Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Slicing & Dicing: Outside the operating room

So, I heard that my last blog post caused a few tears. That was not at all my goal. I was just writing how I felt and I pounded that out during the first few hours I was hanging in the hospital lobby. 
I thought you all would like to know that my dad’s surgery went well, as well as possible actually, and at the moment we are kind of in a holding zone until we are able to figure out the next course of treatment. But he is in good spirits and rather active. Almost too active. He has been taking the dog for a walk and helped trim our living room and dining room when it was decided that it needed painting. NOT my decision. Nor was painting it hungover, but that is another story.
Now, knowing that he is doing just fine at the moment, allow yourself to smile as you read about my mom’s and my experience on the day of the surgery.
“Kaaaateeeee you got 5 min!” I heard my mom shout as I threw on a jacket over my stripped shirt and jeans. It was 7:40 and we had planned on leaving at prompt 7:45. The surgery wasn’t scheduled until 12 noon, but patients had to be there at 9am to fill out paperwork, get prepped, and make sure they got as many anxious waiting hours in as possible. 
I hadn’t slept, nor had my parents I was sure, though it wasn’t confirmed until post surgery. The past few drives to USC I usually laid out nicely across the back seats and passed out. Cutting the reality of the 55 min drive to a meager 3. Their were perks to not having siblings. And that was exactly what I had planned on doing that morning. 
“Here,” my mom shoved a piece of paper in my hand as we walked out the door, “You’re co-pilot.” I glanced down to see a list of freeway numbers scrawled in my mother’s notoriously poor handwriting. Where were my siblings now? 
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” I was immediately shot a, “NOT NOW KATE” glance. Ugh. But in fact it was not a good idea. I knew it, she knew it, my dad knew it, even the universe knew it. Anyone that knows me knows that I am terrible at directions. So terrible in fact that it actually borders on impressive. 
I vividly remember picking up my friend Tori right after receiving my driver’s license to go to the mall. She hopped in and we giggled about how exciting this was as we reversed out of her driveway. I paused and put my hands to my forehead and closed my eyes envisioning the mall. “OK. Del Amo.” I repeated aloud deep in thought. Mapping out how to get to the mall that was at most 2 miles away. “Seriously,” to stunned to yell, Tori turned to face me, shock bordering on disappointment written all over her face. She smirked and shook her head. “Calm down we’ll get there!” I retorted. And in fact we did. Only after I gave up at the stop sign at the end of her street and asked her which way to turn. She directed us the rest of the way there. 
Nowadays my directionally gifted friends offer to drive me places to get around my rarely discussed “handicap”. It benefits all parties involved. This way they can be sure I will show up at all, and I, in turn, arrive on time and significantly less sweaty. 
I was already starting to perspire as I stared at the different freeways we were going to tackle while trying to make out the “helpful notes” scrawled between each. My mom was determined to exclude my Dad from any driving duty on the day of his tumor removal. But the rigid positions we had all assumed in the car only added to the unspoken stress. We had the female driver who sat at a rigid 90 degree angle, and whose hands never strayed from the 10 and 2 o’clock position, the beautiful, younger, exhausted female trying desperately to decipher the barely legible nurse shorthand fast enough, and we had the backseat male passenger who was doing his best at following orders NOT TO WORRY about anything. Shockingly, we arrived on time, in one piece and with smilies. It was one for the books.
After parking where we always park, the office structure, we were regulars after all, we headed to the surgeons office in what was essentially the “cancer building” to pick up labs to take to the hospital. We arrived on the 4th floor and followed the signs yelling HEAD AND NECK, there was no hiding why we were there. On our way I passed the COLON sign and cringed. It could be worse. 
As we waited for the labs under the Head & Neck sign that must have been in 7,000 point font, my mom let out what was officially the most obvious statement of the day. “You know,” she began, “I always think of head and neck cancer as rare, but when you’re here, it’s like, pffff everyone has it!”  
I looked at her blankly and she raised her eyebrows almost excited at her observation, 
“Oh hey mom, I forgot to tell you who called.” 
“Who?” She asked wondering where the conversation took a turn.
“Captain Obvious, he wants his powers back.”
She chuckled as did I. It was one of our favorites after learning it from my friend Lauren in her days as an elementary teacher. Somewhere along the line my mom and I took a silent vow to use it as often and creatively as possible. I mentally gave myself 100 points for that one.

We got the labs and walked across the courtyard to the hospital lobby. Signed in the patient and his entourage and took badges. “So this is where we hang huh?” I asked walking past the fish tank that I mentally added to my “list of things to stare at while we wait”. My mom had done this twice before. “Yup,” my mom answered. “And how long do we think we will be here?” I asked merely out of curiosity. She shot me another look. Well, this was Friday. 
The three of us had our sights set on a cluster of chairs near the coffee station, prime location. I looked around as we passed families of all ages and races, that had clearly been there since the early hours of the morning. It was only 9am and I couldn’t image getting there any earlier. After reaching our seats and listening to a family next to us speaking Spanish, and across the way Mandarin, I realized how much I missed the lack of diversity in Japan. At least I was single handedly able to bring the diversity wherever I went.
To keep ourselves busy we had brought all kinds of entertainment. I had packed a book, my newly purchased Mac, and a magazine. My mom was ready with crocheting tools a book and snacks that were to serve as lunch. My dad was content with last nights choice of the sports page. It was no Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition, but what were you going to do. 
I went to the bathroom and returned to learn that my dad was going to be moved to the pre-op room soon and only one guest was allowed. I hugged my dad goodbye and my mom walked with him, ready to support him and talk to any doctor in her “discharge planner voice” if need be. There was no question she was going to make sure things went smoothly. 
I got comfortable in my seat and read a little though absorbed nothing. I opened my computer and was pleasantly surprised to find that USC Univ. Hospital had free wi-fi! I had brought my charger so the possible ways to entertain myself were endless, who needs books when you can watch TV online?
I was getting set up to watch an episode of Bones when another elderly couple came over, with who was presumably their adult daughter. I smiled and they asked if the remaining chairs around our little table area were taken. I said, no, and encouraged them to sit. I thought about how cute it was that their family appeared to have the same make up as mine, just 20 years down the line. The parents were older and the dad walked with a walker; clearly the weakest of the three I pegged him as the patient. I began contemplating what part of him was going to be sliced and diced. The wife stood by him ready to assist with anything, and the daughter plopped down and began reading, glancing up between pages. 
I have discovered that I have an almost unlimited amount of patience and sympathy for any older person, that is, one that isn’t my parents. I feel for these folks and all they have been through, but when I see my parents aging, I just get mad. Almost as though it is their fault for not out running age. Ludicrous, I know, but it’s true.
I watched as this man tirelessly decided where he was going to sit. He was trying to figure out how to go from his walker to the chair, which from the looks of things seemed to be a long way down. His walker had a seat attached and I wondered why he didn’t just sit there, but I sure has hell wasn’t about to say anything. The “where am I going to sit, and how am I going to get there” issue was going on far longer than it needed to. Finally, the wife suggested, as if the idea had just come to her, why doesn’t he just sit on the walker seat?! Eureka! And so he did. At which point he looked at her and said, “What are you doing?”
I was fascinated by this entire family and with this latest question, I was perplexed to say the least. Headphones in, but on mute, I was on full alert. What the hell did he mean? They had driven all the way out here, checked in, and he had literally just sat down and now wanted to know, what she was doing? The wife answered with a calm I didn’t expect, “Well, I am waiting for them to call your name.” He shrugged. I furrowed my brow. If this woman had to deal with this daily either she was either bordering on sainthood or this is what true love looked like. Wow. 
For me this translated to, maybe I’m not as patient as I thought, along with, I am soooo not ready for marriage.
I was thinking about this, as a rather obese man with a huge neon orange ankle cast was wheeled in by his super fit wife, and I wondered what their home life was like. He checked in and opted for seats on the other side of the room. Damn.
At last the curious, walker toting man was called and he slowly stood with the assistance of his walker. The receptionist came over to take him and his wife. After my mom had asked earlier, the receptionist remembered to remind the daughter that this was the last time she would see her dad pre-surgery. The daughter simply said, “ok” and gave a wave, never so much as vacating her seat. Innnnterrrresting, I thought as my psychology degree went to work trying to figure out the family dynamics. 
As her parents walked away, the daughter glanced in my direction. I smiled, “That’s why I am here too”, I said. She smiled, “Well I’m just glad I’m on this side of the wall,” she said with a chuckle. Innnnntereeeesting again. I laughed and began to write my blog, making a note to investigate later.
It was another 2 hours before my mom came back to say that they had wheeled him in. I was done with my blog and desperately had to pee. I had consumed 2 cups of crappy coffee while I watched the elderly man trying to decide where to sit. 
When I came back I asked how it went. 
She explained that for every doctor that is in the room, their is a med student shadow that can only be described as, “working his ass off to be that guy in a few years”, effectively doubling the number of people in the room. Given that we were at a teaching hospital that was to be expected, but she did say it was rather crowded. My mom proceeded to explain that their were some labs that they didn’t seem to have and she had to put her, Case Manager/Discharge Planner hat on to make it happen. 
A registered nurse, her daily job is coordinating with insurance companies and nursing homes to make sure that patients have somewhere to go when they leave the hospital. If paperwork is missing or a doctor hasn’t signed off on something, she does everything in her power to make sure it happens. And when that hat is on, people generally are quick to give her what she needs. After getting the labs and MRI to the operating room, she had become BFFs with the nurses prepping my dad and they apparently bonded over how broken “the system” is. Lesson learned: Stay healthy.
My mom began to tell me the tales of those she had seen up on the operating floor and I was increasingly jealous I didn’t get to go and observe. She started to tell me about this morbidly obese man that was wheeled in by his thin wife. 
“I saw him!” I shouted, “With an orange cast?”
“Uh huh, uh huh. Man he was huge.” She shook her head.
Mind you, she worked in a hospital that had gastric bypass (stomach stapling) surgery, and before the operations they would give group patient tours of the hospital. So it was not like she hasn’t seen her share of large people. Not even mentioning the day to day patients. 
I remember her and my dad coming home after work, they worked at the same hospital, talking at dinner about how the hospital had started getting in double wide wheelchairs, scales that went to higher numbers than they had in the past, they also explained to me that people that are bed ridden or simply too large to move are placed on beds with sand so as to avoid bed sores. All this while I fought not to eat my string beans. If I complained my mom would add a few more before whisking me off to soccer practice. No obesity in this house. No sir. 
All this exposure has left my mom with a unique skill, the ability to guess people’s weight. She specializes in those over 300 lbs.
“I said to Dad, he has to be at least 450.” She said staring at her coffee, as I ate my chocolate chip scone, already wishing it was a banana.
“No way mom, he wasn’t that big.” I always feel like she gets a little carried away with her guesses.
“That’s what Dad said, but Kate I’m telling you. I was listening.” Oh God. “I heard him say he was currently 455 and had recently lost 50lbs. I was trying to hear what he was in for but, the doctors starting talking about what they were going to do to Dad and I couldn’t shussh them.”
“Good choice. This is what I don’t understand,” I went on, “if he weights 455 lbs now, wasn’t 300 like some sort of red flag?”
“You would think.”
I promised myself a run the following day.
Is it a skill she should be proud of? Sure, why not. I revel in the fact that I can’t direct myself around the block, why shouldn’t she add this to her resume.
For then next few hours we rotated between reading, writing, eating, emailing, updating people, talking to each other and those around us.
A few hours later the older woman had come back and after a round of smiles someone finally spoke. Initially the conversation started as where were they from and how did they get here. They happened to be from Torrance, the town over from our little Redondo and I learned that the daughter, living in Laguna, was just up for the surgery. Without so much as prompting, the elderly woman leaned over to my mom to say that this surgery was completely her husband’s choice. He was here for a new anal sphincter (??) I new what anal was and I new what sphincter was, but I just couldn’t picture it. Maybe it was for the best. The lady continued to explain that her husband just couldn’t handle his incontinence anymore. 
I thought I knew the word but wasn’t sure. I thought best to check with the “expert”. My friend Lindsey is currently in her 1st year of med school in Boston was talking to me on gchat. Still not sure if I was even supposed to be involved with the current conversation, I pretended to be focused on my computer. 
I typed, “Incontinence? Isn’t that where they can’t go?” 
“Where they can’t control it,” she responded. The fact that she was unfazed by the question really says something about our friendship.
It was already more than I wanted to know.
After another few hours, it was now 5 pm, we got a call that my dad was out of surgery and we were waiting for him to wake up. We talked to the doctor and then were handed a restaurant buzzer that would go off when he was awake. We packed up our things and waited for the little red lights to flash letting us know that our loved one was coherent. Oh boy!
Bags packed we headed to his room, and inevitably got lost. If it’s possible, my Mom is worse than me when it comes to directions. We finally found his room, though not before my Mom checked that the coast was clear and read his chart. We were greeted with a completely functioning Mr. Bohan. Aside from the massive scar on his left neck and shoulder area, the jury is still out on if it looks more like a freeway map or the result of a knife fight, he was great.

We found the Laker game and waited for his dinner to arrive. And waited, and waited, and waited. After confirming he was ok and appeared to be healing, I was becoming increasingly bored. I played on my computer, my Dad read the paper and my Mom tried to initiate conversation to no avail. Sitting on the side of his bed she threw her chap stick is the air and tried to see how many times she could hit it, preventing it from hitting the ground. Wow.
“Oooo that was 12!”
No one commented. 
Amish chap stick game inventor
“Come on Kate, I bet you can’t beat me.”
I raised only my gaze over my computer and gave her my best, You’re kidding right, look. “Does anyone else feel Amish?” I asked. My Dad smiled, my Mom wouldn’t let it go.
“Oh Kate come on just try.” I think we may need to rearrange the parent/child labels. 
I got 10 and sat down as my grown mother beamed. Alright, where the hell was my Dad’s dinner?!
Finally dinner arrived ending the inflight chap stick game. Thank God. He ate it all. We were ever so proud. We met the night nurse as we kissed him good bye and headed to retrieve our car. As we left we heard her give him a pee time ultimatum. 
“I’ll give you till 9pm to pee,” she said in her Tagalog accent as we exited. 
“Or else what?” I whispered to my RN Mom.
She cringed and chuckled, “I think she might cath him.”
He did. Again, so proud. 
We arrived the next day to retrieve him, and we took him home to hang and rest, giving him a new location to cheer on the Lakers and witness all gazillion of the March Madness games. It appears no one else will be watching TV for a while, but I think he earned this one :)
Thanks for all the support, it means so much,



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