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thank God for the vacuum salesman

July 9, 2009

photo on flickr by Darren Hester
under a Creative Commons license

I had a crying fit today, out of the blue. Life is good: the kids are happy, the weather is beautiful, the garden is growing. (Except for the echinacea and the lilies which were eaten by the deer.) Yesterday my husband had relatively minor surgery (successful), and the reaction didn’t hit me till today.

I hate hospitals: the smell, the stress, the officiousness, the waiting. We showed up an hour and a half early, as instructed. We were ushered into the little room with the curtain and the hospital bed and the call button. My husband donned his hospital gown and lay down on the hospital bed. I about had a hissy (internally). When the nurse hooked up his IV line, I wanted my mom.
A procession of nurses and doctors and aides and I-don’t-know-who came into the room, all asking the same two questions: Why are you here? Which leg is getting operated on? They knew we knew, and we knew they knew. It was almost comedic except that they were very serious.
When I was a kid in the hospital, I was mistakenly prepped for the wrong operation. My mother just about brought the entire building down to rubble before they listened to her and realized their mistake. Who expects two children with the exact same name to be in the hospital at the same time?
Obviously procedures have improved. Not only did every single person ask those two questions; my husband and his surgeon both had to put identifying marks on the proper knee. It was reassuring, but odd. The redundancy seemed a tad extreme.
What’s more important than not operating on the wrong limb (or person)? Not getting sued. Every single employee has to be covered in the event of a mistake. You can’t sue the doctor, or the nurse, or anyone who comes in contact with you.
Yes, it’s important, potentially a life-and-death situation. But it reminds me of the hoops we now go through to fly. When you are not allowed to bring a banana on the plane because it constitutes more than four ounces of a gel, we call that Security Theater. You’ll be safe from terrorists because they won’t be able to steal your banana to make a bomb, right? It is technically possible, after all.
More likely, the powers that be are taking steps not to make you safe, but to make you think you’re safe. If security guards take away a plain old banana, they obviously found any hidden guns or bombs in suitcases. Didn’t they?
Although in the hospital’s case, I think protecting themselves was more the point.
But none of that is my point. (Rambling must be another side-effect of stress.) After they wheeled my husband away, I sat in the waiting room for hours. This was the orthopedic wing: people were getting their joints sanded and planed through incisions almost too small to warrant a band-aid. The tension level was not high. And yet, as I sat and waited and tried not to listen to Judge Judy or Sally Jesse Raphael or whoever was on the TV, I worried.
The scenario hit all the cliches bang on the head. We waited, eavesdropping on the employee at the desk as she took phone calls. Maybe it’s news about my husband (wife, grandfather, whoever). I had to fight the urge to ask her if my husband was still in surgery or in the recovery room. (She was a volunteer. I doubt they’d give her the responsibility of reporting anything that could be bad.)
We could all hear the surgeon’s footsteps as he walked down the hallway to the waiting room to give the news of a person’s surgery. And it was a long hallway, with a hard floor. The surgeon’s tread was loud and seemed to last forever. It echoed, too.
Usually he would sit down with the relative right there in the waiting room, pulling out charts and pictures and going over follow-up care while in the background Judge Judy presided over people throwing their own hissy fits. Reactions were muted: the knee was good, or maybe not so good. It wasn’t open-heart surgery. Lives were not in the balance.
But when the surgeon came to give me my news, he led me out of the waiting room, partway down the echoey hallway, and into a very small consulting room containing only two chairs, a side table, and a box of tissues. We all know that means very bad news. (They should save the surgeon some time and just tape Dr. McCoy’s voice saying, “He’s dead, Jim.”) (Sorry, tasteless joke.) (Rambling again.)
When he pulled out the pictures of ligaments and cartilage and bones and told me about the procedure, I had to stop him. “Is my husband okay? Did he make it?” The surgeon looked at me like I was nuts.
So I went back and sat with my husband until he was pronounced fit to go, and then we got in the car and went to Subway and bought dinner for the kids. He walked into the restaurant and placed the order himself. No problem. All’s well.
And then today, I sat in my lawn chair and looked at the green grass and the trees and the fluffy clouds in a perfect blue sky and I cried.
Luckily for all of us a neighbor stopped by to chat and very kindly did not mention my tear-stained face. We talked about houses and the economy while my daughter romped with his dog in the yard.
And then I made dinner, and turned away a door-to-door vacuum salesman, and sat on the couch with my kids to watch The Daily Show, and cleaned the cat box. Just an ordinary day. With a few unexplainable tears.
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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 27, 2009 9:58 am

    Oh dear, We shouldn't have to learn the world isn't round, doesn't go in exactly the way it should. And would it be better, easier if we were a primitive culture, feeling the change of weather through the soles of our bare feet, knowing exactly which berry would be poisonous, which leaf made a healing tea? Alas, it all becomes complicated and the more we advance the more dangerous it all becomes.

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