Monday, November 7, 2011

When orange Jello was nectar of the gods

Hung out to dry. That's how I felt last week after I surrendered my appendix. It was all shredded anyway. Excuse me while I unkink my drainage tube. 

I had called the advice nurse that morning in case it wasn't just gas. They asked me to come in. I held my breath as instructed by a mechanical voice while my prone body slid into the CAT scanner.

Next thing I know, they had clad me in one of those bedsheet-soft gowns. It was three days before Halloween, and this year I came as a patient.

The ER nurse says, "For someone with acute appendicitis, you're sure smiley."
“I was dreaming about food,” I say.
“It’s always the skinny ones who do,” he replies, hooking up another bag to my IV. Bless his studly heart.

The admin staffer hands us a health care directive. My husband and I weigh how much decision-making power to assign him.

“You’re too young for that,” the nurse assures me. He is looking more studly by the minute. I tell him that’s a refreshing thing to hear, considering how all I’ve heard from the medical community since rounding the corner into my 40s is “for your age…”

But now I know why they call me the patient. I'd had nothing to eat all day. I couldn’t eat nor drink until the next day. This is unthinkable for someone who grazes every three hours and never fasts, no matter how spiritual I aspire to be, as I would only become cranky and start dry heaving.

I am patient. I wait serenely all afternoon and into the wee hours, eight more hours before the surgery department can take me.  My CAT scan had shown my appendix had "possibly" ruptured. They must figure the worst was behind me, and are shooting me full of antibiotics in the meantime. When they finally come to get me, I insist the husband go home and get some rest. He's recovering from hernia surgery. He kisses me goodbye but insists on waiting until after the operation. I remember being wheeled into the elevator, then suddenly waking up in recovery.

"I don't remember being in the OR," I say to a nurse.
"You didn't miss anything," she replies.

The clock says it's 2:30 a.m. I've been wheeled into a private room. A woman is in there with me. I presume she's a nurse. I jerk awake each time she asks a question.

"Full name? Verify your address...What is your biggest fear? What is your biggest need?"

Huh? I want to say that she ought to let me sleep and come back at a decent hour. But I am mysteriously acquiescent, like someone under hypnosis. This is out of character for me.

"My biggest fear is drowning. My biggest need is respect," I intone like a drone. I wonder if she should also ask if I were I tree, what tree I’d want to be.

Fade to black

So here's what was on the menu at Chez L'hôpital: 

Ice chips with a swab, and strict instructions not to drink the melted ice

Orange Jello

One bowl of clear chicken broth
One small box of juice

(I did a happy dance in my head. Sincerely.)

Repeats of Day One's dinner

French toast for breakfast! Turkey croissant for lunch! Pork cutlets for dinner!
(I applaud each time a tray appears.)

What I enjoyed the most? That first scoop of orange Jello. Cool and heavenly on the taste buds. After that, though, I developed a metallic taste in my mouth that rendered all food uniformly blech.

There is a point to my dwelling on food. Sunday was a day of reckoning. Up to that point I had been stoic. The bobbleheadedness and exhaustion, the muscle twitching, the serious decline in grooming—I’d taken it all in stride.

They have shower caps now that let you shampoo in bed.

But then: Bladder blockage. Had they removed the catheter a day early? Studly Nurse No. 2 insists I get up and empty my bladder the old-fashioned way. I parcel out his commands thusly:

Get up. Involving actually moving legs, then raising my torso, while gripping both nurse and husband, and no longer caring that I am grunting and grimacing. The hospital gown starts slipping off, but when I observe this out loud, cool professional nurse says grimly, “We have bigger problems right now."

Empty bladder. I assume the position over the porcelain throne. Nothing. Chat with husband, pretend it’s business as usual. A slight trickle. I’m all for giving it more time, but I hear the nurse calling for backup. “We have a medical emergency.” Catheter time again. The first one went in when I was knocked out; this time I am wide awake, and worried.

“I’ve done this thousands of times,” Studly Nurse 2 assures me beforehand. “It takes five minutes to set up and five seconds to get in.” If only.

How detailed can I get? If you’re squeamish, skip this paragraph. Two more nurses assemble around the bed where I have been returned. Cold swabs, fingers stretching me down there, wrong entry, try again, break out new sterile kit, try different kind of catheter, grip hubby’s hand, blow-blow-blow like I’m giving birth, third time’s the charm. Catheter bag fills up in seconds as my pain recedes and the nurse remarks that the smile has come back to my face.

This picture tells the story better.
Studly Nurse #2 mentions he’s off the next day and gives me instructions. The feeling of abandoned kittenhood descends upon me. I try not to weep as I confide that I am worried about failing the catheter test, and the consequences for it.

“Worry about dinner. Then worry about brushing your teeth,” he imparts, among other thoughts. It does help to put it in food terms. Plus the fact that he introduced me to the nurse who would be taking over. She was sweet as molasses.

Next day they take the catheter out. They give me six hours to pee on my own or that damned catheter goes back in and I don’t get to go home. I decline all pain meds so that my insides might wake up and eliminate in earnest. The hospital’s assistant chaplain walks in and asks if I need prayer. Yes, I say conversationally, please pray that I pee and poo so I can go home today.

“I’ve never had anyone put it that specifically,” he says nonchalantly. He prays with my husband and me. Five minutes after he leaves I get the #2 part done. Check! Now I need the bladder to cooperate. I am not as confident about it.

We trudge around the hospital floor, my husband and I, willing my bladder awake. I find out much later the toll that pained stroll has taken on my soles: my massage therapist only has to touch them to make me yowl. He pronounces them “messed up.” I must’ve been curling my toes under.

We did make it home that night. They didn’t have to put the catheter back in. I wore a drain tube from the appendectomy site for a week, measuring the output each day and marveling at what my inside liquid looks like. Today, since the fluid level has declined, the wound care nurse pulled the tube out.

“First time anyone almost jumped off the table,” she remarked, as I giggled in relief and my husband uncovered his face.

This is the eve of our 25th anniversary. Tomorrow we can go out to dinner without a drain tube dangling out of my pants. Best anniversary present ever!

Cat pics from


  1. What an ordeal! Glad you maintained your sense of humor through it all.
    Happy Anniversary!

  2. Well, I was wondering where you were, Scrollwork!

    Very glad you're all better. Happy Anniversary. And I love love the pic of the cat on the drying rack.

  3. This was a wonderfully lighthearted description of what I can only gather was a terrible ordeal! Glad you're doing well. The bird picture...SMH!!!

  4. Hi,
    Found you via Blogging Buddies team. So glad I did! I love your writing. I can't believe I chuckled about your ordeal, but you are so hilarious! Great photo choices, too!

    I'll be reading from now on!

    Lynette - Sweet Posy Dreams

  5. Wow..I thought maybe this was going to be someone reminiscing about the joys of Jello and childhood..boy was I wrong! They say a sense of humor is healing so I guess you are on the right track. Happy Anniversary! (and you do realize that story would have been much more tragic and dramatic if you had been a guy! LOL) Great post! Julia

  6. Oh my! Congratulations on having this behind you. I hope your anniversary was absolutely divine. You both deserve it.

  7. What a funny blog - love all the adorable pictures :) Hope you're feeling 100% soon.

    found you via - blogging buddies

  8. A great sense of humor for that horrible ordeal:) Now it's a piece of cake all the way to full recovery:):)

  9. I agree with everybody else: I love your writing made me giggled a few times.

    I found you today via Blogging buddies, will be coming back again.

    Happy anniversary!


  10. Glad to know you're okay. Welcome back and I look forward to more of your sense of humor and perspective of the world.

  11. The best road to a healthy recovery is a good sense of humor. Sounds like you came through with flying colors. I love the photos you added to your story. Happy Anniversary!

  12. OMG! It looks like you had a tough ride. I hate hospitals. I am so sorry that you had to go through this. I hope that you are better and that the ordeal is over. Take care!

  13. Oh boy, I'm sorry. I also had my appendix out, but this was in 1989, and at the time, it was major surgery. I could barely walk right for a month. Then, I had two c-sections, and damn if I wasn't hungry! And the hospital food is disgusting. I don't care how hungry someone is. Sure wish I had doctors as studly and complimentary as yours!

  14. Even though I don't comment much, I read your blog and love it.

    I have given you a blog award.

    Check out my most recent post:

  15. My goodness, I just realized I was so brain-addled by post-op painkillers that I never did come back and reply to any of your comments. Mea culpa!

    Thank you so much for stopping in and for your well-wishes, everyone! I sure appreciate it.

  16. Wow! Medical emergencies are always a unique experience, and they contrast with daily life. That was intense. It sounds like you had a good team of nurses and studs though. :-)