We sat lined up in little chairs in the waiting room. We chatted with dim, inattentive eyes, about things beyond our control. About weather, temperatures, roads, and travel time. I didn’t want to talk but I wanted to eavesdrop. I wanted to find something in one of those conversations to lower my alarm about the here and now but there was nothing. Discussions about eye surgery – right off the agenda. It was as if we were all pretending we were waiting for a call to dinner rather than a call to surgery.
Then one by one we pealed off those chairs and moved into another room. The nurse looked at my name and looked at me and said, “Roberta?”.
“Yes, I said. We spoke on the phone.” And no, we didn’t embrace and mingle tears (see previous bog), but she gave me a wry little smile and flourished one hand under each eye than shook it out over the floor. I grinned and mimed the same.
So now here we sat in groups of five while another nurse dropped drops in our eyes. A stinging drop followed by a soothing drop. Over and over again. Now you know how reluctant even a dim sighted eye is to having anything dumped in it. And the eye is even more reluctant when the thing is expected. So with a running commentary that this ‘may sting abit’ and ‘this will feel okay’ she re-cycled drops into the corners of our eyes. We, with our dim little pigeon eyes, that can’t even read the first ‘E’ on an eye chart, saw them coming, and of course we blinked. And when she tried again we blinked. With tissues, we mopped up hoards of solution spilling down our cheeks, as we consistently blinked in smooth synchronization with each drop that hit.
And when she said with impatience, “you must hold your eye open”, of course we agreed. But the mechanism of unconsciously controlled body movements disagreed so always18 trilla-seconds after her demanding we keep our eye open, without willing it, we breathed and blinked which of course was just as the emulsion dropped. None were talking, we were all too busy willing ourselves not to blink, and wondering if we had any of the critical solution in the eye. I only knew for a certainty I had some of the stinging variety.
With our upper bodies dressed in hospital nightgowns, tied but still gaping at the back, we were each given a sheet to wear as a granny shawl to keep our teeth from chattering. And eventually each of us were transferred from our chairs with our sheet shawls to wheel chairs and transferred to the operating room. An intravenous was set up in my right hand by another individual after three painful failed attempts in my left by the first individual. And then I was left on a stretcher in a hallway. My God, what I wouldn’t have given for a warm quilt? I keep asking for one, they said they’d get me one, but no one ever did.
Discomfort in such circumstances is the not knowing what is going to happen and how it is going to happen. But when it came to parking the guerney I was on in the hallway, that was familiar within the context of my mind. Gurneys are somewhat like taxis on a slow day, are they not? Only taxis wait and wait at a sidewalk entry, and gurneys wait and wait anywhere in a hospital where there is room - hallways, alcoves, etc. So when placed on a gurney and parked in a hallway, I felt the comfort of familiarity with that event.
Across the hallway, but not directly in line with me, was a body under a shawl-sheet identical to mine, with navy dress socks sticking out from under the sheet. I recognized the socks and realized it was the patient that had gone into surgery two patients ahead of me. His feet were parallel with my waist, he was parked a little farther down the hallway, so I had to raise my shoulders and tip my head backward to see the rest of him. But the sheet was bunched around his head making that part of him invisible. So I was left to examine his feet and lower torso.
The feet were positioned like those of the pope when he was packed around during his funeral procession. The body was very still, the face hidden from me, but I watched the feet and lower body very carefully. No twitch, no movement, nothing. I wondered if he had an adverse reaction to something. A sedative or freezing stuff. Maybe he wasn’t moving for a very good reason. If that was the case, maybe I could borrow his sheet. I was becoming so rapidly convinced that he was dead. After all, doesn’t it make sense that with our present health care situation that takes a critical patient 17 hours to get through the convolutions of the administrative process in Emergency, it might take as long, or even longer, to get a dead body transferred from a hallway to a morgue. Less the hurry really. Less the emergency at that point. No one to call up their Member of Parliament to complain or lobby for change. The deceased are the silent minority – and when they succumb on gurneys in hallways they are statistics of a kind that in their dumb silence are, it seems to me, not even counted. We’ve all seen the stat counts – numbers of deaths from homicides, vehicular accidents, drownings, heart disease, cancer, but I’ve still yet to see on the list – death from “unattended gurney in the hallway”. There must be enough to warrant adding these to the list.
Now moving on to another thought, I know that it is true that if you are driving on a slippery road, and you go into a skid, you need to look where you want to go rather than where you are going. Because if you look at the ditch, you will go in the ditch. So I realized if I seriously didn’t want to swipe his blanket, I had to ditch such thinking by turning my head. It was the only way to avoid scuttling across the way to snatch his blanket. Taking it would be so unkind, regardless of what his situation might be. So I turned my head away, and wrapped my sheet tighter around me. I sniffed the air but I could not smell death.
Just then my gurney was wheeled into surgery and my head put into a snug cradle. Something was hooked up to the intravenous and away we go. Finally warm. Finally, oh so comfortable. Not one negative or anxious thought. Loving myself, the world, even the incompetent that couldn’t plant an intravenous in my arm. Still able to hear conversation and able to respond. Thinking what a lovely place to be. Doom and gloom eradicated. Thinking positive thoughts about the Iraq war, politicians, even global warming and the president of the U.S. Loving what I love, and loving what I hate. Wanting desperately to write blogs from that wondrous place. Thinking about them, coining them. Knowing that readers of those blogs would weep tears of boundless delight.
I had no idea what was being rotated through my veins. Whether it was morphine, Novocain, Valium, banana peel with nutmeg, or poppy seed elixir. How would I know? I’ve never tried a street drug, not even marijuana. Or does an occasional poppy-seed bun count? And I’ve never taken pharmaceutical drugs beyond an extra-strength aspirin. But I certainly know now how people get hooked on drugs. If this is what drugs do, life just doesn’t get any better.
So in summary these are the events of today that impacted most on me.
1. Them asking me, of all people…”What eye are we doing?”
Response: It’s my right from behind the eye where I am positioned. It’s the left from where you are standing but if you turn your back to me it will be on the right. (pointing to eye). It’s this one….I think… (all the while thinking ‘why are they, the experts in this business, asking me? No one gave me a print-out of what they found in the assessment of my vision. Even verbal discussion was as limited as a dot-dash telegraph transmission.’
2. Most painful part of the day – all those intravenous attempts with that gigantic needle.
3. Most dubious part of my day – time spent in the hallway on a gurney gazing at a pair of navy blue socks.
4. Most orgasmic part of my day – the feeling that came over me when I entered that drowsy, comfy, positive-minded, cocoon of time and space just before surgery.
So now, it’s healing time and I’ll just have to wait and see how that goes.
As a final thought, I must tell you that only a couple weeks before surgery I happened to notice in a magazine a method for putting drops in one’s eyes. You pinch the bottom eye pouch between a thumb and first finger and pull it out into a pocket. Then drop the eye drops in that pocket. Couldn’t be happier I discovered that little trick. Although I couldn’t put drops in my eyes for an entire lifetime, now I can do it slick as you please. Which is good cause I have to put drops in my eye every time I turn around. I should have told that frustrated nurse, but experts seldom want advice and oft times don’t take kindly to it. So I guess today she’s probably back flooding faces with eye drops while patients wonder if they have sufficient of the stuff in their eyes to safely prepare them for eye surgery.