Aug 11 2010

Cancer Chronicles: Recovery Room

Published by Reesa at 6:16 pm under health, me vs. cancer = I win, wonder woman

(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)

3 Responses to “Cancer Chronicles: Recovery Room”

  1. Lynnon 11 Aug 2010 at 10:45 pm

    This reminds me of a medical docudrama that used to be on TLC, where an ER doctor removed a bullet from someone’s thigh without a local. (I know this doesn’t compare to the post-operative pain you felt.) The doctor’s colleague was outside of the cubicle, and was heard saying to an ER nurse, ‘This isn’t a third world country!’ among other comments. Afterwards they asked the attending doctor why she didn’t use anesthesia. I remember the look in her eyes, her blank stare and dead-pan expression, and her non-answer ‘I didn’t think it was necessary, it was quick.’ Total loss of empathy with the patient, due to whatever her prejudices were about the patient, the situation that led to the bullet wound (the guy was an innocent bystander, the police said), and becoming so jaded that she essentially was not caring for the patient - only the wound. The wound was the only concerned. She was reprimanded later.

    A former co-worker’s girlfriend who was a former drug addict had a full peritoneal lavage in the ER with only a paralyzing drug - no anesthesia, due to the addiction. He said her personality changed after the experience, and she hadn’t been the same since. It sounded like she was suffering from PTSD. (Maybe former drug use was a valid excuse to not use some types of drugs - but none?)

    I read your paragraph and thought about these cases…and what besides the need to keep an emotional distance keeps them on the downside of drug use during procedures.

  2. Mary Basson 12 Aug 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Reesa, you commented on two things that are so true: only someone who has gone through that kind of pain and that kind of asthma attack can understand. I’ve been through both. Only those of us who have been through that kind of pain and that kind of inability to breathe truly know what you went through and what it does to one. There is absolutely no way (by writer–you or writer–me) to describe either. No matter what words you use — the screaming agony of the wishing-you-were-dead type of pain and the horrible suffocation of extra-labored lungs and still not enough air or no air getting in — will ever be good enough. Some things just have to be experienced to be completely understood.

    Lynn, treating the wound or the ailment and not the patient happens 24/7 in every hospital and is never the right way to practice medicine. It completely ignores any human factor. As far as keeping an emotional distance is concerned, there should never be such a distance that would make it okay with anyone, including medical professionals, to stand by and watch and listen to someone suffer to a high degree and do nothing to reduce or obliterate that suffering.

    Questions of import. Why, in these days of high level technology is it “necessary” for anyone to ever be in severe pain? Why, in this time of heavy pharmacology is such humanity-destroying pain inflicted on anyone? Is it the result of being uncaring and unfeeling? Is it due to lack of planning, as in such as Reesa’s and my recovery room experiences (mine being multiple) when pain meds and breathing help could be provided the moment someone awakens in the recovery room if these things cannot be implemented before that moment? And what about providing as much relief as possible in ways outside drug use until drugs can take effect — cold packs or heat packs depending on which is warranted, for example, as well as massage and/or accupuncture and accupressure? Better post-surgical and other pain relief care, and system relief care, is definitely warranted and should be implemented NOW.

  3. Momon 14 Aug 2010 at 8:44 am

    I love you my daughter. I am crying, sobbing and beating my chest at the injustice in this universe. My baby girl should not have experienced this horrible cancer. I am so angry!

    Your sobbing voice I heard from the shower the night before surgery echos in my head as I walk into my shower. Pictures of women holding their young daughters close to their chest breaks my heart and at the same time brings wonderful glorious memories of your childhood flooding through my mind.

    Your strength and courage and sensibility in life helps us all get through the pain we feel. It helps me keep my head held high and say F*** you Universe!