Panic on a gurney

silk tree flower
Silk tree flower, photo by Jericha Rendon

Two days ago I had another day surgery, related to the breast cancer surgery of June 13.  This was meant by the surgeon to be a simple event, draining a painful, annoying hematoma that didn’t seem to be shrinking on its own.  A twenty to thirty minute procedure.

Nothing went sideways till the cheerful young surgeon arrived after 9 a,m., garbed for the operating area, to inform me that since this was all being done in the Emergency Room, guess what — she was forced to give her skills first to an emergency gallbladder before she could do me.  She estimated it would take two or three hours.

Daughter Jericha arose early, took Elf and Opus for their morning run, and sat by me faithfully throughout the event.  Before it was over I was blubbering like an idiot as one awful memory after another from a previous hospitalization featuring six or seven orthopedic surgeries.  I went into that hospital at age nine, emerging at twelve and a half with a powerful determination to avoid doctors as much as I could for the rest of my life.  I’d also lost several years of elementary school education — but the results of that have been less painfully dealt with.

We had to do this day surgery by a circuitous route because of the demands of my Medicare Advantage insurance.  So, rather that having a relatively well scheduled day surgery, there was I, taking my place in the queue at the ER, complaining — as the doctor told me to do — of breast pain.  Finding one of the two wheelchair van parking spaces to be available in the hospital’s parking lot was a promising start.

I had so not wanted to have this operation, even urging the doctor to do it as a minor office procedure.  She couldn’t, though she didn’t say so at the time.  Later I understood — but in the two week period that elapsed between her telling me we would likely going to need this and me arriving to claim that parking space I had gone back into a childish state of mind, that existential fear of “being cut up”, of having the adults in the room make painful decisions for me without explanation, then me going through long and rather horrid period of recovering while encased in plaster.

Presenting a cheery demeanor to others, when alone I would sit around in my quiet apartment with the sympathetic dogs, shaking and twisting my hair, wondering how it was that my body — usually quick to heal — had failed me this time.  There was a hematoma in the surgical site that felt very much like one of those old fashioned stone or ceramic doorknobs we had in the old family home.

A large part of my resistance to this small surgery was that my daughter and her husband were scheduled to embark on a trip to visit East Coast family just a few hours after the operation.

The surgeon had a full schedule all week till Thursday, but did not want to postpone it any longer because there is a little clamoring from others for me to begin radiation treatment, while suggesting simultaneously that this hematoma thing had to go and I heal up first.  She was on board with “get this woman into radiation” but we had these outside time limits to work with.

And then the surgeon was unable to perform my simple little thing because of the gallbladder person.  Who turned out to offer her one complication after another.  For hours.  By two thirty she sent a message from the OR, “Another hour if we’re lucky.”

Doctors.  Once in, they can’t get out.  Can’t walk away from an open patient on the table to grab a bite to eat or sit down for a few minutes after ten hours of standing.  Man, you need terrific stamina and concentration to be a surgeon.

I have an intense dislike of IVs, particularly in my hand.  The day might have gone better if an ER nurse, not knowing about the surgical delay ahead, hadn’t insisting on inserting the thing into the back of my hand.  Five hours later, when at last the call came to move my gurney from the Emergency Room to the surgical prep region, it had gone bad, and there was a small balloon on my hand.

Another nurse removed that one, gave the area some lidocaine, and put a new IV into my wrist.  Owwwwwwch!

Alas, I have never liked lying on my back, yet that’s what I did from 9 a.m. till 3:30 p.m. or so, when things began moving that horrid resting place on wheels from the holding area towards the OR.  Freeing my hungry daughter to head for the cafeteria at last.  Me, I had eaten nothing for twenty four hours.  She would bring me some hummus and pita chips for later.

At first we read, played animal trivia, considered some events in the news, talked and generally enjoyed the opportunity to be there together without the usual pressure for my busy daughter to rush off.

Eventually, though, my bad back began its typical laments, which grow louder and louder with time.  Red hot demons with sharp hammers took over the lower back until I was ready to screech.  I was not allowed to take my mid-day dose of acetaminophen and gabapentin, but nurses did urge me to take some kind of opiod.

I told them gently that since I had nearly become a demerol addict back in the horrid hospital I continue to follow a no-opioids-until-I’m-dying-for-sure regime.

They tactfully left Jericha to do her best to keep me from become seriously troublesome.

Nearby in the ER was a very large woman in a very large power wheelchair, who had a big swelling on one side of her face.  Listening to one of the doctors addressing her forcefully about the need to spend the night in the hospital for observation, yet keep turning to a nurse and saying, “Look at her face, she’s not understanding anything, she’s not really here” then throwing up his hands and walking away.   He shouted, “You could have trouble breathing and die!” Treating the woman like a block of wood — it enkindled a long-forgotten rage at medical professionals.  I just knew she was understanding every word.

An inner chant started in my mind, “Lady, roll out, lady, go home, lady, don’t let them treat you like that for two more seconds!!”

And she was understanding perfectly, because she berated the next set of medical people to approach her.  “I want to go home to my dog!  I did not come here to spend a night in the hospital!”

It looked as though she won her point, because she packed her things, shoved the curtains aside and seemed only to be waiting for her discharge papers when I last saw her.  I am hoping very much that she and her dog are okay.

Then the old memories began to bubble up as I lay motionless on the gurney.  I never lie on my back, as it is quite uncomfortable, and here I was, forced to do that for over six hours.  The gurney’s back went up and down, but there was not a lot of comfort in that.  I could not move much with that IV thing stuck in my hand, since I’m paralyzed below the shoulders I need two hands to move around.

And so it was that grumbly me fell victim to such forgotten surgical dramas as a ten year old girl sitting up on another gurney with a thinner mattress, howling tearfully at the surgical team that “I want my mommy!  I want to know what you are going to do to me and I want to know why!!!!”

And getting no answer.  One of the doctors had a little ditty he would sing to me:  “Women are frivolous, women are frivolous.”  Now I wish I had whacked him, then I just stared, wondering what that notion had to do with anything.

I would work myself up into such a state of fury that they had to cancel the surgery.  Once or twice.

Then there came the day when they wheeled me into the”operating theatre”, now knowing that I had decided that neither love nor money would tempt me to succumb to their anesthesia — and I did not.  Cancel surgery again.

However, the reward for that was being firmly masked and forced to breathe ether the next four or five times.  Ether is a dreadful thing — for years the smell, the enveloping wooziness of the stuff, would come back to me in the midst of whatever activity I was busy with, stopping me cold.  Nearly six decades later it still does, though not very often.

Nevertheless I still fought.  Successfully enough that during one spinal fusion procedure I came to well ahead of schedule, listening to the doctors talking about all kinds of things other than myself, before they noticed that I was perfectly conscious.  “Lie still just a minute while we get you sewed up” was  not a particularly pleasant thing to hear.  From there I was loaded with considerable care onto a gurney and taken to the casting room.  The technician there faced the challenge of getting me encased from head to toe in plaster without moving me much, and destroying the just-performed spinal fusion.  And he had to do it with me demanding to know what was going on every step of the way.  No doubt wishing devoutly that the anesthesia had kept me under till he was done with his work.

Much as I hated the surgeries heart and soul, the aftermath was worse.  Orthopedic surgeries are painful.  Those hammer wielding red-hot demons would pound up and down my spine, in my legs that the doctors broke in order to rotate my tibias, through my hips, my legs, my abdomen.

Yet the most dreadful memory tearing at me on Thursday involved the long, long waits lying on gurneys in hospital corridors, awaiting my turn to be wheeled in, taking my position beneath the waiting hands and instruments of robed, masked, full sized demons who would never explain a thing to me, would rip off my johnny, summarily roll me over and stick needles in my spine.  Or draw and write all over me, loudly debating their surgical possibilities.

And so on.   What I wanted, oh so badly, was to be out in a field with horse friends, picking flowers, eating apples off the trees, smelling fresh  air again.  I was as pale from the many months in that hospital as though I’d been living like Gollum, in the back of a cave or the bottom of a well.

My daughter and a nurse named Emmanuel bore the burden of my tearful memories, the uncontrollable shaking they brought on, the misery of having to lie on that frickin’ gurney for hours, and painful needle thingy stuck in my hand.

But when my surgeon popped in looking less sparkly than usual for her — but still full of interest in the surgery she was about to perform (on me), my dimmed spirits shot up and life began to seem possible once again.  Life in the present, the past be left where it belongs.

I loved that she and the anesthesiologist listened when I said I wanted — needed — the least strong anesthetic possible.  Since my daughter was on an ever tightening deadline, and she would be required to drive groggy me home down the highway, we were going to have to take the driver’s seat out and make other adjustments to the van at her house, from which I would have to drive myself home.  The distance is only a couple of blocks, but still — one needs wits.  I loved that the anesthesiologist was a cheerful, warm fellow who explained everything to me.  And did, indeed, give me something that did not leave me groggy, nauseated or otherwise in need of time that wasn’t available.

By the time they one-two-threed me off the horrible gurney and onto the green sheeted, narrow OR table in a freezing room I felt thoroughly engaged and cheerful.

I went out like a light for about twenty minutes, and woke up still on the table, the friendly team still all around doing whatever they do in there, chit chatting with each other and me, explaining that everything went fast and well — Whoo hoo!

Getting one-to-threed back onto the gurney didn’t bother me a bit.

Sensitive to my twenty four hour state of foodlessness the recovery room nurse offered me saltines.  I grabbed the two in a little packet like a starving person, took a chomp out of one.  Oh, how good it tasted!  Then ….  How come I am still chewing this thing?  …. Uh, I’m still chewing this thing?   How come I don’t seem to be swallowing it?  Why is it sticking to my teeth like cement?  Ummmmm, I can’t swallow because — yikes dry mouth!

I had to swig water to get two tiny saltines down in a ten minute time frame.  It felt like swallowing chewing gum.

We did get home in time for my daughter to show the teenage twin fellows who are walking Elf and Opus twice a day in her absence.  I do the mid-day event, which is shorter due to Fresno’s intense heat.

She and Paco did get off to start their trip, and here I am, doing my best to heal (again), to say farewell to some old demonic memories.

Things all turned out well, exactly as they should, despite my kicking and fussing on that accursed gurney. I don’t think I’ll ever again agree to do a quick little day surgery that starts in an Emergency Room.

Another good thing to come of the long day was that I got the chance to weigh myself again on the big scale in the surgical prep/recovery area.  I went on a diet the day of the breast cancer surgery.  Since then I’ve lost almost nine pounds — and that on a woman who gets very little exercise.

If I could just get Elf and Opus to pat me on the back I’d feel like a champ.


Oh tubby me — oh!

The tune for this blog name goes along with the fine and impressive aria O sole mio.

As a token of my appreciation of the new ear worm in my head, I give you, for three minutes and twenty one seconds, Signor Luciano Pavarotti, no twiggy build himself.

My unexpected area of focus on the day of my breast cancer surgery (June 13) was — embarrassingly — my weight.  A scale in the surgical prep area was the first one in a dozen years that I’ve been able to stand on, crutches and braces along for the ride.  It had a broad, non wobbly base and a strong railing around it.

My moments on the device disclosed that I am some twenty pounds heavier than I thought I was.  Er… pretended I thought I was, if we are being honest.  And what would be the point of fibbing to my blog?

Photos taken of me on such occasions as my daughter’s wedding and a pleasant trip to Fresno’s Japanese Garden gave me to speculate that I might be reaching more of a barrel shape than the woman shape I previously thought I had.  The surface mind poo poo-ed the notion that these images depicted the actual Emily.

The Inner Emily, nonetheless, was deep into panic mode.  Because, well, how DOES one shed weight when so many hours a day are spent in a lovely power wheelchair?

Here, for your studious picturing of me lounging around in my upcoming new, attitude-laden wheelchair is the manufacturer’s image of it and its capabilities:

Quantum Tru-Balance 3 Edge 2.0



Twenty pounds is a great deal of extra personal real estate for a very short person to cart around.

me in the recovery room
Here I lie in the recovery room, groggy and fuming…  Feeling like a dirigible.  My daughter took the photo.

Thus about the time I groggily noticed that the world was still there as the anesthesia wore off my mind began plotting means of dropping the excess Me.

The problem has not been that I eat too much.  My vegetarian diet has included almost no refined grains, little fat or sugar, lots of fruit and veggies, for years.   So maybe there’s been rather too much cheese, but who was counting?

Never slim because that’s not my body type, with or without the polio, my okay weight began shifting into bad three and a half years ago when my shoulders started with severe issues.  The doctor thought this would be either rotator cuff injuries or the wear and tear of walking around with wooden crutches for sixty five years.  Or both.  Didn’t make any difference to me what the cause was — I was, due to the incapacitated shoulders, quite unable to push myself up into the cab of my faithful pickup truck and get myself to an Albuquerque medical center for an MRI.

So I pampered the shoulders for a few months until they stopped with the hurting.  However, once recovered they were weak and unable to bear much weight.  Or allow me to walk around for long before my arms would start to go numb.

That sort of thing took away much of my ability to do things like yard work that had once given me pretty good workouts.  Less walking around is an obvious calorie enhancing activity.

So here I am.

For now I am doing the Dr. Fuhrman Eat to Live diet, which helped in the past when I also wasn’t equal to much exercise.   It’s vegan, with very little fat or sugar, tons of veggies fresh and cooked, plenty of fruit.  Legumes, a few nuts and such are encouraged.

I’ve been at it for over a week now and my clothes feel slightly looser.  Wahoo!

Meantime, Fresno temperatures have been in the range of 108º for days, rather quelling even the dogs’ enthusiasm for outdoor exercise.  But we have managed to record a few of the lovely flowers and trees around us.  Very healing enhancing, these lovely things are.

In which I encounter a new disease, and Elf does, too

rose in front
A rose that bloomed in front of my apartment in April

These things I am about to explain would be happening during the Merry Month of May…

While all has been quiet this past month on the blog, much has been happening in my life.  Things not so easy to bring into words from those nonverbal spaces in my mind where hidden fears encounter my normal optimistic outlook for regular show downs.  Or unresolved differences of opinion.

Back in early May there was a mammogram, then a biopsy, followed by a doctor’s surprising announcement that the lump I had discovered back in February qualifies for the undesirable name of Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.

I will skip over the reasons why it took three months to get something done about this lump.  Some of it had to do with Medicare’s byzantine system of obfuscations and deliberate delays.  Nevertheless, living in this country at this particular time I am quite grateful to have regular health insurance.

So here I am, with loved ones who have two feet and four feet, at this the place where an old Polio Survivor gets to try out for a second award, Cancer Survivor.  And feeling very blessed that one of the four-footed ones nearly left us this month, but is now restored, snoozing alongside me.  All bright and sparkly once again.

Hardly anyone knows what polio was all about any more — thankfully.  Yet back in the 1950s polio was the same sort of dreaded, poorly understood scourge that AIDS later became, and Ebola is now.  It killed many, left others permanently paralyzed in differing degrees — and is now known to revisit its survivors many decades later, causing joint and muscle pain and increasing weakness.

The month of May in past years has occasionally brought me other not-so-great life changing events.  Such as my twenty year old brother being killed in a car wreck on May13, 1970.  Such as my beloved daughter coming down with bacterial meningitis on Mother’s Day when she was just four years old.  It turned out to be pneumococcal meningitis, a particularly nasty infection in which there can be a short buildup of illness followed by an abrupt bacterial population explosion that carries the sick person swiftly away.

Spring weather was unusually cold that year.  My daughter became ill during the night, and when I called her pediatrician’s office the next morning the nurse told me to give her tylenol for the fever and keep in touch.  Over the next twenty four hours her symptoms of nausea, fever and photophobia increased, as did the nasty weather.  More calls asking for doctor time as well as suggestions, and the nurse began suggesting that I was “just a little nervous, which some new parents can be ….”  That about put me over the top, since I did not consider myself to be any such thing.  And, well, she was four years old, which hardly made me a new parent.

After speaking with that unhelpful medical professional (who was soon summarily dismissed) I happened to be gazing out my daughter’s window where my landscaper cousin was at work on his small excavator in the backyard.  As I watched through a fine drizzle the scraper accidentally struck the new concrete back step he had poured a week earlier, cracking the corner where my daughter had left her palm print.

That was my now or never moment.  I got my soundly sleeping child out of her bed, fever now touching 105º (40.5º C).  Since a mother on crutches cannot possibly carry a little one regardless of how much she longs to, I basically bullied her out the door and into the car.  Again out of the car and across the doctor’s completely filled parking lot.  Again and again the tiny knees would begin to buckle, and I would urge her on towards the door.  When we finally reached it, in she tottered, collapsed on the rubber mat, as I went off to fetch someone from the doctor’s office for help.

A spinal tap established, via cloudy fluid, that this was a hospital emergency, not something the doctor should handle on his own.  So off we went, a nurse driving, to where Jericha was quickly attached to an IV with antibiotics, and I took to her bedside chair day and night, with relief shifts from my husband.  Leaving, sadly, my Alzheimer’s stricken mother at home alone with the cocker spaniel much of the time.  Happily, with only short visits from us, Grandma got through the four days we spent at the hospital quite well.

She still had it in her to rise to the occasion when a need arose.

On the second day in the hospital the doctor called me in Jericha’s room to say the pathogen had been identified.  It was bacterial rather than a virus, and one that “was about to explode in her.  You very possibly saved her life by getting her in just when you did,” he told me.

Thus lovely May with its glorious flowers, singing birds and fresh fruit has a created a mental knee jerk reaction for me when there is a medical problem.

underground rose garden
Some of the many, many roses at Fresno’s Forestiere Underground Gardens.  These particular ones are along the driveway that enters a tunnel soon after.  The underground home was dug over some forty years by a Sicilian immigrant, Baldissare Forestiere in the early 1900s.  He had the good idea that living below ground level would cool down the fiery Fresno summers for him.  Since he had grown up tending his father’s orange orchards in Italy, he wanted trees near him.  So he punched holes up through the rock that passes for ground in the area, allowing sunshine in for his own trees and flowers.

With my cancer nearly everything lies ahead.  A surgery, radiation, recovery.  A mammogram of the other breast seems to have evoked more medical concern, as at the very beginning of this holiday weekend I received a letter from the hospital informing me that “it is recommended that you have a surgical consultation”.

And I was just beginning to feel as though the problem might be resolved by nothing more drastic than a lumpectomy and a period of radiation.  Since it is a holiday weekend there is little to be done other than waiting for further information later in the week.  Perhaps another biopsy?

That little that remains to be done, however, involves nursing a precious family member — Elf the Corgi.  A few days ago she suffered a serious bout of diarrhea.  As the day moved into darkness there was also vomiting.  Then diarrhea that was pink, then red.  A trip to an emergency veterinary hospital ensued, as her regular vet had closed for the day.

By the time Elf got in the doors at the hospital blood was coming out both ends in a most alarming way.  The dog has a bad habit — shared by many of her species — of scarfing up roadside snacks during her walks.  Some of them are utterly disgusting.  We had her tested right away for Parvo.  Although she and Opus are current on their vaccinations there is a newer strain of the disease that could still have affected her.  Luckily, though, that was not it.  Pancreatitis and “obvious” masses were quickly ruled out as well.  Some form of gastritis it was.

She stayed in the hospital for about 36 hours, on IV antibiotics for what the vets decided was mostly likely an infection,  probably from something she had grabbed during one of her walks.

On Friday morning she came home feeling much more like herself, despite a lingering sleepiness.

Jericha and I had just enough time to buy and cook up a batch of boiled chicken and white rice (I normally keep only brown on hand) for a light meal for her, and to give her one of her various new medications — before it was time to rush off to my first Oncology appointment.

This feels a bit more like a big old wail than a proper blog post, yet I hope it will serve to explain my long silence.

I who firmly believe that Everything Goes Better If You Write About It was flat out of words.

Namasté and tally ho, we will get through this one, too.  One way or another.

“Whatever competent physicians or surgeons prescribe for a patient should be accepted and complied with, provided that they are adorned with the ornament of justice. If they were to be endued with divine understanding, that would certainly be preferable and more desirable.”

      (Bahá’u’lláh, from a Tablet – translated from the Persian)

tunnel to above
One of the Forestiere tunnels.  Baldassare, an intensely religious man, broke every one of these rocks (and many thousands more) with his own hands and the mortar from dust.  He must have been one of the most persistent human beings ever.