Where The Popsicles Are-29

Tuesday’s Unwelcome Surprises

I think anyone who tells you they sleep well in a hotel is either lying or has a good supply of Ambien with them.

Neither Joanie nor I slept well, and were both up early on this very important day. We skipped making a pot of the notoriously bad, in room coffee, and instead, showered, dressed and walked a couple of blocks to Bruegger’s Bagels for better coffee and a great bagel.

Joanie was relaxed and pensive, as one might expect, but did not appear the least bit anxious that morning. Our conversation while at Bruegger’s was low key, dealing mainly with her outlining what shopping she wanted to do that morning, and wondering how Muffin and Peaches were doing. Choosing to ignore the elephant in the room, neither one of us said a word about what was coming later in the day. We dallied over coffee, like two people who had all the time in the world, both getting a second cup, and I remember thinking I wanted the moment to last for the whole day, and then we could go home.

She broke the spell abruptly when she said, “We should get going.” We walked back to the hotel and drove across the Mississippi to downtown Minneapolis, finding a spot in the parking lot on 1st Avenue across the street from the Loon Cafe, one of our favorite spots, where we might have lunch later.

Walking a couple of blocks to the Nicollet Mall, our first stop was Neiman-Marcus. Lest you think we shopped at a store like that on a regular basis, we didn’t, but I had found, over the years they always have any number of items in the price range we could afford, which means $25-$50, and they had these great gift boxes and bags. Joanie found an Angel pin she wanted, and had she wanted a dozen of them, as far as I was concerned, she could’ve had them. Our next stop was Dayton’s where she picked up a pair of sweat pants and she found a pair of shoes she wanted. I wasn’t sure why she picked that time to buy a new pair of shoes, but said nothing, and again if she wanted two more, she could’ve had them. I didn’t care.

We dropped of the purchases in the car, and walked across the street to have lunch. Dr. Carson had told Joanie that she could eat a good lunch, could eat as much as she wanted and if she wanted to have wine with it that was fine. We didn’t know it then, but it would be the last solid food she would have for about three weeks. We stopped at Champps, just down the block from the Loon, ordered a big chicken salad to share and a glass of wine. The food and wine came, and the mood changed, as the elephant in the room cleared its throat and got our attention. We started to talk a little bit about what was to come, where I was going to stay, and how we were going to handle things. I told her I would be leaving the Radisson on Saturday, and I would be staying with a friend of ours, Tom Sand. Tom had called me and offered a place to stay. Joanie and I had stayed with him on other occasions. He had a place a few blocks north of the State Capitol building in St. Paul. It would be an easy drive from there to the hospital. She seemed a bit relieved one expense item was taken care of.

It was obvious that neither one of us was very hungry, as we just picked at the salad, and barely sipped at the wine. It wasn’t long before Joanie said she wanted to go back to the hotel. It was around two o’clock now, with just barely an hour left before she was to check into the hospital.

Back at the hotel, we got to the room, she went to the bathroom, and when she came out she sat down in one of the chairs, and let go a heavy sigh. She looked at me and smiled weakly, and it was like the air being let out of a balloon. She seemed deflated totally. We sat there, silently for a few minutes, until she said, “Well, I suppose we should go.” Joanie never liked to be late for anything, even this appointment, as if doing so might offend someone. For me, I didn’t care if we were a little late, I knew it wouldn’t make any difference, but right then I was going to do anything she wanted me to do.

We slowly walked the few short blocks to the hospital, and as we went to the admitting office, the trouble started. When we approached the fellow behind the desk to check in,  she told him who she was, and he started going down a list of names he had in front of him, and then he went through it another time, and then he looked at another list, and finally said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t see your name here. Who’s your doctor?” I could see her face, and it told me she was on the verge of losing it. I stepped in and told him she was Dr. Linda Carson’s patient, and she was scheduled for surgery on Thursday, and we had been told to check in today to begin preparation for the surgery. He again apologized,  but said her name wasn’t on the list.

I was livid. I was pissed at myself for not double checking on Monday that everything was in order. This was one of the surprises it was my job to prevent. I was also pissed at the bureaucracy, because someone who was supposed to set this up hadn’t. Joanie knew I was mad, and I really had to control myself because she would get upset herself, if she knew I was upset, and besides that she was, unlike me, conflict averse.

I went outside, got on the cell phone to Carson’s office and asked them what was going on. I did so out of range of Joanie’s hearing, and I told the voice on the other end I wasn’t happy with this surprise, and I was promised it would be taken care immediately. Which in hospital parlance means, “Who knows when,” especially since three o’clock was the time when you had shift changes going on. In the mean time, Joanie sat in the waiting room, looking sad and smaller than I had ever seen her. It hurt to see her that way, and it pissed me off even more. This wasn’t supposed to be the way this whole thing was to start. What she was facing was hard enough for her without throwing in a paperwork screw up.

Finally, after close to an hour, the admitting paper work was done, and we headed for the elevator for the ride up to 7C, where another unwanted surprise awaited.

We walked down the long hallway to the Women’s Cancer Center floor, and approached the nurses station to announce her arrival. By this time they had been alerted and were expecting us. However, we were told there wasn’t a private room available, as there was supposed to be, and Joanie burst into tears standing there in the open and it caused quite a stir among the nurses until Barb, one of the nurses we would get to know well in the coming weeks, put her arms around her and tried to comfort her. She settled down, and while she dried her eyes and blew her nose, Barb told us they would arrange soon for the private room. I kept my cool, but I was seething inside. This thing was turning into a nightmare for Joanie, and I was really helpless to do anything about it. I felt like I had let her down again by not double checking that things were ready for her.

They got her settled in a room, but as you know, semiprivate rooms in hospitals are anything but spacious, or private, and considering what Joanie was there for, I didn’t like this at all. She changed into the hospital gown, and we waited for the next surprise. We didn’t have to wait long, before we were introduced to Dr. Kris Ghosh, a gynecologist-oncologist that we’d not met before, and he told us they would be putting in a line below the right side of her neck for the IV’s she would be receiving from now on. Then another surprise came. Every time Dr. Ghosh would try to find the vein to begin hooking up the line, something strange would happen. It was like it wasn’t there. He tried several more times, and each time he failed. Now, Joanie was getting nervous, and so was I. In all fairness, no one could have foreseen what was happening when he tried to set the line. Finally, they took Joanie down to radiology, and using a dye, they found what they were looking for, and Ghosh told me that what had been happening, was that every time he would stick her trying to set the line, the vein would collapse.

They got the line set, and now Joanie, back in the room a little more relaxed, began another part of the preparation she hated, GoLYTELY. Anyone who has had any kind of abdominal surgery, or a colonoscopy knows what that stuff is. As she began that regimen, she began to be visited by nurses, who would be fiddling with her IV, taking her blood pressure, and hooking up various things, and trying to put her at ease. They weren’t succeeding to any degree, and as the bowel prep began to do its work, it was even harder.

Finally, about six hours after we were supposed to have checked Joanie in, Marcia, one of the older nurses on the floor came in and said this was unacceptable, and they began to get her ready to move to a private room. Marcia was this diminutive, grey haired, Irish woman, one you just knew was a veteran on 7C. She was also one who somehow figured out right away that Joanie was Irish, and she took a liking to her and would be one of her main nurses throughout her stay on 7C.

While they moved her, I went outside to have a smoke. When I came back up, she was in the private room, and seemed more relaxed. She was getting more comfortable with the nurses, and every so often Barb or Marcia would pop in to see how she was doing. I began to feel better myself, and had forgotten my anger at the confusion from earlier in the afternoon. It was a stressful time, and I felt it as well as Joanie did.

I stayed with her until about eleven o’clock, when she looked at me and told me I should go. I asked her if she was okay with that, and she just smiled at me, told me she loved me and said she’d do fine. I kissed her, told her I loved her and said I’d see her in the morning.

Hospitals are big buildings with spaces built to accommodate a lot of people and a lot of drama, but at eleven o’clock at night, when they are empty, quiet and lonely places, they have a different feel. As I walked through the darkened, main area on the ground floor the only person I saw was a hospital security guard. He said good night to me, and I to him and walked back to the Radisson.

Back at the hotel, I stopped at the bar, picked up a beer and headed for my room. Once inside, I sat down at the table by the window from where I could see the top floor of the hospital, lit up a smoke and thought about what Joanie had been through since we first tried to check her in, and how it affected her.

It had been one helluva day, and I was tired.


About Bob Kallberg

Retired reporter. Concentrating now on recounting Joanie's 12 year battle with cancer, a battle she waged with extreme courage, determination and an indomitable spirit, that, for me, serves as an example.
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