A Long Day’s Journey
The surgical and cardiac unit at Frankston Public Hospital still has that new paint smell. I checked in at reception, glad to be out of the cold, wind and rain. A few questions and ID check and I got my green paper and sat amongst the other waiting souls. Surprisingly soon a pleasant-looking nurse with an unpleasantly-thick folder appeared from one of the row of consulting room doors and called my name.
“That’s was quick. A good sign.” I optimistically thought to myself. The admission interview took about half and hour then back to the waiting area for a much longer wait until a white-coated man called me from another door. He introduced himself as the anaesthetist. He had another thick folder and interrogated me for another half hour explaining in detail my anaesthetic options — although it became increasingly clear that the only person with options was going to be the surgeon.
“It depends on how far he wants to go up,” explained the anaesthetist matter-of-factly. “If he only wants to go up to here,” he places his hands just above the level of what I imagine was his navel. “Then I suggest a spinal block, ever had one of those?”
“But if he want’s to go up to here …” His hands moved up to make a line above his rib cage. I will have to change to another option.” That word again. I tried not to shudder. “I prefer the spinal block. Permanent damage is very, very rare and I will be able to communicate with you.”
Rare? Communicate? This time I don’t think I hid the shudder.
Wrapping up he explained he was ordering an ECG and would be taking blood samples for analysis before any anaesthesia. This no doubt related to his questions about my previous cardiac “events”.
“Just wait here. Someone will be with you shortly and I’ll see you later.”
Thus began the long wait!
Hours passed, literally. To break up the monotony — and ease a sore bottom — I persuaded the nurses to do the ECG the anaesthetist had ordered. That done I settled into another long wait. At least now I was horizontal.
Every now and again a nurse would look in, presumably to make sure I had not smuggled in a picnic basket or otherwise broken my fast (not even a drink of water). One of my meds has the side effect of turning saliva into thickly-setting glue.
I kept asking for information about when I would be moving to prep, or for ANY information at all. None was forthcoming but eventually the friendliest nurse relented and trusted me with a cup of water to rinse if I promised not to swallow.
Having anticipated some waiting time during the day I had brought my MP3 player which I had carefully fully charged only to find I had forgotten to bring the ear-buds.
I was being tugged out of my music-less daze by a voice telling me to get dressed.
I still had my pants on under the blanket, it was only an ECG after all, but “Get dressed”?
“Sorry, but your procedure has been cancelled.”
These were just about the worst words I could hear — and not only because of a day of food-less, music-less tension. It had been months of uncertainty, anxiety and self-questioning to get this far. The discomfort and occasional pain that went along with it paled into nothingness.
“God,” I moaned. “This has happened to me before. Why this time?”
“I don’t know, no bed available …” she offered.
“I didn’t think I needed a bed.”
“Neither did I. I’m very sorry. The surgeon is coming to talk to you. Would you like tea or coffee?”
I was as grateful for the distraction of the tea as the prospect of swallowing some liquid.
The tea arrived lukewarm in a small Styrofoam cup followed by the surgeon in large white rubber surgeon’s boots. He was a large man. The colourful floral headscarf set off his deep olive complexion. His accent, as often happens with those who learn Australian as a second language, was broader “Aussie” than the locals in the cheapest seats at a country football game.
The explanation was quite rational, although I was all but incapable of seeing logic by now. It involved an operation earlier that had time-consuming complications, the unexpected arrival in the Emergency Department of a critical patient needing surgery and patients not being ready to be discharged as expected. These combined had consumed the small buffer of beds that had to be held in reserve for further unexpected eventualities, including me.
He apologized again, assured me that he and my specialist wanted this procedure to happen as soon as possible and that my case has been up-graded to top priority and would be rescheduled for the earliest available slot. He offered his hand.
I was careful not too squeeze it too hard.