The Surgery Experience – Alison Fujito

Well, I had the surgery last week, and it was not fun.  Then again, I don’t suppose it ever is.

I arrived at the surgical center at 7:45 am.  Everything was very
clean and well-organized, which is always a good thing. The nurses and
the anesthesiologist started the prep at a little after 8:00.  I
received a shoulder block and light sedation (although it sure felt
heavy to me!), and woke up a little after 10:00.  The surgeon came in,
beaming, and said that everything had gone very well. By 11:10, I was
on my way home, clutching a prescription for a painkiller and a sheet
of post-surgical instructions, detailing the exercises I was to start
in 24 hours (very, very important to avoid scar tissue).

They sure spit you out quickly these days.

The shoulder block numbed my arm from shoulder to thumb, although my
4 fingers were not numb, and to my relief, I could wiggle them.  It
started to wear off around 2:00.  The surgeon had given me generic
Percocet, with strict instructions to take it BEFORE the pain became
unbearable.  Apparently, painkillers work better if you catch the pain
early.  So I dutifully took the Percocet at 3:00.

The pain continued to increase.  In addition, I became dizzy and
nauseated, which are very common side effects of Percocet.  Several
hours later, after the next dose, the pain, the nausea, and the
dizziness were all still increasing, and whenever I got up, I would get
faint and sweaty, so I called the surgeon’s answering service to find
out if I had any options besides for Percocet.

The surgeon’s very sleepy associate called me back (it was
midnight), and told me to take Ibuprofen or Tylenol.  I wondered how
either could make a dent if the Percocet wasn’t doing such a great job
at controlling the pain, but I took the Ibuprofen anyway.

Amazingly, within 20 minutes, I was totally pain-free.
Unfortunately, in addition to the nausea and the dizziness, I now had
chest pain, which I assumed was somehow caused by the Ibuprofen.  I
called the sleepy associate back.

He didn’t sound any more awake at 2 am than he had at midnight, and
who could blame him? I didn’t like his advice, though: he told me that
I needed to go to the ER to be evaluated for cardiac problems.

My husband said that he would go put the kids in the car (they’re
too young to leave alone), but that just didn’t seem right.  I couldn’t
imagine waking 3  chilldren to drop their mommy off at the ER.  No, no,
no, no, no. So I called a neighbor (make that an extremely kind
neighbor!), and asked if he could drop me at Passavant, which is only
five minutes away, which he kindly did.

You might ask why we didn’t call an ambulance, or why I didn’t drive
myself.  Good questions, both. We didn’t call an ambulance because we
were both pretty sure that this was a reaction to the medication, not a
heart attack. If the doctor hadn’t said, "You need to go the ER," I
never would have considered it (although maybe I should have, I don’t
know).  And I didn’t drive myself because 1) One arm was in a sling
and 2) I was still feeling dizzy from the Percocet.

When I got to the ER, blood was drawn, and I was given an EKG, a
chest X-ray.  The EKG and Xray were as I’d expected, normal, but one of
the blood tests came back slightly elevated, so I was whisked away for
a CAT scan.  After the CAT scan came repeat bloodwork, and then I was
admitted to the cardiac unit. The nurse came in and gave me Tylenol for
my shoulder (which, like the Ibuprofen, completely took the pain away).
I was only allowed a couple of sips of water–she said that I couldn’t
eat or drink until all the tests were done. Then the cardiac
nurse-practitioner came in, asked me several questions, and told me
that they were taking the risk of heart attack very seriously, as heart
attacks kill more women than breast cancer (which I did not know).  He
told me that they would next have me do a stress test, but that since
my arm was in a sling, they would inject something to make my heart
race instead of putting me on a treadmill.

"No way," I said.  "I have more than enough foreign chemicals in my
system, thank you very much.  Besides, I just had surgery a few hours
ago, I’ve been up all night, and nobody will let me even have a drink
of water.  Can’t I come back in a couple of days and do a stress test

The answer was, of course, no. So I said, "Look if I have to do a
stress test, then I’m getting on the treadmill. No treadmill, no test."

So they sent me up to the Nuclear Medicine Department, where there
was no official waiting room but several of us (4 wheelchairs and 3
gurneys) waited in a short, narrow, dirty hallway.  All 3 gurney
patients looked like they were in their 80’s. Two of them were
coughing, and one was moaning..  The wheelchair patients (myself
included) didn’t look appreciably better. I remember pulling my
hospital gown over my head and thinking, "Great.  Just great.  I’m
going to bring all kinds of unknown viruses and antibiotic-resistant
bacteria home with me, and EVERYONE is going to be horribly sick."

Finally, it was my turn, and the nurse opened a lead case, and told
me that I would have radioactive something-or-other injected in me,
then I would go into the scanner for 12 minutes, then I would go on the
treadmill, then more radioactive glop, then 12 more minutes in the

Really, the treadmill was the highlight of the day.  I was so
miserable by then, it was almost a pleasure to be able to get on the
treadmill!  And the nurses were very kind.  They were so worried that I
might fall because of my arm in the sling, one of them said that she
would get on the treadmill with me, and be ready to catch me if I
stumbled.  I didn’t stumble,  though.  I didn’t even want to get off,
but party time was over.

The nurse in the cardiac unit was kind, too. "There you are," she
smiled, as I was wheeled back to my room.  "You should be able to leave
in 3 or 4 hours–as soon as the doctor reads your tests."

It was noon.

"Hey, if I’m all done with tests, I want to go home," I said.  "If
the doctor wants me to come back, I can be back here in 5 minutes, but
I really need to go home now."

"Oh, but if you leave now, it will be AMA, and then your insurance company won’t pay for this little visit," she said.

"Come on," I pleaded. "I just had surgery–this isn’t exactly a
great way to recover.  If I were an outpatient, you wouldn’t make me
stay here, the doctor would call me with the results!"

Luckily, she was sympathetic.  She reached for her phone and
dialed.  I heard her asking the doctor if he could read my results now
so that I could go home, as I’d just had surgery.

While she made her call, I realized that it was more than 24 hours
since my surgery–yikes, time to start my post-surgical exercises!  I
did NOT want scar tissue. So I wriggled out of the sling (ouch!), stood
up, held onto the bed, bent forward, dangled my arm, and let it swing
back and forth, then round and round, and then round and round the
other way, for 5 minutes, which, given the kind of night I’d had, was
more than enough to totally exhaust me.

About 10 minutes later the nurse came into my room and said that I was free to go.

It took a good 5-6 days before I felt free of the dizziness and
nausea form the Percocet.  After I got home, I didn’t bother taking
anything for the pain. I figured I’d rather deal with the pain than
deal with feeling sick.

I’ve talked to 12 people who have taken Percocet for post-surgical
pain.  Two of them liked the "loopy feeling," as they called it. The
other 10 had similar reactions to mine., and threw it out after one or
two doses. Now, I realize that this is not a scientific study, but I
don’t think that this is very good odds for Percocet’s being good pain
management. I can’t help wondering why doctors bother to prescribe it
right off the bat like that, especially when Tylenol worked better.

It’s time to recover now.

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