I wake up to the young wrist surgeon standing next to my bed in shorts and a Mickey Mouse-with-a-moustache t-shirt. I consider asking him if his mom knows he’s here, but instead I thank him for coming in on a Saturday to rebuild my wrist. I know I shouldn’t make fun of how young professionals look these days; my surgeons are currently the masters of my universe. My left hand is still asleep due to an anesthetic “blocker” which feels essentially like having my entire hand shot up with Novocain that’s constantly in the early stages of wearing off. My left leg is an alien entity swollen to twice its size, oozing and unmovable. I’m also fitted with a nasal cannula for oxygen.
The leg surgeon stops by to check on me, although the only thing I retain is that a titanium rod now exists in my left thigh and I have dozens of metal staples keeping the incision closed. Evidently I’ve lost a lot of blood during surgery and I’m anemic, so a transfusion is being considered. Nurses and CNAs come and go in the drug-induced fog, some even trying to get me to order food from a menu. I’m stuck to the pad on the hospital bed because the incision from my leg is oozing but I can’t really shift to unstick myself. In fact, I can’t turn over at all, so lying on my back is the only option. I’m given a long, flexible nylon rod with a handle on one end and a loop on the other, for lifting my lumpen left leg.
The door to my room opens and my reading group friends who’d seen me in the emergency room waddle in, squeezing themselves onto the bench by the window.
“Do you know what Wayne’s doing?” Beatrice demands in a hushed voice.
“He’s trying to block people from speaking to you! That’s called abuse!”
“He told me to fuck off!“ says Molly, waving her cell phone at me.
“You need to speak to someone about him right away!” exclaims Marge, beads of sweat forming on her forehead.
“Right then,” I reply groggily from my bed. I’m in somewhat of a vulnerable position so the only thing I can figure is to try and be polite until they leave.
Wayne calls a few minutes later and tells me he’s had arguments with Holly and Marge regarding several members of my family. He’s been awake for nearly two days and they all seem to have gotten the best of him.
“I’m sorry, but that blubbernaught Molly tried to tell me it wasn’t my job to protect you and I just lost it.”
“Huh? Jee-zuz...” I murmur, “what a doofus.”
I can’t believe I’m doing damage control from my hospital bed the day after surgery.
“Are you okay?” I ask gingerly. “Has… the train left the station?” (Our secret code for when he’s headed toward a possible meltdown.)
There's a pause, so I add, “Don’t worry, honey. You have my permission to protect me any time. It sounds like you could use some sleep, though. I love you.”
"I love you, too," he sighs. "Rest and heal, sweetheart."
The hospital chaplain steps in and takes a seat next to my bed. We have a pleasant conversation about God, Lutherans, and Advanced Directives. He also explains that when you hear the Lullaby song over the PA system, it means a baby has just been born. Tim, aka the Baron of Darkwing Manor, drops in, which is a great honor, as well as several other friends bearing candy and good wishes. My mother calls to check up on me and I tell her I’m okay. Mostly I just leave the TV on a nature channel with the sound turned down.
Eventually the nurses take the catheter out. It’s time to get that portion of my body operational again. Instead of the dreaded bedpan, I’m helped up to standing by a CNA and placed onto a portable commode.
“How about a little potty music?” she asks, turning the water in the sink on full blast, hoping to inspire my sphincter muscles. Not much luck. What a creepy feeling: a full bladder and I can’t relax enough to empty it.
Several tries later, I’m successful... but the seat is one of those soft, squishy ones. A noble concept, except once you’ve sat on one for a few minutes it’s a long, painful process to carefully unstick the soft plastic from the backs of your thighs without tearing the skin off.
I have to say that chocolate definitely makes me feel better. I keep several pieces on my tray. Although I’m not hungry enough to actually bite into them, I lick them and they seem to elevate my mood. Wayne’s brought my laptop in, so I finally have my own portal to the outside world.
The next few days flow together, with people coming in at all hours to check my vitals, wash me and give me pain meds. They’ve weaned me off the I.V. in favor of a painkiller called Percoset. When I can’t sleep at all anymore I ask for something, but whatever doctor is on duty deems it too late at night to give sleep medication. Darn. I know I have half an Ambien in my purse, but it’s stashed in a drawer where I can’t get to it. My iPod's in there, too, although I'm hesitant to plug up my ears in this setting. I'm compromised enough as it is. The nurse on duty tells me about the hospital’s Relax channel. Late at night it’s a picture of shifting night stars with gentle, new-agey music. It puts me to sleep!
Every single move I make needs to be calculated now. How I move my left leg with the leg-lifting rod and scoot myself close to the side of the bed using only my good right arm and hand. How I grasp the bed frame and lean over to get both legs hanging off the bed, ready to stand on my right leg. How I stay balanced while I twist myself on the ball of my good foot to get into position over the commode and gently ease myself onto it. All attended by one or more of the CNAs, of course. There’s no room for assumption or hasty moves.
Meanwhile, a physical therapist named Jim comes in several times a day to get me to hop on my good leg using a hybrid walker with an arm rest on the left side. There’s some kind of discussion about whether I will go upstairs to the celebrated Tower 6 Physical Therapy Unit or get shipped out to a rehab nursing facility. All depends on my insurance, plus what I can do on that walker. In fact, I believe every single thing that happens is preceded by a conversation between the hospital and my insurance. I pray to be able to go upstairs. Then I blow them all away by hopping with the walker, Jim at my side, from my bed all the way out into the hallway and back, which is about 80 feet. Five days after I’ve arrived, the medical director of Tower 6 stops by to introduce himself. My insurance has cleared me to move upstairs… I’m in!