“Well, I guess that’s that.”, I said to myself as I dropped the dumbbell with a “THUD!”.
In less than 24 hours I was going to have a radical prostatectomy. I’ve always been good about exercising but I had stepped it up over the last few months to prepare for surgery. Per doctor’s orders I wouldn’t be lifting that weight again for 6-8 weeks.
“So much for routine”, I shrugged as I walked back into the house. The next few weeks were going to be anything but routine.
The Coronavirus beat us there
Jodie and I arrived at UCSD Jacobs Medical Center early the next morning at 5:30 AM. Our arrival coincided with the rollout of a bunch of new, hastily crafted regulations to protect against the Coronavirus. We slipped through the rear entrance just as a checkpoint was being erected. While we were checking in Jodie was assured that she would be able to wait in the waiting room for me. An hour later as I was being rolled into surgery the restrictions were tightened and, after a quick and upsetting goodbye, she was sent home. I wouldn’t see her again until my discharge.
That was it?
The next thing I knew I woke up in the recovery ward. Yeah, it’s like that! General Anesthesia is amazing stuff. It wasn’t until later that I found out that I had been under for a little over three hours. As the fog cleared I quickly realized three things :
- I was very thirsty.
- I was very hungry.
- My shoulders hurt.
After explaining this to my nurse she offered me a cup of ice chips to suck on. Sigh. She explained to me that it was risky to give me food and water too soon after surgery and motioned to a bag of fluid that was keeping me hydrated.
The pre-op instructions sent home with me had some very explicit instructions. On the day prior to surgery I was prohibited from eating after lunch and drinking after midnight. Little did I know that it would be well into the afternoon until I would be offered my first meal. I imagine the restrictions were mostly to protect me, but I couldn’t help but wonder if they were also meant to protect the multi-million dollar Da Vinci Robot that was used to perform the surgery from an untimely drenching.
“So no food or water. What gives with the shoulder pain?”, I grumbled to myself.
Don’t drink the Kool-Aid
One would think that after prostate surgery my abdomen and groin would be screaming in pain, but no – it was my shoulders. I reached for the bed controller and slowly raised the backrest to make myself more comfortable. Bad idea. As my head crested the bed rails a large bag full of deep red Kool-Aid slowly rose into view.
The bag was a catheter bag. The Kool-Aid was blood. And the hoses indicated that it was attached to me. Over the next 24 hours my nurses would empty this bag into a large container, reassure me that the color was “normal”, and then carry it off to sites unseen.
After staring at the bag for longer than necessary I took a deep breath, looked down at my feet, and slowly guided my eyes up my legs and to my abdomen. Fortunately, my hospital gown was fastened at the back so there wasn’t much to see. That didn’t stop me from probing around with my hands though.
“Okay, that was stupid”, I said to myself.
From what I could tell there were five incisions. One near my belly button and the rest spread out in an arc below it. All painful of course. Curiosity would have to wait until later. It would be several more hours until I would be allowed to stand, much less walk, and see what exactly transpired down south.
Now that I was a little more comfortable I redirected my attention back to the ice chips.
Suck. Suck. Suck.
These things were fantastic.
Suck. Suck. Suck.
Out of reach
While sucking ice chips I caught a glimpse of a medium-sized transparent bag on the shelf next to me with what appeared to be my stuff in it. Originally, I had painstakingly packed a backpack with a bunch of goodies to keep me busy. Jodie was originally to hold onto the backpack and deliver it to me, with a hug and a kiss, after surgery. Thanks to the Coronavirus restrictions my planning fell apart. There would be no Jodie and my backpack was too big to fit into a locker. Jodie hastily shoved the bare essentials into the plastic bag which was now sitting beside me.
All I could do was stare at it. When you’re peeing Kool-Aid, plugged into machines, and in pain, fetching a bag three feet away becomes a Herculean task. Inside I could see my iPhone, a battery pack, a book, a drawing pad, and the clothes I had walked in with. I smiled at the socks in particular. Jodie had bought them for me for my birthday and insisted that I wear them.
I’m okay, are you?
When my nurse returned I asked for my bag and, after thanking her, fished out my iPhone and sent a message to Jodie and the kids to let them know I was okay.
Jodie responded quickly, but abruptly. As my head was in a fog I didn’t think much of it at the time.
Inflated, Inverted, and Spread Eagle
Ugh. Shoulder pain again. And now bloating, too. How in the heck was this surgery performed? After a few Google searches I began to realize the answer was “as awkwardly as possible.” During surgery I was inflated, inverted, and spread eagle. Here’s a picture that I found online.
My abdomen was inflated with air to give my surgeon room to work. As far as the inversion and leg positioning I can only assume it made the surgery easier for the Da Vinci Robot.
A celebratory meal
It was late in the evening before I was moved around the corner to a slightly roomier recovery room. At this point Dr. Kane’s fellow came in to tell me that my surgery went very well and took less time than was originally estimated. My prostate had been removed along with roughly 20 lymph nodes on each side. My prostate, because of the hormone therapy, was smaller and easier to remove, too. He assured me that the blood, bloating, and shoulder pain that I was experiencing were all normal and that I should try to walk a bit when I was feeling up to it. While we talked a tray full of food was delivered. Dr. Kane’s Fellow, realizing that my attention was now elsewhere, quickly finished up and motioned to a small celebratory meal consisting of a cup of broth, orange sorbet, a box of apple juice, and a cup of tea. I plowed through it in short order. It was the most delicious food I had eaten in weeks.
You don’t sleep in hospitals
I learned pretty quickly that sleep and hospitals are not compatible. Between the beeps, lights, noises, groans, and constant triaging, sleep comes in small increments if at all. I tried reading but I couldn’t concentrate. I tried drawing but all of the IVs attached to my arms made that difficult. In defeat I decided to stare at the wall. I was making pretty good progress at this when a man about my age and just as battered wandered by.
“Hey! What are you in for?”, I beckoned.
He slowly looked in my direction, waddled into my room and very slowly lowered himself into a chair. His speech was slow and slurred due to whatever medication he was on. He introduced himself as Byron. Byron had been in the hospital 5 days recovering from a blocked spleen. When he wasn’t frequenting hospitals Byron fabricated custom carbon fiber components for cars, aircraft, and even Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Byron would stop by for visits every hour or so and we’d talk. Me from my bed and him, uncomfortably from his chair.
There are good nurses …
No one wants to be in the hospital, but one thing that can make the experience a whole lot better is a good nurse. For me, that nurse was Dan. Dan, in his late 20’s, was a transplant from Florida and a second-generation nurse who, after much deliberation, decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. Dan got me out of bed the first time so that I could walk around a bit and encouraged me to do it again and again and again. Dan also introduced me to my best friend, the IV pole which I could use as support while waddling down the halls. When I wasn’t walking he’d strap a device onto my legs that would massage them to promote blood flow and reduce the chance of blood clots. Sometimes he’d just sit with me for a few minutes and we’d catch up on the news. He was particularly distraught over the lack of any sports due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Dan was a sports nut, and although I wasn’t myself, I’d humor him just so he’d sit and keep me company for a bit.
It’s the gas, stupid
Walking is a whole new challenge for about three days post-op. It’s not the incisions, the catheter, or even the sore muscles due to the extremely awkward position the surgeon had you in. It’s the gas. And it’s not the fun “pull my finger” kind of gas, it’s the gas that was used to inflate your abdomen during surgery. Sometimes it feels like an alien is probing your chest for an exit from the inside. Sometimes it feels like a burly fist is gripping your lungs, preventing you from taking full breaths of air. It’s bad, and the only way to get rid of that gas is to walk. And walking is very difficult. At best it’s a shuffle, each step gripping onto the steel pole that is your best friend.
Like father like daughter
Early the next morning, wanting to see Jodie and my girls, I pulled out my iPhone and fired up FaceTime. Jodie popped up on the screen.
“Hi, honey! How are you doing?”, I asked her.
“Uh, okay. How are you?”, she replied.
Her tone was a little off and, after catching a glimpse of her surroundings, I could see she wasn’t at home.
“Wait, where are you? Are you in a waiting room?”, I asked her. Because of the Coronavirus we had been practicing social distancing. As such I was surprised to see her out and about.
“Uh…”, she hesitated.
Uh, oh, I knew that tone.
“What happened?, I asked.
Jodie’s face disappeared as she slowly panned the camera to focus on my eight year old daughter, Kaylee. As Kaylee came into view I could see that she was in a hospital bed also, upset, and had a pink cast on her left arm. It was comically large compared to her small frame. She looked very upset.
“SHE BROKE HER ARM! When did this happen? Why didn’t you tell me?!?!”
“I didn’t want to worry you.”, she replied.
Jodie then gave me the whole story. After she was forced to leave the hospital yesterday morning she had received a call from our neighbor, who had graciously hosted a slumber party the night before for our girls so that Jodie and I could get to the hospital on time. Our neighbor told Jodie that Kaylee had probably broken her arm while on the trampoline. She had given Kaylee a makeshift sling, but quickly realized that it was likely broken.
After picking Kaylee up at our neighbor’s house, Jodie raced over to Rady’s Children’s Hospital where the doctor determined Kaylee had broken her elbow. Ironically, while my surgery was wrapping up my brave little girl was starting hers. An IV was inserted into her arm and she was put under General Anesthesia. During surgery the surgeon reset the bone and inserted three metal pins to keep everything in place.
Kaylee still looked very upset.
“Honey, are you feeling okay?”, I asked her.
“Good. Look, it’s not your fault. It could have happened to anyone. I’m just glad you’re okay!”, I told her.
She gave me a little smile.
The camera panned back over so that Jodie’s face was in the camera again.
“So, I’ll bet you’re tired.”, I said.
“Yeah. Any idea when you’ll be discharged?”, she asked.
“Around noon I think. I’m to be given discharge instructions soon. Are you up to picking me up? I can see if someone else can. You have a lot going on.”, I replied.
“No. I want to pick you up. I’ll figure out something.”, she said, “and, Scott?”
“I’m pretty sure we just hit our out-of-pocket max for our health insurance this year.”, she said with a hint of a smile.
… and there are bad nurses.
By late morning Dan was gone. His replacement, a lady in her 20’s, popped in sporadically, but gone were the casual conversations and strolls around the recovery ward. It was obvious that she was not happy and did not want to be there.
About an hour before my discharge I broke down and pushed the “nurse” button. The catheter bag was filling up. More importantly, no one had shown me how it worked or how I should care for it.
“Can you please show me how the catheter works?”, I asked her as she poured herself a flask of Red Kool-Aid, “I’m supposed to go home in about an hour and no one has shown me how to operate it.”
“Sure.”, she said.
Turns out caring for a catheter is simple – you just need to keep it clean. As for draining the bag there is a valve on the bottom with a metal clip. When released the bag can be drained into a toilet. My nurse then provided me with spare parts as well as a smaller, more concealable bag that could be strapped to my leg. With the Coronavirus lockdown in effect I didn’t expect to be taking too many leisurely strolls in public, but it was a nice gesture.
I hadn’t had much of a chance to look at my legs up to this point, but with my gown pulled aside and everything in plain sight I could now see extensive bruising all over my left thigh. Later, my wife would tell me the bruising extended all along the back of my thigh as well. She said it looked like I had been in a car accident. The only reason I had yet to feel anything was because other, more prominent pains, masked it. It had now been 24 hours since my surgery and the gas had not subsided much. It still hurt like hell to do pretty much anything. Dan had told me during his shift that a lot of patients mistake the pain for a heart attack. No kidding.
“Are you taking Hydrocodone?”, my nurse asked me.
“Uh, no. Not yet. I can manage the pain with the regular pain medicine.”, I replied.
“Okaaaay.”, she said with a sigh and stepped out of my room.
Self service discharge
“Hi, uh, my wife is on the way here. Am I ready to be discharged?”, I asked my nurse. I had decided to get out of bed and waddle up to the nursing station rather than press the nurse button on my bed remote.
My nurse looked at me, and then at the IV pole I was leaning on.
“Well, after I get disconnected from this thing of course.”, I replied.
After shuffling back to my room my nurse removed two “huge” IVs ( her words, not mine ). One from my right hand and one from my left arm. It was a bloody, gruesome scene that required pads, pressure, and a lot of tape.
“Uh, do you have anything to wear?”, she said, looking me up and down.
My wife had packed me a “I Feel Lucky” shirt knowing that I would be discharged on Saint Patrick’s Day. I wasn’t feeling too festive, however, and put on the same clothes I had worn into the hospital – minus the pants.
“Uh, I brought workout pants but it was way too complicated to put them on with the catheter. Will boxers work?”, I replied, doing my best to smile.
My nurse rolled her eyes.
“Look, I don’t care if you don’t. I have more pressing concerns than public decency right now.”, trying to joke with her.
“Okay, let’s go then.”, she said while walking out of my room.
I looked at her questionably, then at the transparent bag that contained my possessions, then at my catheter bag, and finally at a third bag containing the parts for my catheter. Sizing the bags up I figured that, together, they couldn’t weigh more than ten pounds. Ten pounds was the weight limit which I would be allowed to lift for the next several weeks during my recovery. I picked them all up, redistributed the weight in each of my hands, and shuffled out of my room.
I proceeded to follow my nurse as fast as I could – which wasn’t very fast. I’ve never been admitted in a hospital overnight, but wasn’t it customary to wheel the patients out in a chair?
“Which entrance is your wife picking you up at?, she asked me after we stepped into an elevator.
“You tell me where and I’ll guide her there. Let me call her.”, I said.
“Tell her the north entrance.”, my nurse said.
“Is that the back one?”, I asked.
“It’s the main one.”, she replied curtly.
“But, is that the … ?”, I repeated.
“It’s the main one!”, she said with a little more frustration in her voice.
The elevator doors opened and as we navigated a series of turns and hallways I juggled my three bags into my other hand, pulled out my iPhone, and called my wife.
“We’re ( gasp ) going to meet you at ( gasp ) the main entrance.”, I managed.
“Okay, so the same entrance at which you were admitted? Jayme is driving, she just picked up me and Kaylee from Rady’s Children’s Hospital and Cammy insisted on tagging along”, Jodie said. Jayme is my sister-in-law and Jodie’s twin sister. I’d find out later that Jodie and Kaylee caught a ride to Rady’s urgent care the day before and had never left.
“Yes….”, I replied, “I….I think so.”
By now I was winded, in a hell of a lot of pain, and struggling to keep up with my nurse. People were looking, too, and I imagine I was quite the sight : worn t-shirt, boxers, and struggling to carry three bags – one of which was full of blood red Kool-Aid. Not cool.
We stopped at an unfamiliar lobby
“Well, here we are. Where’s your wife?”, the nurse asked me.
“Uh, honey”, I said into my phone, loudly, so that my nurse could hear, ”We’re at a different entrance. Can you drive to the other side of the building?”
“Sure.”, Jodie replied.
As Jayme’s red Hyundai pulled up in the rotunda I exited the hospital doors to flag her down. The reunion was brief. As soon as I set foot outside my nurse cursed.
“Oh, shit. We forgot to get your medications!”, she said, loudly.
Routed, blocked, and ticked off
I slowly swiveled to catch her glare, took a deep breath, and asked, “Okay, ( gasp). So where do we need to go?” Realizing that I didn’t have my wallet I added, “Also, I don’t have my wallet. Should I get it from my wife?”
“You won’t need it if you still have your surgical wristband.”, she replied.
I waved my right arm at her, the one with the laminated piece of paper wrapped around it that the receptionist put on me what seemed like ages ago, turned around, and shuffled back towards the entrance. As soon I stepped through the doors again I was stopped.
“Sir, before you come in I need to take your temperature and ask you some questions.”, a lady asked me from behind a small card table. Bewildered, I looked at some signage placed upon the table and it made sense. This was one of the Coronavirus checkpoints I saw being erected yesterday when I was being admitted.
“But….I…..I….. just left a second ago! I just had surgery!”, I stammered, looking to my nurse for support. When I realized there was none I motioned to my bag of Kool-Aid and IV bandages with my head.
“Sorry sir. Hospital policy.”, she said, robotically.
“You’ve got to be ….. okay, fine.”, I grumbled. The lady took my temperature, asked whether or not I had a cough or sore throat, and then had me sign some paperwork.
“Okay, you may pass.”, she said,
Still grumbling I shuffled through the checkpoint and called my wife back.
“What’s going on? You went back inside?”, Jodie asked, alarmed,
“Can you pull up in the waiting zone? We forgot to pick up my medication.”
“Sure! Of course.”, she said,
The pharmacy, as luck would have it, was on a different level and at the opposite end of the hospital. My shuffle had now slowed considerably and my nurse kept stopping so that I could catch up. I was frustrated, exhausted, and in extreme pain, but at the same time, curious. After I caught up with her I decided to extend an olive branch.
“So, how are you doing with all this, this … stuff going on? ( gasp ). How are you handling the Coronavirus?”, I asked.
Her pace slowed just slightly. “My sister is stuck in Italy. She can’t get a flight out.”, she replied, “She has been there for three months and was supposed to return home last week.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”, I replied. I had been watching a lot of news from my hospital bed so I knew that Italy, so far, had been the hardest hit of the European countries. There were rumors circulating that it’s citizens were being confined to their homes to stop the spread of the virus. I guess it was true.
“And,”, she resumed, “I’ve been working non-stop for over a week now. I’m really scared that I’m going to catch it.”
“Are you being given any protective gear?”, I asked.
“No. None.”, she replied.
She slowed her pace a little after that. We made it to the pharmacy. Everyone behind the counter was wearing masks and gloves. I looked at my nurse and sighed. After some confusion over my lack of identification, the pharmacist, at the urging of my nurse, gave me three medications. Tylenol for low-level-pain, Hydracodone, a narcotic, for, high-level-pain, and a laxative to help me poop. Constipation is a side-effect of surgery and taking pain killers, such as Hydracodone. As such bowel movements post-surgery are cause for celebration and take up to 4-5 days. I’d definitely be taking the laxatives.
As we headed back to the main entrance I told my nurse, “They all had protective gear…”
“Yup.”, she said, agitated.
“Ready?”, Jayme asked me apprehensively.
I was sitting next to her in the passenger seat. Directly behind me was my niece, Cammy, who had decided to come along for the ride. Next to her, in the backseat was Jodie and my daughter, Kaylee, with her enormous pink cast. Jayme’s car wasn’t large so space was at a premium.
“I think so. Cammy? Can I recline a little more?”, I asked my niece.
“But I won’t have room!”, she complained.
“Okay, fine. Let’s just get out of here then.”, I replied. I was done and just wanted to get home as quickly as possible.
Jayme started the car and pulled away from the curb.
We made it to the first speed bump.
“HOLYSHITTHATHURTS”, I yelped in pain.
“Are you okay?”, Jayme screamed, alarmed.
“NO!”, I screamed back.
Next up was a 4-way stop.
I lurched forward ever-so-slightly as the car came to a stop. This caused even more pain. The bloating hadn’t gone down much since my surgery and the slightest movement was causing me to tense up. Worse, the pain and tension was causing muscle spasms. Gasping for air I screamed at Jayme to pull over. We had gone maybe 500 feet.
“AUGGHH. I … need to recline the seat……Jodie, (gasp) can you get the Hydrocodone out of the trunk.”, I gasped, “I am off the scale in … pain … pain right now!”
“Yes!”, she shouted.
Jodie got out and started rummaging through the trunk. Meanwhile, I looked over at Jayme who was slumped over in her seat.
I looked at her dashboard and checked to make sure that the transmission was in park.
“Uh, Jodie. I …. I think Jayme passed out.”, I told Jodie as calmly as I could while she passed me a pill and a cup of water through the passenger window.
“What?!?!?”, Jodie said in alarm. She quickly ran over to the drivers side, opened the door, and turned off the engine.
“Jay, are you okay?”, Jodie gently shook her sister.
“Mommy?!?!?! MOMMY?!?!? What’s wrong with my mommy?!??!!”, Cammy screamed.
“It’s okay, Cammy. She…she passed out from my screaming. I’m sorry. I think I scared her”, I told her.
After rousing Jayme, Jodie switched seats with her so that she could drive home. Meanwhile, I downed my pill and coaxed Cammy into allowing me to recline my seat all of the way. Fully reclined and drugged the rest of the ride home was uneventful, if not slow. Jodie kept the speedometer pegged at 50mph and slowed down to a crawl for anything resembling a pothole.
“Dad, are you okay?”. Kaylee asked me.
“I’ll be okay. You?”, I asked her.
“I want to be dropped off at my friends on the way home to show off my cast!”, she replied excitedly.
Managing a smile I realized that my daughter was the smarter patient . Why? She took her medicine. I reached back and held her hand for the rest of the ride home.
Flamingos, Cards, and Friends
Jodie pulled Jayme’s car up in our driveway. At this point the drugs had kicked in and I was feeling pretty damn good. Jodie opened my door, and like a beached whale returning to water, I flopped, wriggled, and gyrated myself out of the passenger seat into something resembling a standing position.
Jodie smiled at me and motioned to the garage door.
I immediately smiled.
The entire garage door was decorated with “Get Well Soon” cards and posters from our friends and neighbors. As I waddled to the front door I discovered that a flock of pink flamingos had decided to roost in our front yard as well. Overnight we had effectively been Flamingo’d and carded.
Jodie, smartly, decided to take a few pictures for posterity. If she hadn’t I’m not sure I would have remembered much. Between recovering from surgery, the traumatic ride home, and the drugs I just wanted to lie down.
“Thanks, honey. This … this is really awesome.”, I slurred, “I’m uh …. I’m going to go upstairs and sleep now I think.”
Jodie nodded and helped me up the stairs, slowly, to our bedroom. I flopped onto the bed and immediately fell asleep.
We Made It
It was sundown two days after surgery. One of my goals post-surgery was to walk around the block, daily. The pain was still there, but I was determined and, with my family’s help, I was going to do it.
“Ready?”, I said, looking at Ashley and Kaylee.
We were on the front porch. Kaylee was wearing a sling to holster her cast. Ashley, as always, was in sandals even though it was in the low 60’s.
“Yup!”, they replied in unison.
“Think I’ll scare the neighbors?”, I asked Jodie motioning to my catheter bag.
“No, but you might bring down the property values a bit if anyone sees you in that bathrobe.”, she replied.
I looked down. I had been wearing the same blue bathrobe that my mom had bought me since arriving home. It was comfortable and, in a Jedi-like way, stylish. It also conveniently hid the hose connected to my catheter bag and had handy pockets which I could hook the bag onto.
“Okay, let’s go!”, I said.
It took over 20 minutes to round the block but as our house came back into view I couldn’t help but smile.
We made it.
Take care. Stay healthy. Live life.
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