OMG! Laughing so hard I can hardly breathe! I was emailing pictures taken from my heart surgery from my phone to my computer. I found pictures of the scar immediately after surgery, and the scar was fairly impressive initially. I then thought, hey, I should take a picture now, 10 weeks later, to show the improvement. So I took two pictures of the scar that runs up from my cleavage (I always take two pictures in case one is no good) and emailed them to myself. Being a silly person I put ‘Boobs’ in the subject line – I knew what it would mean, after all I was mailing it to myself. While I was doing this I was thinking how I hadn’t talked to my sister Linda for a while and kind of absentmindedly thought ‘you know, i haven’t heard from my sister linda for a while… I wonder how she’s doing’… and so on. a few minutes later I was thinking ‘hmm the server must be busy, i still don’t have those pictures’… yeah. so mark it on the calendar, this is the day I sent my sister Linda some porn. I didn’t mean to. It was totally an accident. I”m just glad I wasn’t thinking of the youth pastor’s wife who is going to have heart surgery soon… I’d have to move. So. Those of you who do something silly today, I want you to remember this post. Then when you get mad at yourself you can think ‘Well, I didn’t do THAT!”…. sigh. Someone needs to set stricter parental controls on my laptop and phone..
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…
If this week was a puddle, Friday would be the drain hole through which the water days escape, pulling me, inexorably towards my surgery.
Finally after waiting for almost a year I have a surgery date!! On September 13, 2013 I will be going under the knife. Luckily I have always felt that 13 is a lucky number and, according to many, 3 and 9 are lucky numbers too so 13/9/13 is bound to be a great day for me 🙂
Despite having looked forward (impatiently) for a surgery date and the fact that I am pleased with the actual date (again: 13/9/13) I think I am kind of shell shocked. Somehow when you wait for something for this long, the waiting becomes ‘normal’, a new part of your life. Things go on and in the background ‘waiting’ is happening. you go about thinking ‘Here I am, grocery shopping and Waiting’ or ‘look at me, watching tv and still waiting’. it’s like your life is the opening act but the main event is backstage waiting its turn. So when the call came: ‘Sandra I have great news! we have a surgery date!’ at first I was all ‘oh good!’ because I knew in my adult mind this was the thing we were waiting for – the opening act is complete and now on to the main event: Surgery! yay!
After an hour or so, however, I realized that I was having Open Heart Surgery. And I was having Open Heart Surgery in 16 days. oh. my. god. They are going to crack my chest open (good bye awesome scar-less cleavage!) cut bits out of my heart (the fundamental core of any human being) and then expect me to get up again and walk around. I had flashes of National Lampoons Christmas Vacation – remember the scene where Chevy Chase cuts into the over cooked turkey and it explodes open, the ribs flung obscenely wide? well, somehow that’s what I’m picturing when I imagine me on the operating table. Why I think i’m full of dry dust and, perhaps more oddly, shaped like a turkey I will never understand… but that’s what was popping into my head. So it has become The Thing I Talk About… a lot. I find myself wanting to tell everyone ‘I’m having heart surgery’ and then watching them to see what their reaction is. horror? pity? fear? Will their faces verify for me that this is a really scary thing? So far I’ve managed to work the whole heart surgery thing into my conversation with the nurse who was taking my blood (necessary for my pre-surgery preparations), the cashier at Tim Hortons and my hair dresser. their reactions were: Nurse – oh? when’s your date? Tim Hortons cashier – blank stare. Hair Dresser – Well we want you to be all gorgeous for all the people who will be visiting you!… hmm… apparently I’m not saying Heart Surgery with enough solemnity. They should be bursting into tears and wringing their hands and offering me cups of tea (ok the Tim Hortons girl did offer me tea but I had actually ordered it from her so I’m not counting that one). I expect more pity, more seats proffered, more attention! This is Big, folks!! Heart. Surgery. Open. My. Chest. Blood. Rib Cage. Heart. Sigh.
I had no idea I was such a drama queen.
Once the surgery is under way I will be on the heart/lung machine to keep things going, as it were, while good old Doc Maitland fixes up my ticker. I was delighted to find out that the title of the person who operates the heart/lung machine is a Perfusionist (auto-correct wants to change this to percussionist – no. that is not at all what we want to have happening…). Isn’t Perfusionist a perfect name? It sounds Elegant and graceful and beautiful somehow. Even Anesthesiologist sounds kind of cool and important. The heart surgeon though? He needs a better title… maybe Cardiocaretaker? or Cardioengineer? I don’t know. Cardiologist sounds like archaeologist and this does not connote the same level of elegance and grace that Perfusionist or Anesthesiologist does.
So there you go. Friday the 13, 2013 I will be meeting with my Perfusionist, Anesthesiologist and CardioEngineer (nope, gotta work on that one…) for what will be, undoubtedly, one of the most memorable days of my life. I don’t know if I will be inspired to blog more before surgery – I suspect I will become increasingly more introspective as the date draws nearer, but I do know that it is unlikely that I will be blogging a lot immediately after my surgery. But as soon as I can I will let you know how my most memorable day went 🙂
As I said in my last heart surgery blog ‘So I met my Surgeon’ I needed to have two tests done before they would book my surgery date. On Wed April 24 I had a CT Angiography at a new hospital in South Calgary. The day of my test, my good friend Kim picked me up and drove me to our destination. well… what we thought was our destination. you see, there are Two new health facilities in south Calgary and, due to the quirkiness of the people who name these facilities, they are a few blocks apart and both have South in their name… who would have thought it possible? So, of course, we ended up just on time for my appointment – but at the wrong hospital. Luckily this is a common occurrence and the woman in reception adroitly turned us around and got us headed in the right direction. It was a quick drive from one facility to the other, but we marveled at the shortsightedness of the town planners or whoever was responsible for putting facilities named the South campus Health and the South health Region in such close proximity and with such similar names. When we arrived at the correct hospital, Kim dropped me off at the door so I could get where i needed to be while she tried to figure out where to park. Being completely lost – and now late – I asked at the main reception and they kindly took me to the right place….on the other side of the hospital on the 3rd floor. Lets remember that I have a heart problem – I was Tired by the time I got to cardiology diagnostic Imaging and was glad to plop into a chair. I explained that I was late and why – the receptionist rolled her eyes and said ‘this happens all the time!’ Really? why on earth doesn’t someone change something then? oh well. I dashed off a quick text to Kim telling her where I was: ‘other side of the hospital, 3rd floor, good luck!’ and relaxed for a few minutes.
Just as Kim got there, a nurse came out and called my name. I waved to Kim, handed her my purse (why? i could have left it in the locker they gave me…) and followed my nurse. He was a young man and, as it turned out, a tad nervous. Did I mention that this was a teaching hospital? yeah… so we got to a change room and he informed me that I should remove everything down to my waist but I could leave my pants and shoes on. The delightful gown he handed me was to be put on, opening to the front, and when I was ready I was to let him know. I eyeballed the gown skeptically… This was a One Size Fits All gown and I am not a One Size Fits All sort of woman. ‘Do you have a larger gown?’ I asked him. He looked uncomfortable and assured me that ‘most’ people had no problem and in fact the gowns were larger than they looked. I eyeballed him for a few seconds. seriously. I am a full figured woman. really full. over full. voluptuous plus. There was no way this gown was going to ‘comfortably’ fit me. But I am not a shy woman – never have been, don’t know why – so if the gown didn’t fit, it would be this charming pink cheeked student nurse who was going to feel awkward about it. I popped into the change room, donned the gown – more or less – and hailed my nurse. He was professional enough that he didn’t gape, but we did stand there for a few moments both coming to grips with this situation. The gown fit me snugly and for the most part we didn’t have a problem. But I am large breasted (yes, i said it!) and frankly, the cut of the bodice would make Mae West blush. Whatever. After digesting this he pasted on his cheery smile and said ‘Right! lets get you settled’ we walked around the corner to a curtained room – it looked like a bed in an emergency room – and he indicated i should sit down. ‘we’ll start an IV for the dye test, and we need to make sure your heart rate is down to below 60. Did you take your heart medication this morning?’ ‘nope’ i said, ‘ i called yesterday and they told me not to take it – the beta blocker would slow my heart down to much’ i was proud of the fact that i had thought to call – the people who made these appointments for the hospital frequently forgot details such as these. For instance, they would tell you to fast but unless you asked would not say if you should take your usual medications. He frowned at me ‘hmm, that’s not good. we would have wanted you to take your pills so your heart rate was down..hang on’ he hurried off to speak to the cardiologist. After a few seconds he came back ‘we are going to give you 2.5 mgs of your normal pill and then if your heart rate doesn’t come down we’ll give you another pill’. this confused me as i normally only take one of these pills a day and in the past when i had been on a higher dose it made my heart rate go so low i would faint when i stood up, not something i looked forward to. of course worrying about this made my heart rate go up…
after i was all hooked up to a heart monitor and had taken my first dose of beta blocker, the nurse came back and said ‘now i will put your IV in. We had 5 nurses here to observe but since you were late they all went to lunch and it’s just me.’ i wasn’t sure why he felt he needed to tell me this, until i realized that he was nervous… great. ‘how many IV’s do you do in a day?’ I asked him casually. ‘oh, one or two…’ he said, not quite meeting my eyes. He was very industrious in his preparations, got out all his little poking things and rubber gloves and tourniquet. he looked at my delightfully fleshy arms and pursed his lips. ‘do they normally have trouble finding veins?’ he asked. ‘nope. They’ve never had a problem…’ yet, i thought… first he checked my right arm. then my left arm, examining the crook of the elbow. ‘i see you have had bloodwork done recently’ he observed pointing at the small red puncture mark. ‘yes, i needed to have that done for this test’ i said. ‘yes’ he said. after looking at both arms twice he decided to have a go at the left arm. he put the tourniquet on, and i swear he was counting ‘one, two, three’ under his breath, and plunged the needle in. it didn’t hurt – i could feel the pressure but no pain. with one hand on the IV he used the other hand to undo the tourniquet and then gently pushed the needle further. ‘hmm…’ he said, ‘ it won’t advance’ ?? OK… i said nothing – i didn’t want him getting more nervous while he had a pointy thing in my vein… He furrowed his brow. ‘i think i need to flush it with saline solution’ he looked a question at me. ‘sure’ i said – not really certain what i could contribute to this process. Still working single handed as his right hand was committed to holding that needle in my arm, he produced a large syringe full of saline and attached it to the IV. he gently depressed the plunger and… nothing happened. At least from my end, nothing happened. ‘it’s not advancing’ he muttered again. he put the syringe down and sat back for a minute – hand still on my IV. ‘I think i better try the other arm’ he said, ‘this vein just won’t work’. Ok, Enough…’Is there someone who could help you with this?’ i asked ‘It’s kind of important to me that this is done only once…’ ‘yes’ he brightened visibly ‘i’ll go get the nuclear tech’ and he dashed off. i sat there with the IV in my arm, holding a piece of gauze in place. I’m sure my heart rate was going up again… a few moments later another cheery young man who exuded MUCH more confidence entered my cubicle ‘hi there!’ he said, ‘let me see how i can help you’. he removed the existing IV, checked my other arm and quickly and painlessly put in the IV. it took about 3 minutes all told. i was much happier with the nuclear tech. He went on to explain that my heart rate which had been coming down, was going up slightly again – no wonder with my second IV of the morning. He was going to give me a second dose of the beta blocker to get that heart rate down. it crossed my mind that if they did all the unpleasantness – iv’s and such – before they took your heart rate it would come down in a much smoother curve rather than the down and up they were seeing with me. He gave me the second dose and then left me for 45 minutes to give me time to get my heart rate down. i sat and thought calming thoughts, looked out the window at the mountains, admired my shoes… a magazine would have been nice. after 45 mins the nuclear tech came and escorted me to the CT scan room. This part, he assured me, was a breeze and would go quickly.
The procedure room was light and airy, pretty much what i expected. they indicated that I should lay down on the CT scan table and made me comfortable with a pillow under my knees and behind my head. i had to have my arms above my head so the IV and various and sundry tubes didn’t interfere in the scanning process. The nuclear tech guy appeared on my left just above my head. ‘ok, so we are going to do a quick scan without the dye – just slide you into the CT tube for a pre-dye test – then we will bring you out, give a quick dose of the dye and do a second scan to make sure you don’t have a reaction to the dye. After that we wait a few moments and then do the full dye scan which takes about 10 minutes. and then we’re done!’ i liked how optimistic he sounded. ‘but first’ he said ‘we’re going to give you a dose of the beta-blocker’. uh oh ‘hang on a second’ i said quickly, ‘i’ve already been given 2 doses when i normally only take one. i do get quite faint if i take too much and i hate it when i faint! are you sure i need this?’ he waved his hand at me dismissively ‘I’ve given people 10 doses before – this is through your IV and not orally so it’s in and out of your system much more quickly. you’ll be fine!’ i was a bit skeptical but they apparently knew better than i did… he administered the dose. we waited for about 5 minutes all patiently watching the heart monitor to ensure my heart rated slowed as it should. it didn’t quite make it below 55 beats a minute. rats. He appeared above my head again, syringe in hand and quietly gave me one more dose. So lets see… that would be 4 doses now? i closed my eyes and thought quieting thoughts…. Suddenly over an intercom system of some sort he said ‘Sandy? we’re going to put you in the CT tube for the first part of the test” yay! i kept my eyes closed and my arms above my head. the machine started to hum and the table i was on slowly slid into the tube. A pre-recorded female voice told me to breathe in and then out, in and then out, in and then hold! i held. and waited. and held. and was just beginning to think that woman better tell me to breathe again when she said ‘and breathe normally!’… thank god. slowly the table withdrew from the tube. my helpful nurse from the beginning appeared on my right ‘ how are you doing?’ he asked. I nodded ‘pretty good’. he looked at the numbers on a machine beside me, wrote something on a clip board. the nuclear tech appeared beside me ‘Good job!’ he said enthusiastically ‘I’ve laid still before’ i commented – not really sure his enthusiasm was warranted. he didn’t seem to notice my dry humour. ‘Now we are going to do the test run with the small dose of dye’ he said ‘but first we’re going to give you another dose of the beta blocker’… uh, that would be dose number 5… ‘are you sure this is necessary’ i asked, lifting my head and trying to see the heart monitor ‘ that’s like, 5 doses!’. he patted my arm ‘don’t worry, you’ll be fine!’ and injected the beta blocker. we sat quietly waiting for my heart to cooperate and after a few minutes his voice came over the intercom ‘ok Sandra, we’re going to begin again’. i closed my eyes and the table started into the tube. ‘and we’re administering the dye’ his voice came again. i lay still listening to all the sounds and noticed a muffled hissing noise… weird…. and my arm felt unusually warm, but they had warned that the dye would make my blood feel warmer than usual. so i lay and listened to the pre-recorded voice tell me to breathe, and not breathe and breathe again. Sure enough after a few seconds i could feel a warm flush down my chest and into my nether regions… it totally felt like i wet myself, but they had warned me it would feel like this and after the initial warmth it was clear that i had retained my dignity. after 5 minutes this part of the test was over and as the table withdrew from the tube my nurse again appeared on my right but with a little less composure than before. ‘you leaked!’ he said with some distress looking at my arm ‘what?’ i craned my neck around to see what he was looking at. sure enough the warm feeling on my arm was from a leak in my IV tube. great. i had radioactive dye all over my arm. Nuclear Tech guy and nurse guy had a quiet discussion then they fiddled with my IV again. ‘we’re going to have to disconnect some of these tubes, there seems to be a leak somewhere and the dye is getting out’ the nuclear tech said with a forced smile. ‘if the dye is getting out, does that mean air is getting in’ i asked, pretty concerned that air getting into my veins was a bad idea… ‘no of course not!’ he said with false cheerfulness, ‘do you want a Xanax’ he asked suddenly ‘uh, no’ why on earth would i need Xanax now? i wondered, worrying that this was going to make my heart rate go up again. A new nurse – a female – appeared beside my head. ‘hello!’ she said ‘ seems you are giving us some problems’ she grinned at me easily. ‘we’re going to recalibrate the dye delivery system and then we’ll be back on track’ she patted my arm reassuringly. after a few minutes of quiet conversations and whirring and grinding of the machine, it seemed all was on track. ‘ok’ nuclear tech guy said ‘we’re set’. everyone disappeared again. the table started into the tube, the pre-recorded voice was just starting her monologue when i heard that ‘pop’ again, but this time it was accompanied by a spray of fine mist all over my face and hair ‘Stop! Stop!’ i shouted ‘It’s spraying me in the face!’ the pre-recorded voice faded out mid sentence and the table stopped and i slowly reversed out of the tube. that shit was everywhere, and it was sticky. i had my eyes closed to avoid getting the dye in them, and someone came over and started fussing with the machine. ‘can you leave the machine for a moment and wipe my face off, please!’ i asked and, yes, my tone was a bit demanding. from my right a hand touched my arm then i felt a cool cloth on my forehead ‘its on my eyes’ i directed. the cloth moved to my eyes and after a moment i could open them. ‘what the hell was that?’ i asked. the female nurse appeared on my left. ‘it’s fine’ she reassured me ‘there just seems to be some sort of problem with the dye delivery system’… how is that fine? i wondered, keeping my mouth shut. i was tired of this in and out of the tube game and worried that i had radioactive dye all over my face and i wanted to be done. deep breath. nuclear tech guy was impatiently hooking up and unhooking tubes and things, nurse woman was standing holding my arm reassuringly. the IV site was becoming quite sore because as they hooked and unhooked things they wiggled the tubes and it pulled on the site. ‘do you want a Xanax now?’ the male nurse on my right asked. ‘no’ i snapped ‘no i do not want MORE drugs! lets just get this done!’ i was aware that if we didn’t get this done today i would just have to come back another day and start this all over again, so i was very invested in them getting the darn machine fixed.
finally, they seemed to have things under control and, once again, nuclear tech guy showed up on my left with syringe in hand ‘uh, your heart rate has gone up a bit… we’re giving you another dose’ no doubt, i thought. we waited. 5 minutes. 10 minutes. Nuclear Tech guy showed up again with the syringe ‘just one more dose…’ i gaped at him ‘are you kidding me?’ i asked ‘ i normally take 2.5 mgs which your staff told me NOT to take. then i show up here, you are now giving me, ‘ i counted back in my head’ SEVEN doses and I’m supposed to believe that this won’t affect me in any way? I think i’d like to speak to the cardiologist before we go any further’. i was firm but not rude. OK, maybe a little rude. The nuclear tech guy looked at the female nurse. she looked at me. then she looked back at Nuclear Tech guy and nodded ‘Go get him’. off he went and we waited another 5 minutes. a new face appeared on my left ‘ hello Sandra. i hear you have concerns about the beta-blocker?’ i nodded, ‘i don’t usually take 7 doses in a day, and i’m worried about my ability to function when i stand up since my blood pressure will be so low’. he nodded sympathetically, ‘yes, i can understand that, but this dose is a fast acting dose’ seriously? there’s a fast acting beta blocker? ‘ and it will be out of your system within 4 hours’ ok, 4 hours is not fast acting… ‘so i’ll feel a little light headed and such when i’m up and about again, but my heart won’t actually stop beating on exertion?’ he looked shocked ‘no of course not! we would never put you in any danger!’ i nodded ‘ok, i’ll take your word for it. but the popping, spraying IV tubes don’t exactly instill confidence’ i said. he looked a little non-plussed and backed away from the table. the female nurse and the cardiologist had a murmured discussion then she came back ‘do you want a Xanax now?’ she asked brightly. oh. for. God’s. Sake. ‘no thank you’ i enunciated ‘i do not want a Xanax now. i do not want it in a box, i do not want it with a fox. i do not like your xanax man, i do not like it Sam-I-am’ her smile faltered and she turned to the nuclear tech, she apparently didn’t appreciate my Dr Seuss-esque humour. ‘lets get going’ she said. without further ado they disappeared and the pre-recorded voice started her instructions again. i was put into the tube, no popping noise, dye administered, tests done and i was out before i knew it.
they had me sit up, carefully supported by two nurses and told not to get up for a few moments. Nuclear Tech guy came and unhooked my IV and put a cotton swab and some tape on my arm. i felt a bit dizzy. the female nurse bent down to look in my eyes ‘ do you have someone to drive you home?’ she asked. ‘Seriously?’ i asked amazed that no one had asked me this before ‘ seriously, after 7 doses of beta blockers and offering me Xanax a number of times, NOW you ask me if i’m driving?’ i shook my head in disbelief ‘yes. yes i have a ride. but what would you do if i did not have a ride?’ she just stared at me. ‘well you do have a ride, so that’s good’ she said looking away. ‘but if i had not’ i insisted ‘if i did not have a very patient friend waiting in the waiting area, what would you do then?’ she shrugged, ‘you’d have to remain her for 4 hours till we were sure the beta blocker was out of your system i suppose’ . and that was the end of that. the male nurse who had greeted me initially came and collected me not making eye contact. i suspect i was now ‘a difficult patient’… i walked unsteadily back to the change area, retrieved my clothes from my locker changed in the little change room. i threw the wee hospital gown in the bin of used gowns, and then went through the doors to the waiting area. i looked at the clock. it was 4:05pm. Kim had been waiting for 3 hours.
While this was not the worst test i will have to take – there is a trans-esophageal ultrasound (or TEE) i have to undergo on June 13th – it certainly was a test that did not instill confidence by the administering team. i’m happy that the TEE is scheduled back at my regular hospital with the cardiac team i have been seeing for 13 years. i’m pretty sure i won’t have things popping and trickling in that test. at least i most certainly pray not.