I woke up in recovery with no sense of time having passed. My gut felt like someone was stabbing me with jagged knives and I felt like I was going to vomit. The combination was my ultimate nightmare. I have very little pain tolerance (I’m a certifiable weenie) and am prone to motion sickness, which the nurses told me can make the reaction to general anesthesia worse. I remember thinking if I feel this awful with only four incisions in my belly, how do women who get cut wide open for their hysterectomies or have a Caesarean delivery deal with it?
The recovery nurses were great. The minute I started waking up they were right there, telling me I was okay and everything had gone great. I had a hard time talking because my throat was raw after the breathing tube but they understood my raspy whispers and had pain meds and anti-nausea meds in my IV in no time. Within an hour, I was in a private room with family and friends, tired but feeling relatively decent.
I was hooked up to oxygen, IV fluids, pain and nausea meds and antibiotics, a pulse/O2 monitor and had these funky compression wraps around my lower legs. My nurse was talking cheerfully about getting up to go for a walk. Good luck with that, I thought. I had advanced from ice chips to water when the consensus was that I wasn’t going to barf. They were the best ice chips in the world. My nurse's only concern was that my heart rate was pretty high (120 beats per minute, 60-70 is normal) but she felt that would drop as my pain level lowered.
Through the next few hours, I got unhooked from enough equipment that walking became a little more realistic. I wanted to walk because walking sounded like a perfectly normal activity at the end of a very un-normal day. Getting out of bed was the worst part. Ever try getting up from bed or a chair without using your abdominal muscles?
Two nurses accompanied me on my walk. I think one was there to manage the IV pole, the other was there to manage me if I looked like I might tip over. One had an Australian shepherd and the other had an Australian cattle dog so we had a nice conversation up and down the halls of 5 West. I brought my old flannel bathrobe from home so no risk of becoming a bum-flasher. One thing I noticed about patients walking in hospitals is that they are so intensely focused on what they’re doing, they probably wouldn’t notice if the other people in the hall were starkers.
Lisa, my primary nurse that evening was a total rock star when it came to pain management. Really good nurses are like really good dog trainers – they know what you need before you know you need it and they do it without someone else having to tell them. Of the four nurses I had during my stay, three of them were fabulous and one was an idiot who should probably reconsider her career choice.
Anyone who has been in the hospital knows sleep is a rare commodity. I learned that when I had a surprise overnight stay for my heart a few years ago. This time I was prepared for the constant stream of nurses and med techs going in and out of my room all night long, taking vitals, drawing blood, bringing medicine, messing with the IV and constantly asking, “What’s your pain level?” This was usually followed by, “You need to get some sleep.”
The pain level question was tricky. If I lay totally still and didn’t move, it hummed along at about 3 or 4 on a rising scale from 1-10. If I shifted positions in bed or got out of bed, it rocketed to a dizzying 8. Once I was up and steady on my feet, it dropped back to 5. I asked one of my nurses if it was realistic to achieve a 0 pain level after major surgery. No, she said, not unless you have a morphine pump. I didn’t.
The compression wraps around my calves inflated and deflated rhythmically to keep the blood circulating and prevent clotting. That was all fine and good except several times they would start to inflate just as I was dozing off, giving me the unnerving sensation of someone grabbing my leg in the dark.
Through all of this, I’d been drinking water like mad. My mouth was constantly dry and sticky. I could not get enough water. What goes in must come out. Bathroom trips meant having to get unhooked from the leg compression wraps, then juggling the IV pole and all nine yards of fabric in the stylish hospital gown to get to the potty.
About those gowns - apparently one size fits all if you are a 250-pound man. If you are a 145-pound woman, well, it still fits but the look is a little different.
The type of surgery I had involved CO2 gas being pumped into my abdomen to inflate it, so the surgeon could have a good view of where he was working via a teeny-tiny camera inserted near my belly button. When surgery is over, they try to remove as much of the gas as possible but some remains in the abdomen. It rises and lodges in the area of the right shoulder before dissipating. Bizarre, but at about 3 a.m. the pain in my shoulder dominated pain anywhere else. Fortunately, it was short lived.
I had been entertaining myself in pre-op by thinking about being able to eat supper later that evening. When the subject of food came up, about 10 p.m., I found I had no appetite and did not want to tempt fate. Lisa suggested I needed to eat something to get my gut functioning again. I ate a small container of applesauce and some crackers, washed it down with another gallon of water and called it good. So much for my much anticipated meal!
Tomorrow, Part III: Home