Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Surgery is a funny thing. They put you to sleep, cut you open, sew you up and hold you hostage.
Just kidding! Charleston hospitals are amazing, but I’m not going to name the one Widdle escaped from last week.
He went in to “have his gallbladder out,” which now takes less time than picking up your dry cleaning. For months, Widdle hadn’t felt well. He had every test known to man and some man has never heard of. No-one could figure out what ailed him, aside from living with me.
Finally, an answer: Widdle’s gallbladder was functioning at 13 percent, and required removal. (I don’t know how zero gallbladder is better than 13 percent, but then I’m not a doctor.)
Outpatient surgery was scheduled, and on the coldest day in 40 years, we staggered into the hospital at 5:45 a.m. Everyone, from the lobby volunteer to the surgeon (who looked all of 19) was compassionate and professional.
At 8 a.m. sharp I kissed Widdle — who sported a blue surgical cap and drugged grin — and they wheeled him off to surgery. At 8:32 a.m. the surgeon appeared beside my chair in the lobby. I almost dropped my book.
“All done,” he beamed. “He’s in recovery. They’ll take you back in about 40 minutes.”
Given the speed of events so far, I fully expected to be driving home by noon. Little did I know we were entering a time warp.
First, the positives: The surgery was successful. Widdle’s room was clean and modern. The staff was thoughtful, cheery and attentive. The only problem: We were there for 15 hours.
At 10 a.m. he had two pain pills. At noon they delivered his lunch, a grilled chicken sandwich that he ate with gusto. Our nurse, a jolly older woman, said, “The doctor has another surgery at 2 p.m. and will probably pop in afterwards.”
We’re still waiting for that doc to pop.
Meanwhile, friends and family kept calling and texting for progress updates. My replies deteriorated as the day wore on, from “He’s fine and the hospital is awesome!” to “He should’ve been discharged hours ago,” to “We’re planning a breakout. Who wants to drive?”
By 3 p.m. my phone battery was dead. Widdle was staring at the ceiling and I was making shadow puppets on the wall. At 5 p.m. they brought him dinner, fried fish and chips. As he munched happily, I strolled to the nurse’s station and said, “Hey, what are the chances of him getting out of here soon?”
The nurse gave me a totally confused look.
“Wait,” I said. “You DO know he’s outpatient, right? He’s supposed to leave today.”
Her eyes grew huge. “I--I can call the doctor,” she stammered. “Good idea,” I said quietly. I always get quiet before my head explodes.
Then there was a shift change, and it went downhill from there.
Widdle was finally discharged at 8:30 p.m. By then he had repeatedly requested another dose of pain meds, and to have his dressings changed. Guess which one he didn’t get? That’s right, he was sent home A) With no pain relief since 10 a.m., and B) Too late to fill the prescription at a pharmacy.
A young nurse blushed crimson as she apologized profusely, but no-one could explain why things were fouled up so utterly. As we drove away, Widdle, the most mellow dude on earth, said, “It’s sure easier to get into a hospital than out of one.”
On the upside, he has only four tiny, cute incisions. And he really did like the fish and chips.
Julie R. Smith, whose brother’s wife is a nurse, can be reached at email@example.com.