A Little Cuffer, or Maybe Not

The diagnosis was gallstones and the suggested response was laparoscopic cholecystectomy, a commonly-performed minimally invasive method in which 4 small incisions are made in the abdomen, through which small tubes are inserted. One of them contains a tiny camera and the others carry surgical instruments. The gall bladder is cut and then removed, along with the pesky stones, through the belly button.

I had been waiting my turn for well over a year and in that time had learned the habits that resulted in the painful attacks and thus avoided them; no fatty foods; no eating after 8 pm. By no means a hard regimen to follow, but with the realization that whatever process had created the stones in the first place was one that would continue, and thus worsen the condition, there was no doubt. I was going t get the procedure done as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

It had—a call out of the blue at work indicating that a cancellation had presented itself and that I could come the following week— and here I was, standing in line, waiting my turn to check in at Day Surgery.

“Jake? Sandy?” two of my students (and one another’s boyfriend/girlfriend) took their place in the lineup behind me. “What are you two doing here?”

“I’m finally getting it fixed for good,” said Jake, holding out his hand, the injury he’d received years earlier while still in school still clearly visible. Josephine, just back from parking the car, joined us. We all chatted until our turns came to be checked in. After that Jake, along with Sandy went to orthopedics and Josephine and I made our way to where we were sent.

It was, by all appearances, a typical hospital ward. Eight (or so) hospital beds were set out along the wall and sliding curtains afforded the degree of privacy that was necessary. Nurse A greeted us and led us to one of the beds. She indicated the two “Johnny Coats” laid out on the bed. I was to put one on the standard way and would don the second back-to-front as an improvised dressing gown. She spoke in a gentle voice, telling me to remove everything but in a way that could not be misunderstood, then left me to change.

After a few minutes she returned. From outside the curtain she inquired, “Are you ready?” and then came inside when I answered. She asked me the questions that had already been posed at check-in: name, address, type of procedure, and so on. She took my vitals and gave me an injection of something that would prevent clotting. “This will sting for a bit, but that will go away after a few minutes.” She was correct. When finished she smiled, got up, and then returned with a warm blanked which she placed over me. “You can recline that chair and get more comfortable while you wait. Would you like me to do that?”

“No, it’s OK,” I replied and she left after assuring me I would not have long to wait.

Dr. Smith, the lead on the procedure, dropped by soon after. His eyes showed that he recognized me from the consult, even though that had been eight months prior. No mistake—he recalled what we’d been talking about at the time; remarkable. He asked if I had any questions. I did. When could I expect to be active again after the surgery? He gave me a detailed answer. “It’s been a while since you signed the consent,” he chuckled, handing me another one which I signed. “See you inside. It won’t be long.”

He was right and after a few minutes, pretty much 10am on the dot, just like I’d been told, I was led to the operating waiting area, but only after Josephine insisted on a parting kiss. “See you in a few hours.”

Nurse B led me to the waiting area, showed me to a comfy chair and brought me another warm blanket. In the minute or so it took to get there we discovered that in all likelihood the Volleyball team I coached almost 25 years ago had played hers on several occasions. I laughed and admitted that I hadn’t recalled winning any games against her team since Dave had been such a good coach. Dave. She stopped, turned to me and started saying, “Dave, you know what happened—“ I interrupted, “Yes, Dave and I remained friends long after we’d left the schools we were teaching in at the time. I know. It’s been three years now. So sad.” We shared a few more memories of our old friend and chatted some more until another person arrived. Nurse B went on her way.

It was one of the surgical residents. He introduced himself and verified my name and the procedure I was to have. He asked if I had any questions. I didn’t. He smiled and left, saying “See you in a few minutes.”

Another visitor arrived; the anesthesiologist resident, late twenties, bright eyed and smiling but with a gentle friendliness more suggestive of someone older. Once again she asked me all the usual questions. I answered them all again matter-of-factly, but thinking of how some patients must react from time to time. “What—again?” some must say, “I’ve already answered these a million times!”

But, of course, that’s the way it has to be. Each day, each medical professional here sees many, many souls, each with their own history, and each with their particular circumstances. Safeguards have to be in place to ensure that the correct things happen and if a few questions have to be repeated, so be it.

She went more in depth: allergies, previous medical history and so on. Of course she was only verifying what was already before her. Dr. B had already asked those same questions during the pre-op a few days previous. The anesthesiologist arrived—a huge man (or so it seemed from my vantage point in the comfy chair) but with the same gentle manner. “Any questions?” I shook my head, “No. I’m good. Let’s do this.”

“Then let’s go.”

I followed them to the OR. It was more or less what I expected. Clean, brightly lit and furnished with the things you’d expect. I walked to the table. “Give me a sec while I adjust it,” I heard and I stood awkwardly by the table as it was lowered. In that time the other people in the room introduced themselves. I tried hard to repeat the names but know that they wouldn’t stick. The gentle tones of voice they used both with me and amongst themselves and they went about their duties would, though.

I laid down and felt a little pinch as my hand was deadened, then (sort of) felt the tube being inserted at that site. “This is for the anesthesia.” I heard. A mask was placed over my nose and mouth.  “This is oxygen, just breathe normally.” I did. “We are going to give you something to relax first. A pause, and I felt myself get strangely light headed.

“Can you feel it?”

I blinked, signifying “Yes.”

“We are starting the anesthetic now—“

I opened my eyes and quickly found the clock on the wall. It was just after two in the afternoon.

Done.

My eyes scanned the room, clearly the recovery area. Six or seven beds lined the walls, some of which were occupied. Two nurses were quietly going from patient to patient. I moved a bit to see how I was doing and my hands easily found the bandages that covered the four incisions. Strange—there was no great amount of pain even though all of my senses were back in order.

Nurse C soon noticed I was awake and came by me. “How are you doing?”

“I’m ok.”

She checked the machines by the bedside then turned to me saying gently, “Good. You need to rest some more now.”

I obliged, drifting in and out, comfortably occupying that space just between sleep and wakefulness. Time passed slowly, measured in ten-minute increments, as the big hand went all the way around, once. Nurse C made frequent visits, checking the machines by my bedside each time.

“Any pain?”

“Nope. On a scale of one to ten I’d give it a two or a three; nothing much really.”

“Do you need anything for it?”

“No, I’m ok as-is.”

“Good. Funny the two of you who just came out both feel that way. It’s not always like that.”

“I guess Dr. Smith and the team are good.”

“They are.”

At three she stopped and spoke. “Let’s work on waking you up now.” I tried, but you know how it is—sometimes you just want to rest. You try and wake up but keep dozing back off again. I saw Nurse C pick up the phone and heard her say, “no, he’s just chillin’ there in the bed now. I’m a bit concerned about his blood oxygen level.” She conversed with the voice at the other end for a bit then hung up and came over, repeating the concern I’d already heard.

“That was the anesthesiologist and he said to give you something to open your airways a bit more to address the issue. I don’t want to release you just yet, ‘cause you might just stop breathing and we don’t want that!”

I nodded, fully understanding and thinking, “It’s not everyone who can say that quite so well and not scare the pants off you.”

She smiled, gave me the stuff, and came back a while later. “It seems to be working. Try this.” She handed me a spirometer and I breathed as instructed.

“Excellent.” Keep it up.

I did.

After a while she said, “You’re fine now. Let’s bring you back.”

She wheeled me—bed and all—back to exactly where I started out earlier that morning. We chatted a while before she left, returning to the recovery unit.

A group of nurses were nearby at a desk. It was shift-change time and they were doing the briefing. It ended with some light casual talk. One of the nurses, let’s call her Nurse D, said something which made the others laugh. It made me smile too. She caught my eye, “You heard that.” She grinned widely and walked over to my bed. “Looks like you’re about ready to go home. Are you able to get dressed?”

“Sure.”

“I’ll call—,” she checked the chart she was holding, “Josephine?”

“Yes. You have the number?”

She said it back to me and I nodded. “Take your time getting dressed.” She left, closing the curtain.

I slowly got out of the bed and got dressed, then sat in the chair. A wave of giddiness swept over me and I know it would soon turn to nausea. I got back on the bed and laid back down.

Nurse D must have sensed it as she came right back to the curtain, “are you okay?”

“Feeling a bit light headed,” I replied.

“That’s normal for this. They put a lot of air in your belly when doing that procedure and almost every recovering patient feels some nausea.” She laid a cold cloth on my forehead. “Better?”

It was…so much better. I closed my eyes and the giddiness soon passed. Everything is relative I suppose but as the nausea went away it was replaced with a huge feeling of relief. I felt just fine. Josephine came in. She looked concerned. “You’re white as a ghost!”

“Nah, I’m good.”

An attendant came by with a wheelchair and brought me to the entrance where Josephine was waiting with the car. We drove home.

That was Thursday. Today is Saturday and I’m sitting at the dining room table typing away on the laptop. Aside from a little tightness in the belly and some light soreness around the incision sites I am experiencing no undue discomfort. A little time for rest and everything will be as before, no, better than before.

Thursday, the day of the procedure, was budget day in the province of Newfoundland Labrador. It could not be a good news budget since NL has allowed itself to become far too dependent on oil revenues. The falling price of oil therefore means lean times ahead. The governing party had a difficult task, specifically to bring down a lean budget in an election year. Simply put, the knives are out. The parties not in power, as well as individuals who enjoy a good bloody match of politics are all having a fine time criticizing it. The lead-up happened before my procedure and after I returned home I took the time to read the document and create the previous blog post, one that reflected my general feeling of guarded optimism, asking the political types, “instead of criticizing, can you please state what you’d do if you had the chance?”

I still haven’t heard any sensible replies to that question and, as expected, nobody had paid much attention to my opinion anyway. After all, why should they? I’m just one tiny private voice of reason (or so I hope) among half a million others, some reasonable, some not. The cacophony of ego-fueled anger, resentment and outrage has effectively drowned my voice out, that’s for sure. Besides, here, as everywhere else the phrase, “if it bleeds it leads” is the watch word. Who wants to hear, “what would you do instead,” when it’s so much more satisfying to just vent.

So what has that got to do with the rest of this? Just this: the overwhelming roars of derision  that have been let loose against the budget remind me of the many negative  stories reported regarding bad experiences patients relate regarding our health care system. Week after week we are treated to yet another story of an experience that leads the listener to conclude that “the health care system is failing us.”

Week after week, anecdote after anecdote. What else can you conclude?

But then there’s the personal experience, outside that one hears reported. Stories of the many that come and go, day after day, get treated and then return home, getting on with life. You don’t hear those. After all, those are just more, tiny, private voices of reason; small and quiet, never reported.

That exactly is the point here. We only hear when things go wrong. “Everyone I met was super—professional and caring—and everything went according to plan,” doesn’t make much of a story, does it? No grief, no conflict, no big emotional resolution means, effectively, no story.

Well, that’s it, then. I have no story for you. Only gratitude to the skilled, hard-working, selfless, caring professionals I encountered last Thursday.

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About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
This entry was posted in Newfoundland and Labrador, Society and Culture and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to A Little Cuffer, or Maybe Not

  1. Johnny says:

    Again.. and as always, Maurice… well said!

    A great tale which expresses appreciation for those health care professionals who, day in and day out, serve us very well. Glad your on the mend.

    • Thanks, Johnny. We hear so often about the negative stories and it just seemed fair to try and help even up the count 🙂 The system I was a part of was one that consisted of excellent people and it seemed fitting to acknowledge that.

  2. The aristocratic nobles and early republicans, those who advocated limiting the rights of the mob to rule itself because they believed “the mob” ie.”the cacophony of ego-fueled anger, resentment and outrage” would effectively drown out the voice of reason, felt that only those with education and good breeding should make decisions for/against the corporate good.

    But really, virtue and wisdom always have quiet voices, not flamboyant or self-promoting, and are heard only by those who seek to find them, and then actively and patiently listen to the quieter, gentler stories.

    I believe there are many people, perhaps not a majority of people, but still many, who care to hear the voice of reason. I also think we have to be more deliberate in coming together as a chorus. Not sure what that looks like, though, in an age when “news” is no longer information, but rather a sophisticated mixture of propaganda, advertisement and base entertainment.

    I, for one, am grateful for the many reasonable people I’ve found.

    How is Josephine? In my experience, it’s at least as hard and perhaps more difficult to be the person watching and waiting for a loved one to go through surgery and recover, than it is to be the one operated on.

    • Thanks, Tracy. All is well with me and, I am happy to say, with Josephine too. As for the voice of reason, and the willingness to be attuned to its quiet message I take heart from what you have said.

  3. Great to hear that you had a positive experience. In my experience the person who is assigned to you can make or break your time in hospital. I have had mostly good experiences but the ones that were bad stick in the back of my mind and I wonder why these individuals work in a job that they obviously hate. Although I guess they all have bad days and work the job of two people.

    • That’s true. We all have good days and bad days. The bad ones are quite often nobody’s fault; they just happen. That said, those who can only see the bad days really need to take a closer look at the bigger picture. Perhaps they are in a bad situation and need to either change it or exit that scene entirely. Perhaps they need to avail of employee assistance–it’s been my experience that most public service orgs have excellent support in that area. Perhaps, though, it’s a case of people just allowing their perception to become skewed to the point that they only see the negative. In those instances, yes, change in one form or another–while being actively avoided–is absolutely necessary.

  4. TamrahJo says:

    Hugs and best wishes for healing – 🙂 And, I’ve had plenty of time spent in and at hospitals – you’re right – there are a lot of great, dedicated folks out there!

    • Thanks! I’m at home and working on the healing bitt but, as one who’s used to being on the go a lot it’s proving a bit difficult. Fortunately walking is allowed and it will be a saving grace 🙂

  5. tw says:

    Wishing you a strong and speedy recovery Maurice, be gentle with yourself until fully healed. It is always good to hear the positive side of health care, wherever in the world, for I do not believe nurses, doctors or other medics set out to do anything other than care for us as best they can. Politicians on the other hand…

  6. jennypellett says:

    I’m very glad to hear that your surgery went without a hitch and that you are feeling well enough to pass it off as if nothing unusual has gone on. It’s always good to mention when things go well – so often it’s only the complaints we hear about. I know I’m apt to have a little rant from time to time but I am also very aware how much a thanks for good service or whatever means. For instance, we had a blocked drain here a while ago and had to call out an emergency plumber. The young lad who arrived sorted our problem out without any problem, was polite and explained what he was doing and how much it would all cost. After he left I telephoned the company to express my thanks and to commend his work. Whoever I spoke to was astonished: they thought I was phoning to complain – no one had ever expressed gratitude before. It goes a long way, Maurice, and contrary to you saying that you have no story here, I think you tell a very good one!
    A speedy recovery to you and a happy spring time to come.

    • The negative ones get so much more airplay. I just listened to the local news and in that five-minute spot they managed to stuff in two negative ones about NL’s health care and I am still thinking about the hundreds, probably thousands, of the ones like mine that happened over the weekend that nobody will ever hear of in public. Kind of sad really. But worse that that it tends to paint such a negatively distorted view of what we really have.
      I’m glad–but not surprised–that you made your call 🙂

  7. Michelle H says:

    Your story did a good job of bringing me through all the sympathetic feelings. By the time you got out of bed, I was feeling my own stomach wanting to give way, and then it came back again with your description of the nurse’s calm competence. Excellent writing.

    We are kind of circling some of these issues in discussions at my blog, too, the idea that we hardly notice things going well. Whether it be in art, editing, health care or politics, we don’t notice the system working. This is what defines their functionality. But of course, the sirens come out, the anger and indignation, when things fail.

    Our provincial government is telling us we have a surplus in our budget, despite our own oil dependent budgets. My husband was relaying this information to me, as I’ve been out of the news loop lately. I gather what’s happened is the government has pilfered the savings account to cover a deficit, and then what was left of the savings they added to the budget and called it a surplus. Thus, in the end, we’re going backwards faster than if the politicians had simply stated the problem and allowed it to be what it is.

    The industry is now declaring that the price of oil is back to allow for profits at average production costs. Some areas, like fracking, will still see losses, but deposits that are easier drilling will now see profits. Let’s hope this will help us all, and that the downturn will have offered some important lessons on financial planning and dependency.

    So glad you’re recovering and doing well. Are you already back at work?

    • Your story sounds so much like our own. The parallels are almost uncanny. Same thing here–had no money/got money/spent like drunken sailors/broke again. Tragic, I suppose.
      And far from over.
      Not back to work just yet. I considered it but then figured that a bit more time at home would mean a proper return to work feeling renewed. That, in the end, made more sense.

      • Michelle H says:

        Good to hear you opted for a proper recovery. Always tempting to short ourselves! I’m laughing at the drunken sailor refernce, as that tune came straight to mind when my husband told me the budget news! 🙂

  8. Mary Duffy says:

    Take care and rest up. Sending best wishes for speedy healing from the other coast. Sounds like the health care system there is quite a caring one. Happy to hear that.

    • I think in many cases people respond to you in keeping with the way you respond to them. It’s been my experience that many bad situations were not one-way things. People who work in health care (or for that matter any job) are, above all else, people. I think patients often forget that and assume that, while their own needs and feelings need to be respected, those of the caregivers do not. In other words they act as if it’s permissible for you to snap and be otherwise unpleasant to them since after all you’re sick, but it is NOT cool for them to snap back since after all they’re professionals first. Of course i do not agree with that position but sometimes saying it shows just how one-sided, and selfish it really is. It’s probably best for patients to be mindful of the fact that their care-givers are likely over-worked and stressed; probably as much as the patient is.

  9. Tiny says:

    I’m happy you got rid of it! And that everything went so smoothly – which you appreciate very beautifully here!

  10. Sorry that I have been out-of-touch for so long Maurice. This post caught my attention and brought me back to my senses. I am so glad you were able to jump the queue and finally have your procedure. It sounds as if all is well and that you’ll be back on deck shortly. Glad to hear it. We are in the middle of final exams. After that, I hope to get back to things like blogging. D

    • Yes, it took a while but fortunately during the wait I found out how to avoid the attacks so it wasn’t much of a problem. The timing was absolutely perfect, coinciding exactly with a break in the trimesters here. I figure i will be back to work on Monday, right on time for the startup of the spring trimester (on that note Memorial insists on colling them semesters still. Weird – I am sure that those who write the calendar know the difference).

  11. elkement says:

    OMG – I thought I had left a long comment here… but it seems I never clicked submit, perhaps because I was interrupted or something!

    And now I can’t recall half of it as it was a typical whatever-comes-to-my-mind comment. I enjoyed both of your recent posts – an interesting mini-series!

    I hope you are well again! Modern surgery is so amazing – when will doctors do this ‘over the internet’?

    I can so much agree with what you say – better focus on making a small positive impact on your corner of the world, the places and people you can really connect with. Re politics: I have nearly stopped reading news daily, after all that eurozone-Greece-crisis events (most recently also an Austrian province made headlines in international finance news – called a ‘Mini-Greece’). I would need to invest so much time to be able to have a really educated opinion – and then I still would not be able to change anything.

    • LOL. When I first started using WordPress, from time to time I would accidentally navigate away from my comment and totally lose everything I had typed. For that reason I completely stopped typing anything meaningful into the notifications area. I think t might be better now but am taking no chances! Your comment reminds me of the current trend in the type of tourism that involves visiting some place in the word and doing some good. While it’s well intentioned (I think), in the end it really comes across as arrogant. Consider the people, used to a particular part of the world and for the most part well adapted for life in it. Along comes this person from some other part of the word who wants to show them how to do things their way. All the people can do is smile politely and wait for them to go home out of it! A notable exception is, of course, the assistance from medical professionals and others who are specifically trained in some needed area. Their help is no doubt useful. For just about anyone else, though, if they want to help they’d be better off either funding a skilled person for a visit or in locating an helping to fin a specific charity.

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