THREE DAYS AND TWO NIGHTSby
- + - + -
CHAPTER 2: GHOST IN THE MACHINE
And suddenly my eyes are open. The light switch is flicked on. Oddly, I am still in the Operating Room. Even odder, I am in the middle of a sentence. I don't know what I was just saying, I was on autopilot, but now I hear myself asking aloud if I may now see the appendix, as if I have been waiting patiently for some time, for the big reveal. My eyes feel funny. The left one is weepy and irritated. The OR is not crowded like before, but there are at least two people in scrubs here. They seem shocked to see me speaking. "He seems hyper-alert," one says to the other. "Yes, he does seem hyper-alert." They confer briefly about whether I can see it or not, and then produce a clear plastic vial with what looks like a slimy sea creature in it. It is small. I feel like I held the vial in my hand, but maybe they just held it close to me? So that is what my appendix looks like? I think someone says it was indeed inflamed. I would have had no idea, and am not really fully conscious, so can't remember the actual dialog at this point. But I feel like there was an exchange, and then I was told to just relax, and wheeled in to the Recovery Room. (For the record, I think my Nurse Friend Heather thinks this episode was really just a "fever dream" of sorts. But I think it really happened. I really do.)
In between going out and coming to, and inspecting that troublesome sea creature that was sprung from my body, I feel like 5-10 seconds went by. It was not like sleeping. It is like time skipped ahead entirely. Like jumping ahead in a movie on Netflix with a mouse. Click! You are just there. I don't know if I even felt the 5-10 seconds, or if my logical mind is just telling me I felt this after the event, because it is so weird, and my brain is trying to work through something unfathomable. It may have literally felt like a light switch off and on. Flick! Off. Flick! On. I don't have hold of exactly what I felt anymore. But I know it was not like waking from sleep.
I am now in the Recover Room, in my own "pod," I think they call them. Another post-surgery patient is in a pod to my right. I think blue curtains separate us. There are desks and chairs in front of me, like an open, uncluttered office, but not really any staff. (On reflection, this open office visual seems odd. But that is how I remember it.) The attending nurse is another hero in this story. Her name, and I am using her real name, is Deborah Ozolinsh. She is medium build, blondish, probably in her 50s, and has a den mother quality to her.
At this point I am conscious, but not with it. Debbie puts an oxygen tube in my nose. I had never had this done before, and it is way more comfy than I would have imagined; very soft material and with these little nostril tubes that hardly even go up your nose. She tells me to just relax, and when I hit the right oxygen saturation number, probably in a couple hours, I will be taken back to my room for the night. It is 6 p.m. or so. Everything went great, she says.
She is motherly and reassuring. I like her. But! In my addled state, I am paranoid, and decide I have to "fake" like I am doing better than I really am. And I start making a deliberate effort to game the system, so she doesn't become aware that I am not really doing as well as I should be. (Or maybe Debbie already knows things are off, I think to myself, and is just trying to reassure me, in hopes of salvaging the situation, if I can just gain some confidence?) In hindsight, of course, this makes no sense. And is the opposite of what I should be doing. But at this moment, after surgery, and being on powerful drugs accompanied by many other stressors, I am far from being in my right mind. Very far.
I have become aware that the optimal oxygen level is 95%. Debbie may have told me, or I overheard her talking to a colleague or something, but that big "95" is my goal. Windows 95! There is a big, blinking "95" in my mind's eye. I start hyper-focusing to hit this number, and maybe even surpass it. I am not breathing naturally like I was supposed to be doing. Not even close. I am gaming it! And winning! Hell, I just hit 97%! Jackpot, baby! I feel like I am doing great. Then Deborah pops by, casually, and squeezes my arm, reassuringly, like a wise mom that has seen it all, and says "just try to breathe normal." Fack. I think she is onto me. Trouble is, when I do it normal, it immediately dips below 95%, and keeps going even lower, bouncing between 93% and 94%. This can't be good. And there is constant beeping, from the machine monitoring my levels, that gives instant feedback on my status using higher and lower frequencies. Again, in retrospect with a sound mind, what I was doing -- trying to misrepresent what I was capable of -- was insane. But early on, I was not of sound mind. You are not going to be optimal immediately after surgery. That is why I am in a "Recovery Room." I needed time to "recover." Everyone is different. Some of us (well, those of us like me) are a bit crazy. As time goes on, and with Debbie coming by to check in and give me little reassuring squeezes, I become less paranoid, realize it is ridiculous to game the system (and see that, in fact, it is in my best interest to let things be, however they are going to be, good or bad), and sure enough (get this!), I eventually recover! For real. And after a couple hours, I am released. By the end of it, I am right-minded, and feel like I know Debbie. And she is amazing. Like Kat, she found her calling in life.
At one point while monitoring me, Debbie wanted to take my blood sugar levels. I had had it done once already, the night before, when I was admitted. It was a quick little finger poke, done with a small thimble-like device. And it hurt like hell. My finger, at this very point, the next day, in the Recovery Room, still felt sore. Nurses had kept trying to do it ever since the first time, and I would refuse. The one time it was done, my levels came back normal. It seems I was somehow flagged as diabetic in the system and was believed to require frequent sugar checks. Trouble is, I am not diabetic!
Over the course of the night before, I got so sick of being poked, prodded, having my pants yanked down, pressed in tender places (especially where my sore appendix was!), and in general being intruded upon, on this one unnecessary blood sugar test I drew a line in the sand. Period. I started refusing the test. And I was aware I was probably coming across as a "troublesome patient."
I liked Debbie and dreaded what her reaction would be when I rejected the test. I didn't want her turn on me; we had a good rapport going. Cautiously, I explained I wasn't diabetic, and had somehow been flagged as such, in the system. Wrongly. Not sure why? I explained this all to Debbie, fearful of her reaction, and trying to read her as I pleaded my case. But Debbie didn't treat me like I was quarrelsome. She said I have every right to refuse, and even wholeheartedly agreed with my reasoning and shared my frustration. "Why get a finger prick if you aren't diabetic? They hurt!" she said. Exactly! She got it. She was on my side and wanting me to be comfortable and recover without any unnecessary obstacles.
Later, with no prompting from me, I heard her make a call to a doctor, to have my file amended so as to not include blood sugar testing. It was like calling Telus to tell them you want to move to another provider. It was not a simple conversation, like it should be. It went in circles a couple times. Possibly many times. I heard something like:
"Yes... Exactly... Yes..." Progress!
Then "Well, no....Nope... No. Because he is not diabetic." She seemed to hit a wall on the other side. Then there was silence from her, and who knows what the person on other side was saying? Nothing sensible. Then the loop would start again.
"Right... Yes... Yes." Progress!
Then "No... No. Nope. Because he is not diabetic."
It was frustrating just overhearing it, never mind actually making the call. And I got irritated on her behalf, which was really on my own behalf, ultimately. But Nurse Debbie did not get frustrated, or sound irritated. She was just trying to do the right thing by me and couldn't make it work. Still sounding pleasant, she took the doctor's full name, and let things go. And I thought to myself, how can it be so difficult to fight the system, when she is in the system? And no wonder we outsiders don't have a chance? For what it's worth, I would continue to be hounded by nurses to check my blood sugar until I was released from the hospital. And I do think, when I refused, which I did every time, that I would sometimes come off as a jerk to some of the nurses not as empathetic as Deborah Ozolinsh.
- END OF CHAPTER -