Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Other Side of the Gurney

“…In sickness and in health...” 

Those words are part of most people’s marriage vows.  Most people say them without a passing thought and move on until they reach an age when their health starts to fail.  For most couples this is, thankfully, way in the future.  Since Joe and I rarely do anything the easy way, our in sickness and in health moment came rather early in our marriage.  Joe was a trooper throughout it all – getting me to and keeping track of all of my appointments, holding my hand countless times as I was jabbed with needles, sitting by my bedside anxiously watching over me, changing dressings, shaving my head when the time came, taking care of the kids, etc. 

This past week, I was on the other side of the gurney.

Joe had surgery to, hopefully, fix some sinus issues that he’s had for as long as he can remember.  I dutifully went with him to his pre-op appointment and tried to let him ask most of the questions.  I did, however, bring a notebook, with questions that were oddly reminiscent of my own questions about the surgery itself and post-op care: how long would the actual surgery take, how long would he be in recovery and when would I be allowed back to see him, aftercare, what physical limitations and for how long? 

That night we prepped the kids for the next couple of days – Dad was having surgery on his nose; he’d be pretty sleepy for a day or two, we needed to be gentle with him, etc.  Needless to say, the kids were taken aback.  Dad?  Having surgery?  Why?   Was he okay?  Mom was usually the one who had had surgery.  Being Matchette kids, they took in stride and the rest of the evening passed uneventfully.
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Because of Joe’s early show time, we had to drop Josie off at our friends’ house so that she could catch the bus with our friends’ kiddos.  As Joe was saying goodbye, Josie reminded him not to die.  Gotta love kids!

Joe list of surgical procedures is short to say the least – wisdom teeth and a vasectomy.  That’s it.  He has no recollection of how he did for his wisdom teeth, but I recall vividly how he did with the latter surgery.  Even though he was only given propofol, Joe’s heart rate and blood pressure took an inexorably long time to recover.  It was almost an hour before they’d even let me back to see him after they’d already told me he was awake.  For his sinus surgery, he’d be under general anesthetic for over an hour on his back.  He has a bit of sleep apnea while on his back and has an extremely low heart rate and low blood pressure normally.   I was a bit anxious, but knowledge is power so Joe told anyone and everyone about his “issues”. 

Trying to keep busy
What a strange feeling it was to be the one sitting in the chair next to the gurney and not on the gurney.  I could do the pre-op drill in my sleep I’ve done it so many times, but always from the patient perspective, not as the onlooker.  I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I gabbled on with a bunch of inane chatter to fill the void and to mask my anxiety.  As a medical professional, I recognized it in myself, but was powerless to stop it from happening.  Thankfully, the staff was great and let me prattle on, as did Joe. 

Go time!

Finally, it was go time.  I kissed Joe goodbye, told him I’d see him soon, turned and walked out the door to head to the gym as the orderlies wheeled Joe in the other direction.  I had confidence that they take excellent care of him and do everything in their power to make sure he had a successful outcome, but weird things can always happen.  My dad’s mantra of “Think positive and you’ll get positive results” kept going through my mind as I made my way to the parking lot. 

I’d asked repeatedly about how much time they thought it would be until the doc came out to chat with me.  One hour to an hour and a half was what I was told.  Better to go with the shorter estimate I thought as I drove the short distance on base to the gym.  Normally, I’d have done a longish tempo run (~8 miles), but rather than risk missing the doc, I opted for a quick speed work session on the treadmill.   Running is always my salvation; it clears my head like nothing else and is a glorious distraction.

I got my run in, showered, dressed, hair, and makeup and was back at the hospital in an hour almost to the minute.  I am quick when I need to be.  As I was settling myself in the family waiting area, another woman looked up and asked if my name was “Jennifer”.  Uh-oh!  Even though I tell people my name is “Gen” they often want to formalize it and call me “Jennifer”.  “CRAP!!!!!  I’d missed the doctor,” I thought.  Thankfully, after a quick phone call back to post-op by the darling receptionist allayed my fears; it was someone else’s family member the doc had been looking for.

Thirty minutes later, Joe’s doc came out to tell me that Joe was done, he’d done great, and that I could go and see him in about forty-five minutes.  Fantastic!  I charged down to the pharmacy, picked up his meds and then over to the coffee bar for an iced tea because surely I needed to be hyped up more than the adrenaline coursing through my veins had already gotten me.  <g>    Right at about an hour, I was getting antsy as no one had come to get me.  I was getting ready to ask the receptionist to call back again when a large jovial male nurse came out and beckoned to me.  He apologized for not getting me sooner, but he and Joe had been having a good chat and had lost track of time.  Whew!  No concerns about Joe’s breathing, pulse or blood pressure, just Joe being his usual friendly self was the cause for the delay this time.

Joe was pale but smiling wanly when he saw me.  Relief flooded over me as I quipped, “How you doin’?”  It was the same line I used on him after I was finally wheeled into my hospital room after my mastectomies.  (My heart rate is also very low and I have this bad habit of not breathing enough or often enough when waking up after surgery, not to mention that I’d been under  A LOT longer than they had hoped.)  We both laughed and I knew he’d be fine.  That, however, didn’t stop me from hovering and trying to do everything for him, and then getting frustrated with him when he tried to do things himself.  Ah!  So this must be how he felt with me!  Well, we’re two peas in a pod. 

After several hours of monitoring him to make sure he was breathing okay, the doc released Joe to go home.  Shortly after arriving home, Joe fired up his work computer, despite the fact that he had two weeks of convalescent leave.   I always got onto the treadmill after surgeries; he apparently opted for technology.  Methinks he was, like me fighting for a little bit of normalcy in a very odd sort of way. 

Joe had quite the post-op regime.  Two antibiotics, two different pain meds, and two different nasal sprays and dressing changes that all had to be taken/done at different intervals.  I don’t’ ever remember that much work for any of my surgeries/treatments, but then again, Joe took care of it all so perhaps I did.  After several hours, I made a chart that Joe then made into a spreadsheet the next day to keep track of it all.   We do like to take notes and make lists and spreadsheets in our family.

Joe's nose bib came in handy!
I’m not squeamish; so the physical part of the dressing changes didn’t bother me.  Seeing Joe so uncomfortable did.  He’s not used to not having control of what his body is doing.  His head, nose and throat were sore and swollen.  He had a perpetual bloody nose for days and had a hard time breathing due to the swelling and blood.  He couldn’t exercise to get rid of the residual anesthesia in his system and he couldn’t sneeze unless he did so with his mouth open.  Try it; it’s hard to do!  He had to wear a “nose bib” to catch the blood.  He looked a bit like the Lorax as one of the post-op nurses noted with some amusement.  I couldn’t give him a proper kiss first because the nose bib was in the way and then because I was afraid I’d bump his nose and hurt him.  You don’t realize the sweet delight of kissing the one you love until you can’t.  I’m still afraid that I’ll hurt him if I accidentally bump him in the middle of the night.  I dislike not being able to make him feel better; I really do.

Michelle's first tennis match.  They won.
Joe’s surgery was a spur of the moment thing because his ENT had a cancellation.  We had no time to make alternative arrangements for the kids that afternoon.  Thankfully, I was not on for track practice carpool that day.   Jamie could stay with Joe while I went to get Josie from chorus.  Both of them had music lessons after dinner and I, in my head, thought that Michelle could stay with Joe while I ran them to their lessons and back.  I neglected to remember that Michelle had a tennis exhibition match that day and would not be able to keep an eye on her dad.   Thankfully, Joe’s a good sport and was not suffering w/the post-op nausea that I always suffer from so he gingerly got into the car and came along for the ride to the tennis courts and then to music lessons. 

While we were at Michelle’s match, our awesome realtor called to tell us that our closing went well and that we were now the proud owners of yet another house – this one with gorgeous views of the Rockies from our bedroom, family room, kitchen, and backyard. 

Joe made it through surgery and didn’t die, the kids are all healthy, happy, and engaged in activities that they enjoy, and we are one step closer to our next adventure.  Life is good.  It’ll be even better later this week when the splints come out of Joe’s nose.
Nurse Kitty Louie watching over Joe after he finally slept

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