Surgery Day – Part I

Yesterday’s walk around the block turned into a walk around the neighborhood.  Note however that it was a very slow walk around the neighborhood, immediately followed by dinner and a 3 hour nap.

On Monday, Kaiser called around 8.30am to ask whether we could show up early since they’d had last-minute cancellations. They wanted to move the surgery up by a couple of hours.  We hurried to shower, throw together a few last minute things, and make the half-hour drive to the hospital while humming the Rocky theme song.

I checked in at 9.20am and left Earl at the waiting room.  He would be called back to my pre-op room after I’d changed and met with a nurse.  I climbed into my hospital (tastefully striped, acceptable thread-count) gown, arranged my hair attractively in a fashionable blue poof mesh cap, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Earl had still not been shown back to my pre-op room, so with nothing else to do, I fell asleep.

Sometime before 11am, Earl was finally allowed to join me.  We noted the revised surgery time had come and gone, and I tried to ignore the increasingly frantic messages from my empty stomach.  I had finished my last meal at 7.30pm the night before, and my body knew breakfast should have already been delivered.  A sign next on a door next to me that said “Caritas Room” taunted my hopeful (vegetarian, no less!) brain into thinking it advertised Carnitas.

Just before noon, a rep from radiology came by to administer my radioactive tracer (to locate the sentinel lymph nodes).  Extracting her tools from a narrow white lead box, she injected a 4cc mixture of Technetium (periodic table #43) and a local anesthetic into (a very sensitive part of) my breast twice with an extremely fine needle.  I had dreaded this procedure after having read some painful sounding stories on the web, but in truth I barely noticed the injections.  I breathed a sigh of relief.

Closer to 1pm, we sighted my surgeon, Dr. Bitar.  She happily related stories about her newly UCLA-graduated daughter and said-daughter’s plans to move to NY for a shot at musical theater and assured us that she was exactly how we wanted my surgeon to be:  fully rested after an enjoyable vacation.  Using a felt-tip pen, she marked my right breast with the letter ‘C’ twice to ensure during surgery they would be removing the correct side and to remind herself to perform the sentinel node biopsy.  And she told us why we had been waiting for so long:  after calling us into the hospital early, Kaiser received an emergency perforated appendix case, which took precedence over my elective surgery.

Dr. Bitar left to prepare herself for surgery, and I sent Earl out to the waiting room to see if our relatives wanted to come in to chat briefly before I left for the OR.  First he brought in my Aunt Helen, who kindly asked after my condition, wished me good luck, and said she would see me again afterwards.  Next, Earl brought in my brother Dale, but not without difficulty.  An authoritarian clipboard-wielding blue-smocked volunteer apparently took it upon herself at this point to grudgingly mete out visitations.  She curtly admonished the two for attempting to enter without her permission, and announced that she had to first go see whether I was ready for visitors.  Not knowing what had transpired in the waiting room, I watched the volunteer briefly hesitate in front of my room before heading down the hall to another.  After that, she went back to Earl to inform him that his loved one had just arrived at post-op!  Earl notified her that surely she was mistaken, and she huffily finally allowed them to come visit me.  Hurumpff.

After commiserating about the surly volunteer and discussing the day’s events, Dale returned to the waiting room to dispatch an update to this blog, and Earl and I continued our wait.  We held hands and hummed the Rocky theme song, I read my Kindle, and I tried to sleep.  I had been raring to go for hours but couldn’t leave the starting gate.  My cohorts in neighboring stalls had long ago departed for their operations, and after 2pm the remaining staff finally started to gather around my room.  Dr. Bitar returned in scrubs, as did my anesthesiologist who asked me brief questions about my history with general anesthesia.

Right around 2.45pm, I Earl and I exchanged one last kiss, and he returned to the waiting area while I was rolled down a hallway, through some doors, and into the OR.  Just before I left the pre-op area, I felt something knock my iv, and I glanced quickly over to my anesthesiologist who apologized (for what, I had no idea).  Midway down the hall to the OR, I felt my left arm and then my left leg start to go numb.  I checked with the anesthesiologist and he confirmed that he had been apologizing for starting the local anesthetic.  By the time I entered the OR seconds later, I was woozy and marveled at the vast assortment of bright lights overhead, my last conscious thought.

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