute mark, my husband stood up to walk around a little himself, and just then the nurse came in the room and announced that our daughter was back in her room.  I started to get up, but she motioned for me to sit.  "Give me ten minutes with her to set her up again, and then you can come in."

I sat back down while my husband went to the washroom.  And that's when the tears finally came.  I guess I was more scared than I realized.When we finally got in to see our daughter, she was a little groggy but more alert than I had expected.  The original pain had gone and now there was only a little pain from the laproscopic surgery.  The surgery went well and they were even able to save the ovary.  Life was about to begin the process of becoming normal again.

The strangest feeling that came over me that night as I went home, was that it had been a rather anti-climatic ending to a long, dramatic week.  It was almost like a feeling of "That's it?"  Hours and hours of waiting and worrying and pacing and suddenly we were on the other side of it, simply dealing with recovery.  She is now back home after an 8 day hospital stay, and is slowly getting back to her old self. 

I brought chocoates and a thank you card to the nurses and staff on her last day in hospital, but it felt like I couldn't have done enough to thank them for their calm and caring patience with us all.  I guess it's just another day at the office for them.  For me, it's a week I'll never forget!

IJ



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