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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Wretched Wednesday

Hell is watching someone you love in misery, and being helpless to do anything about it.

I've tried writing this entry about five times now... let me see... two... three... no, SIX times, now, this is the seventh. I get a couple of paragraphs in, realize the writing quality is wretched, and while that isn't something that holds me back often on this blog, still, I want to try to recapitulate this day reasonably well. So I go back, delete what I've written, and start over.

The first sentence probably came into being on the third attempt, and it is, to date, the only survivor of that and all concurrent ones. It seems to sum up the day pretty well.

SuperGirlfriend is currently in the bedroom nodding off to sleep. There were times today when she and I concurrently despaired of ever getting her out of that goddam hospital and back home, after what is laughingly called 'minor outpatient surgery'. But let me backpedal --

For a scheduled 7:30 op time, we had to be at the hospital at 5:30 this morning. I don't drive, and SG knew she wouldn't be able to drive back, so SG's mom showed up at 5 am to drive us over (she waited with me all day to drive SG back, too... she's a good lady). This meant setting the alarm for 4 am. We were both scared and stressed about the 'minor outpatient surgery', so neither of us slept well the night before. So that's today's first little misery -- stress and fear on very little sleep.

I hate our entire healthcare system. There is something profoundly rotten at the heart of it. I cannot help but think, in my fuzzy headed new age way, that our entire emphasis on healing a sick or hurt human being is horribly wrong headed. In this I am nearly a Christian Scientist; I truly believe that there should be an effective, entirely non-physical way of healing nearly any truama to the body through willpower, faith, and mental effort. It seems to me to be ludicrous that something can be wrong with our own bodies and we can have no idea it's so, and even more ludicrous that we can become aware something is wrong with our bodies, and have to go to a stranger and describe what we are feeling to them so they can make slightly more educated guesses as to what is wrong with us and then act on those guesses as if they were inspired truth. We live in our bodies. It seems to me we should be well enough attuned to them to always know exactly what condition they are in.

But that, of course, would be in a better world.

I also hate all this cutting and using various radiations and probes and medications with side effects and all that other horribly intrusive physical crap that we have evolved due to our culture's material bias. The Roman Empire has a lot to answer for, and our obsession with taking an empirical engineering approach to every problem is one of the biggest items on that bill.

But what I especially hate is that there is no love in our healthcare system. Love is left in the waiting room, while highly paid strangers who cannot possibly value the human body they are working on as much as they should visit all these intrusions and unpleasantries and traumas and indignities on that body, in hopes that these various unnatural stresses and contortions and tortures will conspire to alleviate the condition that was afflicting the body when it came in, without doing more damage to it in the meantime than the original problem already had.

I hate that the people who work on the people we love don't love them. I hate that it's just a job to them, and they're all in it for the money. I hate the fact that a 21st Century hospital is a temple to Mammon, rather than Asclepius.

So they took SuperGirlfriend back and prepped her, and after an endless wait they came and got us and let us sit with her while she was in a small room waiting for her various doctors to arrive. She'd been promised medication to help relieve her anxiety, and everyone could see she was quietly freaking out, but of course, the nurse coudn't give her the medication until the aenesthesiologist showed up and put in the actual written order. (Apparently, while we were out in the front waiting room, they'd had to set up an IV for SuperGirlfriend, and she has lousy veins so they'd had to do it twice, and the first time they stuck her, the lights had flickered overhead. Now, the nurse had pretty much ignored SG telling her how much she hated needles and how she often just fainted when someone jabbed one into her, but when the lights nearly blew as the first IV slid into SG's wrist, that nurse re-thought her position. SG was apparently radiating some major distress on every psychic wavelength, and some of it must have leaked over into a minor psychokinetic event.)

Anyway, eventually the drug-doc made an appearance and showed us his patented Confident & Assertive bedside manner, which only cracked a little around the edges when I questioned him at length about exactly what drugs he was planning to give SG and what metabolic systems they effected and how specifically they worked (I learned, to my surprise, that there is now have a drug that will induce true sleep, rather than various drugs that simply cause artificial unconsciousness, which is not true sleep at all, and that drug, along with a few others, was part of the aenesthetic cocktail he was going to give SG to put her out). Then he got the order for the damned Versed in and SG finally got to relax a little. Then her surgeon (the one SG credits with saving her life when she nearly died giving birth to SuperAdorable Kid) showed up, and filled out some paperwork, and I questioned her somewhat, too, and then they wheeled SG off.

We'd been told the operation would take 60 to 90 minutes, that SG would be in the stage 1 recovery room for an hour at the most, then she'd be moved back to a stage 2 recovery room where we could sit with her again, probably for at most another hour while she got over the medication, after which we could take her home. So, with surgery scheduled for 7:30, it looked like she'd be done around 11 am and we'd be home by noon at the latest.

Let me digress here, before I go into details about how badly, even psychotically wrong all those cheerful and confident predictions turned out to be, by noting that SG had four different procedures today. I don't want to invade her privacy (although she may well give details on her own blog), but for all that the hospital and the doctor insisted on describing these as minor, outpatient procedures, the fact remains, SG underwent a great deal of physical stress and trauma to her most intimate areas today, and she was heavily sedated while it happened -- a process that also causes enormous stress and trauma to both the body and the mind. This is the sort of thing that, back in the golden age before managed health care, would have resulted in at the very least an overnight stay at the hospital, and nobody would have blinked if a doctor had decided to keep SG there for observation for 2 or 3 days.

But this was outpatient surgery, and jumping ahead, let me tell you, the idiot nurse SG got landed with in the stage 2 recovery room was visibly fretting, when SG wasn't recovering as fast from the aenesthetic as they wanted her to, as to what they were going to do about this. Why? Because they CAN'T keep SG overnight for this kind of procedure, or to recover from this kind of procedure, and the reason is simple -- the insurance company involved won't okay it. So that nurse was practically chewing her nails at the thought that SG might not get out of there that day -- but, trust me, all SG and I and her mom wanted was to get her out of there, anyway, so we were on board with the plan.

SG's mom and I went out to Denny's for a mediocre breakfast (we each got the French Toast Slam, which SG's mom should not have had because she's diabetic, but I have no control over SG's family). Then we returned and sat back down in the waiting room and tried hard not to fall asleep while we waited for the little pager-thing they'd given us to go off, which would mean there was some kind of news or maybe we could go back and see SG now.

And we waited.

And we waited.

Finally, some time shortly after 9:30, we were taken into a small conference room where SG's doctor met us, still in her scrubs with her weird looking hairnet on. The procedures had gone fine -- she didn't explain why they'd taken so much longer than we'd been told they would, and I was, strangely, too stressed to ask -- and we were told that it would probably be another 45 minutes and then we could go back to see SG in the stage 2 recovery room.

So we went back and sat down again in the outer waiting room... and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

It is horrible to sit in a room knowing that somewhere nearby, someone you love more than you love your own life is disoriented and confused, probably in pain, and not only can't you do anything about it, you are not even allowed to go to them and at least give them the comfort of having someone familiar and beloved sitting with them. And it is equally horrible to sit out there and have no idea what is going on. No matter how often medical professionals reassure me as to the simplicity and ease and lack of hazard of any kind of surgery, I refuse to believe it. When you cut someone open, there is hazard. When you use artificial means to make a conscious person unconscious, there is hazard. People die from unforseen complications in surgery and in aenesthesia every day. Medical professionals are only human beings just like the rest of us, they make mistakes, and often when they do, lives are shattered beyond repair.

So we sat there, and we waited, and I, at least, was stressed out of my mind, and scared, and tired, although I was trying not to show it becaus I didn't want to freak SG's mom out. But I badly wanted to see SG or at least know what was going on with her, and I couldn't.

About 11:30, after I'd badgered the desk twice for non-existent news, I got called up there over the PA system. They handed me a phone. It was someone named Kim in the Stage 1 recovery room. SuperGirlfriend was still extremely nauseous from the aenesthesia; they'd given her a dose of something called Finagrin (I'm doubtless screwing up the spelling of that) that would make her sleep for another hour. The nurse at the desk recommended that SG's mom and I get some lunch, so we went down to the hospital cafeteria and ate some typically lousy hospital cafeteria food, and then we walked back, and sat back down... and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

About 2 o'clock, I guess, or a little after, they finally told us we could go back and see SG. She'd been moved to the Stage 2 recovery room. So we went in. She looked horribly overstressed, and was obviously utterly miserable... she advised us in strained whispers that she was terribly nauseated and in quite a bit of pain. She had this very annoying nurse hovering over her asking her to quantify the pain she was in on a scale of 1 to 10.

Over the next fifteen minutes, SG visibly got stronger, but the nausea didn't seem to be abating at all. The nurse flatly refused to give SG anything for the pain through her IV (which they were using at that point to run in saline), because that would extend her stay in the hospital and they were not at all subtly trying to run her the hell out of there. What the nurse wanted SG to do was take two different pain pills, because by the regs, SG couldn't leave until half an hour after she'd taken the last pain pill. SG didn't want to take a pain pill because she'd already thrown up twice in the Stage 1 recovery room and she felt like if she took a pill she'd do it again.

So, I sat there, with SG's mom, and watched the love of my life experience the most heart wrenching misery imaginable, and I couldn't do anything at all to help her, which sucked profoundly.

Finally, after about 45 minutes, and switching positions on her bed a few times, SG felt well enough to try taking the first pain pill. That helped get rid of the nausea, so half an hour later, she took the rather more serious narcotic, which, after another fifteen minutes, pretty much damped the pain down to manageable levels.

Now, you'd think, having finally gotten the damned pills in her, and having shown such anxiety to get rid of us, that the idiot nurse would at that point be happy to let us leave. But, as John Belushi would say, noooooooooo... first she had to ask if SG had gone to the bathroom yet, to see if bladder function had been restored. So SG had to get dressed and shuffle off to the bathroom, where idiot nurse left her inside and went off to gossip with some other idiot nurse, so SG was alone when she came out and got halfway back to the recovery room without any help at all.

Then, since SG hadn't made a lot of water, idiot nurse had to do a bladder scan. So she did that, and that came back satisfactory, so idiot nurse said she'd send us home, although if SG hadn't had good bladder function by six or eight hours later, we should come back so she could be catheterized.

So, were we roundin' third and headed for home? Well, no, because, you know, hospitals won't let you walk out, you have to pushed in a wheelchair, again, for insurance reasons. So idiot nurse went off to order a wheelchair. We got SG dressed and waited another fifteen minutes, and then I went out looking. I couldn't find idiot nurse, but I did find four empty wheelchairs in a hall, so I grabbed another nurse and asked if could push SG out to our car in one of those wheelchairs. She said of course I couldn't, but she went and found idiot nurse, who said it was okay for us to leave, and then someone else pushed SG out to the car, and finally we got home.

I've been waiting on SG hand and foot since getting home, which is my privilege and pleasure, of course. But it's hard to see her in so much pain and not be able to really do anything for her. Still, she's finally sleeping now, and I'm hoping she'll be feeling much better when she wakes up tomorrow.

Okay. This is probably still wretchedly written, but I don't care. I want to get it outside myself and move on.

Oh, in health care related news, I'm finally over my persistent hacking cough, thanks entirely to SuperGirlfriend, and a nebulizer she uses to treat the Super Kids, all of whom have respiratory issues of some sort. She gave me intensive treatments over the course of last week, and finally last weekend I seem to have coughed my last. Not that I can't relapse, but we still have the nebulizer and plenty of Albuterol, so I know what to do if that happens.

Thanks, by the way, to everyone out there who sent good wishes to SG and me on this very trying day.


At 10:33 PM , Blogger Julia said...

My heart goes out to you.

You're post brought back memories of surgical waiting rooms and agonizing hours waiting within them.

Having been on both sides of the operating adventure, it is definitely much harder to be in the waiting room than on the operating table.

And even though outpatient surgery seems harsh, remember no one can take care of your lady the way that you can.

At 11:55 PM , Anonymous Nate said...

Assuming that it was the same 'outpatient' surgery my mom had some years back, I have a rather good idea what SGF is going through, because my mom went through it too. There aren't enough ouches in the world...

By all means continue to wait on that most gallant lady hand and foot. Not only does she need it right now, she certainly deserves it. Give her my best too.

At 7:38 AM , Blogger MJ Norton said...

This - both in general and very specifically - is entirely too familiar to me. I've spent entirely too many times in the same situation, and one of those just last year was for the same procedure.

The differences for us were a) Ari's background is in healthcare, and b) we've unfortunately spent so much time with doctors and in hospitals that there came to be a lot of first name basis contact. Both have their advantages, but I'd rather we not have had to pay the price. There are times when "routine surgery" has picked up an unintended meaning around here. As a result, all of the pre- and post-operative procedures became familiar routines years ago. There's a strange (if intrinsically unfortunate) nostalgia in seeing someone go through it all with fresh eyes.

It's the rare procedure that goes off completely like clockwork, and I've become adept at going off and busying myself until the hospital contacted me. At first it seemed wrong, but before long I saw there was no point in my staying uselessly in the hospital when I could be doing something useful. With luck this won't have to become a skill set for you.

All the best to her once more, and be sure she's not reluctant to make use of those pain meds. If it appears they're going to be getting low then start crowing in advance; you want her to come through this with a few extras -- not to just have them around, but also for the psychological advantage of knowing they're there to fall back on; that alone is part of pain management.

At 4:51 PM , Anonymous highlanders mom said...

As a vet of hospitals I will be the first to tell you that everything they tell you is based on some mythical time frame made up someone unknown! Outpt surgery is another myth for anything other than a hangnail!!! Hopefully SG is feeling somewhat better today and the surgery will begin to help soon.
I truly hate what health insurance plans have done to the health care system in this country-sign me up for socialized medicine!!!
The 1-10 pain scale thing is ridiculous--but it is required in ALL the documentation a nurse does; and if we don't do it we get nasty memos and get dissed on our evals--which is reflected in our yearly raises [ if we get them]
I feel the need to stand up for nurses' here; it's an honorable profession that I have been a member of for almost 30 years. In that time I have watched excellant nurses leave due to the pressures from management to work more, see patients less and worry more about the paper work and insurance regs than the patients we are sworn to care for. I stay because I keep hoping that I can effect change one patient and one nurse at a time; but it becomes more frustrating all the time. Thank the goddess I am used to beating myself up--I raised four sons and my first born writes this blog!Hoping tomorrow will be a better day for both of you--I have 2 days off!!

At 5:02 PM , Blogger Opus P. Penguin said...

Highlander, I so empathize with you. It's a terrible system and one day we'll look back with horror at how barbaric chemotherapy, biopsies, and surgery in general used to be. At least it's over now and you're out of there and now the healing can start. And it's good that you have this outlet to get these wretched feelings out of your head. Although I know you will, take good care of SG. Love is better than anything in a bottle.

I've been on both sides of that door, too. And in emergency rooms. That's the worst. I've watched in helpless agony in my pajamas as fluids dripped into my half-conscious husband, as the bags emptied and he was ignored for hours. I waited four hours for my mother-in-law's double mastectomy and then an hour more because the staff couldn't quite get it together to check her into her room. I was in for an "outpatient procedure" that was more complicated than expected (an ovarian cyst that was double the size the surgeon had anticipated) and they had trouble rousing me from the anaesthesia (you do not want the first words you hear coming out of surgery to be "oh, thank God.") and I was so nauseous I wanted to die, yet they kicked me out that day anyhow. I was told I could be back to work in "a couple of days" but I was out for two weeks.

So thank your stars and higher powers that it's over and everything's all right.

Go forth and love and be thankful.

At 6:02 PM , Blogger SuperFiancee said...

I hate seeing the worry in your eyes. But, you have been everything I could have ever wanted and needed and more. And I'm sorry I put you through this, but I'm hopeful that things will be better, for both of us, from here on out.

I know how much you appreciated me being there with you (almost a year ago). Never mind that I'm the one that put you there...;) But I'm so very thankful that you were there with me.

Thanks, too, to everyone around here who has been so very thoughtful. It really helps!!

I love you, Sweetie!! (But no more sex. Ever.)

At 6:18 PM , Blogger MJ Norton said...

"(But no more sex. Ever.)"


So... you guys got married? ;)

At 4:51 AM , Anonymous S.M. Stirling said...

Sorry to hear things didn't go exactly as planned. Still, if we weren't unrealistically optimistic, life would be intolerable.

You've both got my sympathy and hopes for early, complete recovery.

At 6:52 AM , Blogger Highlander said...


Sorry, didn't mean to evoke bad memory-juju at you. I know intellectually that SG is in good hands now, given how much I love her. I just feel hugely inadequate to provide her with the care she needs. Times like this I wish I had some mystical healing touch. Thanks for the good thoughts.


Thanks for the kind wishes. See? If you'd just move to River City, you could help with this stuff. Now there's a draw, eh?


I think SG has finally started to embrace the joys of pain medication. At the moment, she's not in pain, just nauseated, which seems to be #2 on the Hit Parade of Surgery After Effects. Either way, neither of us are sleeping at the moment, when we'd both like to be. But it will give me an opportunity to blog.


If I gave the impression I was putting nurses down in general or as a profession, please believe that I'm not. The nurse SG had assigned to her after her surgery was truly aggravating, that's all -- clearly far more concerned with keeping SG on some kind of optimal managed care schedule than actually giving her the kind of care she needed. I understand the necessity for it, but nurses should at least be able to disguise it better. I've also never liked medical professionals that speak to their charges as if said charges are half wits. I don't like it when they do it to me, and it especially irks me when I see them doing it with SG. But thanks for your kind thoughts. I really wish you lived closer to us; I'd feel better if you could look in on SG from time to time. But we'll get by.


Thanks for the sympathy. Hey, SG wants to know, am I the well meaning boyfriend who shrunk your skirt in college? If so, I don't remember it. I'm thinking it can't be me, but I can't recollect anyone else you dated besides He Who Must Not Be Named, and I wouldn't think you'd stop at referring to him as only 'well meaning'.


Okay, no more sex. ;)


Thanks for the positive energy. I try not to be unrealistically optimistic, but I suppose it does take some of that simply to get through the day without dwelling on the long list of things that could wipe us all out at any time that we have absolutely no control over (Alpha Centauri going supernova 4 years ago; you know, stuff like that.)

Nonetheless, I try to avoid foolish optimism in my day to day life whenever I can. However, I am gullible, especially with experts in their field. Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe.

We both appreciate the positive energy, though. Thanks very much... to all of you.

At 10:27 AM , Blogger Opus P. Penguin said...

No, you can tell SG that you didn't shrink my skirt (jeez, the most innocent comments I make sound dirty). It was Tom, a pretty nice guy I saw on and off during my sophomore and junior years. Not much on the ball and kind of corny, but nice enough, and he had a hot car and a lot of money and liked to take me to clubs and out to dinner. My roommates liked him better than I did, so they'd let him in while I was out to "surprise" me. One day he thought he'd be sweet and do my laundry, but...


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