Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Doctors, Doctors Everywhere

I didn't realize how bad she was until I got home Sunday. My brother picked me up at the train station, which was unusual. My Mom usually picks me up, her SUV waiting for me. Friends will sometimes pick me up, but they're either just pulling in as I get off the train, or late. My Mom leaves the house to give herself plenty of time to drive the forty minutes to the train station and forces my brother to do the same.
When we got home, my Mom greeted me from her recliner. Which wasn't unusual since she was poring over the Sunday advertisements. The Food Network was on, which I hooked my Mom on when she was recovering from her first hip replacement. I was home to help her prepare for her other hip to be replaced, the second in a year and a half.
I noticed how bad she was when she got up from the chair to use the computer. She used her cane like a lifeline. She walked with a shuffle, putting her weight on her left hip and gingerly shuffling the right hip, trying to put most of her weight on the cane. Her back was hunched over, and her face was scrunched tightly, straining to even move.
Last time she wasn't this bad. She put off this surgery to train someone at work to do most of her job, to get things straight. She went to a conference a couple weeks ago, and she felt that was what completely ruined her hip. She enjoyed the food and the view from the conference building, then could barely move after that. "It just gave out. My body warned me, with anxiety and high blood pressure. I wasn't resting, so my body saw to it I did."
I drove my Mom to Providence for her patient orientation class. My mother hates Providence and especially hates driving in Providence, but after developing the steely confidence driving within twenty miles of Boston promotes, Providence doesn't seem so bad to me. We were confused only because of the poor directions to the actual building the orientation was held in. We found the street, but not the building "on the corner" since there were many corners on that street. But after some creative thinking, we gave the valet the car and went inside.
A small chihuahua ran around a child's feet as we walked to the first bank of elevators. We went to the second floor, and found the receptionist. We were in the surgeon's office, not the orientation office. We should take the elevator to the first floor, which is actually the second floor from the ground, take a right (or was it a left? the receptionist wasn't sure) and walk over to the other bank of elevators and go to that second floor. My Mom groaned as she hobbled on the crutches she has to use whenever she leaves the house. She couldn't even carry her handbag as she went along. We went back down to the ground floor since I knew where to go. A small group of nurses chased the chihuahua around a severely retarded girl's wheelchair.
"Did you call security?"
"Is this someone's dog?"
"Don't let him on the elevators. Don't let him out the front door either."
The girl in the wheelchair swung her head around, trying to figure out what was going on. My Mom shook her head and laughed.
We got to the other side of the building and went to the second floor. A nurse greeted us.
"We're here for the orientation."
The nurse said we were in the wrong spot and to go to the first floor (second from the ground) and check in with that receptionist. My Mom rolled her eyes as we pressed the button to go back down.
A receptionist sat down as I approached (my Mom waited by the elevators in case we had to go back in), reading a pamphlet of some kind. I waited for about a minute before she looked up and saw me.
"Can I help you?" She asked, annoyed.
"We're here for the orientation."
She narrowed her eyes at me. "There's no orientation here. Try going upstairs."
I hadn't eaten breakfast and knowing it would hurt my Mom to haul herself around the entire building again made my temper short. "I was just upstairs and they sent me down here."
"Well, it's not the right place. Maybe you should go back upstairs. Is there a number or something I can call for you?"
I handed the receptionist the paperwork and she took it from me a little too quickly. She called the number on the paper and found out the orientation was indeed upstairs where we'd just been.
When the elevator arrived, the nurse who'd sent us to the wrong place popped out. "Just coming down to check on you. I thought you were looking for something else."
Yes, the woman who can barely walk probably isn't here for the joint replacement orientation, I thought. But the nurse was nice, so I calmed down.
We'd done the orientation last time my Mom had her hip replaced. Then the small conference room was packed with people. This time, there were four people in for surgery. A man in his mid- to late sixties sat in a walker/chair combination my Mom later told me she'd seen in an arthritis magazine. His wife, who looked younger than him by a few years, sat next to him. Another couple sat next to them. The man, who was in for the surgery, tried to listen, his hearing aid large and visible in his ear. His wife repeated things to him when he grumbled "what?" A youngish woman, about my Mom's age, came in as the physical therapist started to talk about the post-surgery PT. I felt like a kid who'd flunked a course and came back to repeat it. I knew about the way the surgeon, a small, "quirky" man (my Mom's description) will take my Mom's leg, bend it behind her and dislocate her hip. He'll take out the joint, replace it with a titanium ball and socket, sew her back up and send her to the recovery room. It will take six to eight hours, my brother, my grandfather, possibly the Whatever and I, waiting in uncomfortable seats in the OR waiting room with other people anxiously waiting to hear how it went. Daytime TV will blare from a small television. A volunteer will sit by a rotary phone, waiting to hear from the OR with updates, reading a book between calls. My grandfather won't eat all day for fear of upsetting his stomach. My brother will play video games. I'll read, watch Ellen, and try not to cry.
The nurse came back in to explain pain medication and post-hospital visit options (my Mom proudly announcing that "my girl" will be caring for her at home immediately after the five days in the hospital) why not to cross the legs or roll the ankle out (a high risk of dislocating the new joint) and how to pay for television and phone service in the semi-private room.
The people at these things are always interesting. The old man in the chair/walker barely spoke, but his wife advocated for him.
"Well, I think I'll put him in a rehab place since we have a lot of steps to get in and, God forbid, if he should fall. It's just him and me and our two pets. I'll need a place close to home to care for the pets."
The physical therapist explained the exercises, using an example to explain the glute squeeze. "Imagine there's a dollar bill between your cheeks. Someone's trying to take it from you and you don't want them to, so you squeeze."
"That won't be hard for him," the man in the wheelchair's wife quipped, breaking the room up into laughter. He laughed too, and his wife affectionately pinched his cheek.
The only time the man in the wheelchair spoke up was to gently tell his wife that my Mom and I had to go to our next appointment-- the pre-surgery testing. The nurse called a shuttle for us, and the friendly driver dropped us off. The old man with the hearing aid wished us luck and we left the bus.
We signed in for the testing, and despite the long wait we had last time, my Mom didn't have time to complete filling out the health history questionnaire before the billing woman came over to get us. I'd planned on getting a lot of work done on my freelance project, but my Mom couldn't juggle her pocketbook, the crutches and the clipboard with the forms on it, so I went with her to the billing office.
We sat back down in the waiting room after being processed and my Mom getting a writsband. An old woman with big blonde hair and a brightly colored jacket sat next to us and talked to someone on her cellphone.
"Okay, now, I'll need you to bring my suitcase tomorrow so I can dump out the little one and put my stuff in that one. Yes. Oh, and don't forget to pick up my books on the sewing table. There's two, and I'm almost done with one of them and he's a very good author. Thanks, hon."
A nurse called us into the testing room. My Mom went behind a curtain to get her EKG done. Then another nurse took a urine sample and a blood sample. My Mom had donated her own blood a few days before (2 units) and groaned at the thought of losing more blood.
"You'll need a steak after all this, Mom."
"Or liver," the nurse piped up.
"Oh, gross. My mother-in-law ate that stuff when I was pregnant with Amy and I thought I'd die."
My stomach growled at the thought of steak. It was 2pm and I hadn't eaten since the night before.
We then met with the surgeon's assistant who had cute shoes. She went over the surgery with us. No nail polish (except clear) since the surgeon will need to press her fingernails to see if the blood is still circulating to the extremities. No food or drink after midnight. No more anti-inflammatories until after the surgery. Be at the hospital two hours before the surgery. Yes, take the anxiety medicine ("we'd rather have you mellow and here than be nervous and not show up"). The family would be allowed in before the trip to the OR, when the clear bag marked "PERSONAL ITEMS" would be handed to the primary contact (me) and we'd say goodbye and be shown to the waiting area.
By this point, my Mom was in so much pain from walking that she had to be put in a wheelchair to be taken for her chest x-ray. The crutches were bad enough, but seeing my Mom in a wheelchair was much worse. She sighed with relief, but I knew it bothered her too. My Mom's independent, and hates asking anyone for help. Having her daughter wheeling her through the hospital wasn't easy for her, either.
I sat under the television in the x-ray waiting area, Roseanne cawing in syndication, as my Mom got her x-ray for the anesthesiologist. A pert blonde nurse came and told me she was ready to go. I wheeled my Mom through the entire hospital (the main hospital, the children's hospital), got lost, got directions, and eventually ended up back at the valet. They pulled our car up quickly, and we got in and pulled into the heavy traffic to get back to 95.
"I don't know what I would have done without you," my Mom said, panting from the effort getting herself into the car took. "I'd have an inferior surgeon, that's for sure."
As we got father away from Providence, my Mom relaxed. We met my brother for dinner, and my Mom ate soup and bread to warm up. She got steak but didn't eat much of it since she wanted to save it for lunch today. My brother brought me back to the train, my Mom sitting in her recliner, watching TV, relaxing as much as her body will let her.

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