After surgery, I spent some time in the ICU, a place I had never been before. It reminds me of a refrigerator, in a way. It was chilly, and there were a lot of stainless steel surfaces... My memories are a bit jumbled, so I'm not sure if these events happened in the order I've recorded them here.
My first memory upon waking up after surgery is of a male nurse talking about "the pain". "She doesn't have that excruciating shoulder pain they always have. That's a real blessing." I wondered how he knew about my level of pain. Maybe I had heard him wrong? Did he say, "scar"...I was confused. He could have said, "She doesn't have that huge scar that people sometimes do..." My left shoulder hurt, and it hurt a lot to breathe due to the chest tube that was (and still is) wedged into my side. Someone took a chest x-ray while I sat up in the bed. I only remember that it was a herculean effort to sit upright to facilitate the process.
Breathing hurt. The thoracic surgeon stopped at my bedside and said
that the surgery had gone well. He had removed the entire lower left lobe of
my lung. The lung was taken directly to the Lab Guru.
Pathology would have to wait, because "those immunotherapy guys", as he called my doctors, were
adamant that the specimen go to them first. I was beyond thankful to have the tumor gone. ...glad to be awake and alive.
The bed had a balloon-like mattress. I struggled to think. I hurt. I remember opening my eyes--and wishing I had my glasses. Some fuzzy, tall somebody was at the front of the room--a man, washing his hands. Was it a doctor? There was no lab coat. When he turned around I recognized that it was my fellow. Relief. Only then did I realize how scrunched up my face had become from the pain, because as recognition dawned, the tension eased away.
My doctor said something like, "Those meds really take a lot out of you..." to which I muttered, "It's temporary?" "Yes," he said, "It's temporary." I drifted off again.
The next thing I knew, the male nurse was explaining the controller for the PCA (patient-controlled analgesia). I think it was delivering dilaudid. I could push the button as often as once every ten minutes, he had said. The machine would beep twice if it was dosing, or once if I had pushed the button too soon.
The sliding "refrigerator" doors opened again, and in walked an attending physician. This was the doctor who, along with my fellow, had cared for me while I underwent the protocol in July. I hadn't seen him in many months, and was a little alarmed at his presence now. Bedside manner had not been his strong suit, but he did have my respect for other reasons. I couldn't figure out why he would be visiting me. We stumbled through a brief exchange of some sort, then he very deliberately picked up the PCA and clicked the button. "Be sure you use that," he said as he returned the clicker to its former resting spot. Then he left without another word.
The ICU was sterile in appearance and in fact. It was very, very quiet. I had trouble thinking but didn't know whether it was from the pain or the pain meds.
I slept in a half-sitting position. I faced a wall clock, and I woke up almost every hour. Blood pressure measurements were being taken automatically, and the noise the machine made as it sprung into action woke me time and again. I checked the clock each time I woke to see that an hour had passed in what felt like only seconds to me. The clock might as well have been a toy; time had no meaning. I wasn't sure if it was day or night.
Later, a male nurse offered me a bath. I could imagine nothing more absurd at that moment. I wanted to snark, "Are you freaking kidding me right now?" but didn't. I only said in a surprisingly feeble voice, "No. I don't want that." There was no mention of it again. My ears were ringing, and my vision was jumpy. I decided to hit the PCA button less frequently. The nurse helped me get to a chair--this was his idea; not mine. I was content to stay in the bed, but I hobbled very gingerly to the recliner. I was given a welcome cup of ice chips, and later a lemon ice. I noticed that I had two I.V.s, and several new bruises and needle marks on my arms.
Next, they wanted me to have a "proper" x-ray. This meant traveling to the radiology department. I was connected to all manner of tubes and wires that seemed to be just everywhere. The nurse somehow got me into a wheelchair amidst the tangles of equipment, and we began the seemingly long journey to x-ray. I could barely stand, so they did the imaging with me sitting on a stool. Two views: side, and front. Then back to ICU.
I tried very hard to make the incentive spirometer move. I could only pull the bare minimum (250 ml) at first, incredibly slowly, and not without a great deal of pain. I kept at it. I knew there were some who were dubious about my refusal of an epidural, but I did not regret my choice. Had I consented to the epidural, they now said, recovery would go faster and with less pain. "It's too late now," I said. The idea of a catheter in my spine was too invasive, too dangerous, too nauseating to me. I remember being relieved that the anesthesiologist had not questioned my choice, but had instead said, "We have other options..."
Each time a new person entered the ICU, they'd tell me that I was going to be moved "to a regular floor" later that day. I'd ask, "Which floor? 3NW?" Always the reply came, "We don't know yet." I really, really did not want to go back to the lymphoma wing.
Then a nurse loaded me, with all of my tubes and wires, into a wheelchair. As we slowly moved out of the ICU, and down the hall she triumphantly announced, "We're going to 3NW!"
"Hurrayyyyyyyyyyyyyy! That is The.Best.News!!!" I (feebly) fist-pumped the air, and thought that I couldn't be any happier. She wheeled me down a passage where my fellow and some others were eating lunch. The Lab Guru saw us first. He stood as my wheelchair approached, and broke into a huge grin. My fellow turned to see what had got the Guru's attention. "They're taking me 'home' to 3NW!" I babbled, "I'm so happy!" My fellow joked about sending me to a room in the basement instead. ha ha...
This was one of the best days of my life, on par with the days that I heard, "Will you marry me?", and "Meet your new baby." This is the day that my doctor had said would render me--for the first time, ever--NED, no evaluable disease. I was floating.