Well I have written a bunch about my diagnosis of cancer and journey through healing. Through all of it I have managed to stay mostly positive and even grateful. You have commented on this time and again. You say I am inspiring and powerful. You say I make you feel what I feel through my words. You say you look forward to my next post. You say I am strong.
All of that was finally feeling true for me too. I mean everything I have written is true, but for the longest time I didn’t actually believe that I was inspiring anyone. Every comment I received from you was a pleasant surprise, something to read and re-read, as though I might be convinced.
I truly felt the inspiration that I am for the first time about a week and half ago. I was sitting in the IV room after a treatment, just chatting with the wife of a new patient. I wasn’t saying anything in particular, just really listening to her concerns and having a genuine conversation. Then all of a sudden, I saw myself briefly through her eyes and there I was, inspiration. It was clear as day. I got it.
I am inspiration. I am connection. I am powerful.
That is until my most recent stint in the hospital.
I thought I was going in for a fairly routine and uncomplicated procedure. A hysterectomy. No big deal. I am definitely done having babies. If removing my uterus and ovaries will decrease any chance of recurrence then why not? A preventative measure that although somewhat invasive, has come a long way. The doctor assured me that I would be back on my feet in no time. It was funny actually, while waiting to be taken to surgery, I joked with Mark that although this surgery is way more invasive, it feels less serious and daunting than the lumpectomies did. Maybe because the C word was attached to those surgeries…
Honestly though, surgery felt like old hat to me and right up until the operating room I remained calm. I had one brief moment of, “did I squeeze the kids tight enough this morning?” and then the oxygen mask came to face. I was so aware this time that I could smell and taste the gas I was breathing in. I never could before.
And then like hitting snooze in the morning, the slumber was over. I awoke in the recovery room to a whirlwind of noise and chatter. I have had more than these 3 surgeries in my life and can tell you the recovery room has never been kind to me. I have always felt alone and scared upon awakening from surgery and never understood why they don’t let anyone familiar in that room. Not only can your loved one(s) not be there, but all of the staff are different and unfamiliar too. This time was no different.
I could hear two nurses talking and could tell they were with me but I couldn’t see them. They weren’t talking to me, just about me. They kept behind my head. I kept waiting for them to come around to the side of stretcher so I could see them, but they didn’t. And then they were gone. I was alone.
Turning my head, I could see several nurses surrounding another patient and waited what seemed like ages for someone to come back to me. I began to breathe faster as anxiety set in. And then the pain kicked in. I began to cry and moan, praying that someone would hear me and help. Finally a nurse came over to me. Before relief could set in though, she opened her mouth to reprimand me for my state of mind. She told me that I was making it worse for myself and that she couldn’t read my mind. I told her that I felt alone and she snapped at me, “there are 15 other patients in the room, you are certainly not alone”. I tried to explain to her that I could calm down if only she could stay and hold my hand for a minute. She told me that was not possible and was gone again, just like that.
This is a serious fault in our health care system. Where is the care?
Thankfully, the porter came very quickly and said it was time to move. Before I knew it, I was being wheeled into what was to be home for the next night or two (hopefully one, I kept saying). Mark was already there waiting for me. Relief. I cried to him about what I had just endured and he assured me he wouldn’t leave. I was not alone anymore. I settled in and visited with him and a couple of dear friends, in and out of stone cold madness for the next few hours, squeezing every last minute (and then some) out of visiting hours.
The night was long, waking every 2 hours to pee (which was an ordeal each time). Up at 7am, I counted down the minutes until Mark would arrive, after dropping kids off at school. I knew he would bring me a smoothie to replace the disgrace of a breakfast tray that had been left for me. Seriously, how black coffee, green jello, and apple juice will help someone heal is beyond me???
As the day progressed, I began to feel better. The doctor thought my drain was too fullthough, and along with not having had a bowel movement yet (TMI?), she advised that I stay in the hospital an extra night (shit-no pun intended). As against the idea as I was, I settled into it. My girls came to visit for a while and gave me lots of love. When they all left I felt like everything would be okay. One more night and home tomorrow.
But that is precisely when the real nightmare began…
As soon as the door closed behind my family, the nurse came in to do my vitals. She didn’t even have the blood pressure cuff around my arm yet when she matter-of-factlynotified me that I was going to be moved. “Where?” I asked.
To the hallway.
“No. It cant be. How could you move someone to the hallway?”
“It’s not that bad”, she said. “There is a curtain. It’s private. Will you at least take a look at it?”
“No. I wont stay here. I am going home.”
Before I could even text Mark to come back and get me, two nurses had my bags in hand and moved me to the hallway. They carelessly tossed my things on the new bed. The bedthat was in a tiny alcove of the hallway with a curtain separating it from a busy thoroughfare of doctors, nurses, and cleaning staff. The lights on the other side of the curtain were bright and unfriendly, as were the countless conversations that always seemed to take place directly on the other side.
Mark could not believe the news. He had just arrived home and hadn’t even put the girls to bed yet. That did not stop him from racing back to my rescue though. By the time he arrived back at the hospital, the nurses had convinced me to wait for the resident doctor to come and check me out before leaving.
To my surprise, the resident arrived quite promptly and wasted no time befriending me. She was concerned about me. Concerned about the drain and my impending fever. Fever? That was news to me. She explained that although I didn’t have a fever, it might be because I was taking T3’s which would keep a fever down. She said she would need to see a blood panel on me before she could determine if I was fighting an infection or not and that going home with an infection would be extremely detrimental to my health. And then she too was gone, with the promise to return once the blood work was back.
The lab tech came to draw blood and the tears started pouring down my face as heaving sobs overtook my body. I was worried the blood work would reveal an infection or worse. Once you have gone through the cancer world, the words ‘white blood cells‘ trigger strange reactions.
I’m sure you can imagine that when your insides have just been cut up and removed that a heaving belly does not feel very good. I couldn’t stop it though. Every time I thought I was calming down, the heaving would start again. Mark did his best to help me but I don’t think there was really any hope. The sobbing led to unbearable pain even though the pain medication should have taken effect and that was the final straw. I was convinced I had an infection. And I needed to mind the doctors. Besides, they warned (or threatened) me that if I left against medical advise, that they would not send me home with any pain medication.
They broke me.
Mark left as soon I was settled and told the nurse to ensure that I was woken up at medication time. He was worried that if I waited too long that I would wake up and panic again. She promised him that she would do so and he went home to get some rest.
I woke up an hour or so after my medication was due. At this point, I think I had just accepted that nobody working that night actually cared about me so I didn’t panic. I just slowly got up and shuffled down that hall to the nursing station and requested it. Without so much of a blink of an eye, let alone an apology, my nurse said she would be right with me.
By the way, I did not have an infection and that resident never came back to see me after the blood work results came back. It was all a scare tactic to get me to stay.
I am finally telling this story not for your sympathy. It was months ago now and I am over it. I do think it is important to tell though. It is a dark example of the care that is (not) being offered in our hospitals. Since having this experience others have shared similar stories with me. One of the nurses that night even urged me to write a letter to Alberta Health Services. So that is what needs to happen. If I don’t speak out, who will? What will change? I plan on sending this story in right away.
Do you have a similar story? Did you write a letter? Would you care to share your story here?