21 July 2009

Surgery and the House of Crazy

July 13, Gimme Drugs

I’m in my johnny, biggie hospital pants and a hairnet, nodding my head and waiting for some sedatives.

The anesthesiologist is explaining all of the “possible” complications of anesthesia. He has a retainer that gives him a slight lisp. He speaks in starts and stops. In hand mannerisms, he is a ringer for John “the Biscuit” Cage from Ally McBeal.

THE BISCUIT: Anesthesia-related deaths…are about 1 in 200,000…sometimes there are rare instances….where a patient can feel….the surgery happening…but is unable…to alert…the doctor. This is…very rare…but…it can happen…OK?

At the end of each sentence, he makes church steeples with his hands and keeps them that way until I respond.


I understand he’s making sure I absorb the disclaimers before I sign the consent form. I’m more concerned about his understanding my unholy claustrophobia and the involuntary karate kicks that are going to fly in his general direction when that oxygen mask comes at me in the OR. Unless I’m sedated, of course.

His eye-rolling pre-op assistant, a nurse from Quincy, warned me that I’d have to fight to get a word in edgewise with this guy, or any of “the men around here” for that matter.

NURSE: “Sweetie, when the anesthesiologist gets in here, don’t let him leave until he gives you the drugs. These men around here, I tell ya, if something isn’t as obvious as a dog’s balls, forgetaboutit!”

ASIDE: When I had a c-section, some crafty anesthesiologists hooked me up to a valium drip and cut creative shapes out of a wee plastic oxygen mask that I learned -- somewhat unceremoniously -- was just a decoy, a distraction from the hulking mother ship of an oxygen mask they cupped over my face just seconds before I passed out. I felt like a dog in a car headed to the park, only to veer into the vet parking lot at the last minute. It was a total mind game, but it worked.

Right now, my anxiety is mounting.

THE BISCUIT: “Sometimes…in a very, very rare instance… people don’t wake up…from anesthesia. Again…this is very, very…

ME (interrupting): You know I need sedatives, right?


My surgeon shows up and is teeny tiny. At first I don’t recognize her. I remember her being taller and having a more formidable presence. Then again, the last time I saw her, she was using the word “treatable” instead of “curable,” which made me shrink, cartoon-like, in her office chair. I knew the huge difference between those two words. She’s since used the latter, so perhaps perception is reality.

Size aside, she is ALL business – and a little scary – and all of the things I’ve liked about her all along. She scribbles the word “yes” on LEFTY to indicate the rogue boob of the pair.

As I sign the rest of the consent forms, well-wishes in the form of texts continue to bubble up on my iPhone.

Then, I look around and realize the Biscuit has left without giving me the drugs. SHIT!

I’m about to page my wisecracking nurse when he returns, patting a pocket protector full of syringes.

BISCUIT: I’ve got some happy, happy cocktails.

He injects one into my IV that makes my head swim, melloowwwwww. I reluctantly hand over my do-rag and phone to James. As they wheel me away to OR, I blow James a kiss, then I want to cry but can’t.


The next thing I know, someone with a thick Indian accent is tickling my feet.

“Helloooo Kathryn, Hellooo (tickle, tickle, tickle) “ Your surgery is over. Helloooo.”

There is a kindly-looking doctor at the foot of my bed. His manner was so calming and reassuring that I had to ask later if he actually existed or was just a narcotic apparition.

DOCTOR: “Did you have any dreams? (tickle, tickle) Hmmm? Hmmm?”

Apparently, I told him I dreamt about being at the beach. It was not so much a dream as a replay of the prior weekend at Minot. And the cool little table with cup holders that materialized out of thin air as the perfect appetizer and Corona dock.

ASIDE: This marks an improvement in my anesthesia-related conversation skills. I’ve said all kinds of random shit under the influence like “go fuck yourself” to an innocent bystander. Or “Vito has a lot of friends” -- which I whispered conspiratorially to my brother for no apparent reason and of which I have zero recollection.

DOCTOR: “Are you in any pain, hmmm?”

I shake my head no, but he shows me how to dispense the morphine drip that I was hooked up to with the click of a button.

I never realized just how much pain I’ve been in all my life until I clicked that button. The button not only emits a pleasant trilling sound like the Tri-Tone on a Mac, but also a steady stream of awesome into your soul.

This mastectomy thing: So far, SO not a big deal….

July 13, 6 p.m.-ish : My Pie-Seeking Nightmare of a Roommate

I have these MF blood pressure cuffs around both of my calves that randomly seize up and scare the shit out of me. In my morphine haze, they give me the sensation of someone grabbing my ankles. I keep kicking into the darkness before remembering it’s just the damn cuffs. They are supposed to prevent clotting, pulmonary embolism and all that. As a trade off, they give me miniature heart attacks and make me itch like a MF.

I’ve just been wheeled into my room from recovery and soon realize that these calve cuffs are going to be the least of my worries. James and I realize we are not alone.

A voice cries out from the other side of the curtain. A first, it sounds like the voice of Caillou and I think I’m freaking out on the drugs.

(If you don’t know who Caillou is, click here.)

Why have I been put in a room with a child? But we soon learn the voice is that of a 30-ish pregnant woman who’s apparently been admitted for a migraine, but that remains unclear.

WOMAN: I need pie! Pieeee with berrieees! PLEASE.

Then she starts sobbing. And sobbing and sobbing. It turns into a hysterical meltdown.

James and I look at each other, not know what to do.

The nurse keeps coming in and out of the room. “We’re trying to find you some pie, Tammy.” (not her real name)

TAMMY (still sounding like Caillou) Can you get me some Ativan? Just until you can get my pie. Please! Please!

Nobody seems to be denying her anything so the pleading is even more annoying than the Caillou voice. The crying continues. The nurse brings her some Ativan. Another nurse takes my vitals, James takes off to get Carrie and Paulie to bed and I drift off into a narcotic haze.

~One hour later~

More screeching from beyond the curtain

TAMMY: Pie? Is there pie?

LONG SUFFERING NURSE: All I could find you was a slice of angel food cake and some canned peaches.

~Sounds of eating at a troph~

Throughout the night, Tammy shuns tap water in the name of the fetus but demands all of the narcotics she can get her hands on. Against my will, I find out she is also anorexic and completely unstable. The crying stops only to be outdone at 3 a.m. when she places a frantic call to her husband “Todd” and has a screaming conversation that goes on for 45 minutes.

She hangs up, cries and swears to herself for a bit, and then turns Law & Order up to volume 10 on her TV.

I furiously click my morphine drip and am determined to sleep with one eye open.

July 14, 8 a.m. Rectum? I Damn Near Killed Him!

James calls. “Did that horror show next door finally pass out?”

I am too tired to get into it. All I really want at that moment is one of those monkey paw back scratchers.

Tammy's nurse for the day is originally from Arkansas and speaks like a shrill Dixie Carter.

Then, Todd shows up. Turns out, he is a tool of the highest order, barking at his wife telling her this is happening to her because she is "weak" and "cannot have a bowel movement."

ASIDE: I could not make up this story if I tried. I hope I am able to convey the sheer insanity of this hospital stay.

TAMMY: I can’t poo. I’m trying. They want me to poo and I can’t.

TODDY: Tammy, do you feel like you may have something in your rectum?

There is a flurry of phone calls that culminates in a rectal examination of Tammy.

Now I need Ativan.

Moments later, James cheerily arrives with snacks from Whole Foods, magazines and an abundance of good vibes that help balance out the toxic energy going on on the other side of the curtain. There have been no less than 8 people over there in the past few hours. Not one moment of peace. I've even started using the restroom in the hallway to avoid getting sucked into the vortex of Tammy & Todd.

JAMES: Hey, how’s it going?

I point to the curtain.

TODD: Tammy, answer the doctor. Do you still feel like you may have something in your rectum?

JAMES (shakes head): Are you kidding me?

ME: Oh, you just missed the rectal exam!

The doctors, nurses and Todd discuss all kinds of invasive procedures from enemas to excavation via backhoe.

James throws his hands up in disgust.

It's now clear that these people are completely deranged, have zero regard for the other people in the room trying to heal. Being in this room is not good for what we now call the "proverbial tumor." This is no way to spend Bastille Day.

The nurse gives me some Benadryl in lieu of a monkey paw backscratcher and I start dropping off. James heads to the Federal to grab a fresh sandwich (it’s going in the book) and get away from the ongoing discussion about Tammy’s rectum.

We decide to see if I can have my room changed when he gets back.

~15 minutes later~

I can’t believe it’s still July 14th.

I wake from a deep sleep and find a figure hovering by my hospital bed. At first, I think it’s Tammy wielding a bulb syringe. When my vision unblurs, I realize it’s my brother P trying to read my hospital bracelet.

“Oh my God, it IS you," he says.

He's been walking up and down the corridor for 10 minutes. The nurse told him I was in room 22 but when he peeked in, he thought I was some little boy. This is an ongoing theme. James told me I look like "little Michael Russo" with my fauxhawk. Michael is a six-year-old classmate of Caroline's.

We get about 10 seconds to laugh about this until the conversation fires up on the other side of the curtain again.

TODD: Tammy, I think you need to take a stand on the bowel movement issue.

My brother points to the curtain, bewildered.

ME (whisper): Fucking crazy. I’m getting out of here.

James returns and Dixie Carter asks him and Paul to leave as they'll be doing yet another invasive procedure on Tammy. She turns to me, "But don't worry, hon, you can stay."

Ooh, lucky me.

JAMES: I'm getting your room changed right now.

What transpires next is blurry as I was still in a Benadryl haze.

James and P were standing at the nurse's station and I apparently came flying out out of my room with my ass hanging out of my johnny, not caring one bit. I was grasping the spot formerly known as Lefty with one hand and pushing my IV with the other.

“I can’t stay in there another second I can’t stay! They need to be on the psych ward!”

My nurse tells me I'll get my own private room at 5:30. James, P and I sit in the hallway in the full view of the elevators. Nic and Paul were coming to visit and we want to intercept them lest they walk in on the horror of the invasive procedure going down in my room.

6 p.m. -- Peace, at last

My room is big, bright and clean. Footloose is on TV.

My nurse asks me if I want one or two percocet.

ME: "Two, please. And for future reference, the answer to that question is always going to be two."

I fall asleep that night and have more dreams of the beach. When your dreams are of scenes from your actual life -- it's a lucky life.

UPDATE: It's just gotten even luckier! My surgeon just called with the pathology report. There are no remaining signs of invasive cancer, all lymph nodes are negative and the margins are free and clear! Yahoo!!!!!!!


Anonymous said...

I am thrilled
UNc Charlie

Anonymous said...

I was laughing reading your post, and then started crying reading your update. All out of joy (and in amazement, of the situation and of your writing talent). Big hugs and love from the 'Chester!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Nice job on the Nodes, thats the first time ive laughed out load reading your blog in months. Tammy, fuckin crazy in my head i gave her a north dublin accent, made it funnier.

C U Friday

Mark R

Lynnie said...

Yes, I could not read this at your house cuz I am flippin blind. Come to find out my glasses were in my pocketbook the entire time. Anyway, you bring happy tears and laughter. You look wonderful, and nothing is more precious then Paulie announcing in the middle of his chicken nuggets "NO MORE CANCER", just like he would say, can I have another apple juice... Love you guys.


KT said...

Fabulous post, KJ - one for the record books! Hysterical Tammy and Todd story. (...tune in next week when we find out what was up Tammy's butt.) And I'm so ridiculously psyched to hear about the pathology report! You beat the crap outta those stupid invasive cells! Light at the end of this tunnel of shite. We must celebrate at Chez Taylor with grilled meats, a magnum of wine and Carnegie Deli cheesecake (freshly procured from NYC today just for this awesome occasion)!

Giant hugs from the Taylor fam!

katie o. said...

Oh Kate, you had me at "church steeples". I laughed out loud through all of it and then cried happy tears at the update. I can't wait to see you and give you a big hug!

Roving Lemon said...

Kate, you rock in every way. Hugs from Australia - N, D & B

Anonymous said...

Hi kate:

You are amazing! Your wit,your talent,your humor, your strength, have kept us all going. Laughing, crying especially today! You beat that bitch down! Love auntie j

Anonymous said...

Kate -
You left us hangin...did Tammy finally poop? So so glad to hear your great news.

Anonymous said...

I always knew that Caillou was full of s@#$! What a friggin nightmare! God's little way of letting you know he has a sense of humor. So glad you can write and make us all laugh about it, like you been able to throughout. It takes great strength to do that. I am ecstatic that you are doing so well!


Anonymous said...

Kate - I am so happy for you (and your family) I am sorry to hear of your horrendous hospital stay - but grateful because I enjoy reading whatever you write. I hope that you getting better doesn't mean you'll stop entertaining me personally with your blog.... Much love - hope to see you in N. Scituate SOON...Lisa

Anonymous said...


Tears of joy and laughter once again fill the kitchen as I sat and read the PU today... WOOT WOOT.. we always knew you were stronger than any diagnosis... now you have proved us right... way to go girl... and as for Tammy... well... she needs to know.. as you do... SHIT HAPPENS!!!!!!

Love you girl

LPD said...

I just love you Kate. NO MORE CANCER! You did it. Such bravery. Such grace. You amaze me. I'm wiping away tears and smiling like crazy. I'm just so happy about the final update.

Epic hugs are in store this week. Be prepared for the bumrush!!! (Pardon the pun, Tammy...)

Anonymous said...

I fall asleep that night and have more dreams of the beach. When your dreams are of scenes from your actual life -- it's a lucky life.

Love that.


Anonymous said...

Great job Kate!!! You are amazing!!! Keeping the postive energy and prayers coming your way!!! Love, Mama G.

Anonymous said...

wonderful news! it's gone baby gone! great!!! so thrilled for you all!- sweetpea

Anonymous said...

kate - bj's pal henrietta here - been cyberstalking you for months now and I AM SO DAMN HAPPY I could sh*t. (maybe tammy shd try some happiness for others, eh?) You rock, girl, you freakin' rock.

Rich O'Connor said...

Kate - Congrats!!! Great post by the way. Enjoy the rest of the summer.

schroeder said...


Busy enough this summer that this is the first time I'm reading this post.

Great, great stuff. As annoying as Tammy was, she seems a small price to have paid for the end result of all of this shite. Hospitals are really fucked up places, huh?

Continued good news to you and yours.

Bobby Burke