Miracles of modern medicine
Monday, 7:45 am
I have to be at Kaiser Hospital by 8:15. Today is the day I have my gall bladder removed.
Last month I spent 5 days in Kaiser with acute pancreatitis, a result of a gall stone blocking the system up. They would ordinarily have removed the gall bladder then, but I had to wait 6 weeks because I am still on blood thinners from having a stent installed in February. The older you get, the more complicated things are.
I tried to get Uber to take me, but they said there were no cars available, so I tried Lyft. That was difficult because their software couldn’t find Kaiser Hospital. I ended up just putting in a nearby address and then telling the driver the truth.
The Lyft driver showed up in a neatly kept Prius and we arrived at Kaiser right on time. That was the last time anything went according to schedule.
Into the office for the paperwork. Sign consent forms. Refuse to let them take my cell phone. I’ve left my wallet, watch and rings at home so I have no valuables for them to lock up. Pay the $250 copay–first things first. Get sent to the waiting room. Get called from the waiting room, shown to a cubicle and told to put all my clothes in the bag. There is a system for everything here–even the bag for your clothes is part of a formal, numbered, bar-coded system.
I’m in a bed, dressed in the usual absurd hospital gown, answering endless questions. the nurses say I’m to have a “lap choly”, short for laparoscopic cholecystectomy. I love those long medical words you can practically chew.
No, I don’t drink.
No, I don’t smoke.
Yes, I took my pills this morning.
No, I don’t have dentures.
Yes, I wear contact lenses, but not today.
And a thousand more. Much of modern nursing consists of reading lists of questions and entering the answers into a computer. Each nurse has her own computer workstation, battery powered, that she pushes from cubicle to cubicle adding to the immense data base that is modern medicine.
Somebody comes by and starts an IV in my hand. She does an amazing job, sticking me painlessly with a huge needle in the back of my hand.
Waiting. I’m ready. The nurse is ready. The hospital, not so much. They’re still working on the previous patient.
They’ve finished in the OR, sort of, but they’re having problems getting the patient to wake up. One of the nurses told me that, but she shouldn’t have. Patient confidentiality is taken very seriously here. More on this subject later.
My doctor shows up
She’s finally gotten out of the OR from the previous surgery, and comes by to make sure I’m OK, aware of what is about to happen and capable of giving informed consent.
Next up is the anesthesiologist, Dr. Krisman.
She’s really serious, with lots of life or death questions. I asked about the patients they had trouble waking up, and her eyes turned to fire as she wanted to know who told me that. I wasn’t about to get anyone else into trouble, so I didn’t tell, but she was clearly upset that any level of confidentiality had been breached.
Still more questions, and it turned out I had not followed instructions properly about which medications to take the day of surgery. Many phone call and conferences later, it was decided that they would go through with the operation as long as I recognized the grave danger I was in. Realizing that they medicos invariably overstate that sort of thing, and that they simply would refuse to operate if it was seriously dangerous, I said yes. Still, I had to take the medicines I had forgotten and wait yet another hour to begin.
I get wheeled into the OR. Scoot across to an impossibly narrow table. They start the anesthetic.
I wake up in recovery. Bob Munson, saint that he is, has volunteered to bring me home, although he expected to be doing that 5 hour earlier. He didn’t have to wait around: the hospital called him when it was time.
I’m home. A little sore, but no big deal. I have 4 small incisions on my belly where they cut space to insert their instruments and do the job. No particular restrictions on what I can eat, just try to avoid great exertion and lifting of heavy objects.
Half a century ago, when my mother had this same operation, they cut her from stem to stern and she spent 2 weeks in the hospital recovering. If not for the delays, this would have taken 3 hours, I’m already mostly recovered and the shock to my system is vastly smaller (and safer). Our health care system is seriously flawed, but when it works, it works great.