Monday, August 22, 2011


BREAST CANCER LESSON NO. 213: Don’t let your husband go home the first night you’re in the hospital.

Such is how my evening begins.

After enjoying the requisite post-surgical strawberry jello and juice, my husband heads home to feed the dogs and get some rest. It’s 8:00 PM when he kisses me goodbye, saying only that he’ll see me early the next morning. (We neglect to clarify what “early” means.)

My chest is bound up like a Geisha’s feet, and I have four plastic tubes the thickness of straws sticking out of me — two on either side. The tubes are a foot in length; at the end of each tube is a plastic bulb about 4 inches long x 2 inches wide into which fluid drains from my incisions. A nurse comes in periodically to empty them; they fill up fast the first day. It’s gross and smelly.

I also have a pain pack that automatically releases medication through two very thin tubes under my chest. So I have four tubes, four bulbs and one tennis ball-sized pain pouch hanging off of me. (Anyone wanna dance?)

As a fresh-from-surgery patient, I must rely on the nursing staff to help me do everything. (Thank goodness I have a catheter.) What makes this more difficult is that a nurse, in her infinite wisdom and attempt at kindness, has closed my door so I can get some sleep. There is a visitor’s lounge a few doors down from my room, and in the middle of the night, it turns into Comedy Central. Every graveyard-shift employee is stopping by — laughing, eating, chatting on cell phones… a real hootinanny. (At least  that's what my codeine-fueled brain is imagining, anyway.)

My closed door also means I am now isolated. I can’t catch anyone’s attention as they walk by. So my night goes something like this: pain, nurse button, pain meds, BP, drains drained, nap, noise, awaken, lights, thirsty, can’t reach, pillows slip, can’t correct, itchy, can’t scratch, too hot, blanket off, too cold, blanket still off; nurse button, wait, wait, wait. Repeat.

The night nurse's aide — definitely not in the running for Miss Congeniality — is very busy and not very worried about me. I must look like I'm doing well. Her English is also not great. She doesn’t understand what I mean when I say I need her to scooch me back up in the bed. (I can’t use my arms, so it is impossible to move myself; and I’ve slid so far down the bed that my feet are starting to dangle off the bottom.) She is in and out in a flurry. (Again, this is how my brain-on-pain-meds is perceiving it.) I fall asleep with the comforting thought that soon, my husband and sister will be here to help.

Morning comes, as does my breakfast — the first solid food I’ve had in more than 30 hours. I gobble it down. No idea what it was. But my sister should be here soon. I haven’t seen her since before surgery; my husband sent her (and my mom) home when I was having trouble coming out of anesthesia. She’s an early riser so I expect her to walk through the door any minute now.

Breakfast is over. My water and cell phone are nearby. It’s 7:30 AM — too early to call anyone. I watch some television and doze off. I wake up at 9:00 AM and call my husband. He just got up. He says he’ll be here in an hour. I'm bummed. I feel like I've been waiting for him for forever.

That’s when I notice the sign taped to my door: “No BP on left arm.” What? That’s wrong! It’s supposed to be no BP on RIGHT arm! (Because I had lymph nodes removed from my right arm, I can't have my blood pressure taken on the right side.) Oh... so that’s why I had to keep correcting the nurse last night every time she came in and went for my right arm....

These are the details I focus on to pass the time.

The clock says 10:00 AM. I call my sister. Turns out she was intentionally not coming to the hospital this morning to give me time with my husband. Huh? She says she thought my husband spent the night in the hospital with me. I never said that. I ask her to stop by after lunch because hubby will be here any minute. (BC Lesson No. 214: Always ask exactly when someone is coming back before they leave.)

Nearly 11:00 AM now and still no husband. You can guess what I do next. Yup. The tears flow like a swollen stream after the rain.

And of course that is precisely when he walks in. Oh, am I cranky. I can’t do anything for myself! The night nurse couldn’t understand English! There was a party next door! I was completely miserable and hardly slept all night! I couldn't reach anything myself. I couldn't scoot myself up! I couldn't move my pillows! Blah, blah, blah! I pepper him with complaints rather than compliments. But he fluffs my pillow and flips it over to the cool side for me anyway. He gets me my pain meds and some ice water. He fixes the lousy sign on my door. And I start to relax just a little.

My sister arrives. I take my first walk down the hall, notice the visitor’s lounge and put two-and-two together. (So it wasn't just my imagination on drugs!) . My surgeon also stops by to see how I’m faring and is happy with my progress.

That evening, after my husband and sister go home, an absolute angel of a nurse on the graveyard shift appears. She is sweet, she is kind, and she is compassionate. She makes sure I have everything I need and never makes me feel like I am asking too much. She stops by often. She is like a dream compared to the night nurse before her. I actually sleep.

Morning No. 2 dawns, and my BFF arrives at 6:30AM. YAY! I called her yesterday about the mix-up with my husband and sister; thankfully she is an early riser and offered to come visit. After breakfast, we take a stroll down the hall. I’m in a purple robe trailing my IV bag on a hook. We go real slow. I feel weak but I know I need to move. As we round the bend, I see Dr. C., my plastic surgeon, leaning against the counter at the nurse’s station. He’s dressed in street clothes. 

That’s your plastic surgeon?” my BFF asks. I think she is surprised I haven't mentioned the cuteness factor. (She later tells me she would be happy to accompany me to my plastic surgery appointments; she's only half joking.)

Dr. C. walks us back to my room, says I'm doing great and that I can go home. HOME! Yippee! He wants to see me in his office in three days for a follow up, when he’ll remove my drains and pain pack, but for now he is pleased with my reconstruction so far and even offers to show me how I look before I leave the hospital.

Oh no. I’m not ready for that. I want to stay wrapped up in the safety of my bandages a little while longer, thank you very much. I want the “big reveal” to happen in the comfort of home.


  1. That was some hospital experience! Reminds me of the negligent treatment when I was getting reconstruction in the hospital. ICU was a nightmare. Hospitals are no place to get well.

  2. Beth... it wasn't ideal, that's for sure! But I did have my own room (always a plus), and I love my doctors. Thankfully I was never in ICU. What was your experience like?

  3. Renn...what a time you had.
    My daughter Jen was my angel thru the night when I was to sick from where they didnt take that darn extension off that I couldnt even ring the button.
    I had horrible treatment in the hospital .
    Thankfully I didnt have a party going on down the hall like you did.
    Girl ...I'm feeling ya tho about not wanting to see "IT" before you left the hospital.
    I just looked....took me 7 days.And even then I looked down...just for a bit...still didnt look in the mirror until a couple days later... ((((hugs)))

  4. Oh, Renn! I am so sorry about that first night. Glad to hear the second was better. Thank God for best friends.

  5. Yes, having your own room is always a bonus. I also love my doctors. ICU was simply abusive. I blogged about it awhile back in a posting called Peek-a-Boo ICU.

  6. Debbi, YAY for daughters! I'm glad she was there for you. I hope you are feeling better. [[[hugs]]]

    Mary, agree!

    Beth, thanks for sharing your link, what a terrible time you had! I think the ICU s/b renamed I[don't]CU. Feeling invisible is no fun!

  7. Oh my goodness Renn, you sure are bringing all those memories of my own hospital stay right back to me today. I think it's amazing that you are writing through this - I just know this will resonate with so many of us. Continued healing to you x

  8. One of the biggest things I've learned while going through cancer treatments with my mom is what a big difference a good nurse makes. Or a bad nurse. The whole experience really comes down to them ... you really doctors so little. Thank God for the caring, competent nurses.

  9. Mina, you're right, a good nurse is worth his/her weight in gold. They can make the most awful experience bearable. (or not.)

  10. Renn, just catching up on your blog. I so relate to this! Mom spent first night with me at hospital, she couldn't sleep, so when I was wired from the morphine she entertained me and called the nurse to help get me situated, more pain meds, whatever. DH spent second night...did not go so well. We still laugh (kind of) about that melt down at 2 am, not pretty. My moral of your story (and mine) is someone must spend the night in the hospital that "gets" it!

  11. Barbara: Exactly! Am laughing at the humor of your being entertained by your Mom in the middle of the night while on morphine! And I get how the second night with DH did not go quite as well... But we love them anyway! ;-) Hopefully anyone who has yet to have surgery will heed the moral of our story.


Your comments are encouraging — and encouraged!