Friday, May 27, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - Canonical Babbling in Beantown

Operating Room Manager screen at Tufts Medical Center

Panic is a sudden desertion of us, and a going over 
to the enemy of our imagination. 
~Christian Nevell Bovee

I  know. I haven't been writing or making rounds. I've been AWOL. (Anxious Woman Of Late) See, my imagination tends to grab me by the neck and shove me toward worse case scenarios. Especially when it comes to health. Some years ago, I saw an ENT specialist who began our session by asking about my family medical history. I told him that there had been migraines, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. I told him my father had just died. Humph, the doctor said as he needled a scope through my nostril, you never know what's going to happen, you could get out of this chair, walk out the door and have a pulmonary embolism. That happened to a friend of mine about six months ago.

This is not welcome news to a pathophobiac.

And so a couple of days ago, when Little Miss Luluwhose fear sensors are spindly stubs next to my yard long bobbing antennaewent into surgery for the very first time in her young life, I was in panic mode. What worried me wasn't so much the surgery as the anesthesia. She'd never had general anesthesia, and in my anxious mind, this is where potential waits for just about anything to go wrong. (Of course it's not the only opportunity for things to go awryit can go topsy-turvy at any time, anywhere. Oh so horribly wrong!) Surgery is like slicing a wedge of Brie cheese, but anesthesia? That's more like baking a cheese souffle, it's a potent cocktail of carefully measured ingredients that requires close monitoring and a tender touch.

Above, on that nifty waiting room flat screen monitor, in forest green is my daughterpatient number 35628in OR 03 at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center. The screen is updated in real time through pre-op, surgery start, estimated finish, and recovery, including the location of each procedure. Sitting before that monitor I felt as if I were in a train terminal watching the split-flap display of arrivals and departures. Boarding track 6. Departing track 11. On time. Delayed.

We were just a few blocks away from Boston's South Station, and as that thought crossed along the troubled tracks of my my mind, I heard the whistle and chug of a passing train, and recalled the many times Lu and I had taken the commuter rail into Beantown. Appointments with a pediatric OB/GYN. Meetings with the Chief of urology. Listening, with earplugs inserted, to the clanging and buzzing of a the great MRI machine that seemed to swallow my daughter whole. (And for reasons less ominous, as well, like seeing Blue Man Group at the Charles Playhouse, roaming through the masterpiece-lined corridors of the MFA, shopping along Newbury, traveling through simulated space and sea at the Museum of Science.)

And then, an announcement: Attention residents. Instead of the ordinary Wednesday rounds meeting, all residents will meet in the Chapel to mourn and memorialize the loss of all the children who've passed.

Omens loom in the boat shaped hospital that fits snuggly in the maze that is Tufts.

I took notes. I scribbled down the only question Lu asked the surgeon before being wheeled away. When can I eat again after surgery? I noted how the surgeon had answered our queries, and how Lu had watched the anesthesiologist carefully insert the IV, and tape it down against her skinny arm. And how my imagination had abruptly taken me hostage. There! There's the culprit! IVs gone bad. Cellulitis. Infection. Sepsis. Air bubble. Embolism!

The girl was calm as a conductor. I stroked her hair, and fought to keep my fears invisible. But inside, I was Woody-Allen-neurotic. Pacing, and scratching my head, and talking nonsense. Here, a list of all the things that can go wrong. Review the list. Worry.

And even though I'm fully aware of the risks as being slight (my daughter generally in excellent health), I am fully aware of the risks. I've signed the paperwork. I'm also, for the most part, reasonable, but I've known cases in which ordinary procedures proved catastrophic. It's a benign cyst, the doctor says with authority. It's a textbook procedure. The norm is that she goes in and comes out perfectly fine. Better, in fact. The norm.

I wish I could be as blissfully ignorant as my eleven year old daughter who hasn't yet been acquainted with medical complications.

I love you, Mama, she said as they whisked her away to a sterile, well-lit theatre for which I had no ticket. I wouldn't hear the music or the actor's scripted lines. I wouldn't see the curtain open or close. I didn't know which scene was being played out. All I knew was that patient 35628 was in OR 03. Had she been anesthetized correctly? Was she tolerating it well? Were they ad-libbing? Had she been shivved and sewed up? How loud was the music and how funny were the jokes? 

I took more notes. And though my daughter's malady was not nearly as grave as others, I was beginning to feel like the mother in Lorrie Moore's startling "People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk" (scroll past intro for full text).

Everything will be just fine. A textbook case.

The medical personnel at Tufts are sweet, attentive and empathetic, but I still wanted to get out of the building that housed the theatre.

When Lu woke in recovery the first thing she asked of the nurse was, Can you wheel me down to the Cafeteria?

No matter where we travel it's all about the food. We like to ramble off the worn tourist's path for the true flavor of a place. During each trip to the city, we took advantage of Tufts locale at the edge of Chinatown, and had some fine dim sum and barbecue duck in Chinatown's restaurants, pomelos and mangosteens from street vendors, and dense, bean-paste Mooncakes from the pastry shop.

Now, in the hospital's PACU, Lulu was ready for toast. That was a good sign.

A few hours later, I helped Lu into a wheelchair and slowly strolled her out of post-op. Pausing at the nurses station where an OR Manager monitor glowed in the shadows of early evening, I looked up and saw that number 35628 was off the board. Off the board! I shifted the wheelchair toward the exit and slid out the heavy double doors with Lulu.

The show was over. No ad-libbing. My girl was cyst-free and safe, and the enemy had let me loose.

And then, a fleeting thought: the children who hadn't made it. This was Children's Floating Hospital at Tufts, after all. Not all the children leave on wheelchairs, and I felt a pall of cloudy sadness as I pushed Lu into the wide elevator. But I was so grateful that my little girl was on her way home. A textbook case. The norm. Just as the doctor had said.

Now what was all that worry about?

The Tallest Man on Earth is Swedish singer/songwriter Kristian Matsson, who has a habit of sweeping away uneasiness.


  1. hope she's OK, Jayne - if I cough I'm always convinced I have the back death, lol

  2. The worry was just you being a mother. Thank heavens it was a textbook item and you are not my mother. Poor thing, I think she owns stock in emergency room chairs. :)

    Have a great weekend!
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  3. This a great example of compelling non-fiction.

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  5. Oh, lordy, dear, what a time! It's wrong that one's children should ever need a hospital...just wrong, isn't it?

    When my daughter was giving birth, a long and slow one in a birthing center rather than a hospital, I believe I vaguely recall taking the head nurse aside and threatening her life if she let anything happen to my daughter. It's a wonder the cops didn't come for me.

    So glad your precious girl is well and the worry past you.

  6. I agree with Munk-great piece of writing Jayne. My youngest went under for a minor, routine procedure a few years back, and all those thoughts that rush through your mind, it's a surreal experience, and you captured it perfectly.

  7. they don't call it the 'little death' for nothing.

  8. Agreed with the others, this is beautiful non-fiction. And I love the tallest man on earth. His albums frequently appear in my playlist.

  9. Ok, speaking of Woody Allen, it sounds like you could use a little comic relief!

  10. You always get to the very essence of a situation. I was reminded of the number of times my children had surgeries and the same fear and doubt that gripped my heart. Dr.'s can say text book case but if it is our child (yours, mine, any mom's)it's not just standard fare. I wanted guardian angels and devine intervention involved. Watching my children getting wheeled down the corridor toward the double doors of the surgical wing might not be the only time I have felt helpless but it ranks near the top of the list.

  11. very well written but it would have been better if you didn't have the experience to write about.

  12. David- LOL! I'm not alone! Lu's still recuperating, but much, much better. Thank you. :)

    Jules- Being a mother is the worst and best job in the world. You're mother and I like to invest in the same thing--I've taken several trips to the ER. My kids are so accident prone I make sure I know where the closest hospital is whenever we travel. Vay. ;)

    Munk- Thank you. Funny, I set out to write just a little story about a scary little journey, but I guess it felt pretty compelling while it was going on! I think we can all connect with those kinds of fears.

  13. Nance- You got it! All wrong! Oh how I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at that birthing center. Then again, I'd like to be a fly on any of your walls! Good mother you are.

    Tim- Thank you! I hate that word "routine." Each and every procedure is special and unique, and that's what we ought to hear. Routine. Meh. ;)

    Ellen- Ya--no kidding! I'm pretty much freaked out by it all.

  14. Beer- Thanks for that. Love that little tall guy, too. He's the real deal. ;)

    Robert- Ha!! Exactly what I needed. God I love that movie! Classic Woody Allen scene. I can't wait to see his new one. (Haven't missed one yet.) Thanks so much for that clip--I got a much needed laugh from that. :)

    Cheryl- Does it ever rank near the top of my "helpless" list, too. Everyone should have a guardian angel. Will they tell us if we do?

  15. BillyP- True all right. Still, it helps to lay it all out there. This and the molar extractions. Ugh. You think I'm done for a while? Er, I mean, you think "she's" done for a while now?! ;)

  16. Sounds like virtually everyone's family medical history.

    Happy to hear she's doing fine and that it was "textbook".
    "Pathophobiac". Good one, aren't we all?

    Synchronicity, mine went up before I saw yours on the general subject.;)

  17. So glad your girl's on the mend.

    You describe so clearly the sense of fear that such testing situations induce. Makes me gulp just to think about it...

    p.s absolutely loved the music this week.

  18. It has long been my philosophy to deeply fear hospitals. Good wishes to your daughter.

  19. As I read, my heart was beating faster and faster, right along with you at the thoughts you were putting out there. I was compelled to read fast and get to the ending. Now that I'm calm, I can read it again with a much more level head.
    I'm glad your little one is healing well.

  20. Antares- Yes, it is a fairly common medical history, isn't it? I guess I can say we're lucky that the list's not too long. Yet, there's always list.
    I read your post... Many of us go through the same thing, even at the same time, but each with our own unique experience and perspective. It's reassuring to be in the company of those who share their experience/write about it. Sure makes me feel less neurotic! :)

  21. SF- Oh yes, I'm a HUGE gulper! Tests really make me anxious, never mind surgery! Maybe it's the unknown--never know what you'll find.
    Glad you enjoyed the music! :)

  22. Laoch- I think that fearing hospitals is a pretty rational fear. I worked in a hospital for several years when I was in H.S. and college, so I'm comfortable in them, but not when my kids are in for a procedure!

  23. Leonora- I think you've very aptly described the kind of anxiety we all feel when our loved ones are threatened by anything. The heart races and events happen so quickly it become a blur.
    Hope this didn't increase your blood pressure too much! I know I had to keep telling my daughter (and myself) not to forget to breathe.
    Thanks for your kind thoughts. The little one is still recuperating but she'll be back on that lacrosse field in no time. ;)

  24. "Here, a list of all the things that can go wrong. Review the list. Worry." Unfortunately, this is a three-step process I can relate to. Glad she's okay!

  25. Thanks, Milo! I hope I won't need to look at that list again for a long while. ;)

  26. The AWOL had me laughing. I'm glad your little one is okay now. Surgery is scary to me too, so I don't blame you for being so nervous.

  27. You know I do love your Friday Night Frolics -- even the ambiguously frolicsome ones like this. Even if I'd never "met" you, and knew you only from your writings, if I were facing some sort of crisis I'd want to stop by at Suburban Soliloquy first to see if you'd ever Frolicked about it yourself... so I could draw succor and fellow-feeling from your experience (and musical selections!).

    In this case, since I'm not a parent myself, I can't identify 100% with it. But I know the sense of agonized, internal changing of the subject while sitting in the waiting room as a loved one goes under the knife, pretending to read or watch television [Gratuitous aside: Fox News! Why is it always THEM?!? Is this just a deep-South thing?!?] and pretending, as well, not to watch the relentless scrolling update of that flat-panel display you photographed so clearly...

    [It does remind me that I meant to ask whoever designed that infernal thing: Are you CRAZY? Didn't you have to take ANY training in ergonomics?!? Because, of course, to have colored ANYTHING in freaking RED is bound to set off all sorts of internal alarm bells in those watching (or pretending not to :)). The eyes roll.]

    Are you familiar with a writer named Richard Selzer? He's a surgeon and essayist on medical topics; if he'd never written another book besides Mortal Lessons, he'd be worth seeking out; that he's written a good number of them is just gravy, as they say. (I feel the same way about Lewis Thomas and The Lives of a Cell. I'd entrust my life to any doctor who writes like these guys.)

    How were (are) you at dealing with medical emergencies at home?

  28. i'm glad everything came out well.
    the anxious worry definitely came across well in the writing.
    i have a tendency to worst case scenario worry when it comes to my kids sometimes. it's not fun , and i try not to, but it still happens.

  29. Jayne,

    Another few months off your life. Under ansthesia I would imagine that is the first time the sprite was actually still for more than a moment. lol.. Nicely written, you got skills woman.

  30. Claire Beynon recently wrote of words beginning with "co..." like community, cooperation, compassion. In considering those whose fears were realized, memorializing the children, we are turned to compassion and gratitude so vigorous it leaves us weak. I am so glad that your daughter, and you, came through this, textbook. My much-older-than-11 son's hospitalization a few years ago sent me weeping in the hall corner on more than one occasion and has left me shell-shocked. It is a surreal experience, clearly told.

  31. Lydia- I can't imagine anyone not being nervous/scared about surgery. Thanks for the wishes. :)

  32. JES- That is really nice of you to say--tickles me pink to think that you'd come here to find succor for whatever ails--but I'm hoping that I won't have further crises in which to frolic (how perfect would that be?). I'm not knew to surgery--my son's abdomen was cut open at 4 weeks of age, and he had surgery again a year later. Back then I had the new-mother fog (horrible sleep deprivation/what-have-I-done? syndrome). I think that fog helped cut the edge off fear, and I let others guide me without question. A bit different now.
    Despite my anxiety, I've gotten pretty good at medical emergencies--have experienced several mad dashes to the ER--probably because I have less time to worry. Autopilot kicks in .
    I haven't heard of Seltzer or his books. It might be a good idea for me to pick one up, though.
    It's funny you mention the monitor--I thought the same thing about RED highlighting! E-gads, I worked in a hospital--everyone knows what RED means! Very bad idea. Maybe we ought to write a letter? (And no FOX on TV in Beantown! They love the old tried and true stations.) ;)

  33. id- Darn kids will do that to you, won't they? Kids! Nothing but a constant source of pain and frustration. Wait a minute, I think that's what I say about men. Or I'm supposed to say, anyway. ;)

  34. Duke- Exactly. And I'm on the WRONG side of those years. I really can't afford to shave off any more.
    Very funny about the Sprite--you know her--she has not been very cooperative with those doctor's orders to relax, take it easy. Aye ye ye.

  35. Marylinn- Oh I know that hall corner! I didn't think I'd cry, but as soon as they swept her away I ran through the doors and directly to the corner for a good weep. That just doesn't change, no matter how old they get.
    I love that bit from Claire (she's a wonder). And that vigorous compassion and gratitude is exactly what makes us so very human. We want to hold on to that. (If only there were no such thing as sick children.)

  36. I am so glad it turned out OK. I dread ever needing to go through it with Little Danger. DREAD.
    Here's a toast to the norm.

  37. I'm so happy your daughter is OK. I know all the anguish you endured.

  38. This is so well written I was captivated with each word reeling me in more and more. The love for your daughter comes through loud and clear. That is a tough one, trusting your precious child to a surgeon and anesthesiologist and people you don't know intimately. I would be begging to be in the surgery room.