Sunday, August 7, 2011

Playing "Operation" was the best as a kid; not so much as the patient

PS. This is the longest blog saga ever: start with "Breaking the Ice" and keep readings my posts chronologically or you probably won't know what's going on. 

"What the heck was this guy doing?" Dr. E puzzled over my lymphoscintigram. "It's clearly in both underarms." My mom and I nodded in agreement. Dr. E wrinkled his brows, "Well, I'm going to biopsy both armpit lymph nodes to be sure."

He smiled and placed his hand over mine, "Everything is ready for you in the operating room. You'll be in the recovery room before you know it."

Already dressed in a gown, with my IV already starting a cocktail of drugs, I was feeling very calm. Dr. E's easy-going demeanor calmed me further; he's got this. This was how to calm down a patient. Take some notes Mr. Lymphoscintigram Radiologist.

My journey to the hospital had been anything but relaxing.

Dr. E was, of course, at the most prestigious hospital we could find near my college. The hospital spread for several miles with different buildings, schools and clinics peppered throughout the campus.

I assumed that Dr. E would be performing the operation in his main hospital office, and that's where we showed up. My mom and I got there, and were immediately informed that he was at his other set of ORs. On the other side of the campus. It was already 7:55AM, and I was flipping out. We were supposed to be there at 8AM. What if they gave my spot away? Would they be angry at me? I hated when they were angry at me, all glowering with disapproval.

And of course, it was my fault. Looking at my pre-op packet, I saw the address was different. Duh, K8, maybe you should check the address before showing up for major surgery. I plead insanity; the stress warped my brain.

To make matters worse, the hospitals were in the middle of a city. And it was 8AM, full rush hour traffic hour. I was agitated the entire way to the other hospital. I hate being late.

We arrived at 8:15ish, and I ran all the way up to the surgery check-in area. I was out of breath and flustered when I handed the receptionist my surgery papers. With my luck, it probably wasn't even the right day.

But it was, and she seemed completely disinterested in my reasons for being late. In fact, she didn't seem to care that I was late at all. She stamped a few things on my forms and said, "Have a seat."

I have never worked so hard to get somewhere on time before and then waited for 3 hours.

The wait was long. I didn't want to read, study, flip through a magazine, or play with the giant colored block cube in the corner.

I would typically be all about this
At the time, I just felt a sense of restlessness. But looking back on it now, I was nervous. I'd never had general anesthesia before, nor had I ever had any sort of operation. I knew the risks of general anesthesia, and I was trying not to think about that. But we all know how well not thinking about the white bear works. Let's think about something besides death from general anesthesia, K8. I mean, even if you died, there isn't much you can do about it. Your parents would take care of everything. Hmm, I wonder what coffin size I would be.

Awesome, brain. Thanks for that gem of a thought.

So those of you reading this who are medical students, or doctors, nurses, PA's, pretty much anyone in the healthcare field: remember that this is what some of your patients are thinking. And we can't help it. Anything you can do to ease our fear is well appreciated.

So finally, I was accepted to the pre-op area. I was undressed, gowned, IV-ed and asked a million and a half questions. My mom and I had to circle the mole and the underarms with a big purple marker. It's a good precaution, so he made sure he excised the right mole. And of course, we all know the story of the doctor who cut off the wrong leg of the patient. Can never be too careful.

The prep nurse then informed me that I would need to remember my name, my date of birth and what operation (wide local excision of a mole AND sentinel node biopsy of both under arm lymph nodes) I was getting while being put under. Yes, let me repeat that for you. I need to somehow remember my entire operation, my name and date of birth while on the edge of consciousness.

It was hard. I'm staring up at giant mesmerizing OR lights, with about 10 faces around me, all with bated breath waiting for me to explain to them what operation they are performing on me. Excellent. I got this. The "What is your name?" question threw me at first, took me about 10 seconds to remember that one, but after that, it was smooth sailing.

I thought to myself, "Wow am I sleepy", and I was out.

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