I was lying on the gurney, awaiting surgery, and then nothing — everything went black. Next thing I knew, I was in the recovery room, surrounded by nurses and other hospital people. They saw my eyes open and asked me how I was doing. I did a quick assessment and realized I had a nasogastric (NG) tube coming out of my nose (through which stomach contents are expelled), a catheter for urinating, and an assortment of IVs and other things attached to my arms and hands (in addition to my PICC line).
But what I was most aware of was the pain. I was in more pain than I thought possible. Somehow I communicated this to the nurses, between grunts and groans, and they explained to me how the morphine pump works; I could get a dose once every 10 minutes. Over the next 30 minutes, I got three doses, and I felt absolutely nothing from it. Just more pain.
It was at this point I realized my worst fear had come true: All those doctors lied to me. It turns out they didn’t know what they were talking about and just wanted me to shut up and stop doubting them. If they thought my polite questioning was annoying, well, I’d show them exactly how annoying I can be. But only after they put me through the ringer.
After a while, I learned to tolerate the pain if I could remain still. Of course, the nurses wouldn’t allow that.
Without warning, one of the nurses quickly propped up the bed to an upright position, forcing my body to bend at the torso. I politely asked her to refrain from doing this any further.
“Ow! What the hell are you doing? Stop that! You’ve got to warn me before doing things like that. And please, take your time.”
OK, so maybe that wasn’t very polite. But then again, neither was treating a fresh-out-of-surgery patient like a piece of medical equipment. Seriously — shouldn’t nurses be more conscious of the patients’ situation? It was another lesson I learned the hard way: only about half of the nurses and doctors had any real empathy. The rest? It was like talking to a wall and being tended to by a butcher. A considerably more gentle butcher, mind you, but the lack of any real consideration for my well-being made me feel like I was on the same level as deli meat.
The same thing happened again an hour later, when — again, without warning — a nurse abruptly lifted my head and shoved a pillow beneath it.
“Here, have a pillow!” she said after the fact.
“Ow, ow, ow, ow! What are you doing? Can’t you ask first?”
They also tried to roll me over to change the dressing on my back (I had a bed sore on my spine), and all they succeeded in doing was increasing my pain level from 10 to 11. And when they finally gave me a heads up, it was for something a lot more difficult than having to lean forward. “Time to get you off the gurney and onto a real bed!” a nurse said, much to my displeasure.
“How? I can’t move.”
I soon learned how; she found a few male nurses and they grabbed hold of the sheet I was lying on, lifted me and placed me on the bed. I thanked them by screaming the entire time. Like, actual screams — the kind you hear in a horror movie. I never scream, and if there was a time I ever did I certainly can’t recall it. But that became a common theme for me while in the recovery area.
The pain wasn’t much better Tuesday, and I didn’t have the option of being left alone to relax. Around noon, a nurse came by with what looked like a gas mask. She placed it over my mouth and nose and told me to exhale as deeply as I could 30 times. Ugh. Just what I needed — exercise. About 20 minutes later, another nurse came by and gave me another breathing exercise apparatus, this one for inhaling. It measured how deep my breaths were and is apparently crucial for preventing pneumonia. I tried it and did surprisingly well.
But I was still in boatloads of pain. Where was the nurse?
“I’m still in a lot of pain,” I told her, “and this morphine’s not helping. Is there a pain management doctor I can talk to about this?”
“The pain management team already did an assessment on you and decided what you need,” she said.
“When did they do an assessment? I don’t remember that.”
“You were asleep.”
“What? How does that work? Don’t they need to ask me questions? Ah… never mind. But I would like to see them whenever they have some time.”
Of course, I had already given up hope that talking to them would yield any results. At this point I was basically going through the motions. I knew the situation wasn’t going to get any better, but I kept needling them just to let them know what I was going through. I wasn’t going to take this lying down. OK, maybe in the literal sense, but figuratively, I decided I was going to complain to everyone who came by. So much for my rule that the patient must be patient. This would have to be the exception.
And so went my second day in the hospital. I was hoping to have moved into ICU but there wasn’t any room. Then again, I was totally fine with not moving.