Eight days out

I struggle to make doctors see me as a person because my health is a very personal matter and because, if they see me as a person, they will do better work. For example, radiologists find more tumors after being shown pictures of the people whose x-rays they’re studying. My problem with getting doctors to see me as a person is that a lot of doctors, especially surgeons, are hell-bent on staying detached, clinical, sterile, emotionless. They regard a patient’s fear and suffering as an irrelevant and annoying nuisance rather than something requiring compassion. If possible, they would prefer that people just drop off whatever body parts are giving them trouble. I don’t play these games at all well, which is partly why Mark (I call doctors by their given names) is my fourth orthopedist in eleven months.

I gave him the following today. My surgery is next Friday. Mark said I’ll be first in line because he takes the more challenging cases first. I hope this means that he anticipates an easy day.

(Mark, Peggy and I went to the hospital yesterday for my pre-op, and I later wrote the following for my blog. Please don’t take it personally. It is not about you; it is about my fears.)

The clerk says that my surgery will cost $10,000, and that’s just for the O.R. and post-op care. The surgeon’s and the anesthesiologist’s bills will be separate.

The nurse says, “I see that you’re having rotator cuff debridement and tendon reattachment—that is SO PAINFUL. People who have had a lot of joint surgeries say it’s the WORST. We had to take my grandfather back to the hospital after his surgery because his pain got OUT OF CONTROL. Why do you think YOU have this problem?”

“It started in yoga, and was made worse by throwing tennis balls to my blue heeler.”

“Well, you’ll be throwing UNDERHANDED from now on, EVEN IF the surgery works.”

Nursey is TOTALLY UNHAPPY that Peggy is going on TWO TRIPS the month after my surgery. We try to explain that these are IMPORTANT trips that were planned LONG AGO, and that I FULLY support. Nursey frowns.

Nursey takes my blood pressure; it is WAY higher than it has ever been.

She takes me to the anesthesiologist’s “closet,” which really is smaller than your average walk-in closet. After a half hour’s wait during which we summon him twice, the anesthesiologist arrives. He looks BORED and SLEEPY, or maybe JUST BORED, or maybe JUST SLEEPY.

“May I have a nerve block instead of a general,” I ask hopefully. “I HATE being put to sleep.”

“No, but you can have both.”


“Yes, the block might not be enough without the general, but with the block, you can have a lighter general. Also, the block lasts half a day, so you will need fewer narcotics after you wake up.”

“Are there many risks with the block?”

“Just one big one really. It sometimes deadens the nerve that makes you BREATHE.”

“Uh, the nerve WILL WAKE UP again—right?”

“Well, they’re following patients now to see if any of them EVER recover.”

I wonder why “THEY” don't already know this. Nerve blocks aren’t NEW; are they? But I don't ask. I'm too busy developing FACIAL TICS and HYPERVENTILATING. I remember a documentary in which a woman was BEHEADED in a sports arena in Saudi Arabia, and I envy her because the physical part of her suffering was over FAST.

Peggy puts her hand on my arm. I assume she has a question. No, she's just trying to CALM me DOWN. Not that I'm EXCITED. I mean ALL I’m doing is turning my LIFE and my ability to BREATHE without a respirator over to a bunch of STRANGERS who I hope aren’t in the 50% of all doctors and nurses who are BELOW AVERAGE. If I’m REALLY lucky, none of my ABOVE AVERAGE doctors and nurses will be ALCOHOLICS, or have COLDS, or be in the middle of MESSY DIVORCES, or HATE MEN, or have stayed up all night PARTYING. MAYBE the MAJOR EARTHQUAKE that is FIFTY YEARS OVERDUE won’t hit, and MAYBE the anesthesiologist won’t SNEEZE while he’s injecting my NERVE BLOCK.

“Well, if a nerve block won’t do anything worse than destroy my ability to BREATHE, sure, LET ME HAVE IT. For dessert, I would like DILAUDID, FENTANYL, VICODIN, DEMEROL, and PERCOCET, all mixed together and smothered in a thick and creamy MORPHINE SAUCE. Oh, by the way, could your bring us some VALIUM STICKS?”

After finishing up at the hospital, we go to Fred Myers to buy EXTRA LARGE SHIRTS that will fit OVER my arm, and VELCRO SHOES because I won’t be able to wear a regular shirt or tie regular shoes, maybe for MONTHS.

I decide that I want a drink. Then I think that, no, I NEED a drink—a double. If liquor didn’t turn me into a bumbling, stumbling, dizzy, nauseated, cotton mouthed moron, I might come to like it. Even with these downsides, I like how I feel WITH IT better than how I felt WITHOUT IT.

“How about a nice movie to take your mind off things,” Peggy asked.

It might take a bit more than a movie, I think, but don't say anything.


Gaston Studio said...

LOL, that was a trip! I think you've assessed the situation perfectly Snow.
Glad to see you're keeping your sense of humor and I agree with you, it would take a whole lot more than a few drinks and a movie to take my mind off the impending operation. ;0

Natalie said...

Absolutely horrifying. No wonder you feel the way you do.
I'm hoping that with all the positive energy surrounding you here, and Peggy and Joanne and the gang there, we can rustle up a great experience for you. Hugs to you.x

Snowbrush said...

Hi, Studio, or may I take the liberty of calling you Gaston? I think I've assessed the situation pretty well too, although I'm definitely one to magnify the fears and minimize the happy thoughts. If I were THAT fearful though, I would back out.

Natalie, I've thought much about your reassurances, and am relying upon them somewhat. Yes, I have ample support at this end, and if you really do send your five kids to take care of the dogs and the housework, I will be better off than I was with two arms. Even if I do get well, I wouldn't let anyone know, because then they would quit taking care of me.

Snowbrush said...

P.S. In case you were wondering what the surgeon in the picture is looking at; it's a TV screen. During an arthroscopic surgery, there is a camera at the end of one of those tubes that are stuck in the patient. Arthroscopic procedures offer the advantage of a faster recovery, but they are more challenging for the surgeon than open procedures.

His kajirah said...

Oh my gosh Snow, you cracked me up. But it was all so very true and real.

Am thinking I'll be home before you will. Am having mine at the surgery center and will be home that evening, unless something happens then would be taken to the hospital where I had my pre op at. So will be thinking of you.

Humor, strength and hope,

Snowbrush said...

I was told by the nurse at the hospital that if my surgery is early (which the doctor later said it will be) that I will probably go home the same day, but if my surgery is late, I will probably stay over.

Good luck to us both. I can't imagine how you must feel knowing that you will be largely immobile for two months. It is only my arm that will be so confined, and I'm going crazy wondering how I will be able to stand that.

I went ahead and filled my prescription for Norco, which the pharmacist said is twice as strong as Vicodin. The trouble is that all narcotics make me itch (Benadryl only helps some). I asked him what on earth people do who really can't tolerate narcotics, and he just shook his head.

Lisa said...

i can see your fears- your medical team dont seem to be doing a great job of calming your nerves- they are not presenting you wiht the 'united, professional' front you expect and deserve.
Maybe becasue they see 'it' everyday, they lose sight of the fact that they dont see 'you' everyday.
sad but true.
i am very good at musttering up angelic help dear Snow and will make sure you have your own personal cheer squad surrounding you 24/7.
your faith may get shaky but mine wont, guareenteed.
blessed be friend, i so love your blog xx

Gaston Studio said...

Since I've the liberty to shorten your moniker to 'Snow', I give you the liberty to call me anything you like, but I really answer to Jane.

Snowbrush said...

So be it, Jane. I gave my blog and myself the same name in order to keep things simple. I know people have their reasons for doing their blogs differently, but it sure would help me out if we all went by one name.

Lisa, I had just as soon they paint a grim picture so that I won't feel like something is going terribly wrong if it hurts like hell. Besides, it's not just that one nurse. Everywhere I go, people say pretty much the same horrible things. I will eagerly await that angelic help.

I was hoping that you in particular would go back and read my last post as well as my current one, and you did. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Matawheeze said...

I do so understand your fears and the resort to humor. On my last major surgery I was informed that as an anesthesia risk there was a decent chance I wouldn't wake up - ever. They had to tell me but it made it hard to say a cheery "Let's go" at surgery time.

"a lot of doctors, especially surgeons, are hell-bent on staying detached, clinical, sterile, emotionless." I agree - but then I've not been in a profession where people ARE likely to die despite my best efforts to prevent that. Wonder how I'd feel?

Anyway, I'll be thinking about you and looking forward to the POST surgery blog!

Patti Cakes said...

Hey there! I've been to your little part of the world too. I went to school to drive a big rig and went on the road with my hubby. We joined Interstate Dist Trucking Co and flew there for our truck.

I didn't last long on the road. I loved driving a truck but I hated being away from home. Johns been driving for about 14 yrs.

This is a pretty part of the country. I've lived in Tennessee off and on since I was 8 yrs old.

Thanks for stopping by and come visit me again.

Domestically Disabled Girl said...

Umm, time for a new hospital? Good luck, i do not envy you.
To answer your question, I do not run outside all year long. I am pretty much a wimp, so I last until about november, and head back out around this time. I live out away from town, so it is dangerous to run on my streets in the summer, much less with snow and ice on the road.
I enjoyed your last post on religion. I find it amusing (for me) that you enjoy studying religion, as I am the opposite. I will call myself a Jesus follower, but hesitate at the term Christian, and dislike religion... I can't wrap my mind around it, and don't think it has anything to do with Jesus. I love reading others points of view, so I enjoyed your perspective.

Snowbrush said...

DD, this IS a new hospital. My wife works at the other one, and that is where I've always gone, but my latest surgeon prefers this one (his office is across the street). I already see things I like about this one, but then there is a lot to be said for the other one too. This one feels more small town hospital; the other one feels more like a major medical center.

Renee said...

Boy oh boy do I ever get you.

At the beheaded, I seriously choked from laughter on my tea. I know, when you are in the middle of it, it feels like get it over with already. Not only for our sake but our familes too.

The best thing about you stoping at my blog is I am now here.

Hope all goes well.

Renee xoxoxo

Snowbrush said...

See, Renee, you're not the only one with a black sense of humor (not that you thought you were). I'm just glad you didn't choke on your tea. (Now why do you suppose I put an extra t on the word tea, erased it, and then put it back again? Something weird is going on here with my subconscious.)

Renee said...

I kept looking at the picture to this post and for the life of me I couldn't figure out what the hell it was.

I realize now it is your shoulder. Ouch....

Love Renee xoxox

Barry said...

Well lets hope your medical team are better at surgery than their bedside manner. I was half laughing and half appalled at the treatment you were receiving.

No wonder you needed a drink.

Rebecca Ramsey said...

I can't believe how emotionally unintelligent some doctors are. Maybe I'm just naive but it seems to me that they really should be plumbers or mechanics.

I'm sorry you're going through all this. It's awesome that you have such a sense of humor about it all! You're great at telling the story. I hope you keep writing it all down!

CoyotePrime said...

Best of luck with this trying time, Snowbrush. Hope to see you up and blogging again really soon. :-)

julie mitchell said...

You are a funny man...the horrific vision you paint is so very funny...Like Lisa I'm pretty good at sending in the angels...you're on the list!!

Thank you for visiting my blog...It's nice having you there...

MarionL said...

Hey, 'former' Southern Boy! (No such thing as a 'former' Southerner, you know, because it's in your blood). Ahem... Thanks for visiting my chaotic blog. (My Mama is from Pascagoula, Mississippi, so you and I just may be related. You know how it is down here...LOL!)

I wanted to stop by and wish you good luck with your surgery and commiserate with you about doctors. I had a 'simple' (misnomer, right?) back surgery over a year ago and wish I'd never done it. (The surgeon "forgot" to tell me beforehand that I could have permanent nerve damage, have a totally dead right foot and even worse back pain than I had BEFORE the surgery). I questioned him thoroughly and he said, "You'll be 100% better and this will take care of your pain problem." NOT!

I was told 3 years ago to have a knee replacement due to degenerating cartilege in my right knee. The doc was giving me cortisone shots in the knee. I did some research and found out that cortisone destroys cartilege! I stopped the shots and refused the surgery and my knee is much better with just walking and natural supplements.

My son-in-law is a surgeon-in-training and I constantly tell him to, above all, LISTEN to his patients. I think he'll be a good one, I mean, he had the good taste to marry my daughter. Tee-hee. Okay, I'm rambling now (a Southern thing?) So, GOOD LUCK with your surgery and a belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY to you! My best girlfriend turns 60 in June and we're going to party like it's 2999! LOL! Hugs, Prayers and Blessings. (PS: I, too, study world religions and ab-SOUL-lutely loved your post about that Bible translation. I've GOT to have it!)

Gaston Studio said...

I know where you are today Snow and am sending lots of prayers your way.

Also wanted you to know that I left a little something for you on my Blog Hunt list yeseterday.

Lisa said...

very quiet here dear friend- i thought we still had about three days to go....... xx

Snowbrush said...

Lisa, it is now Wednesday morning, which means that I have about 48 hours to go, my surgery being sometime Friday morning. Thank you for thinking of me as your friend. I value our connection.

Jane, I appreciate the prayers.

Matawheeze, I haven't been a doctor, but I have been an ambulance driver, a funeral director, a phlebotomist, and a respiratory therapy technician, so I know it's hard to maintain compassion with patient after patient for hours each day. Yet, a doctor's concern is probably as important as his technical skills.

Marion, yes cortisone destroys cartilage, which is why most doctors limit its use. I've had cortisone shots in my left knee (1), both shoulders (3), and my neck (3). They give physical therapy time to work, and in that, they're good, but then physical therapy often fails anyway. I'm sorry you're such a grave anesthesia risk.

Thank you for your kind words, Judy.

And I thank you too, Rebecca.

Yep, Barry, a drink was just what I needed. I could use one now in fact, but it's only 10 a.m., and I have a full day.

Coyote, your political ideas appear to be much like my own, and I always enjoy reading them.

I am sorry I am going to be a tad indisposed for a while, and unable to read your blogs. The doctor said I can type with both hands, but I'm not sure how. Yesterday, a man from a medical supply place brought out a sling that comes with a three inch pad to hold my arm out from my chest. He also brought a cold water circulator, and said I am to have someone chill my shoulder with it for about one half hour on the hour for two weeks. This prospect left me fairly breathless.

Rob-bear said...

Thanks for dropping by my blog, Snowbrush. Good to meet you.

I was struck by your opening comments about wanting to be seen as a person. That touched the medical ethicist part of me, and I said, "Well, of course." That is the core of the principle of "Autonomy" in medical ethics. Your fears and suffering are real to you -- and if the doc is going to help you, he has to deal meaningfully with ALL of you.