Archive for August 11th, 2010

Aug 11 2010

Cancer Chronicles: Recovery Room

(continued from this entry)

It’s totally cheating to wait this long to write about it.  I’m sure it won’t have the visceral impact of the original experience; there’s a large enough veil of time between to make it easier for me to look at, sideways at least.  All the cliched statements I can think up to describe it involve mythological or religious metaphors and fall short of the actual experience.

I found it an abomination.  As mentioned in the previous chronological entry linked above, I think it is appalling in the 21st century that we have any situation, much less one we voluntarily enter into, where humans are subject to that level of pain-that-could-be-ameliorated, especially “for our own good”.  Dehumanizing levels of pain: anyone who wants a clue how someone can be hurt enough to be broken need only to experience enough modern medical surgery to get a very clear taste upon awakening.  In my opinion even the excuse I was given — “we need to know you’ll wake up from the anesthesia before we can medicate the pain” — denotes our attitudes about the pain-state, as I’m sure if anyone cared enough to, the research could be done to find a way around that.

Here is how it went:

The world is not, and then the world is pain.

Unmeasurable pain even on the scale of someone just finished having an extremely painful cancerous tumor rapidly sucking my life away.  Pain at a level to make even someone with my massive levels of self-control flail and struggle against those restraining me, with a whimpering animal need to escape from the fire that burns every nerve so strongly I can’t tell where it originates from — the primal scream of a body violated enough to be missing some of the original parts it was born with.  They keep telling me “you need to breathe, honey” and my 250,000+-word vocabulary is reduced to three, said over and over between the gasps of the most powerful asthma attack since I was a small child: “Can’t breathe. Hurts.” My problem seems pretty obvious to my broken thought process, but they don’t seem to get it.  They put an oxygen mask on me but then have to take it back off as I communicate that I need to vomit, I don’t quite remember how (this is one of the few hazier memories, most of the rest are still all too clear).

They apparently injected morphine into my IV when I awoke, but it’s not working and I still can’t breathe and they have to go away to find a doctor to approve another dose of painkiller even though I’m still writhing and oh, not really breathing much.  They leave one person to manage two beds(!) while they wander off to find out if they can give me more and my world is reduced to struggling to breathe but this at least I have many illnesses’ practice with, and so I breathe and hurt.  Even in the midst of it my writer brain is awake and active, noting just how far into the realm of pain I’ve gone beyond what I previously knew, knowing that if I were Pulitzer-prize-winning material I couldn’t describe what this is like in any way meaningful to someone who hasn’t felt it.  And knowing I’d try anyway.

They finally come back and give me another dose, five years or minutes later, and soon after the world snaps back into focus, with a brief diversion into the only hallucinations I will experience on morphine. (I see the air vent moving, and can’t tell whether I’m imagining it or not, so I ask the nurse, who confirms it is not moving; a minute later I see the fluorescent ballast over me start to melt into tendrils reaching down toward the bed; I don’t ask about this since I’m pretty sure it’s not real, but interestedly watch to see how long it will last.  The tendrils extend until they’re about 1 meter above the bed, then creep back up and it returns to appearing a normal light.)

A minute after that and I turn to the doctor and say my first complete sentence since awakening: “Did you have to take any of the pectoralis muscle?”

The weird looks from the doctors start up around this point.  I continue to ask questions about the procedure while they finish up with the Recovery Room protocol, some of which they even answer, and then wheel me to the hospital room where I will spend the night, and where several of my relieved and numerous family are waiting to welcome me back into the world.

(to be continued)

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