The Other Side: From Cancer Patient to Anxious Daughter

Entering the New Year with Cancer

Is anyone else looking forward to 2012? Normally I dread the end of another year for selfish but not atypical reasons: I’m that much older, I have not completed most of the last year’s resolutions, and I’ll have to come up with a whole new list of goals that will likely also go unaccomplished. A time to reassess life and sigh.

However, with 2011 being such a delight, I am, perhaps for the first time in my life, looking forward to the new year. I pray that this year was rock bottom. If it gets any worse, I’m going to crawl into bed and never leave.

Dad's Gallbladder Surgery

I am back again in the hospital I frequented during my cancer treatments, but this time my father is the patient. He came to the emergency room after a day of extreme abdominal pain and discovered he needed to have his gallbladder removed. I heard the news at three in the morning and had an absolutely wretched night of imagining the worst. In fact I was an absolute wreck until I saw him in the recovery room at 4:30 pm the next day. I’m not sure if my own family felt this way, but based on this experience, I feel sure that surgery is one of the most harrowing experiences, no matter what side of it you are on.

Even now my stomach is squirming. I’m not sure I’ll be able to relax until he is out of here. Have you ever noticed how small people look in a hospital bed? Maybe it’s because we don’t often stand over people who are lying down. My dad is not a small guy, but he looks tiny in a hospital bed. People look so fragile and innocent in sleep. It always makes me envision them as a small child, curled up in bed.

I haven’t been this nervous since my own surgery. The worst part was waiting in the private room before surgery. I kept feeling like I needed to say something important, like goodbye in some meaningful way, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to crack jokes and distract him, but I couldn’t think of any. I looked deep in the eyes of every nurse and surgeon who approached, trying to read how competent and compassionate they were and silently sending the message that my Dad is everything to me and if they hurt him I would hunt them down. The rest of the time I just prayed and bargained.

The waiting room is a little better, only because it feels more like a doctor’s office and you know everyone there is in the same boat. And there is more to distract you. I understand, but do not really like, the surgery number system. You watch a screen, looking for the number that correlates to your family member and it updates you periodically on their status. However, 1) it feels wrong to have your beloved reduced to a number, especially when they are so vulnerable and 2) it’s not like the updates are 100% accurate; they aren’t going to announce, “Oops we botched the surgery, he’s dead now” on a bulletin board.

I can see why Sartre envisioned Hell as a waiting room.

There are so many things about hospitals that I do not like and/or understand such as why the Starbucks closes at 3pm, why they do not keep enough staff members employed to perform scheduled operations, why it is as cold as a meat locker. Why do they have a television set in the hallway where no one can sit to watch it? And why is it always playing images of the ocean? Why is there gravel on the roof? Why is the produce here better than at the grocery store? Why cover pre-op patients in white sheets? It feels almost obscene, like a bad omen or preemptive measure. And again, what is WITH hospital gowns?

Update on Dad's Progress

I can’t wait to get out of here, but it looks like we are at the mercy of the anesthesiologists. While the first surgery was successful, he still has a gallstone stuck in a duct that will have to be removed endoscopically. There was a 3% chance of this happening. Remember how I said I don’t have the greatest luck with statistics? Apparently that applies to all in this family. There is a 1% chance that this second procedure will not be successful and he will need a third surgery, this time open (ie. more dangerous). Dad says he’s already counting on it.

Fortunately we have cynical humor on our side. Half the staff loves him because he keeps cracking corny jokes about how they’ve got the wrong man, and he needs to leave for a dental appointment but will be right back, and how the surgery doesn’t seem to have worked because he still has plenty of gall. The other half just rolls their eyes.

How many surgeons go into the operating room knowing that they hold not one life in their hands, but the lives of everyone who loves that patient?

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