Saturday, June 17, 2006
Kam’s Belgium experience (and tips!) (long)
(5/17/06) Walking across the lawn to the (very Cold war-looking) Jan Palfijn hospital, this fell out of my mouth “I’m not going to like this.”.
Checking in, the tests, I think I have a good spirit, and I found a (Dutch) pal, Janni, and we limped around, met Marty; but I still had
a heavy feeling. I met Dr. De Smet. Unassuming, I guess. I got no
definite impression. “Dinner” was 4 slices of doughy bread, a very
small container of ham — I think — salad, and coffee or tea. It
took some powers of persuasion to get the evening nurse to “let me
go” out to find a decent meal. I knew it would be my last good meal
for awhile; So 8 blocks to McDonald’s, fish fillet and fries. TIP
#1 have a decent meal, hopefully with salad or vegetables in it,
your night before surgery.
Sleeping pill that night. Slept all right. Third on the docket for
surgery. I was in a shower –! when the nurse ran in about 11 am
and said “your next”, implying hurry up. TIP #2 as best you can,
get what you will need for 24 hours within arm’s reach, on that
rolling cart next to your bed, especially if you go alone. There
are not always people around to help you. I spent about 2 hours in
the middle of the night trying to reach down without moving my hip
to get my clock from my bag.
Rolled me to surgery. Nurse nice enough (evidently I already had a
feeling for the place) to let me use the WC. Crucial, since your
bed ridden the next 24 hours! Hugo, Bart. Plastic mask over my
Recovery room. Frozen and in some kind of shocked state. Wiggle
your toes they told me, and were pleased. Frozen, traumatic.
Couple of hours later, rolled to room.
TIP #3: the day before the people in radiology tipped me off that
they intubate you. Put a tube down your throat with oxygen, during
the operation. ‘The anesthesiologist didn’t tell you?’. No he
didn’t. So I could understand why my throat was raspy.
The next 16 hours were a nightmare. I have no idea why I evidently
had such a different experience from others, but maybe the following description will help:
I had 3 Dutch people in my room. No US people. One was a white
trash stringy-haired cigarette-voiced woman with missing teeth and
Appalachian relatives, with a loud cell phone ring. One thankfully
was Janni, frozen and perhaps suffering like me. The third was a
woman who, as Janni and I were lying there recovering, talked to
her friends on her cell phone, watched TV, and the next day told us
to please be quiet when she was recovering.
TIP #4: if you don’t hear some kind of beep when you press your
morphine button, it’s not working. About 12 midnight, I asked the
brusque (read mean) nurse if my morphine was working. She did
something, and made some motion like it was okay. The next morning, I asked Evelyn, the only decent nurse I met, if she would please check it again. She went back there, did a couple things, and
said “it wasn’t connected”. I had 10 more minutes before they took
me off of it. This was late the next morning.
You have an IV, small oxygen tubes in your nostrils, and you are
lying on your back. By 11 or 12 that night, I wanted to count the
hours, because I was in such hell.
I was afraid to drink for my sore throat because then I would have
to pee. The first time with the bedpan — a large cream-colored
scoop, which the night nurse seemed a little abrupt with,
considering my hip was 12 hours old — was impossible. By the 3rd
or 4th time, the simple mundanity and concentration it required gave
me some blessed sane moments, those few times through the night.
TIP #5 I heard from two people who used it that the catheter doesn’t hurt, it’s no big deal.
TIP #6 Dr. De Smet will allow you a sleeping pill the night of your
surgery. The nurse’s around us told us he wouldn’t (wouldn’t they
know that by now, months later?!)
So that night was the worst night of my life. I was in hell. I
started counting the seconds of the minutes, to want the hours to go
by, for the next 14 hours. Maybe this is what a bad acid trip feels
like. Every second was awful. My mind was going 90 miles an hour,
I was crazy: I was afraid to go to sleep, and could not stay awake.
I was afraid my heart would stop if I went to sleep, I was afraid my
breathing and heart were not coordinated. 12 hours. I think I
slept 20 seconds about 80 times.
4 weeks of talking to people have given me possible answers: the 1st the obvious, no morphine. The insanity of having to feel very
intense pain. Throughout the entire night. Maybe that was most of
it. Perhaps the after-effect of anesthesia?, but I don’t hear of
other people going through what I did. Perhaps my body also in shock mode; and in hyper-protection after the major invasion it had been through –? And I felt quite estranged, because evidently no one else went through this, so no one seemed to understand it. Not the nurses, fellow patients nor the doctor, did I get any answers from.
On top of this I had a low blood count. (Any ladies can e-mail me
about getting your period, before, during and after.) So the next
day, I was nauseous. Amazingly, really amazingly, they get you up
on a walker the very next day. It took me many tries. I was also
majorly sleep deprived and post-shocked I think.
At some point they have you fill out hospital menus, and they’re
really militant about it. But as I think Alan has pointed out, it’s
like Russian roulette. I think once I got one thing I asked for, a
banana, and I treasured that banana for a day and a half. It was
the healthiest thing I ever got. TIP #7 (obvious) Have your helper
person bring you real food.
Other hospital TIPS: The Pingo phone card (Pat’s tip) cost me like
half of a locaphone or Verizon rental. You end up memorizing the
number, and can speed dial — just cuz you dial so fast — the US a
lot. You need some kind of card from the reception desk, to be able to dial out. Hugo knows about this, but was not around when I
needed the card.Yes you must bring your own towel, shampoo, soap … there’s a list somewhere.There’s a cafeteria in the hospital, but it closes at 8, and the menu is sort of limited.You can have the nurse move and bend your bed in many different ways, and that recliner position seems to be the best one. A few of us got sort of adept at figuring out a couple ways to move it, since the nurses aren’t always so willing.
Holiday Inn. Day #2! Hugo helping me a lot. Very spaced out.
Very careful walking.
This being so incredibly long, I will try to wrap it up. I was on
my own, and I felt pretty stuck at the Holiday Inn. Taking the free
taxis to the city were semi-painful in the beginning couple of days,
and I would even hit “the wall” on the way in.
I wish I’d had better access to a grocery store. Most nights I just
spent the money on the dinner. Yes the breakfast buffet is
fantastic, and you can take a few things away with you. Marc was
great. Bart was great. I didn’t really see much of Ghent (most of
it was when I was limping, the day before my operation). I was
there for my operation, not to sightsee. Just because I want to put this: my x-ray is BEAUTIFUL. Dr. De Smet brought them a few days later, and I told him so. It’s simple, — what other word? Elegant? I didn’t get a BHR, I got a Wright Conserve C+, because of the measurements, 44 mm. This — my surgery — he’s the best.
Marty (and Geoff), Jane (and Roger), Jerry (and Carol), Peyvand (and her mom), later: Drew, Phillip, and Pierre (and Connie) — my fellow hippies while I was there, I will not forget.
7 days of rehab, getting better by the day. The lovely sleeping
pill. The awful shots (come on guys, it’s bigger than a hair!) in
my stomach fat. TIP #8 People talk about all the comfortable
clothes you must bring; but I found that everyone there was dressed
very nicely, so make sure you bring loose stuff that looks decent.
My worst night was after my 7-hour flight back to New York. (The
flight itself? I did the get up and walking part. Or maybe all the
walking afterwards?) I had a bulkhead seat, and had arranged the
wheelchair, very helpful. My leg was just throbbing. I iced, took
the codeine — didn’t help much –, cried … each consecutive night
My incision felt plastic-y and kind of numb up to a week ago, but is
much less now. I never had any drainage, and just the normal
As of now, 4 weeks and 2 days post-op, I’m just reaching the point
where the pain and frustration is less than before I went in. (Like
maybe yesterday!) I was never in a huge amount of pain, but I was
bone on bone (Dr. De Smet said I was just getting to where it might
have been too late). I’m still learning to walk, I’m just barely on
one crutch. I try to get in the pool every day, I do stationary
bike every 2 days.
Apologies for the length, oh my God!!
Kam C+ 5/18/06 De Smet