Under the Knife – Part 4


After actually spending almost a week as a patient in the hospital, I can’t figure out why people want to be patients in the hospital. Some people come to the emergency department with their suitcases in tow and are actually disappointed — if not downright mad — if the emergency physician has the audacity to discharge them. I just don’t get it.

Maybe there’s some good feeling about someone taking care of you. But try to get sleep. Just ain’t happening. I may have missed a couple of visits, but as best I can remember, my first night in the hospital went something like this:

11:30 PM. Nurse comes in and introduces herself. Makes sure I don’t need anything. We talk a little bit. I’m one of four patients she is taking care of that evening. I promise to try not to cause her any problems.
12:10 AM. Tech comes in the room to take my vital signs. Puts the pulse oximeter on my index finger and then takes the blood pressure on my same arm. When the blood pressure cuff pumps up high enough to cut off the blood flow to my arm, the pulse oximeter isn’t going to get a reading. So I switched the pulse oximeter to the other hand. Tech gives me a funny look. I just said “thanks” when he was done.
1:45 AM. Call light goes off in room next door. I can hear the entire conversation between patient and person at the nurse’s station through the wall. I have enough bowel troubles of my own, I don’t need to hear about someone else’s bowel trouble. Wait. Am I dreaming? Nope. Not dreaming. The patient then starts asking for more pain medication and the nurse is telling her it is 15 minutes too early. Wait. Maybe I really am dreaming. Then I start wondering if the other patient can hear me yelling when I start laughing. I must sound like a kook. Can only imagine what she’d write in a blog about me.
2:30 AM. My IV starts beeping. Time to change the bag of IV fluid.
5:00 AM. Lab tech comes in to draw blood. Blood needs to be drawn at 5:00 AM because the results need to be ready for the doctors who are getting ready to round.
6:30 AM. Surgical team comes in to examine me. They lay the bed flat. Still look like I have a beer belly which is ticking me off. Wounds are healing up just fine from 18 hours ago. Wait. Look at my body. My stomach has the shape of Homer Simpson. The hair is shaved from my pubes up to about 4 inches below my nipple line. I have a patch shaved on my leg where the grounding pad for the bovie was attached. I have a patch shaved on my other leg where the evil Foley catheter is still anchored. How the heck am I going to go swimming looking like this? I look like I passed out in some college frat house and they punished me with a razor.
“Are you using your incentive spirometer?”
“Trying my best.”
“Um … you aren’t taking very much pain medication. You have to hit the button if you’re having pain. You know that, right?”
“Let us know when you begin to pass gas. Then you can start with a liquid diet.”

I was having a moral debate about whether I should tell them that I pass gas before I really do pass gas. The sooner I pass gas, the sooner I get out of the hospital. But if I don’t pass gas and end up getting an ileus or bowel obstruction, I’ll be there longer. We’ll wait and see on that one.

When the resident sat the bed back up, I had slid down in the bed. As I tried to sit up to get in a better position, I learned something else about abdominal surgery: Regardless of how many sit-ups you can do in a row before surgery, the number of sit-ups you can do the day after someone fillets open your abdomen with a sharp instrument equals no more than “one-half.” That’s .5 for all you numerical types. Notice that there was no “leading zero” on that number. JCAHO can go pound sand.

Mrs. WhiteCoat arrived about 10:30 AM after getting all of the kids off to school. She brought me cards that the kids had made the night before. My oldest daughter made a little poem for me.


To me you mean a lot
You’re probably reading this on a cot

You’re the best dad
If someone tried to argue, it would make me mad

You’ll be missed a ton
But we will see you when your surgery is done

We know you love us so much
You show us that with one little touch

So I just wanted to say
How much I have loved you until this day

We will be waiting at the door the day you get home to give you a big fat hug!

I started laughing at the second verse, which made my stomach start hurting. So I’d laugh, then I’d yell in pain. Almost as bad as trying to do a sit up. Then I’d think about the irony of having pain when I laugh and I would laugh more and yell louder. “You have to put that thing away, honey. I’m going to bust a gut … literally.” She taped it on the wall behind me — out of my reach.

Then Mrs. WhiteCoat pulled a chair up alongside the bed and we watched TV for a while.

About an hour or so later a shadow passed through the doorway. At first it looked like one of those caricatures from “Where the Wild Things Are” – with extra snaggle teeth. I blinked a couple of times and saw that it had scrubs on. Was it the guy that I work with who spills food on his clothing all the time? No. No stains. And no food in his mustache. I blinked a couple of more times. OH! It’s Jennifer – one of the other docs I worked with in the emergency department. She had a wry grin and was holding her iPhone just waiting to get a picture of my six-pack now that it had been severed by the extra-long scalpel blade they had to use to get through all the muscle. She brought a picture of a bunch of other people standing in the emergency department holding a sign – the contents of which I cannot disclose in a public forum – and wishing me a speedy recovery.  We talked and we laughed. More pain, dammit. Once she discovered she could cause pain by making me laugh, it became a contest. Then she and Mrs. WhiteCoat ganged up on me. I tried to fight the good fight, but quickly conceded. I was told that I pushed the button on the PCA pump, but don’t remember doing so. All I remember is waking up holding Mrs. WhiteCoat’s hand — and that the scrubmonster had vanished.

The nurse came into the room to check on me.
“You’re awake!”
“Kind of dozed off there. Catching up on sleep from last night.”
“You haven’t gotten up to the chair yet. You know the quicker you get up and move about, the quicker that you’ll get out of here.”
“No … I didn’t know that.”

I don’t know how I’m going to get out of this damn bed, yet, but honey … we’re going for a walk.


Here are links to the other parts in case you get lost:
Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6



  1. There’s only one way to sleep in the hospital: Make them give you drugs. After having my own abs filleted, I got stuck in a room with a patient I would have beaten to death if I weren’t afraid that swinging my IV pole would lead to seeing my innards become outards, all over the floor. She never turned off the TV or shut up, EVER. After the first night I told my nurse I was going to need something to sleep and she already had in my med cup, bless her heart.

    I know you’ve already figured this out, but here’s a trick others might need for getting out of a hospital bed after filleting:
    1. Raise the head of the bed as high as it will go.
    2. Put your arms straight out to the sides and press hard against the bed rails. This uses your back muscles instead of your abs to raise your torso off the bed. From there you can easily sit up using just your hip flexors.
    3. Pull your knees to the side until you can get your legs over the edge of the bed to stand up.

  2. I love kids, especially when they write things like:

    “How much I have loved you until this day”

    Probably not on purpose, but.. -.-

  3. Hospital admission requires an eye mask and ear plugs. It’s the only way to get some sleep. (Drugs are nice but by their very nature, they ebb and flow.)

  4. “because the results need to be ready for the doctors who are getting ready to round”

    It doesn’t seem right to me that a doc only checks on you one time a day. Is there something wrong with the waiter approach and popping in for small increments throughout the day and seeing if everything is ok?

    “You know the quicker you get up and move about, the quicker that you’ll get out of here”

    In that case, is there a gym in this hospital 😀

  5. The doctor only checks on you once a day, because he’s busy seeing the other patients. If the doctor came around, say, four times per day – it would cost four times as much. And usually, you don’t change much during the day.

    The nurses, however, check on you frequently and can call the doctor if necessary, especially if there is a big change.

    Besides which, if you have specialists on the case and/or are in a teaching hospital, you’ll practically feel infested by doctors – by the time students, interns, residents, and attendings from a few different services come by, your room feels like it has a revolving door.

  6. LMAO! My friend just had a CABG- 99% blockage left main at age 52 !
    He’s going thru exactly what you are and ready to kill for some sleep. And he said the sternotomy hurt worse than the kidney stones….

    • That was intentional. Jennifer reads this blog and made fun of one of the previous posts in this story. I texted her back stating that in the next Part, she just went from a nice, caring, co-worker to a hobgoblin with snaggleteeth.

  7. Its a wonder anybody heals in a hospital. Noisy, cold, uncomfortable beds, embarassing gowns, bad smells, poor decorating. bad food….I could go on…

    • The biggest reason I never go to hospitals is because it’s like walking into a minefield of sickness. How docs and nurses are still alive today without every known disease amazes me.

  8. A month after my liver transplant I was still having trouble getting out of bed. I used a wooden straight-backed chair as a side rail so I could sit up using my arms rather than my abs.

    I’m still laughing at the “JCAHO can go pound sand” – I’m currently taking a pharmacy course and lost a handful of points for lack-of-leading-zero.

  9. For the record, techs know that the blood pressure cuff makes it so we will get an inaccurate reading on the pulse ox. We just wait until the blood pressure is finished before we right down the number (which usually goes up at that time).

    I am going to be having a baby soon and I’m not looking forward to the amount of sleep I will not be getting in the hospital. I wake people up all the time working there.

  10. @Esther, what you may not realize is that the pulse ox ALARMS when the blood pressure cuff inflates and that a patient who is post op, in pain, trying to rest finds that alarm very irritating
    Several years ago I was underwent abdominal surgery and my roommate was a talker, additionally the nursing staff placed her pulse ox on the same arm as her BP cuff and set the machine to check her vitals q 15 min. It was about 8pm, about 3 hours after my own arrival in the room. I was so irritated that I got out of bed and found the waiting room down the hall where there was a nice couch. I laid down on the couch and was able to get some sleep. Around 10 pm the nursing staff found me and were relieved that I had not eloped. Got some satisfaction that they were a bit worried as to where their patient went.

  11. I’m puzzled that your nurses didn’t ask you each morning whether you had had a flatus yet. The only way to get rid of the CO2 is to walk around the floor, IV/PCA in tow, until you let it rip.

    One of my sisters and her kids were visiting as we perambulated after my lap chole. Just past the nurses’ station, the loudest, longest, odor-free emanation occurred, after which niece D loudly proclaimed, “Auntie K f@rted!” Much hilarity ensued among all, and I felt much relief.

    As for sleep, it can be a lot easier if your roommate is not among

  12. As for sleep, it would have been easier if my room hadn’t had friends and family visiting at all hours, and didn’t watch telenovelas todas de las dias y las noches, and I had planned to bring adequate supplies of maintenance meds. (It was an emergency admit on a weekend trip.) YMMV.

  13. Awwww …so sweet. I love things kids write/create. Thanks for sharing her card. 🙂

    When I had 1st c-section ..the nurse said it would help to put pillow over my abdomen when coughing post-op. I had the incision to navel.

    Anyway, the 1st time I had a c-section (night), the next morning the day nurse was a tough no nonsense nurse. She said it’s really going to hurt ..but you have to get up and walk and the more you do the sooner you will feel better. So, I did. Each time it hurt less and less. I think the gas is worse than the incision pain. That’s what I remember anyway.

    8 years later, we had second son and as soon as I could get out of bed to nursery I did. But no one was with me and on way back I thought I would pass out and just made it back holding on to the wall til a nurse spotted me. 8 yrs older made a difference.

    You obviously work with some fun people. Would love to know what was in that pic. 🙂

    Sleep is near futile in a hospital.

    I had one experience that seemed so crazy wrong to me. I had been up early the previous day and then ended up spending the entire night in ED until admitted to floor at 5 am. then there was intake. I also hadn’t eaten the day before except for crackers and now was npo. The intake nurse took awhile and sun definitely coming up and birds chirping. My roommate was beginning to stir. There was a dementia patient the next room over screaming every 3 seconds – yes ..I counted. And there seemed to be an elderly man at the lower corner of my room behind the bed yelling “Hello-o-o?” every minute or so.

    I was Miserable with a capital “M” and wanted out of my misery. So ..when the LPN came on I promptly asked for a sleeping pill. She said “Oh no …they won’t give you that because they don’t want your sleep schedule to be interrupted.” I felt so defeated, but didn’t speak up. Next time …I absolutely would make a fuss and make sure they KNEW I was up almost 24hrs, etc. Thank God I was discharged that morning.

    Ha! WC …not only do you use your camera for revenge ..you can write! That’s really funny. 🙂

    I wonder if foleys are more uncomfortable for men or women or the same?

    I hope you are feeling better every day WC and your wife must be so relieved now.

    Is there a #5? Into the story now ….want more.

  14. Finn and Essay – good ideas about getting out of bed with abdominal incision.

    The first time I had a c-section and felt good enough to put my own night gown on, I quickly realized that wearing a slippery nightgown in a hospital bed after abdominal surgery was not a good move and promptly went back to hospital gowns. 🙂

    It’s really not fun when you in your slippery nightgown, shoot yourself out of bed after abdominal surgery every time you elevate the bed. 😉

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