Sunday, November 22, 2009


The day before my surgery last week I shared my unfounded and irrational panic with all of you. Of course it was very real to me at that time. Because that’s what I do. I take true reality, put it away, faaar, faaar away, and roll out unwarranted and ridiculous fears. Let’s face it, it is much more entertaining to revel in dread then to be reasonable and mature. Maturity is highly overrated.

However, something amazing happened. I, a poster child for bad attitude and neurotic overreaction, was presented with miracle after miracle, just gift after gift, over and over again.

All my kids called me in the days before, telling me they loved me and then simply making me laugh with funny stories. They are so great, so much fun.

My daughter Mary Kate brought me to the surgicenter the morning of the surgery. I was a bundle of fear and anger and self pity. Fear over this irrevocable step of having my bone replaced. Anger and self pity that I was facing yet another really challenging and painful situation. Enough already!, I was thinking. And the loss of control had me completely freaked out. I just felt as though I could not take one more indignity, exposure, embarrassment.

But the amazing thing that happened Monday morning was that one by one each professional I met calmed me incrementally with kindness, respect and implications of complete autonomy.

I was given option after reasonable option. If I half jokingly had suggested that I perform the surgery myself, they probably would have at least paused and pretended to consider it. Oh…um….that’s right, I did suggest it. Completely seriously. And Dr. K., the anesthesiologist, treated my proposal as if it was an everyday request, not the most insane thing he had ever heard.

This was not that awful, phony-fake-niceness that costs nothing and, ultimately, means nothing. This was genuine. This was concern for my comfort. Empathy for my obvious anxiety.

Because I was addled with drugs and insanity, I cannot remember everyone’s name. Suzanne I remember, because she has been my nurse the three times that I’ve been there. Suzanne strikes me as a person who would be blast to have a martini or five with, just a fun, fun person. Angela I’ve had twice. So sweet. I think it was Angela who accidentally told me how much I weighed in a pre-surgery call, but, after two days of weeping and about 100,000 mg. of Xanax, I have forgiven her. Even though I can’t remember everyone’s names, I can see their faces and will always remember how amazing they were.

Considerate, pleasant, warm, funny, every nurse was patiently reassuring in every regard. I was embarrassed that my MS-weak legs could not help transfer my fat self from the gurney to the operating table, but they practically gave me three cheers, continually telling me how great I was doing. Or at least that is how it felt.

For many reasons that I will spare you of right now, I have a particular aversion to my body being exposed to strangers. I hesitantly, in a whisper, brought this up to one of the nurses. She earnestly assured me they took great pride and went to great lengths to maintain a patient’s dignity and privacy. And even though I discover upon waking that my right breast is COVERED with betadine, I’m totally buying it. No exposure there, nope, none at all. I am certain they turned off the lights, closed their eyes and daubed in the dark.

The nurse anesthetist was so, so soothing preparing me to go under. While blasting me with oxygen before putting me out and intubating me she said several times, “Ok, are you ready to go on vacation?” Here would be my only tiny criticism. I WASN’T READY!! Nobody had said anything about a vacation! I wasn’t packed. I hadn’t even picked a destination. Did I want to go to London or Prague? I had been promising to visit my friend Manju in Mumbai. Wait, wait I can’t decide…klunk.

I wake up in PACU, more blessings. Almost no pain. Totally patient focused. Solicitous. Professional. It is discovered my shoulder ice pump been has leaking and I am soaked to the skin with ice water. A coordinated dance organizes to get me, someone with limited balance and mobility to begin with, dried, cleaned and changed as quickly as possible. I am seamlessly transferred to a geri-chair and wheeled to the bathroom. Now, naturally, I have to go. One nurse whips off my knickers with the skill and speed of my high school boyfriend. Stands at the ready outside the door with all my dry things. And within minutes I am dressed, warm, and sipping ginger ale as if nothing in the world had ever happened.

I am definitely groggy and believe I am somewhat hallucinatory, because I think I have heard one of the nurses say “Her priest is here.” But that is not possible. For one thing, there are other several other patients there, so it could be someone else. For another, David is incredibly busy. Since we hired him over five years ago, with the mandate of growing the parish, he has literally not stopped for one minute. To the extent that we get worried about him overdoing it. He is so dedicated and has done such a spectacular job our previously empty pews are now packed. He doesn’t have the time to wander around Monmouth County for little old me when there are far more important things for him to do.

However, I am incorrect. David has indeed come to the surgicenter. I am still in surgery, so he stays in the waiting room and holds me in prayer. They let him know when I am done and that I am well, but he cannot come to the PACU. He is on his way to a meeting in New York, but he leaves a loving message.

So this is another blessing. In addition to all the cards and calls I have received from fellow parishioners over the previous weeks, there are all of you, as well. New friends, old friends, acquaintances, readers of my blog. My aunts, my sister, my beloved therapist, my other physicians. Providing e-mails, phone calls, messages on Facebook, offers of prayers, loving thoughts, reassurances.

If there was a package one could buy that said “Super Deluxe Hopeful, Encouraging and Positive Surgery Survival Kit”, these, all of the above, are all the things that would be in it.

Finally, there has been Dr. Wonderful himself. After the initial nightmarish search for care when I first fell, I am so lucky that he was put in my path. There is no doubt in my mind I have received the best medical care possible from this gifted surgeon. There was never a time that Dr. W. was not respectful, patient and compassionate. He took me seriously and he treated my relentless pain seriously. He was attentive yet genuine, a truly caring person. And his Administrative Assistant is a sincere reflection of his values. Maryanne is pleasant and fun to chat with but utterly professional. All my pre and post-op care was in place without me having to do a thing. Over this past 20 months every phone call was returned promptly, every question answered considerately.

There is no positive side to an injury like the one I sustained. There are no silver linings. That whole ‘if life gives you lemons then make lemonade’? Bullshit. If life gives you lemons then you have too many lemons. I don’t even like lemonade.

It is lovely to have my wonderful friendships validated. To discover there are marvelous people out there in the world. But you can get that without having your arm sliced open multiple times.

In the end, I have no words of wisdom, simply praise and gratitude for all the good that surrounded me and continues to sustain me. I have had this plaque hanging over my bed for years and I do believe it.



Margaret said...

Marie, you have had an atypical health care experience. And I know you know it. Too often the professionals who care for us, while technically proficient, are too overworked or disinterested to give us the kind of care you describe here. I am so glad it worked out this way for you. I hope someone prints this out and mails it to the ASC.

So glad you've got this under your belt. Hope you start feeling like you did before you fell.

Pricilla said...

I am so glad it all went well for you. I was thinking about you the other day and figured you were recovering.

It's good you had such nice folks along the way.

JD at I Do Things said...

Marie, I loved reading this. I've been waiting to hear how it went, and I'm so relieved that it not only went well but that you received such exceptional care. It's so nice to hear of a positive healthcare experience. There are so many crummy ones out there.

And I love your realistic attitude, too. HA! I never feel like making lemons out of lemonade. I don't want lemons at all!

Please keep us posted on your recovery, which I hope will be smooth and uneventful.

Webster said...

It sounds like it was a good surgical experience. I'm glad it went well, and hope the no pain thing lasts a good long time.

A Lawyer Mom's Musings said...

I'm so glad to hear it went so, so well.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Margo said...

oh Marie, I'm so glad it is over and hope you are healing nicely. The pre surgery dread must have been horrible! I'm so glad you had a decent experience - there are good eggs out there, but they are hard to come by and you deserve them! I'm sorry I didn't know before now, but I'm glad to now :) Take care