And just to be clear, for the hospital staff who have and will care for me: Nurses are awesome, and none of this is their fault.
1. You'll at least get tons of sleep and rest and reading time, and get to be drugged up the whole time!
No, you won’t, and here’s why:
You have to prepare for leaving the hospital almost as soon as you leave surgery. Like a prisoner’s parole hearing, there are milestones you must meet to prove to the doctors that you’re ready for release. This means doing regular slothy laps down the hallway with your stupid IV pole that rolls like the worst grocery cart you’ve ever pushed; eating three “meals” (broths) a day; and generally seeming like you’re gaining strength. If you had an intestinal resection, the milestones include farting, eating solid food, and not gushing blood out of your butt.
Staff members are constantly in your room (except when your IV pole is beeping at 3 am, or you want ice water). Someone is always coming in to wake you up and check on you at shift change, or give you your meds, or finally reset your beeping IV machine.
Especially soul-crushing is when they wake you to take blood at 3 am so labs are back for the doctor’s morning rounds. Which start at like 6 am, so heads up. Doctors want to get you out of the way before their office visits and surgeries. The golden slow hours of sleep-grabbing tend to be 3 pm to 5 pm, 11 pm to 2 am, and 4 am to 6 am. Much how they tell new moms to sleep whenever the baby’s sleeping, nab all the naps you can while you're left alone. But again, this is not reliable. Don’t worry, you’ll sleep again someday.
Make it clear that everyone who plans to visit should come at the beginning of your hospital stay.
It turns out, people treat it like a wake – we know she’s not going anywhere, so I’ll drop in with some flowers and food whenever. And this is appropriate, because there is NEVER a consistent good time of day for people to visit (more soon on the best time of your stay as a whole for people to visit).
You also have to start coming off of IV narcotic painkillers almost as soon as you start them. And withdrawal is a real bitch. Not only are these drugs extremely convenient and fun, they’re of course horribly addictive and life-destroying and should be used rarely and not for longer than necessary. So your body and brain may cling to them more than you expected, much like a romance-novel heroine desperately clings to the leg of her brawny scoundrel as he callously abandons her for another. A heroine clinging to heroin.
I had the best time clicking my IV pain med button – I figured out it would release a mini-dose every 9 minutes, and it became a game to try to wait just long enough till it would give me the juice and I would hear a cheerful little “ding!” Yes, addiction runs in my family.
No one gets to go home with “Get Well Soon” balloons and an IV morphine drip.
Take the pain pills as needed, but know the party is ending, and you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here. (And know that if you successfully get them to extend your IV-pain-med time, you will be staying there -- you're extending your hospital stay by that same amount of time. No one gets to go home with “Get Well Soon” balloons and an IV morphine drip.)
It’s best to catch a begrudging ride with some extra-strength acetaminophen ASAP, before things get too weird and sad and dangerous. (I was taunted by Muppet monsters popping out from under my hospital bed during one particularly rough withdrawal. When I went home, I kept having auditory hallucinations that our air vents were playing lullaby music.)
As you might imagine, drug withdrawal does not help at all with sleep. What does help with sleep: eye masks, neck pillows, and sleep headphones playing soothing music or podcasts. You might get really itchy from the IV morphine, so the nurses might give you IV Benadryl, which will also knock you out fast.
You’re not going to feel like any heavy reading, so leave the novels at home. Flipping through low-brow magazines, maybe. Streaming TV, possibly (don’t count on the skimpy hospital cable). Music and silly conversation and painkiller comas, definitely.
While sitting in the ER on a Friday night with a 103-degree fever, chills and stabbing abdominal pain, I was copied on an email from my (former) boss to one of my clients. My boss already knew I was in the ER for unexplained symptoms. She wrote: “Katie is sick today but I’m sure she’ll be back on Monday morning and can take care of this ASAP.”
I was impressed with her certainty about a situation I found to be pretty unclear at the moment (and it turned out I wasn't back at work till the next Thursday, probably solely out of my body being spiteful about that email). I replied to the client, copying my boss as well as another co-worker who was actually sane, and she was happy to take care of the issue on my behalf. Sigh.
I also had family members:
- Start election-season political arguments with me (and keep going after I weakly asked them to stop) while I was trying to eat an actual solid-food meal for the first time in 5 days,
- Take work phone calls in the room without stepping outside, and drag their laptop cords across my hospital bed before I can even drag myself out of bed, and
- Argue about who will “get to” sleep in a chair and stay with me that night and help me to the bathroom.
(Those three bullets pretty much condemned everyone in my family. Still love y'all! I'm not perfect either -- I didn't even come see some of you or send a card when you were in the hospital, so I suck more.)
You will be a fun mess, who will be so hopped up on meds that you’ll be thrilled all these people are in one room with you and brought you presents!
For family members, make it clear that everyone who plans to visit should come at the beginning of your hospital stay. This may seem counterintuitive: “But I’ll be a mess! I’ll be all drugged up!” Exactly. You will be a fun mess, who will be so hopped up on meds that you’ll be thrilled all these people are in one room with you and brought you presents! Everything you say is hilarious and you are universally adored! Yay! And oh yeah, you survived the surgery you were so worried about! Yay again! You’ll even still be thinking how cool it is that you never have to get up and pee or crap, because you conveniently still have a catheter and your bowels aren’t “awake” yet. And everyone’s being so nice! Whee!
Enjoy the visitors and the euphoria and the Barbie-like lack of bodily excretions in these early post-op days, but be prepared to gear up to go home and get some much anticipated sleep.
Next month, I’ll talk about four other big false surgery beliefs, including the condition of your hospital room, what happens when you press the call button, and how you’ll feel mentally and physically.