7am. I am dressed, packed, bags are in the car. I am ready to go. I still have 30 minutes to wait before we leave. my husband and my son are doing their last minute things – brushing teeth, making coffee. When I got up I forgot that I could neither eat, drink nor brush my teeth… so really I had nothing else to do once I got dressed. My packing was all done the night before and Andy put the bag in the car for me. Really I could have slept in, although to be honest, I wasn’t really sleeping anyway. I open my laptop and start playing Words with Friends on Facebook. Peggy has taken all her moves so I need to get as many of my moves done as I can so she isn’t waiting for days and days. I know she won’t mind but for some reason this is deadly important right now. Before I can finish though, Don steps into the living room. ‘Are you ready?’ he asks. I slap the laptop closed and get to my feet. ‘Ready’ I answer. He puts his arm around me and we walk through the kitchen. “I hope we don’t get bumped’ he muses. I look at him and frown.
Such an odd mood this morning: Excited because the day we’ve been waiting for these last 9 months is Finally here! Fearful because, you know: heart surgery. We get in the car, pull out of the driveway. I watch the fields as we zip by them. In one field the barley is all swathed but there is one really tall weed standing in an odd place in the middle of the field. I watch it, trying to imagine why the farmer missed this when he was swathing. Maybe he was thinking about something else, something not field related… Suddenly my son says ‘look, there’s a hunter in camouflage out there!’ My brain processes this new info and sure enough the weed is really a man standing still. ‘What is he hunting?” I wonder. ”Probably Canada Grey’s” Don says. “yeah, probably geese” Andy agrees. I nod. Poor geese. It is probably my mood that makes me feel so sorry for them. I hope they get away. Silence descends on the car again.
On the highway traffic is fairly light. we don’t really experience any substantial congestion until we get a few blocks from the hospital. Then we basically come to a halt. I say that I think it’s the world saying ‘not today! not today!’ but Don just looks at me like I’m crazy. He takes my hand ‘It will be fine’.
When we get to the hospital Don stops to let me out before he parks the car as it is about 5 to 9 at this point and he doesn’t want me to be late. ‘They can’t start without me!’ I quip. But I get out of the car, Andy in tow, and we make our way into the hospital to Unit 92.
When we arrive at the unit my sister Jennifer and my daughter Jessica are there to greet us with cheery ‘Hello’s!. But before I can indulge in hugs, I am directed to a small desk with an orange chair. The nurse behind the desk smiles and asks me to sit ‘we’re just waiting for my computer to boot up! It’s not cooperating this morning”. I squash the feeling that this is not a good sign. Computers are stupid, we know this. I practice deep breathing and wait patiently while it goes through a series of diagnostic checks. When the screen finally opens up, the desktop picture is of a squirrel in a superman outfit. hmm, not quite the level of professionalism I expected. In short order she confirms my information: name, address, next of kin, second contact in the event of an emergency if the first contact is not available, and so on. She prints it, I sign it, then she snaps an identification band on my wrist. At this point Don joins us and is just in time as we are then taken down the hall to meet the next intake nurse. Her name is Seka and she has a fairly strong slavic accent. She also reeks of the cigarette she must have been smoking on her break…I find this disconcerting. She pulls a ratty address book out of her pocket and starts scribbling in it. Don and I look at each other – this seems… odd. She closes the address book and pulls a gigantic binder towards her from across the reception counter– it has my name on the spine. Surely they aren’t going to do enough to me to fill a binder that has a 3″ spine? Yikes! Standing in the middle of the hallway, Seka asks many of the same questions the first nurse asked, then in broken English, tells me we are going to go down the hall and I will wash myself with antibacterial cloths, put on my hospital gown and my slippers and go wait in the patient waiting area. I ask her if I need to take off my wedding ring – for some reason the idea of removing it panics me and i don’t want to take it off. She says yes, then points at Don and says ‘he will look after it. he will put it on a chain on his neck’ Don and I both look at her – we must have misunderstood – he has no chain. Don shakes his head ‘I’ll put it in my pocket, don’t worry, I won’t lose it’ She shakes her head again ‘no. chain’ she gestures at Don’s neck… I can tell that he is losing patience with her – this is stupid. What is she talking about? I quickly take the ring off and stuff it into Don’s hand and he just as quickly puts it in his pocket. She gazes at him for a few silent moments and I worry that we are going to get the ‘No! Chain!’ comment again. Then she shrugs, grabs the binder and we head down the hall towards the change room. Thank god. I feel Don’s reassuring hand at the small of my back and I calm a little – I”m not sure what that was about but seriously, it does not matter.
Seka stops in front of a washroom door. “Here” she gestures at a closed door. The door has a sign that says ‘Patients Only’ as well as ‘In use’. she does not knock and pushes the door open, reaching over and turning on the light. It looks kind of like a small shower room at a pool: it is rectangular and one wall has a shower with a curtain across it and beside the shower, separated by a concrete wall, is a small sink. There is a small bin for soiled linens beside the door and a white chair. We all crowed into the room and with a combination of pantomime and broken English, Seka shows me how I will wash myself. Then she produces a package of towelettes that are delightfully warm. she shows me how to open it “don’t try to tear the plastic you will break your fingers off’ she says emphatically. ‘this is some seriously tough plastic’ I think. She pulls the foil closure open to show me how to get to the towelettes inside. “when you are done washing, you put this in the garbage” here she pantomimes a rather dramatic slam dunk of the plastic package, ‘then you will put on your slippers and go to the waiting area’. I nod. She backs out the door and Don hastily locks it behind her. He turns to me with his brow furrowed “I don’t like her’ he says. I nod. “she’s weird” I acknowledge. I strip off my top and bra but before I get any further there is a knock at the door. I cover myself and Don cautiously opens it “Don’t forget to put on your slippers” Seka says ominously. ‘Sure?…’ I reply. Don rather abruptly closes the door in her face. We look at each other, I shrug, then I strip off my pants and undies and commence washing. There are 6 towelettes and really, I’m thinking in quarters – chest and arms, tummy, private area, legs. That’s only 4. So then I get Don to wash my back… that’s 5… I stare at the 6th towelette. What if I’ve forgotten something important? I start to fret, frantically rewashing all the ‘dark’ spots. Don takes my hand and says “Stop. It’s OK. I can’t believe that the whole surgery relies on these little towelettes to keep you clean…” I meet his eyes and feel calmer again. He’s right of course. I’m sure this is important but they must have better barriers to infection. I throw the last towelette and empty package into the garbage with a dramatic flourish that Seka would have admired. I slip off one sneaker and slide that foot into a slipper and do the same with my next foot – my naked feet never touched the floor – somehow this is important to me. Don scoops up my shoes and deposits them in the bag where he has already put my folded clothes. He ties the back of my lovely hospital gown, and helps me into my robe. sexy? no. But ready for surgery. He brushes my hair back, kisses my forehead and reaches over to unlock the door.
We make our way down the hall and meet Seka again by the nurses desk. She says ‘Oh I must weigh you” and leads me to a very large scale in the middle of the hall. The platform of the scale is large enough to hold a wheelchair so I have lots of space to stand. She zeroes out the scale and shoves me on. I stand quietly in the middle while the numbers zoom all over the place. she pushes a button and one weight registers. ‘Here’, she says pushing another button ‘in kilograms you don’t weigh so much. see? better!’ I stare at her like she’s insane and hear Don, the math teacher, mutter, ‘seriously? are you kidding me??’ I’m grateful that she doesn’t hear him. I reach over and squeeze his hand – it doesn’t matter. She now leads me to a chair at the end of the hallway where Jess, Andy and Jennifer are already waiting. She spreads a flannel sheet over the chair, gestures to me to sit down, then lays another flannel sheet on the arm ‘in case you get cold’. She then pats my hand and takes off. I sit. I look at my people. They scurry around gathering chairs and pulling them up to me. It all feels kind of weird since I am the reason for the gathering but it is lovely to have them with me.
The entire unit is rectangular shaped and the bedrooms run down the outside of each long side of the rectangle. The middle is where the nursing station is, and the short sides are occupied by the reception area at one end, and the patient waiting area at the other end. The patient waiting area is where we are right now and there is one other patient, recognizable by his sexy hospital gown, and his family at the opposite side of the waiting area. We have windows behind us from which we can see the helipad and, off in the distance, the rest of Calgary. We take a few minutes to point out things we recognize – the children’s hospital, the downtown skyline, McMahon stadium… then we settle down to wait.
One of the things that is important to recovery on the cardiac ward is walking. patients are encouraged to walk as soon as possible after surgery and as often as they can. This promotes blood flow and keeps patients from getting stiff and, as we were told by a passing nurse ‘so long you stay is up to you: walk long stay short, walk short stay long’. It seems like fairly sage advice. I determine to Walk Long when I am out of surgery.
After a bit Seka reappears. Without a word she pulls a machine over and starts to unroll a bloodpressure cuff. I look at it dubiously ‘you will need a bigger cuff’ I say – I have been through this before. She shakes her head ‘No. Is ok’ she winds the cuff around my upper arm. Then looks at my other arm. ‘Wait’ she says and hurry’s off. She returns shortly with a larger cuff. Being a grown up, I say nothing but in my head I am saying “I Told you so!’. She takes my blood pressure, clamps a thing on my finger to check my blood gas level, and takes my temperature with this cool thermometer thingy that she slides across my forehead, down my cheek and stops behind my ear. when this is all done, she puts the machine away and bustles off. I do not see her write anything down. Hm.
Jenn, Jess and Andy eventually decide to go get breakfast – it’s 10:30 and they are hungry and the nurse has said we won’t likely be going into surgery till 1:00 so it’s a good idea for them to get something to eat. Don declines to accompany them. I think he’s worried I’ll disappear if I am left alone. They leave, leaving Jennifer’s cell number with the nursing station so that they can be called if surgery comes up more quickly than expected,
Don and I sit holding hands and people watch — one of our favourite past times normally. I find myself evaluating everyone who walks by as to what post-surgery stage they might be in. I guess that the people who look a little shell shocked and who still have the impressions of the ‘massage booties’ on their legs are probably the most recent surgery patients. While it is apparent that their surgery is fairly recent, I am heartened by the fact that they are lucid and walking and talking. These patients are accompanied by two nurses and when they get to our portion of the hall, are allowed to sit for a moment and gather themselves. The nurses remind them to use their heart pillows (medium sized red pillows in the shape of a heart) to hold their arms to their chest when they get up and sit down. It is a strict no-no to use your arms to brace yourself as you sit or rise since this will put uneven pressure on your sternum and will interfere with the bone knitting.
Other patients wander by, slowly but unattended. I assume that these people are perhaps a day or two post surgery as they seem much more confident in their movements.
I glance down the hall at the other patient who is waiting for his surgery. I hear him describe to one of the people he’s with how they will do the triple bypass he is having. I start to look at the people who are passing and note that several of them have incisions along the length of one of their legs. This, apparently, is where they take the vein from – the ones they use to bypass the blocked heart arteries. It must hurt to have the leg incision as well as the chest incision. I give a silent thank you to God for not giving me that particular burden to deal with.
The kids return with full tummies and disposable cups full of coffee. The smell of the coffee makes my tummy rumble… I would kill for a coffee right now. Andy gives me a hug then snags the iPad and starts playing a game. Jess and Jenn are chatting. Don is doing something on the iPhone. I lay back and close my eyes. A few seconds later I realize that Jenn and Jess are giggling like crazy people… I open my eyes and look a question at Jenn. “the mouse is in the house” she says, giggling and gesturing with her head. I have no idea what she means. Jess comes closer and squats beside me. ‘The old dude down the hall…” I glance, ‘oh my god’ I glance at Don to see if he’s noticed. He looks up at me “what?’ I start to laugh “um, the cow is out of the barn” I point with my head. He stares at me like I’m crazy “did they give you drugs when I wasn’t looking?” Jenn and Jess and I are laughing harder now. Andy is still playing his game and is oblivious. I nod towards the end of the hall again “TESTICLES!’ I whisper. Don’s head whips around then whips back and he stares into my eyes “Once you’ve seen it you can’t unsee it” he intones. I have to lay back and close my eyes, tears of laughter running down my face. Jessica has buried her face in my leg and is giggling like an idiot. Jennifer is staring out the window biting her lip. Finally Andy notices that something is going on. He looks around ‘what?’ he says. Jennifer leans over and whispers in his ear… he sits back “oh THATS what that was!!! gross!!” we all collapse in laughter again… ok, not mature, but a good break from the tension up to this point. Eventually we calm down and orient ourselves slightly further away from the testicles. and continue to wait.
1:00. no premedication has been administered. we know that I will get the pre-sedative drug approximately one hour before surgery is to start – that means that at this rate we won’t get started till after 2. I glance over. Mr Testicles is still waiting as well. We had been warned that things sometimes take longer on a Friday… not sure WHY this is true of course, but it clearly is true since we are well past 1:00. Finally at about 3:00 the nurse comes and gives me my pre-surgery medication. ‘This’ she indicates a small clear cup with blue liquid in it ‘is a long acting antiseptic mouthwash. you have to swirl it in your mouth for 30 seconds then spit it into this cup’ she indicates a Dixie cup in her other hand. I nod and pour the mouthwash into my mouth. it tastes like pine-sol smells… gross. I dutifully swish and count to 30, then spit the mouthwash into the Dixie cup. I hand the whole gross thing back to her. She hands me another small cup and in it are two tiny pills. ‘This is Ativan, you place these under your tongue and they will dissolve. This isn’t to make you sleep, although some people nod off ‘ she gestures at Mr Testicles who now appears to be fully asleep… and yes, his nuts are now actually lying on the chair – ‘but mostly it’ll make you feel relaxed. It helps to start the sedation cascade and we find that those patients who have been pre-sedated tend to need less anesthetic’. Whatever. She didn’t need to sell me on anything; I had those pills under my tongue before she was done explaining. She smiled, patted my hand and said ‘it won’t be long now’ and left. I lay back in my chair waiting for the pills to take effect. They left a chalky chemical taste in my mouth but there was nothing I could do about it as I still could not have even a sip of water. After a few seconds I hear Andy say ‘Mom?’ I open my eyes. He grins at me and slowly passes his hand in front of my face, waggling his fingers ‘Do you see trails?’ he asks. I look at him for a moment “no. And when this is over we are definitely going to have a conversation about how you know what Trails are’ his smile disappears and he quickly sits back down in his chair. Jessica comes over and stands in front of me ‘You feel stoned yet?’ she asks. I shrug. I can feel the effects of the medication gently rolling in, I nod. She starts a graceful sort of monkey dance in front of me, grinning from ear to ear and hunching her shoulders up around her head. For some reason this is hilarious and I start to laugh, but then it seems to be too much and I subside, giggling a bit into my chair. she crouches down and at first I think she is hugging me, then realize that I am unwittingly posing for a stoned ‘selfie’ with her. sigh. my family treats me with so much dignity. I turn to complain to my husband who says ‘uh huh’ sympathetically but somewhat mechanically. It takes me a minute to realize I am being video recorded. sigh. They are all lunatics. I close my eyes. I can hear them chattering and I find it soothing. I open my eyes again and see that Mr Testicles is trying to climb onto a gurney. He seems to have to concentrate very hard and, as usual, I see much more of his junk than I really ever want to. I close my eyes again and when next I open them he is gone. Off to surgery for him! Mine must be soon.
Suddenly I hear another voice and it is saying ‘well, Mrs Kenyon, we have good news and good news. which would you like first?” I open my eyes and slowly focus on a familiar face: Dr Maitland, my surgeon. ‘Oh Hi!’ I say. I smile and my smile feels huge. He starts to talk “we’ve had a message from Stars Ambulance and they are flying in with a person in critical condition. Unfortunately as we have not started surgery yet, we have been bumped. I’m going to send you home and my nurse Kendra will call you on Monday with a new date.” I nod agreeably. I’m high enough at this point that he could have said they were going to let a monkey do the heart surgery and I probably would have been alright with that. He said some other stuff too but I was done listening at this point. When I opened my eyes next, everyone was standing around me. Don was asking me if I could move to a wheel chair ‘Sure!’ I smile and try to stand. The floor is heaving ever so slightly and I have to really grab onto the arms of the chair. If only he would hold it still! I concentrate on getting my behind into the seat. I settle and look around. Jessica is, for some reason, wearing my oxygen thingy and taking pictures of herself. I don’t know where Andy and Jennifer are. Don is missing as well. I start to fret about this as my chair mysteriously moves down the hall… I look way up and I can see the bottom of a mustache and a pair of familiar nostrils: Don. ‘Where are the kids!’ I shrill “we have to tell them where we are going!!’ I pause, “where are we going?” I ask. His beautiful blue eyes look down at me somewhat impatiently. “just sit and be quiet’ he says ‘the kids know whats going on – they are right here. I’m taking you to get dressed. you don’t have to be in control of this’. I harrumph and look forward. I wonder where we are going. I am just going to ask him this when we arrive at the bathroom with the ‘in use’ sign where I first got dressed for this whole ordeal. “we’re at the bathroom’ I say loudly, since no one seems to be around. Don wheels me in and helps me transfer to the little white chair. I sit for a moment while the room heaves around me. Somehow my gown comes off and my bra and shirt are on. Weird. Then Don hands me my jeans. I aim carefully and although they are lurching and dancing about, I manage to subdue them with one leg. After that the second leg comes along more quietly. I stand and pitch into Don. ‘I don’t need that” I gesture at the wheel chair “well I do” Don replies, gently pushing me backwards into the chair. I marvel at the fact that there was a wheel chair behind me as well as in front of me! then before I can talk too much more, we are out the door. I don’t remember a whole heck of a lot after this. I remember trying to get out of the wheel chair in the parking lot and Andy scrambling to make me stay in. I remember being in the car. I remember a car on the highway in front of us. I remember walking through my kitchen, into the living-room, into the bedroom and falling naked on my bed. Then at 10:00 am Sunday morning I remember waking up. I am told that I slept from 7pm to 10am. I am also told that we drove through a fast food joint and I ate chicken nuggets – this seems unlikely as I hate chicken nuggets but Don and Andy both assured me this is true. I also know, from looking at my chest and noticing no incision, that I have not had my heart surgery. I feel sorry for my husband, sister and children who sat, uncomplaining, with me from 9am to … I guess 4:30? on Friday and now still are waiting with me for the surgery. I am grateful to all of them, for entertaining me, supporting me, acting as my communications managers. I’m a lucky woman on so many levels.
So now, in time honoured Canadian tradition: We wait. Hopefully the next surgery date won’t take 9 months more…