A Well-Run OperationNot too many people have a good experience in a hospital. But I came close last week. Of course, I was not the person being treated, which contributes considerably to my positive feelings. But I was an interested party, so my opinion counts.
A little background. My mother, who is nearing the age of 94, has been dealing with blood circulation problems for nearly a decade and has been suffering through an ulcerated sore on one ankle for nearly as long. She had, not unreasonably, been resisting surgery on her leg for the past two years. Now she had no choice; she would either lose the leg, risk an infection that might prove lethal, or undergo an unusual bypass procedure in which a vein taken from a cadaver would be transplanted into her leg and become part of her circulatory system. (Can Halloween be far away!) Adding to everyone’s trepidation was the fact that my mother had undergone a simple surgical procedure a few weeks previously and nearly died when chemical levels in her blood went (to use a technical term) “kablooey” while she was under the anesthetic. I may never reach 93, but if I do, I hope I’m as calm as my mother seemed as she prepared for this new surgery.
|My Mom and I at lunch a week before her surgery|
(photo by Diane Peters)
So that’s where things stood last Monday as I flew from Newark to Savannah hoping to be on hand when my mom came out of the operation, which was scheduled for 11 a.m., but, of course, didn’t actually begin until 3:15 (more than an hour after I arrived at the hospital and nearly 5 hours after my mother and my sister-in-law Sandy had made their way there).
How do I know when the operation started? There is an electronic screen posted in the family waiting area of Memorial Hospital that lists the name of each patient undergoing surgery with updates on their status and condition. It is like something out of Grand Central Station – you know that board that rolls the names of train destinations and ETDs (estimated times of departure) and ETAs (estimated times of arrival). There are also volunteers who come around to each family with updates, and another volunteer who plays pretty good jazz on a piano that was donated by generous patrons and sits in the middle of the waiting area. I’m not sure that all hospitals provide such helpful services these days, but they should. Our small coterie of family members standing by were made to feel at ease by the attention and consideration.
Just what do you do while waiting out an operation of a loved one? Our group made small talk and ate snacks provided by my cousins Sally and Debbie. (“These come from Costco? They’re really good. Much better than the ones from the Dollar Store.”) Our spirits were high and our voices were occasionally quite loud as we tried to keep my Aunt Lillian (my mom’s 89-year-old sister who is quite hard of hearing) informed about what was happening, and as her husband Walter (my 92-year-old uncle) described his travails parking in the visitor’s garage (why is he still driving?) and finding his way to the waiting area—a process that took long enough to worry all of us, and especially Aunt Lillian. This, of course, led to a discussion of how the hospital has grown over the past 50 years from a single rectangular building to a large and very confusing complex. Ya-da, ya-da, ya-da. Anything to get our minds off the situation at hand.
I am happy to report that the procedure ended successfully. The surgeon, whom my mother described as a supremely confident man (isn’t that what you want?), came out to greet us with a big smile. After the good news was delivered, all but my sister-in-law and I left to go happily back to their homes. Sandy and I joined my brother the doctor, who has been working at this hospital for some 30 years, in the recovery room a few minutes later. (My brother is well respected and well-loved in the hospital, and that certainly added to how well my mother has been treated by doctors, nurses, and staff at all times.) My mother slowly emerged from her post-operative stupor and immediately had a few complaints. Ah, everything was nearly back to normal! The most amusing moment involved a hospital protocol. At Memorial, it is a written rule that requires all staff to ask a patient to give her name and birthdate before any procedure is carried out or any medicine is dispersed. My mother had been put through this protocol numerous times pre- and post-surgery. And she was tired of the constant repetition. So she was ready when the recovery room nurse approached her. “Do you know your name and birthdate,” my mom groggily asked the nurse, who had to think about the answers for a split second before breaking out in a smile. Yes, my mom was truly back to her old self.
A couple more anecdotes:
My mom’s hospital room was in a special wing on the same floor with the nursery. As she was wheeled into the room, the nurse assigned to her asked a number of questions and parried a few sarcastic responses. “I had already heard that you were pretty feisty,” the nurse commented. Then turning to my brother and me, she said, “She reminds me of my Nana.” I hoped that was a compliment.
The proximity of my mom’s room to the nursery led to another amusing element. Every once in a while as I walked through the hallways, I would hear “Braham’s Lullaby” come over the PA system. Was that to soothe the old people as well as the young ones, I asked my brother. “They play that each time a new baby is born, and we’ve had lots of those the last few days,” he explained. The irony was not lost on me. Hospitals deal every day with comings and goings. Then we live our lives in between, hoping we don't have to return to the hospital for a very long time.