When the day comes, I wait alone in a hospital room to be taken back to surgery. I’m having a lumpectomy, which is outpatient surgery. I’ll be home the same afternoon.
My mom has come in from Kentucky to be there for me, but because of COVID-19, the hospital isn’t allowing visitors. She can’t so much as come into the waiting room with me. She drops me off in the morning and retrieves me — doped up and disoriented — that afternoon.
We start the morning with her pastor leading us in prayer over her vehicle’s speakers. I may have turned my nose up a bit when she mentioned wanting to do this. I don’t know her pastor. But I admit, it gave me a certain kind of peace.
By now, I’m used to hospital visits alone. At appointments so far, hospital workers wearing face masks and armed with thermometers guard the entrance of the buildings. They check me for a fever and ask about my recent travel history and whether I’ve had any cough or shortness of breath.
This day, they give me a face mask to wear, though I have no travel history or COVID-19 symptoms. My nurses and doctors all wear one too. I find it difficult to communicate with a face covering. We rely so much on facial expressions.
My nurse that morning, kind as she is, misspeaks. She tells me after I change into the hospital gowns, “We’ll bring back your family to wait with you until surgery starts.” It’s probably something she’s said to hundreds of patients over her career, so much that she doesn’t think about it, but it isn’t true today.
“My family isn’t here,” I say. She apologizes, remembering that she’s been off work for a while and that protocols have all changed since then. “It’s OK,” I say. “Mom will be here for me this afternoon.”
I’m not really alone, though. She and the other nurses are very kind and there’s a television that I will eventually switch to “The Price is Right” as the scheduled surgery time comes and goes.
My nurse reads a note about me passing out from my last IV. She gets me heat pack and holds one of my hands while another nurse puts in my IV. (Then she sanitizes both mine and her hands because COVID).
A friend from high school is a nurse in the recovery room. She stops by before the operation just to say hi, even taking over her face mask for a moment. She’s brought me handmade face masks that I may need to wear in public, especially if or when chemo treatment treats. Turning to go back to work, she calls to another nurse, “That’s my friend. Take care of her.”
Sitting in a hospital recliner waiting, you have all the time in the world to think over what could go wrong with your surgery.
What if I don’t wake up?
What if the anesthesiologist only administers part of the drugs and I feel every part of it while I’m paralyzed and unable to tell the doctors to stop? (A doctor friend told me a story like that way before I got sick.)
What if they operate on the wrong side of my body?
None of these things happen. By the afternoon, I’m sleeping off the anesthesia in my bed.