BY: JAMES F O’NEIL
“We cannot learn without pain.” –Aristotle, Politics (V.1. 1301a, l. 28)
* * *
“It’s just an overnight,” my urologist said to me. I accepted that after he had examined my bladder and naughty bits for cancer and for whatever prompted him to speak “There’s something there I don’t like the looks of,” after he had probed me and scoped me with the cystoscope.
Now it is easy to whine about how I got to that point in my illness and relate about the symptoms which brought me to the hospital two weeks later for pre-op. For I was so ready for the promise of relief from pain that prostate surgery would provide. I was prepared to “undergo the knife” (or whatever other instruments the surgical team would use).
For the next two weeks I cleared my busy retiree’s calendar of all doctor and dentist appointments, planned speaking engagements (kidding…), and prepped for a hospital overnight, followed by three or four days of rest and relaxation. I organized my writing and reading materials, organized to be placed in the TV Room–Guest Room–Sick Room, with its queen-sized hide-a-bed, with its proximity to a bathroom. In addition, the TV with ROKU, Netflix, Prime, and hulu, among others.
I had my supply of “diapers” and other special hygiene needs. An ample supply.
What I never did before surgery, however, was ask the doctor what took place during the procedure. I had no clue and never did go search the Internet or Home Medical Guide in detail, or visit You Tube for any kind of heads up on what I was in for. I expected pain and discomfort, bed rest, medications, inconveniences, and the many hours of sleep after I came home from the hospital. Nevertheless, I felt prepared, having complete trust in my specialist, and was making myself ready for a new medical experience to add to my list containing appendectomy, tonsillectomy, hernia, and hernia repair, two knee surgeries (with a total replacement), a gall bladder attack with a swift surgery and hospital discharge to home, and two surgeries for feet and toes.
In my years, I have had sufficient days spent in a hospital and have had to slide over from a hospital bed to a surgical table: “One, two, three. . .” I have had my trips in hospital elevators, down hallways and through No Entry doors to arrive in freezing cold operating rooms, with distinctive bright lights, beeping sounds, and muffled voices of gowned and masked nurses, and others. Down those hallways with neon-fluorescent ceiling lighting, under one, and another, and another. Turns and doors and more turns and more doors.
Then, once on the table, after the Q & A by anesthesiologist, oxygen tube into the nose, the familiar-to-all, from experience or from living with Grey’s Anatomy, The Resident, ER, and so many other St. Elsewhere TV episodes and movies, “Take a deep breath through your nose,” or “Count back from . . .” “Ninety-nine, ninety-eight, ninety. . .”
Then nothing. Except time passing outside the body. Then, until, “Mr. O’Neil. . .”
* * *
“Mr. O’Neil, are you in pain?”
* * *
The surgery did not go as expected; I was returned to the hard black surgical table the next day for a bleeding fix-up. Unexpected collateral.
. . . four nights, sleepless nights, uncomfortable nights in a hospital bed . . .
“You’re going home this afternoon.” I arrived home, Transportation by Son. Into the Sickroom. Into the home bed. “Ready.” For sleep-rest, and some Netflix.
Not so fast: It did not last. Shortness of breath. Days passing. Weakness, to the point of crawling.
A trip to the ER, there a CT scan and EKG. The usual routine for heart attack. The ER doctor said, “Good news and bad news. It’s not your heart.” And? “Pulmonary embolisms in the lungs. You’re being admitted.”
Thus began the journey of 41 days and overnights of hospital-patient life, including 12 days of re-hab in a nursing care facility.
* * *
“Just an overnight” became days with tests, blood draws, blood transfusions, medications, specialists, sleepless nights (but mostly tasty food when I was up to eating).
Then depression and boredom. (I read nothing from my Kindle or from my magazines. I would watch television late until I couldn’t see, then fall asleep until the 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. “Mr. O’Neil, could I please have your date of birth? I need to take some blood.” My left arm was pin cushioned. Some techs took blood from my hand between my knuckles. Ouch!
* * *
“Orthostatic hypotension.” I was a lump, a sack of bones, losing weight, with no one fixing me or making me better, I thought.
Finally, out of bed into a recliner chair—a true milestone. I could even walk a few steps, weak, but willing to go. And then, after, the hospital (and insurance company) deemed it necessary for me to exit my private room, and be discharged.
I was stable and prepped to go. A new adventure beginning with a wheelchair ride into a wheel chair ambulance to my next place for recovery. The experience in the nursing home rehab facility was a coda to all I had been through. The staff worked wonders, getting me to Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy. “I can walk! I can walk!”
I could walk. I could wash. In addition, I could eat! Oh, the meals! At 7:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 5:30 p.m. So much–too much–good food, and soup twice daily. The twenty pounds lost during my hospital stay were regained: My muscles were beginning to re-assert themselves.
I could walk—with help and safety belt.
Soon I was homeward bound, with cane and walker furnished by Home Health Services.
I made it! “Going home!” Ah, sweet words. “Going home,” there to “re-cover.”
* * *
Anything I write more or tell about my time hospitalized is redundant (and getting boring). My memoriesofthetime come and go, drift into my consciousness, spend some time, then drift away the way they came. I’ll never say I do my best to forget; I simply forget some details not to be commentated upon. Sometimes I can hear myself “It was horrible.” Or, perhaps, “How did I ever endure?” I did. And it was horrible at times. Boredom. Pain. Malaise. Ennui.
I was bolstered at times by my “De profundis” (my heartfelt cry of appeal expressing deep feelings of sorrow or anguish), or “This too will pass,” despite a cardiologist’s exclaiming “What’s going on here?!” In addition, “We can fix this.”
So I got fixed enough for home. “Just an overnight” are words with a dimension of meaning I never knew existed for me.
I shudder a bit when I hear “Just an overnight.” I am confident, though, that “this, too, will pass.”
© James F. O’Neil 2022