This week's post, then, is a tribute to everyone who has ever undergone surgery. It's a snippet from my novel, "The Bandaged Place." In it my protagonist, Kate Tilton, shares her thoughts about the first day post-op:
"Even when surgery goes well, it wrings the life out of you. I can attest to this because yesterday as soon as anesthesia wore off I felt like, well, road kill. I looked like it, too. And it only gets worse because today they have the nerve to let visitors loose in my room so they can gawk at me when I am in no mood to entertain.
The pain isn’t the problem; I’m getting morphine for that. In fact, the morphine is the problem. I’m feeling just so giddy here. I can’t see straight and I’m pretty sure my speech is garbled. The last time I was awake enough to speak, Shirley, my nurse this shift, asked me about the pain. I think I said “five” when what I meant was “fine”. To a med-surg. nurse, “five” means the worst pain possible so she gave me another squirt of the magic potion which is why, now that I'm finally awake again, I'm in love with everybody in the whole wide world. I just haven’t figured out why they can’t all be here in bed with me right now.
And it doesn’t bother me in the least when, for the umpteenth time in eight hours, Shirley hits the switch and I am blinded by the overhead lights while she rechecks my “vital signs”—blood pressure, pulse, respiratory rate and temperature—signs that I have survived. This has been going on all night long.
Shirley has been a nurse here for twenty some years, night shift. After she finishes checking wounds, adjusting IV’s and passing meds at the beginning and end of her shift, she fortifies herself with Oreos and Coke. Despite her weight she is the kind of woman who seems to walk on air—easy and silent and graceful. Her touch is gentle and her hands are warm. She is genuinely kindhearted so even though she has interrupted my sleep countless times all night long, I don’t resent her for it at all.
“Sorry to disturb you again, darlin’,” she says. “I’ll just be a minute here.”
I roll toward her and extend my arm. I like it when people apologize even though they haven’t done anything wrong. You can forgive them in an instant and then you’re endeared to one another for life. “It’s not your fault. I was a cake anyway,” I mumble. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t come out right but it’s the best I can do right now.
She laughs as though she thinks I'm the sweetest patient she has ever cared for and then she reassures me, “First night’s always the hardest.” She slips a thermometer under my tongue, wraps the cuff around my arm, and feels for the pulse in my wrist.
That’s the last thing I remember until six o’clock sharp when someone arrives to draw my blood for the tenth time to check my blood count, sugar and potassium. But I’m not diabetic, I didn’t hemorrhage, and there is potassium running in my IV, so why even bother?
Right on schedule, a breakfast tray is delivered to my bedside and deposited on a little table with wheels that is just out of reach so even if I were hungry or thirsty—which I am not—I’d have to settle for the smell of food, and that turns my stomach.
Not fifteen minutes later the lady from dietary is back. “Not hungry yet?” She smiles as though she understands completely. It's much too soon after surgery to have worked up an appetite. So she clears away the untouched tray without so much as a word of encouragement like, “Here, let me bring this a little closer. You should try to eat a little something.” Not that I could get a fork up to my mouth if I tried.
I could cry but I won’t, so help me God, not even when Shirley insists that I get out of bed and shuffle all the way over to the bathroom and back pulling my IV stand along behind me like a two-year old, “Come along, now. It’s time to go potty.” Whoa—not so fast, I’m thinking. As I roll over and sit up, ten thousand poison arrows pierce my chest. The moment I get my feet down it feels like the floor falls away. My knees quiver. The room spins. Thankfully, Shirley has the strength to steady me.
“Take your time, now. Take things slow. We don’t want you to take a tumble now, do we?”
"No, we don’t. So can’t you just bring me a bed pan or something?"
Oh, my God—I’m asking for a bedpan! Will somebody please hand me a gun?"
"There is nothing worse than thinking you are well enough...
Don't turn your head.
Keep looking at the bandaged place.
That's where the light enters you.
And don't believe for a moment that you are healing yourself."