Monday, November 29, 2010

The Hospital Stay: the uncut version.

I’m not sure how to describe the whole hospital stay. Thanks to the miracle of retrograde amnesia and a generally optimistic personality, I’m already over-writing the unpleasantness with “it wasn’t too bad.” At the time, it was probably everything you would expect for a hospital stay. Except, remember that this was my first surgery and I had no idea what to expect.

If I was reading this and intending to have this surgery soon, I would want know the details. I like to be prepared. I’m a born girl scout. I’m going to assume you are all the same. Before I get into details I just want to extend my thanks again to Professor Campisi and Drs. Boccardo and Corrado Campisi. I know I don’t have any experience with other surgeries but they seemed to go above and beyond the call of duty. They were always making enquiries about how I was doing and visiting. The nurses also were very kind and always a bell call away. In fact sometimes they came so quickly it seemed like they must have been hovering outside. Or they had roller-skates on. I forgot to look.

So, details… after the surgery, you are on bed-rest for three days. I mean complete bed-rest. You have an IV initially and a catheter and I had two drains coming from the incision. So, no fantasies of sneaking up and using that ensuite. It was my first experience in adulthood of being completely incapacitated. I had to say I did not like it but then again I have been independent (My family call it stubborn or pig-headed. Whatever) since I was a pre-schooler. It was not the being washed or changed by nurses or being poked and prodded in places few people see. I expected that bit. It was the other little things, like the time I had to call a nurse just to turn off a light. Or ask my Dad to fetch me everything I might possibly need before he left for the night, so I could arrange them in arm’s reach, just in case.

All of that would have been just as difficult and uncomfortable at home but not speaking Italian did add yet another layer of difficulty. I learnt the words for sick, pain, help, thirsty, etc. But I could not communicate the level, location, or type of pain without hand gestures and facial grimaces and the nurses eventually sending for someone who spoke English. You can communicate a lot non-verbally but I was unable to say, “Yes, I have some pain but no, I don’t want painkillers. It’s bearable and this way I can tell when I’ve moved too far. Then I won’t make that movement again”. I’m just not that talented at charades. It was also a bit lonely not being able to chat away to people. Once we had said hi and talked about New Zealand (rugby seemed to come up a lot) and the weather, I ran out of Italian. I would have liked to have properly thanked the girl who cleaned my room each day and talked to her; she seemed nice. Again, we were limited to smiles. Thankfully they are universal.

But I have to say, the language difficulties did create some funny moments. The nurses and catering staff went out of their way to make me feel at home. Maybe it was just part of their jobs but they genuinely seemed to care whether I was feeling good or not and that I had everything that I wanted. Twice two male nurses sat down and translated the menus for me. This was hilariously entertaining, especially when we got to rabbit. Seeing a grown man act out a rabbit twitching its nose complete with rabbit ear-fingers was very funny. I did not have the heart to tell him I was a vegetarian. I also made numerous mistakes with food all by myself. Often I selected some very funny combinations of food for meals based on wild guesses about the menu or assumptions that the food would be the same as at home. For example, I imagined that the mozzarella would be baked or in a sauce or something. Not just a ball of fresh mozzarella. Oops. Still, it was nice added to the tossed salad.

What else to say? The five-day stay in the hospital was uncomfortable, undignified, and awfully boring at times. It tested my patience and having the internet connected on the second day seemed like the world had opened up again and made me realise how privileged and probably spoiled, if I’m honest, my life usually is. It was elective surgery after all and I’d been able to make that choice. I was being given the opportunity to get full function in my leg again, if everything went to plan, not something that is offered to every person with lymphedema. Probably less than five percent of people with lymphedema can elect to have the surgery, due to the cost, despite the fact that I think most could benefit from it. I’m not meaning to navel gaze, just comment on the fact that I am aware of how lucky I am. Something I used to give myself a stern talking to in the middle of the night. You know that time when you’re lonely, sore, and, if you weren’t too grown up to admit it, you just want your mummy? Hmm... I hope that’s not just me.

And then, suddenly, we reached Day 5. Drains and tubing were removed. I gained a new appreciation for that ensuite and the energy required to reach it. Even if I did require the assistance of two nurses at first. I was upright! I was walking! I was able to look out the window and see the parking lot! This was excitement; clearly my world had shrunk more than a little. We were discharged on the morning of Day 6 and headed back to the B&B to recuperate. Phase two of the treatment programme was over. 

Phase three was about to begin. This, actually, was where things got a little hard for me. I'll write about them briefly, in case it happens to you too. If you're delicate little flowers with stupidly fragile skin like myself, that is!

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