The Surgical Observation Ward.
After my surgery, while coming to what senses I have in the recovery room, I was informed that I would not in fact being going up to the private room I had requested, but instead would be staying overnight in a multi-bed ward called the Surgical Observation Unit or something like that. They told me that is was for “staffing reasons”.
What I have come to realize since, partly from research online, was that this is where “high risk” post operative patients are placed so they can get a better level of nursing care. In case, you know, you start bleeding, or go into convulsions, or the surgeon’s watch starts beeping inside your leg. Things like that.
At first I was miffed. Housed with commoners? How dare they! And with members of the opposite sex? Too horrid to even think about!
But I was very grateful in the end to have spent the night in that ward because the care I received was first class. There weren’t too many of us I don’t think. I actually spent the night thinking the room was much smaller than it turned out to be. The next morning when I hobbled over to the bathroom on my own, I saw that it was an L shaped ward, with more beds, full, on the other side of the nurses’ station.
I wasn’t even sure how many I shared my side of the room with. I knew there was no one right across from me, and I suppose that was a concession to my royal status, and the person next to me was very quiet, but kitty corner there was a man who had apparently had a knee operation, and who was dealing with a lot more pain and issues than I was. I forgave him for keeping me awake half the night with his moans and his being sick and calling for nurses. He seemed almost embarrassed to be troubling anyone. He would explain that his pain level was a 7 or 8 (these arbitrary numbers we are asked to make up to convey pain – they gave me a sheet weeks before the operation with face diagrams to suggest the count level, 10 being your face scrunched up like you like just ate something very bad). And then he would apologize for being in such pain. It was hard to be mad at him, although he was mainly responsible for me not sleeping more than an hour at a time all night.
The other thing also responsible for a restless sleep was that, after smugly thinking to myself I did not have to pee when this man was having so many issues with it himself, I ended up having to pee about 3 or 4 times through the night. It was the water and apple juice diet I was on.
I hadn’t eaten in about 20 hours but I didn’t feel very hungry, so I did not rise up in rage when the nurse informed me that she had sent my dinner away earlier. But I was very thirsty and apple juice also meant sugar so I kept asking for that. The first time the nurse came by to ask me if I needed to pee I said, smugly, “no! I’m good.” But she wanted to play with the ultrasound machine they use to see how much liquid is in your bladder and I decided to let her, more out of curiosity than anything.
As she placed it over me she asked me if I had ever had a hysterectomy or had any other issues with my womb or uterus. I looked at her and (major reveal for some of you here?) said, “Ummm… actualllly… I never HAD those parts. I’m transgender.” She didn’t miss a beat. Just smiled and said “Oh, ok!” and told me my bladder was 14% full. See I knew it!
But later it was more than 14% full, and when I buzzed the magic button (gotta get one of those for home) the nurse asked if I wanted to get to the bathroom, use the commode or a bed pan. Getting out of bed was NOT an option for me at that point. And I was hooked up to an IV, a pulse thingy on my finger (note to fellow patients – when you move the hand those monitors are attached to, a machine will beep LOUDLY and wake others up! DO NOT move that hand!), and the oxygen thingies stuck in my nostrils. So the bed pan seemed the best option.
It’s awkward. I had to use my sore leg a bit to push myself up off the bed enough but that was a good excuse for a new painkiller. I got into a rhythm eventually. Buzz nurse, lift butt, pee, buzz nurse, she brings painkiller and takes away pee and happy me!
Until I got the male nurse.
He seemed annoyed. He thrust the bed pan at me and started to walk away.
“Uh.” I said, “Um, the other nurse puts down one of those blue cloths underneath the pan first.”
“Because… uh… it gets a bit messy?”
I could just see his mind think “girls!”
I don’t know. I suppose it would have been easier if I hadn’t had the operation a couple of years ago. I mean, guys can pee into a bottle for goodness sakes. I could have tried that, but at least half of it would be outside the bottle too.
The night passed with me drifting in and out of sleep. I had brought a TON of stuff with me in my over packed bag. I had imagined lounging, post surgery, in my own little room, perhaps even with a tv, dressed in my pj’s and slippers, munching on chocolates, sipping juice, reading different books. In fact the only things I got from my bag all night was my new teddy bear, bought just to protect me on this mission, and a couple of chunks of chocolate bar when I felt hungry late at night.
I did try to read but really all I wanted to do was sleep. And pee.
In the morning, bright and early, I was woken by a cheery new person, who brightly told me she was from the lab and was here to take blood! I’m not sure why they wanted blood. Maybe they just collect it. Or perhaps it’s how they make sure they look busy. “I know. I’ll go up with my cart and collect samples from people who can’t run away!”
Shortly after she left, breakfast came. I had woken dreaming of coffee and bacon, a sure sign one is well on the road to recovery!
And here it was! Two thing strips of desiccated bacon, a little mound of re-constituted scrambled eggs, some cream of wheat, weak coffee and soggy toast. It was the most delicious breakfast I have ever had!
I ate all of it.
The poor guy across from me looked through the crack in his curtain and looked like he was going to be sick.
Then I had to pee again!
This time, because I knew they were planning to kick me out that morning, and truly I would not want to spend another sleepless night there, I went for the commode which would at least get me out of bed. I knew that when I stood for the first time the blood would rush to my legs and arrrrrrgh!
So pee. And pills.
The assistant surgeon came to see how I was doing. I had met her before the surgery and figured she was pretty behind that mask but the next morning I saw she was downright glamorous! What’s with these surgeons? It’s like being operated on by supermodels.
She checked my leg and re-iterated that everything went really well from their standpoint, and then tested to see how much feeling I had in my foot. When she got to my little toe and the outside of my foot she was surprised when I said I could still feel it.
“You shouldn’t be able to. I thought we severed that nerve.”
“I thought so too, and it is a little numb, but I can still feel something.”
“You shouldn’t be able to. Strange.”
Yes, I am strange. It’s as simple as that.
But I am very pleased the numbness in my foot is about the same as it was after the original tumour removal, when they moved the nerve but did not severe it. Perhaps my body was already building a new pathway or using another one?
The physiotherapist on the floor was showing patients with new hips, knees, whatever, the beginning steps of a long and difficult regime to recovery and I asked to see him before I left. He showed me how to use my crutches properly and helped me practice on stairs that were very steep and very narrow. I briefly wondered if he was thinking about making a new client for himself, so was careful not to turn my back on him.
And then, before I left the hospital, I had one last pee! This time I crutched it over to the washroom all on my own and felt sorry for all the bodies in the beds, still attached to IV lines and such, and moaning and pressing their nurse buttons.
And then I remembered them from before.
We all shared that waiting room a day earlier. Some of us were alone, looking nervous and unsure of what to do with ourselves. Some of us were with family or friends, and I would look for the wrist bracelet to see which one was walking through those doors with me.
We seemed independent and healthy enough. You could detect slight limps. You certainly could feel the nervousness. We were the chosen ones.
We would all walk through that door on our own feet, possessions in hand, fully dressed, as on an otherwise ordinary day. We would exit that area on our backs, in flimsy hospital gowns, our possessions taken from us, tubes and things stuck in us, totally helpless…. all of us lain low by the surgical team that waited for each and every one of us. Then we would listen to each other moan and groan and cough through the night, absolutely dependent on the nurses, helpless and wounded warriors of the world.
I hope they are all out of there by now and working towards their own healing and recovery. I hope they are doing as well as I am doing now.