Surgery to place a Hickman catheter happened eight days before the trial began. Once again I received the instruction to not eat or drink after midnight before the procedure. What was different this time, is that the surgery time was not scheduled. It would happen whenever the on-call surgeon was ready for me. Thankfully, an escort appeared at around 9:00 AM to wheel me to the operating room. Patrick accompanied me.
We were deposited into a tiny, freezing cold waiting area where two other people sat. I was given a warm blanket, then got up from my wheelchair to allow passage of a patient-bearing gurney. I remained standing and tried sharing the warmth of the blanket with Patrick. A nurse spotted us and loudy proclaimed that it was time for a "group hug". She came over and put her arms around us both, which made me laugh. (Later in the day, she would spot Patrick on the elevator and wonder why she knew his name.)
The surgeon came out and introduced himself, then brought us to a tiny office area where he described the procedure and went over some paperwork. I signed the consent, then was ushered into the operating room by a nurse who would be with me the entire time.
I have been in several operating rooms to date, but normally I am asleep before I reach the doors. This time, I was fully awake. It was not the spacious, bright white space I'd seen on television. While certainly clean, the predominant color was steel gray. Overhead there was a system of rails criss-crossing the ceiling. The table itself was extremely narrow, and the tiny room was crammed full of equipment that I didn't recognize. A surgical assistant introduced himself and explained that he'd be "scrubbing the area"; this meant that he'd be cleaning the skin around the surgical site. I discovered later that the area he scrubbed was temporarily dyed blue. Whenever he was near, I could hear his humming of "Zippety Do Dah". It was a bit surreal.
"He must be content in his work," I thought, "that is probably a good thing."
The nurse brought the sterile package containing the port to where I could see it. She pointed out the two lumens, one capped red, and the other blue. They would be the parts that dangled outside my body. They were attached to a long catheter that would thread under my skin to an insertion point where they would snake down into a large vein that leads to my heart.
Blue sterile sheets were draped over me, and a hoop was placed over my head onto which was placed another blue sheet--someone opened it so that I could see out. I lay on the table with my head facing left. Next some medication was added to the I.V. that I had kept from the previous day. I would receive an anti-nausea medication as well. I would be awake for the entire procedure but wouldn't remember anything.
Thanks, I think, in part at least to the humming surgical assistant, my brain was alert enough to remember most of what occurred. I was aware that I was being sliced open at the neck, and I can even relate that it hurt. My mind though, didn't recoil, and didn't conjur up images of what it might look like. I was just chill, oh hey that kind of hurts. Guess it's supposed to though. It'll stop soon. I remember the doc asking for a measurement for something; when he heard the requested information he replied, "Close enough, this is government work." Funny, doc. We used to make jokes like that in college.
When it was over there was some discussion about how to dress the wounds. Mepilex bandages were applied (low adhesive). These need to be replaced daily. Ideally, a transparent dressing would be used that could stay in place for seven days. That one though, makes me want to claw out the port with my fingernails. The adhesive burns and itches. I haven't heard the last of the bandaging challenge yet. The port itself is working fine, but the need to keep it covered is crucial.
Sorry for my diminished writing ability. I'll edit later. As I'll explain in the next post, there has been very little sleep for me over the past 24 hours.