Cheryl the nurse continued to pepper Ralph with questions.
Then she pulled some papers out of a drawer underneath her laptop on her computer stand. “Can you tell me your name and birthdate?”
“Ralph Kilter. October 4, 1951.” He told me later that they asked him this question dozens of times.
Then Cheryl read off the description of the surgery, its risks, up to and including death. She read off the HIPAA permissions, the insurance permissions, the responsibility to pay if our insurance didn’t pay for the procedures. She then gave him the papers to sign, and he agreed to have the procedure done, risks and all. After everything was signed, she gave him Laudanum. Ralph said later that he didn’t remember signing anything.
I was amazed at the amount of technology. Computer lap tops on wheeled stands. Orders being sent by Wi-fi. Scanners. Every procedure, every piece of equipment, every medicine, every IV bag, was scanned in…like grocery items on a conveyor belt. After scanning in the product, they would scan Ralph’s wrist band. It struck me as unreal.
But I also made use of Technology to keep our friends and family informed. With my smart phone, I posted updates on Facebook. I texted my sister, brothers, and parents. Patty and I used Facebook to message back and forth. Most of my communication to others was silent.
“Ralph, I’m going to have to insert a nasal gastro tube up your nose and down into your stomach. That will relieve some of the pressure in your stomach. It won’t be comfortable, but we have to do it to prepare for the surgery,” said Cheryl. She handed him a Styrofoam cup with a straw filled with water. “If you drink water while I am doing this, it will be easier.”
When she began inserting the tube up through his nose, he cried out. “I know,” said Cheryl, “keep drinking the water. That will help.” But it didn’t help. The tube kept curling up in his mouth. Another nurse came in to help, then the charge nurse.
Why can’t they just leave him alone? Why do they have to do this to him? Couldn’t they do something else less invasive?
Finally, a doctor came in with a bottle of sore throat spray. “I was wondering when someone might think of that,” I said. When I had had surgeries many years earlier, a nurse would spray my hand with a topical anesthetic to get the IVs in.
I had to leave the room for the last attempt. Cheryl was waiting outside the room as well, with her laptop on her stand. “I’d have to wait outside, too, if I were you.”
The sore throat spray did the trick though. Ralph said the doctor sprayed his throat, and also the end of the tube. He would end up with that tube in his nose for two days after the surgery.
Then we waited. Pastor Smith came into the room about two o’clock. He prayed with Ralph. And he spent the next hour chit chatting with me. We talked about the upcoming surgery, TV antenna reception, and the casserole his wife was making for supper. Talking about the mundane helped, as we waited for surgery.
“Is anyone going to be waiting with you in the waiting room during the surgery? What about your girls?” he asked.
“Well, Mary is at the mission working, and Patty is at home. But neither one of them can drive.”
“I can go and get them and bring them to the hospital,” he said.
“That would help.” So I messaged Patty on Facebook, and I called Mary. I knew she kept her phone in her purse. “Mary, your Dad is having surgery. Pastor Smith is going to come and pick you up and bring you to the hospital. Do you remember what Pastor Smith looks like?” “Yes,” she said. “What kind and color is your car?” I said to Pastor Smith. “It’s a white mini-van.” “Mary he drives a white mini-van. Wait until you see his car before you come out of the building.”
Pastor Smith left to get the girls.
The assistants came to take Ralph down to surgery from his room. They walked very fast and I struggled to keep up as they pushed his bed down several hallways and into two sets of elevators down to the surgery section. In pre-op, several people introduced themselves: the anesthesiologist, the OR nurse, the surgery assistant, and Dr. Hyatt, among others.
While we were waiting in pre-op, my sister-in-law, Julia texted me to let me know that she was bringing my 79-year-old mother to wait with me in the surgery waiting room, but they needed directions to the hospital. A drive of 130 miles. As I described told Pastor Smith later, I always think of Julia as a Proverbs 31 woman.
They took Ralph back to the operating room, and a PCA showed me the way the waiting room, showed me where to get coffee or water, and gave me instructions regarding the check-in/check-out desk. I had been given a sheet of paper with a code number for Ralph. The monitor in the waiting room would inform me when Ralph was in the operating room and when he was in recovery.
I sat down at a table in the waiting room, alone. I felt like crying, but I couldn’t. There were other people in the waiting room. After a few minutes of looking at the wall next to me, I pulled my Kindle out of my purse and tried to read it. I couldn’t.
Pastor Smith arrived with the girls about ten minutes after I sat down. Patty hugged me before sitting down. I told them their dad was in surgery now. Pastor Smith started talking about mundane stuff…the girls’ jobs, their brother, Will. I will tell you that talking about ordinary stuff in the midst of duress does help.
My phone buzzed. “We here where r u?” Julia messaged. I went to the desk to ask where I was, but no one was there. So I walked out the door on the other end of the waiting room to find someone to ask. As I looked around, the elevator pinged and out they walked, Mom with her rolling walker. She smiled at me and gave me a hug, and then Julia did. We walked into the waiting room and I introduced them. Julia can talk a mile a minute, but it was great. Most of the conversation took place between Julia, Pastor Smith, and Patty; some about the surgery and the day I had had, but mostly about ordinary things.
After about 90 minutes, Dr. Hyatt came to the waiting room and introduced himself to our table. “Well, the surgery went well,” he said. “We removed a large tumor, resectioned the small bowel, and we also cut it out of the transverse colon and sewed that up. The tumor is most likely some sort of cancer, so we sent it and some lymph nodes to be biopsied. I’m sorry.” He looked at all of us. He seemed surprised that we didn’t seem that shocked at his announcement.
“How long will he be in the hospital,” I asked.
“At least a week.” Then he left.
We looked at each other. Patty and I were not shocked. Ralph had been progressively weaker and fatigued over the past couple of years. He had lost weight, and we had urged him to have physicals, and discuss his weight loss with his doctors. So cancer was not completely unexpected. Upsetting, yes.
A nurse came out another door from recovery, and suggested that we go up to Ralph’s room and wait for him there, so we found our way back to his room.
We talked for a little while, then they rolled Ralph back to his room on his bed.
“How are you doing?”
“Dr. Hyatt said the surgery went well. He also said that you would be in the hospital for at least a week.” Ralph nodded. He looked at both girls, “Girls, you need to take out the garbage.” Still responsible, still in charge.