The Second Surgery

The 2nd Surgery

I didn’t know how good I had it the first time around until it came time for my 2nd surgery, and this time the experience could only be described as “traumatic”.  I had arrived plenty early, and was reasonably cool & collected as I had already been through this once before, but this time the whole vibe was different. The nurse that checked me in was clearly stressed, and even as I was in the changeroom putting the surgery gown on she told me to “hurry up” – and told me I wasn’t allowed to bring anything with me – not my phone, my glasses, Dex tabs, or anything.  This IMMEDIATELY stressed me out. I don’t like to be difficult, but I questioned why I was allowed to bring my little zipped bag of essentials the last time around, but this time no?  I explained that it was important for me because of my diabetes, but she spoke to me in such a condescending way – and that these were the rules. 

And of course, almost as if on cue, while she was busy taking my vitals and collecting all of my information – my blood sugars TANKED. She seemed annoyed and bothered by the whole thing – and what was obvious to me this time around was that “the schedule” was more important than my peace and well-being as the patient. This was the Friday morning right before spring break in March, so clearly there was an urgency to everything and I imagine COVID stress and general exhaustion contributed to the mess.

I wanted the operating room experience to be as great as it was the first time, but the staff this time around had no humour and were simply task-oriented while I was a nervous wreck on the table. Tears streamed down my cheeks while the resident anaesthesiologist failed repeatedly to get a vein until I begged for mercy and the senior guy game in and eventually got in through my wrist. This time around, instead of going to sleep in a great mindset and feeling of confidence, I was knocked out while being traumatized and little did I know that that would be a sign of things to come. 

While I was drugged up in recovery, I begged not to be sent back to the same nurse who had checked me in – but alas, there she was again. I think she tried to be nice, but I was in a lot of pain and didn’t want to engage in conversation.  I remember her asking “Aren’t you happy?  The surgery is over.”  All I could do was cry and ask her to give me some peace. Eventually, I was discharged and allowed to go home and recover at my sister’s house.

A Trip to the ER

Things seemed fine for the first couple of days, but on the early morning of day 3 – I woke up at 4am and felt like I was choking. I was having trouble swallowing, and felt a big lump in my esophagus which I knew wasn’t right. I woke up my sister and brother-in-law and told them I needed help, so they called 911 and within 20 minutes the paramedics and firemen were at their place and dealing with me – while I was having a panic attack at 4:30am. Something wasn’t right and I knew it.

Upon arriving at Peace Arch Hospital, it was several hours before I could see a doctor. I was begging for ice chips to soothe my throat while anxiously sitting in a chair in the waiting area surrounded by dozens of other people. Three days post-surgery, there I was slumped over an armrest in a crowded waiting area – utterly powerless to control my fate and increasingly angry by the waiting and seeming lack of urgency. COVID has done a real number on our medical system as this place was ridiculously short-staffed, and everyone who remains seems pretty burnt out. I can only have empathy as I don’t know what it’s like to be in their shoes, but I can absolutely say from a patient point of view that that scenario was a disaster. 

Eventually, I got a bed (one of only a few), got hooked up to an IV and was sent for a CT scan to see what was going on. It was determined that I had a post-op infection and I was to start on IV antibiotics right away, twice a day. My surgeon was away on vacation, so I was shuffled to another specialist who was her back-up, and I was instructed to go to him for follow-up. Naturally, with the experience I had just been through and having only had major surgery 3 days before, I was eager to do whatever I was told. All a person wants in that situation is clarity and a wee bit of consideration.

The Aftermath

The receptionist/administrator at the specialist’s office can’t be described politely, so I’m just going to say it – she was a bitch. Her tone was one of annoyance, like I was bothering her – a burden because she resented having to try and schedule me in for an emergency follow-up.

For me in my fragile state at that time, I was incredulous – honestly floored at being spoken to in such a tone and with such utter disregard for what I had just come through. But I was glad to take the follow-up appointment as scheduled a day later.

When I got there, I met with the medical Fellow who explained to me what he saw in the CT scan, and that they wanted me to discontinue the IV antibiotics and go on some other oral antibiotics. Fine. Then the specialist came in (my surgeon’s back-up) who was for sure old enough to be my grandfather, and without a word of introduction came in and said “You don’t need those” and RIPPED the steri-strips right off my neck – along with I’m sure a few layers of skin. I was so shocked and utterly gob-smacked that I didn’t know what to say, and before I knew it he came back and ripped the remaining steri-strips off without a word of warning.  My post-surgery instructions had very clearly stated not to touch the steri-strips, as they would fall off on their own naturally. Honestly, I felt violated. I COULD NOT BELIEVE what had just happened. How is this OK?!

To make matters worse, the antibiotics that they had prescribed for me were declined by the pharmacist later on that day, as they were in the same class as ones I am allergic to – information I had provided in great detail before the appointment. When I called the specialist’s office the next day to explain this, my less-than-favourite receptionist explained that the Dr. was in surgery and that he would try and get back to me by the end of the day. Nothing happened.

I called again the next day and pleaded my case for a different antibiotic – which was refused and I was told “for most people, it’s fine.” There was NO WAY I was going to risk an allergic reaction so I just didn’t fill the prescription. I begged the pharmacist to plead my case with the surgeon’s office but nothing ever came of that.

I cried with a kind of despair previously unknown to me. I didn’t know what to do or who to call. I had done everything I could, and eventually just gave up as I didn’t have the energy to fight anymore. Infection or no infection, I wasn’t about to risk an allergic reaction – no way.  So I rolled the dice and hoped for the best, while at the same time angry that my concerns had been dismissed so casually.

Ultimately, my neck healed after the second surgery and physically I was on the mend, but what hadn’t healed were my emotions and trauma from the whole experience. It just wasn’t right. I couldn’t get past it, didn’t want to think about it – and sought professional help.