Where The Popsicles Are-30

“So, you’re here for the big one.”

When I got back to the hospital Wednesday morning, Joanie was awake, had taken a shower and seemed to be in pretty good spirits. I had stopped in the hospital lobby area where they had a coffee cart and picked up a mocha, and she chided me in a good natured manner about why I hadn’t brought one for her. She grinned at me, knowing the answer, and told me she didn’t mind.

She had been more comfortable after she had been moved to the private room, but hadn’t slept well. I don’t think anyone sleeps any better in a hospital than they do in a hotel, except in a hotel, you don’t have the noise, nor do you have anybody stopping in and checking up on you at all hours.

On this morning, we met another nurse named Barb. You could see by the way she dealt with Joanie that she was a veteran on this floor, and Joanie took a liking to her as she had to Marcia, the little Irish nurse the night before. They were cheerful, no nonsense professionals, and exuded an air of confidence and warmth that put both Joanie and I at ease.

It was from Barb that we first heard the phrase “So, you’re here for the big one,” meaning a total pelvic excenteration. She said it more as a matter of fact declaration than a question, and she told Joanie she was in the right place for that kind of surgery. Both Barb and Marcia, had cared for women who had undergone the procedure, and they assured Joanie they were going to take very good care of her. Joanie asked Marcia why the called it, “the big one,” and Marcia said it was a more difficult surgery than a heart lung transplant because of what was involved. We didn’t know if that was true or not, but it answered Joanie’s question.

Joanie was still facing the unpleasant task of the bowel prep. She hated it, and I knew it, so I said we’ll play a game. I asked one of the nurses if there was a deck of cards around that we could use, and after she found one for me, I told Joanie we were going to play Blackjack, and every time she lost a hand, she would have to take a big drink. She reluctantly agreed, and the game was on. I didn’t cheat, but I did win more times than she did, and it really didn’t take that long to dispense with the GoLYTELY. The problem now was that she couldn’t get to far from the bathroom. To her credit, she did it all with a good bit of humor as well. It didn’t take long for things to settle down, and while Joanie took a nap, I went for lunch.

Mid afternoon, Ginny came up to spend some time with Joanie, and I left to find a battery for the cell phone, because I knew I would be needing and extra one. Mission accomplished, I got back to the hospital, and about five o’clock, Dr. Jonathan Cosin came in to go over the details of what was to come in a little over fourteen hours. Joanie liked him, and he had been familiar with her case from the beginning. He would also be part of the team performing the surgery.

With Ginny and I standing by, he began to lay what was in store for her in great detail, and it became obvious shortly after he started this was a hard discussion for Joanie. She had a Kleenex at the ready, and before long was wiping her eyes, and trying not to lose it completely. Cosin, did his best to present the details of the procedure in as non threatening manner as possible, but the fact remained this was an incredibly difficult and traumatic surgery, and her life would change forever when it was over. Joanie was not successful in her efforts to keep from losing it, and let go several times before he was finished. After about forty-five minutes, he was done, and before he left us, he told Joanie the surgery was scheduled for seven o’clock in the morning, and they would bring her to the pre-op about six to get everything ready.

I wondered what Ginny thought having, for the first time, heard exactly what was involved, and the magnitude of the surgery. She told me later, she was “stunned.” The night before, at dinner with her and Ed at Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Joanie had talked some about it, but did not go into the kind of detail Cosin did. I told Ginny, Joanie didn’t go into much detail when she did talk about it with anybody. Ginny said, “I was stunned at the magnitude and the extent of what was going to be done to this woman’s body, and I was struck by the courage Joanie exhibited in going through with it.”

For the rest of the evening, Joanie and I didn’t talk about what was going to happen the next day. We spent a good deal of time watching TV, but we were not really watching, when nurse Marcia came in to the room and unrolled a six foot poster to put on the wall next to Joanie’s bed. It was an Irish themed poster complete with leprechauns, a rainbow with a pot of gold at the end, gold stars and an Irish blessing in large letters. Joanie’s face lit up. I liked this Marcia even more.

About ten-thirty that night, Joanie told me it was time for me to go. She said, “If I have to be awake at five-thirty in the morning, so do you, and I will expect to see you here.”

I kissed her and told her I wouldn’t miss it for the world, and she laughed.

We both knew the day of “the big one” was going to be a long one.

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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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