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I was admitted to St Vincent’s Hospital (nicknamed by the locals St. Victims) for major surgery last Friday. They have a surgery check-in entrance. It was lovely. Very New Mexican architecture, clean, nice music, good lighting – which was important because it was 6am and I was instructed to not wear any make-up. Everyone that is having any kind of surgery that day is queued up with a number. I was assigned lucky number 13. Not kidding.

I was by far the youngest person in the surgery waiting room. You could tell the outpatients by their giant parking passes. Lucky number 13 didn’t get a parking permit – I was there for three days.

They called my number and I went back to the surgery prep area. Eventually all the waiting room people were separated by curtains as we disrobed, donned our gowns that tie in the back, our booties and hats. We met our nurses, our anesthesiologists, and finally our surgeons. Any questions? Nope. Number 13 was ready to go. The actual surgery room was very clean – they had rock music playing – dare i say it was festive? Let’s do this. I knew, from all my friends that have had surgery that you won’t remember a thing beyond those first seconds so just breathe deep and go.

Recovery room – like a bad dream – coming out of a fog writhing in pain. The first question they ask, on a scale from 1 to 10 how bad is the pain? I gave it an 8. I got a big shot of morphine. Back in the fog.

Coming out of the fog again and this time I was in another world. Another building. Another planet. I was in the bowels of St. Victims. Actually I was in the maternity ward – which is ironic since I was in there for a complete abdominal hysterectomy. My doctor was kind enough to arrange a private room – so she put me in maternity because apparently St Victims wasn’t birthin’ no babies last week-end.

There was a tiny television anchored too high on the wall. There were two vinyl chairs for guests – one with a giant rip down the center. The hospital bed was ridiculous. They showed me how to work the controls (up and down buttons). Some idiot built these to rest on the side of your elbow. So let’s all do this together. Lay down and pretend you’re in a twin size bed. Oh, and you have no abdominal muscles – and you need to sit up – now tweak your arm around so you can press a button that is resting up against your elbow. Go on. I’ll wait.

For the first 24 hours I was on an IV with a morphine pump. They handed me a Wii like control and when the light was green I could push it and get a nice rush of drugs. It took about 10 minutes for the light to go green again. For hours this is what I waited for. Death grip on the controls – and push – ahhhhh……

Day Two: I haven’t eaten anything for two days. Only water. But I have no appetite. Plus, the cliche’ about hospital food started at St Victims. They brought me in my prison tray last around 6:00. A black tray with a black plastic mug of broth (instant cuz i saw the gooey powder residue in the bottom) a plastic cup of green jell-o (every kids favorite) a banana popsicle, slightly melted, hot tea and apple juice (also in a plastic jell-o cup with a foil lid). I passed. They brought in the same tray for breakfast but the tea was iced. No thanks.

Then it happened. So quickly I barely remember it. A very large nurse, no smiles, almost like this was the favorite part of her day, said, “Okay, the IV needs to come out'” Before I knew it, her large girth was squashing my belly as she ripped the tape off my arm and unleashed my morphine. This is where I met Nurse Mean Jean. My keeper. Gulp.

I was no longer in control of my pain management. I had to rely on this person to a.remember what to give me when and b. care enough to actually do it.

Let’s just say she possessed neither quality. Now my new button was the nurse button. Conveniently located next to the up and down bed buttons – see paragraph six above.

On one occasion it took three times to get her in there. This was about 1 in the morning. She was probably napping. She hobbled in, had three different pills to give me and they all came in the hermetically sealed blister packs. As she was opening the third it popped out and dropped on the floor. She grunted as she bent over to pick it up and I saw her wipe it off on her pants and hand it to me. I hesitated for a moment and then thought about the repercussions of refusing this pill. It’s like sending your meal back with a surly waitress in a restaurant.. Only at this restaurant I have to stay the night and guess what? I can’t go to the bathroom without Nurse MJ. So I took the pill.

I know, right? I weighed the options. Take it, get some horrible disease and get back on morphine or take it, nothing bad happens and I get to go home the next day alive.

This my friends is why you don’t send pills back in the hospital. Just take your medicine.

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July 2012