So I’m in a version of Radiology, but it’s the surgical branch rather than the basic imaging I’m used to.
They tuck me into a little cubby and I chat with one of the techs. Yeah, we have to identify that I am the right patient, go through some medical questions. But we’re also talking casually. She has a bit of song stuck in her head so she keeps humming or singing “I should have brought you flowers, something something something…” and I join in or provide the next words since I remember the song just a little bit better than she does. She reminds me that I will be awake for this, like it’s a good thing, and I joke-ask if they can knock me out anyway (but of course I’m not really joking). Not an option, which I already knew.
Just before I was transported the TV my roommate had on blared a commercial for law suits against IVC filters. I try to find humor in that, since that’s what I’m in for.
I’m texting my husband, letting him know I’m about to go into surgery so he can get on the road to the hospital and get there after I get out, instead of waiting around in my empty hospital room. I don’t know he’s already on the road and not far from the hospital because he wants to be there when I get out.
I also joke with the guy who tries to tuck all my hair into a cap and clearly has no idea what he’s doing. Eventually I wind up doing it myself, and teach him a trick of twisting it first. He tells a story about how his daughter stopped letting him do her hair when she was four years old because he’s so bad at it- now she’s a teenager. We all laugh.
Yes, I’m in some significant pain – they had to lay me back further to transport me – I will later realize it’s because the guy doing transport was a little on the shorter side and needed to be able to see over my head. But he was good at warning me of bumps, keeping it smooth, and “parallel parking” me perfectly in the elevator. So I’m trying to keep my mind off the pain, and everyone around me is helping.
Eventually it’s time to move into the operating/imaging room. They talk about trying to lay me back, then move me over on a sheet, then try to remove the sheet. I decide that since it’s going to hurt like the dickens if they try to roll me (which is part of the plan to get the sheet under me) and I already had near-blackout levels of pain from rolling onto my side earlier in the day, with their consent I will slide myself over onto the table. So we flatten and lower my bed so it’s even with the table. I take a deep breath… okay that’s a lie. I am in too much pain to breathe normally, so I take a shallow gasp and slide myself over as quickly as I can, without too much whimpering, for which I am lauded by the techs present.
Then I’m on the table. No pillow, just a flat lightly padded surface. And I have to lay down, which is the most painful thing you can ask of me through this. But I have to be flat on my back for them to work, so I am flat, and unable to to breathe deeply, so I am trying to avoid hyperventilating while I whimper. My oxygen tube is switched to a mask to ensure I get as much O2 as possible, I am asked if I am claustrophobic because the mask can make people freak out. Nope, so mask is put on, I am laying flat…
And at that moment I become The Patient. I am an animate object.
They get me to turn my head, but the tone of instructions has changed. Nobody is asking anything. It’s not even delivered with the warmth you would use when commanding an animal, it’s just a statement of what needs to be. Sure, they are still speaking out loud what is going to happen and what I need to do. I sheet is draped over me, with a hole over the right side of my neck so they can access my vein. Then there is almost no speaking to me happening. Jargon gets turned on. Warning of the cold temperature of the iodine so I don’t react. I am trying my hardest to be still as the pain in my side makes me shake. No acknowledgement.
Lots of babble, tones get tense at one point and I don’t know if things are going well or badly.
“You’re going to feel pressure.” Nope. But no warning about the hot feel of my own blood on my neck. So I lie to myself and say in my head; How thoughtful, they warmed up the iodine. Because I know it’s blood and I don’t want to know that, so I lie hard. And it works. Warm iodine. Spilling down the side of my throat, they are working with my vein after all. “There’s going to be a lot of pressure.” Still nope. Still jargon and technical terms fly around.
I am still shuddering slightly with pain, not from their work but from my side, laying down flat is agony. I am almost constantly whimpering. A cold voice comes out from a speaker telling me when to “Inhale… hold the breath,” oh how it hurts – and then “Exhale and stay still, don’t breathe in again. Okay, breathe.” I know this means they’re all out of the room for the imaging, but I can’t see, they’re doing imaging which means we’re close to the end? Maybe?
No info, of course – I am not a person but a thing to work on. I am a task.
More touching of the skin through the hole in the sheet, I guess people are back? Finally the ripping sound of medical tape. A something is put over the hole in my throat – I will later discover it’s a cotton ball taped in place. Finally the sheet is removed and we get to reverse the process of moving me back to my bed. I’m allowed to sit up after I get back over there. As comfortable as I can be. A quick “All done,” is issued, in as warm a tone as they can manage. A warning that they will need to change my gown when I get back because of the blood on it.
But it’s not 100% back to a person. Once I have been an animate object, it’s a little hard for everyone to shake that. Yes, they’re talking to me again, but the tone is still a little distant. When I’m waiting for transport for the next half hour or so, nobody really chats with me, I’m left alone with my phone (so glad I brought my phone on the nurse’s advice back in my room) with the occasional comment about me and when Transport is going to arrive. The receptionist is busy, but will quip with me a bit back and forth when he has time. The people who were in that room, however… it’s more challenging for them. It’s easier to talk to the receptionist about me, but it’s not natural for them to talk directly to me except as needed. Luckily they are mostly busy getting ready for the next case – maybe that’s it? They’re just too busy?
The next friendly face is the Transport team member, and while he’s not as smooth as the first guy, I get a little bumped, he’s also taller so I can stay in my preferred position. Back in the rest of the hospital, it’s normal bedside manner again. Warm, sympathetic, small smiles. To them I was never a subject to be worked on.
Suddenly I am a person to everyone again. I am alive and getting well.