Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Truly hellish weekend

I haven't posted in a week, which is a long time for me (two week trip out of the country not included in assessment of regular patterns of behaviour). But I have a really good excuse.

Torsten (my boyfriend) had minor surgery last Wednesday, six days ago. It was a planned procedure and not a big deal, but it was done under general anesthesia. The doctor said that he would need to take a couple days off work but that he should be able to recover over the weekend and return to work on Monday. The surgery went very well, as did the first three days of the recovery.

On Sunday we were sitting on the couch eating lunch when Torsten felt a sudden stinging sensation on his wound, followed by a bizarre streaming feeling. He looked down at the wound and discovered that it had developed a sudden swelling almost the size of a golf ball. Obviously both of us were concerned about this, although it wasn't quite as scary as it sounds because the site of the wound was already somewhat swollen and we had been told to expect swelling, so we weren't sure that it was a huge problem. I called the weekend medical emergency line from his doctor's office. They paged the doctor, who called us back and said it sounded like Torsten had developed a hematoma that would probably drain or reabsorb on its own and that we had nothing to worry about.

A few hours later Torsten felt a sudden pain in the hematoma, and inspection proved that it had grown more. The pain was intermittent but very strong, so we called the medical emergency line back to page the doctor. It took a full hour, three phone calls, and Torsten's screams of pain in the background before the doctor finally called us back. When Torsten described the pain, the doctor suggested that he just walk over to the emergency room two blocks away (as though walking through the debilitating pain would be no problem), ask to see the resident on call, and see if the doctor needed to be called in.

Since Torsten could barely move, we got a taxi to the ER, and of course that was the taxi ride where I found some girl's Coach wallet with $220 in it (two fifties and six twenties). I picked it up and wanted to call her right away so she wouldn't feel compelled to cancel all her credit cards, but as we were headed to the ER it wasn't exactly my first priority and there wasn't anything I could do about it. So we got to the ER and checked in and Torsten gave everyone in the waiting room quite a show by screaming in pain the way one only expects to hear when watching House or ER or something. I don't know if it was the screaming or the reference from the doctor, but he was brought back to triage right away and the resident showed up after very little waiting. The resident called the on-call doctor to describe the situation and the doctor said dismissively that it sounded like this was just a panicky overreaction on Torsten's part and that he (the doctor) didn't need to come in. The resident disagreed, so to prove his point he took a picture of Torsten's hematoma on his cell phone and texted it to the doctor. The doctor saw the picture and changed his tune from "this guy is a hypochondriac" to "I'll be there as soon as I can."

The doctor showed up about half an hour later (in the meantime, I managed to track down the phone number of the girl whose wallet I found, get in touch with her, and return the wallet, for which she did not appear terribly grateful... I guess I should have stolen her cash), looked at the hematoma for about ten seconds, and said that he needed to operate.

Everything happened very quickly after that. The doctor explained to us what the surgery was going to do (reopen the wound, drain the blood from the hematoma, close off any active sources of bleeding, and restitch the wound closed), a million people came by with release forms for Torsten to sign, and he was brought up to the OR in a matter of minutes. He had eaten and drunk within the past eight hours, so not only did he have to go under general anesthesia again, but he had to have a tube down his throat during it. All the doctors and nurses were very nice and very competent (with the exception of the nurse who brought him from the triage room to the OR. She unhooked his IV bag from its stand and put it down directly on his hematoma for transport).

I was the only person in the waiting room (apparently most people don't schedule their surgeries for the middle of the night on a Sunday), which was nervewracking because I knew Torsten was in the OR and because I was worried about how alert the doctor was so late on a day when he hadn't expected to be working. But the surgery only took about an hour and then the doctor came in to say that it went very well. He insisted that Torsten stay in the hospital overnight, and Torsten insisted that I stay with him. He got a lovely private room with a nice view and great nurses, and I got a tiny and rather uncomfortable rollaway cot to stay on next to him (which I was actually grateful to have, because when we first got there, the nurse said she didn't think that she had any cots left and that I would probably have to sleep on a chair).

Neither of us slept very well, in part because the nurses kept coming in and checking his vital signs, in part because the beds were uncomfortable, and in part because we were both jumpy about the whole thing. Even the after-effects of the anesthesia combined with the pain medication didn't help Torsten sleep. In the morning the area where the hematoma was had swollen back up, which scared both of us, but the doctors said it was just normal swelling and not another hematoma (relieving both of us of horrible visions of constant emergency surgeries and week-long stays in the hospital). They kept him for observation for another few hours to make sure it didn't swell more, then discharged him in the middle of the afternoon on Monday. We went back to his apartment, where he fell asleep in his comfortable bed and I sat on the couch and tried to decompress.

He's fine. There's no long term damage and there was never really a risk of any (other than the obvious risks associated with general anesthesia). But it was scary. It was alarming and exhausting and alienating. I had never spent any real time in a hospital before, certainly not a whole night, and the atmosphere there is a very serious one. It is scary to think about people who have long-term diseases, who needs tons and tons of surgeries, whose lives become centered around hospitals and that kind of experience and ambiance. I am lucky never to have had to deal with that before. And I hope not to have to deal with it again for a long time.

Anyway. That's why I haven't posted for the last week. But I think this post is long enough to count for a week's worth of normal posts.

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