“Home by the 1st.”
One of the gifts Joanie got was a Walkman and a tape of the highlights of Les Miserables. She wasn’t going to use it for a while, so I opened it today and it reminded while listening to it that while one is surrounded by pain, disease and suffering there are beautiful things like great music. I found it was easy to forget that when you are in the middle of helping someone get through a major life threatening situation.
I got the hospital around nine Friday morning, the 20th of February, the 8th day after Joanie’s surgery. When I got there I saw that what we called the “Nose Tube” was gone. The technical name was the NG tube, and it was the one that drained her stomach to keep her from getting nauseous. They were also giving her a unit of blood because her hemoglobin had dropped, something they attributed to the fact that there was so much fluid being fed on the IV’s her hemoglobin tends to drop over time, Not a serious matter.
The first thing she asked me after I had been there but a few minutes, if I checked the plants and flowers for water. I did so, and added water where it was needed as she watche to be sure I didn’t miss any. She did this every day, and I didn’t mind, besides, it was my job.
The nose tube coming out was a major deal in our minds, since it signaled some real progress in the healing process. Now it would still be some time before she is able to resume clear liquids. They were going real slow in this area, and she must be passing gas well before she’ll be able to consume any quantity.
Another positive today was the end of radiation, and the removal around five o’clock, of both the iridium seeds as well the vaginal mold they had made when they constructed her neovagina during surgery, using part of her stomach muscle.
Taken together, all of this made for a good Friday for us. She would now be able to sit comfortably and feel like progress is being made despite still being tethered to the IV pole and with all of the drains yet to come out.
I had gone out for a smoke around three that afternoon, and as I was watching the transition from a weekday to weekend, it occurred to me that hospitals are like a lot of businesses. Friday afternoon signals the arrival of the weekend, and the arrival of the weekend staff. In a building that is built to accommodate a lot of human activity, and a lot of people, it is really noticeable when the weekend rolls around. All of sudden, say three thirty in the afternoon at the U of M Hospital, that meant the shift change had taken place, and when I walked back in to the lobby, I could feel the change. It was quieter, and there were fewer people milling about. The lobby coffee cart was gone. The piano in the corner was silent, and as I rode the elevator up to 7C, I was the lone occupant, something that happened rarely on weekdays, but was normal on the weekend.
When I got to Joanie’s room, she was sleeping, with morphine pump in hand. She looked relaxed, as if the tension of the week of radiation had melted away.
On 7C, you could feel the change as well. It seemed less frantic than it had earlier in the day, and from Joanie’s room, when the door was open, you could hear the muffled chatter and laughter of the nurses and interns who had drawn the weekend duty. I knew most of them by now, and they knew me, and occasionally I would stand and chat with them at the nurse’s station when Joanie was sleeping and things were slow on the floor. They were also the ones who validated my parking ticket and would often ask me before I left if it had been stamped. They remembered I had once walked to the ramp before I realized my mistake, and had to make the trek back to 7C to get the stamp. I thought of it as caregivers taking care of another caregiver.
While Joanie slept, I went outside for a smoke, and when I got back upstairs she was awake. She was feeling better, and we began talking about how much longer she might have to be in the hospital. For her, it had already been to long, and she was ready to go home, though she knew that wasn’t possible right now.
We got a visit from Dr. Cosin that changed everything that night. While we had been told that the recovery time from the surgery would be about two weeks, after I saw her after surgery I didn’t believe it. Tonight, Cosin told us barring anything unforeseen, she’d, “Be home by the 1st!”
Her smile lit up the room, and it almost made a believer out of me, for that would be 17 days after the surgery. For her sake, I hoped she wouldn’t be disappointed.
We talked more about this news, and both agreed to keep our fingers crossed. Around ten o’clock that night I kissed her goodnight and headed for Tom’s.
As I got off the elevator on the main floor and walked through the darkened lobby, the night security guy, whom I gotten to know by now, asked my how she was doing. I told him she was doing better than ever, and we could be getting her out of here by the 1st. He smiled at me and said, “Good for her.”
As I walked to the parking ramp, I thought to myself, “Yeah, good for her.”