“It’s time to go.”
A large city at five o’clock in the morning is a quite different place than it will be in just two more hours. The city is just beginning to stir in the dark light before dawn, and the only sounds one hears are those of far off trucks off on their early morning rounds, and the occasional footsteps echoing through the canyon like walls of buildings. There is a melancholy quality to the sound of this early morning city that greets any early riser, a quality that will slowly diminish as the sun clears the horizon, and human activity shifts into high gear for the day.
I woke before the alarm I had set for 4:30 A.M on Thursday morning, turned on the in room coffee pot, lit a cigarette and started to organize my thoughts for the day. I hadn’t slept well, and I suspected Joanie hadn’t either. As I sipped the coffee, I took note of the time, and knew how much time I had before I had to leave for the hospital to be there at five-thirty as I had promised her. I had time for another smoke and half a cup of coffee.
As I got ready to leave, I checked the Land’s End bag that had been with me for years, and made sure I had my notebooks, portfolio with legal pad, extra cigarettes and pens, lists of important phone numbers and the extra battery for the phone. That bag had traveled far and wide with me, and I never ceased to be amazed how much stuff I could cram into it. It was about to be tested again, this was going to be a long day.
I left the hotel for the short walk down Harvard Street toward the hospital. It was cold and still dark and I was the only one on the street.
I got to Joanie’s room before five-thirty, and found her wide awake. My suspicion that she hadn’t slept well was confirmed, but she seemed to be in good spirits. There was some activity as nurses came and went from her room checking to see last-minute details were being attended to, and Joanie met each of them with a cheerful smile. The mood changed somewhat when a nurse brought in the papers she had to sign acknowledging she was aware of the surgery that was about to be performed, and knew the risks associated with it. It was standard stuff, and we had seen it before when she had surgery, but this day, it was harder one for her to sign.
Ginny came by, and so we had a chance to visit with her, and then we were joined by the hospital chaplain who was making his morning rounds of surgery patients. He talked briefly with Joanie, and asked her if she wanted to pray. She said she did. So he read one of his non-denominational type of prayers, said, “Amen,” wished her well and was on his way.
So far this morning, Joanie was holding it all together quite well. It was shortly after six when the word came it was time to head for the pre-op. One of the nurses brought in wheel chair for the trip, and Joanie smiled and said good bye to Ginny and thanked her for coming this morning. Ginny was leaving that day for meetings out of town, and I told her I would call her when I had news after the surgery was done.
The pre-op area of the hospital was the same one we had been in before. It was this cold, brightly lit, noisy place, and this morning seemed busier than it had been the last time we were there. It was obvious this Thursday was a big surgery day at the hospital. They showed Joanie a bed, and began the process of hooking up the IV, and checking her blood pressure and pulse. They brought her some blankets that had been heated to ward off the chill in the room, then a nurse came with her file and asked questions regarding her medicines, the last time she ate, any allergies, and the same kind of questions she had answered many times. They were anything, but not thorough in their preparation.
I did my best to keep her amused, as I would point out various parts of the pre-op arena, and what was going on. I didn’t do a very good job, for she had a Kleenex at the ready, and more than once was forced to use it to wipe the tears from her brilliant, blue eyes. I began to feel the weight of what was about to happen even more, as I sat there with her. I couldn’t imagine what was going through her mind right then, and she never did tell me, even years later.
Shortly after she was settled in and the IV was hooked up, we were visited by the anesthesiologist, a cheerful fellow, one we hadn’t met before. He explained to Joanie what his role was going to be during her surgery, and assured her they were going to monitor her very carefully and take very good care of her. Ever the one to want to please, she smiled, thanked him, and he was gone.
He was followed shortly by the nurse anesthetist. She explained that she would be helping the anesthesiologist in taking care of Joanie during her surgery, and went to great lengths to put Joanie at ease, but I’m not sure how successful she was.
It wasn’t too long before Dr. Carson appeared. She was wearing her scrubs, looking every bit the part of the doctor who going to be in charge of Joanie’s surgery. Joanie liked and trusted her completely, and they talked about what was going to happen next, and she did her best to assure Joanie that she was in good hands with the doctors who would be participating in the operation. She told Joanie her excellent physical condition boded well for a good outcome, and then after she asked Joanie if she had any questions, and Joanie said no, she told us it was time to go. The favorite nurse in the pre-op, the nurse with the Versed came over, but before they gave Joanie the drug that would make her forget where she was, I took her hand, told her I loved her and kissed her. She said she loved me too, and then as I walked with them while they wheeled the bed toward the OR, the Versed took effect, I could see it in her eyes. I told her good bye and said I would see her later, though I don’t think she heard it. Then they turned right toward the OR, and I turned left for the surgery waiting room. It was shortly after seven o’clock in the morning.
Now there would be nothing left for me to do but wait and worry, especially for the first hour and a half. Assuming the exploratory phase went the way they hoped, I could breathe a little easier, but even then the surgery and the worrying would not be over.
I signed in at the surgery waiting room. They wanted the name of the patient I was waiting for, and the doctor’s name. If I was going to leave the waiting room, they also wanted to know where I could be reached in case the doctor needed to talk to me, and told the volunteer at the desk, an elderly older woman, I was going outside for a smoke. I don’t think she approved, but I didn’t care, it was going to be a long day indeed.