Kage Baker always claimed she was a sissy when it came to pain. I was never sure what she thought the rest of the world was experiencing, because in reality she was positively stoic. The measure of coping with pain is, after all, not how much you feel – but how you react. She was always loathe to admit she was in pain at all, or to take pain killers of any sort. “I’ll just wait until it goes away,” she would say gallantly, gripping her chair arms until they splintered. “I don’t like to give in.” Man, was that an understatement.
Me, I think I have a pretty realistic grasp of my own fortitude: I prefer to keep pain to low levels so I’m not devoting all my strength to fighting it. Maintenance is easier than carpet-bombing your consciousness at intervals – don’t let the pain get the upper hand to begin with, and life will be so much more manageable!
I was therefore very happy to awaken at last in my hospital room – restored to something approaching sanity and free of random aquaria – with a nice morphine pump plugged into the IV in my arm. Not the multi-purpose job in my neck, mind you; but who cared as long as it was plugged in somewhere? The whole point of the pump is that the patient can self-administer a small dose at need; the pump is on a timer, so you can’t exceed the dose or use it more than twice an hour, and it really makes for a smoother, more pain-free and yet occasionally lucid experience.
So the first 18 hours were amazingly cool. The pain was controllable, my mind was clear, my doctor and I were both pleased. The food was no worse than expected, though I was sad to see they were using wimpy fruit gels rather than good old bouncy red rubber hospital Jello. Then, the next morning …
I don’t know if it’s a standard technique, but my doctors tended to arrive in groups. Tuesday dawn, a group of charming, chirpy young women descended upon me. They were all bright and fresh and enthusiastic; they were my redoubtable surgeon’s backup crew, and were frighteningly efficient and terrifyingly young. They swept in and out chattering like finches, and I could hear them giggling away across the floor as they left. It was like a flock of faeries coming to visit every time they appeared – a bit alarming, but basically enchanting.
(After a few days of their giggling briskness, though, I did begin to worry a little. They were so bubbly, so active, so giggly: and we were training them all to use knives … )
Shortly afterwards, a quartet of cardiologists also arrived – due to my gimpy heart, I was initially on the cardio floor instead of gynecology. They were all grinning broadly: as I was to discover, they never stopped. After a while, a constantly grinning cardiologist begins to get on your nerves. And they and the faeries never came around in less than groups of three or four, as if there were a turf war going on … Anyway, they informed me that today would be an exciting day! I would be up and walking! They were very interested in my heart!
No problem – I was ready to walk; hospitals get you out of bed early and soon these days, and it’s a good idea. I was grateful when they disconnected my catheter (makes walking sooo much easier!) and only mildly alarmed when they disconnected my morphine pump as well. I mean, if I can eat gelatin I can swallow a pill – and I was plumbed for IVs galore.
Then they gave me a triple does of Lasix.
Now, I take Lasix daily, a small dose – it’s a diuretic, meant to prevent excess fluids from building up. A triple dose, though, hit my system like, like – well, you know when the Ents break the dam at one side of Isengard and the river pours in? Like that. So, less than 24 hours post-surgery, I was off the catheter, off the morphine pump, and compelled to get out of bed to pee every 30 minutes.
I really cannot properly describe the accompanying sensations. Tuesday was an escalating nightmare. My personal plan had been to walk to the bathroom once or twice that first day – not 2 or 3 dozen times. Plus, the nurses don’t always come as quickly as you need them to, if you need help getting up – and I have a horror of wetting the bed. So I quickly learned to manage the trick on my own, which made the nurses cranky (though not as cranky as I already was).
I traduced cardiologists in general, and mine in specific. I explained I was categorically refusing to take another dose of Lasix for as long as I was there. I clocked my permissible doses of painkillers like any desperate addict, and insisted on them all – since I was having to climb in and out of bed up to 6 times between doses, I don’t think it was especially drug-seeking activity to want my meds on time. And no, I didn’t want to “try” a Motrin 300 when I also had an order for IV Dilaudid – give me what works, damn it, and wean me off it when I don’t need it anymore!
I honestly don’t think my puppet-headed cardiologists meant to cause me pain or trouble. They simply didn’t think about the fact that I was fresh from abdominal surgery at all. They just decided to try out a few new things on my heart, and see how I did. The Lasix certainly did reduce my fluids … and the process left no doubt that my kidneys had come back on line. My adrenals, too. And, if you’re into phrenology, I suspect my organ of rage was in a pretty excited state as well.
Frankly, I wasn’t a good patient Tuesday. I got out of bed on my own so often, they put a warning bracelet on me – bright yellow, it read “Danger of Falling” and was evidently meant to shame me into staying put. But it fell off during one of my abseils out of bed, and anyway – I have no shame. So my night nurse programmed my bed so a klaxon would shriek when my weight shifted on arising; though by the time he also figured out the programming to turn the sucker off, it was nearly Wednesday and I wasn’t getting up much more than every 2 hours anyway.
Sp Tuesday was ghastly. But by Wednesday dawn, I’d actually managed to sleep for about three hours before the morning fairies arrived, giggling in a minor chord and with their wings shining like cellophane in the overhead lights. They assured me they would get me out of Cardiology and over to their floor as soon as possible. “It’s much more fun!” they cried, all patting me reassuringly, and swept off in a cloud of chirps and laughter.
Faeries are weird. But good people.
The cardiologists never even quite came into my room – they hovered in the doorway, grinning like fools, as I informed their spokesperson I had not had a pleasant night, was not happy, was not taking any more Lasix. Still grinning and nodding, they assured me they had all the information they needed now (what, that I’m a mean old bitch?) and thankfully went away.
Far too exciting a first day after surgery, lemme tell ya, Dear Readers.