“Ma’am I’m calling from the hospital for Special Surgery at your outpatient procedure on June 1st,” said a mysterious woman with an annoyingly cheerful voice. “Did you read the instructions?”
“I did,” I said into my cellphone while keeping one eye on the television on my desk at work; on it was a press conference with Senator Charles Schumer on laser pointer attacks at Kennedy Airport in Queens.
“Well as you know, you shouldn’t take any blood thinners, including Meloxicam.”
“What? I shouted as my eyes darted away from the TV and over to the receiver. “I just took that this morning.”
“It shouldn’t be a problem,” the nurse stammered. “It could cause blood clots but if you stop it now, it should be okay. Just tell the doctor when you get to the hospital.
My mouth hung agape as I heard the line go dead.
I turned to my co-worker with disgust in my voice, “I truly can’t believe a major hospital would forget something that could be life threatening; that’s unacceptable.”
“I agree,” no co-worker responded, “it’ll be okay.”
I went home that day with the thought that a sudden pulmonary embolism caused by a blood clot or some other bleeding trouble after the procedure would kill me. The fear that end of my life could be near because of a careless mistake following decades of struggle cast a cloud of despair over me. My sleep became more intermittent over the next two days as the date of my hospital trip approached. Each night, I was tormented by dreams of choking to death, failing to wake up from anesthesia, ending up in ICU so the machine would have to be turned off, or flatlining on the table.
The third day, the day of my procedure, I woke up without any sense of panic. I had an odd sense of calm that my suffering would be over. Seconds later, I’d thought about the pain my loss might cause my parents, fiancé and co-workers still reeling from the loss of our friend/reporter, #LisaColagrossi. The notion that I may cause a heartache to those I love and admire temporarily shook me from my funk. Still, at 7 am I was unable to put my feet on the floor. I was paralyzed by a feeling of dread that my life could suddenly end with a stroke of a scalpel and hadn’t accomplished all I wanted to with my life. So, I laid there for an hour then fifteen more minutes before a traffic report, indicating an accident in the Lincoln Tunnel, could make me late to my procedure.
I mustered the strength to put my tingling feet on the carpet. I paused and waited for the pain to shoot down my left leg then cautiously took steps towards the bathroom in my bedroom. I grimaced as I lifted my door over the edge of the tub then I soaps up and rinsed off quickly.
I was out the door, on my way to the east side, when the rain began coming down at monsoon strength, snarling traffic. Despite this, I rushed into the outpatient center only fifteen late. The receptionist complimented me for having an exotic name, MTamanika, before she showed me to a waiting area. I’d just settled into a high stool that made it easier to sit down when the billing clerk called me. We raced through the payment information. The only time we exchanged personal words was when I mentioned had a living will, health proxy and power of attorney at the ready should my procedure go awry. After numerous reassurance my good health was on the horizon, I was shown to a second floor waiting room.
“Is it still raining?” Asked an older woman sitting next to an elderly man.
I responded, “yes it started coming down out there so be careful.”
“Thank you,” she replied while looking at me trying to assess my condition. “Are you here for a procedure today?”
“Well good luck and good health,” she said as she rose to leave.
The reassurance from a stranger made me feel a bit silly that I had allowed one mistake to make me doubt I’d come out of the hospital better than I’d come in.
Moments later, I was ushered to the back where I changed into a gown, hair net and grippy socks. A nurse then came back to check my vitals; that’s when I noticed my blood pressure was 145/120. Over the next half hours, it was checked repeatedly and again and remained high. Finally my doctor was called to my area to decide if I was fit for surgery. He scoffed at the Meloxicam mix up and the blood pressure results and told the nursed to bring me into the operating room.
I limped down the hall to the sterile white room with French music playing. A tech stood with her back to me filling in my vitals on the machine that would change the views of me on the operating table. The nurse who had shown me in dragged over a stood to assist me in climbing up on the table. I laid down on my belly and stuck my face through a pillow with a hole through it. The doctor once again asked if I wanted Ativan to help me relax before we proceeded. I declined.
“Mrs. Beamon you’re going to feel a pinch, then a burning sensation, a bit of pain then pressure,” said the doctor as he prepared to do the first lumbar epidural steroid injection. In spite of the discomfort I didn’t wince or move. I was afraid any sudden movement could leave me paralyzed.
I did have to take deep breaths when he began injections into my s1 joint and the nerves in my left leg. The burning sensation running across my spine and buttocks and down my leg, sent a series of tears down my face. Yet I continued to respond to the doctors commands and detail my level of pain for him. A little less than an hour later, it was done.
I tried to stand on the same stool I’d used to get up on the bed to get down. Unfortunately, my leg was tingling and radiating pain as I stepped. I flopped down in the wheelchair so I could head to recovery.
On the table to my left was a menu card. I’d barely glanced at it when the nurse pulled back the curtain and ask what I’d like. I admitted that I’d been to multiple hospital and never before had I gotten an order card. She just chuckled and walked away to get me a warm blanket. She stretched it across my legs then took my vitals. Concerned creeped across her face when she saw my blood pressure numbers.
“Can you lay back for me and think of your favorite vacation spot?” the nurse said.
The automated blood pressure cuff went off again as I drifted in thought. Unfortunately, my numbers remained unchanged.
“I need to talk to the doctor before we can talk about your discharge.”
I could see her chatting with my doctor when the man across from me proclaimed he was ready to go. A nurse opened his curtain and told him to stand for a final evaluation. When he got to his feet, his legs immediately began to quake.
“I’m sorry sir, you can’t go home like this,” the nurse told the man.
His looked at her with disgust and said, “I have Parkinson’s.”
The nurse didn’t respond. She just brought over a wheelchair.
“Can we all leave now?” Shouted the woman in the bed next to mine. “Does anyone know where my clothes are?”
My nurse pulled back the curtain separating us and said, “We do but we put them away for a good reason”
I thought to myself, of course, so they can’t be stolen.
“We do it so you can’t just leave until we check you out. Some people, especially on anesthesia, think they’re fine but they’re not.”
“I think I’m fine” I interjected, trying to cover up the yellow fall risk bracelet on my wrist.
“Well you can go Ms. Beamon if you leave in a wheelchair and go straight to the main building to get fitted for a cane. They’ll also teach you how to use it.”
I agreed but wondered if the cane was a symbol of my recovery or a further reminder of my decline. I grabbed the prescription for it and headed out into the rain with my mother prepared to wheel me to my final destination for the day. I realized in the short taxi ride that I wasn’t actually afraid of dying. I was preoccupied by the thought continuing to live in pain and needing even more procedures.
Amazingly, having my new cane in my hand put me at ease. I realized the power to every new step forward in my life was in my hands; and with the mercy of God I could put an end to feeling sorry for myself and dwelling on whether my end is near.
About the author: Nika C. Beamon is the author of the highly praised memoir, Misdiagnosed the Search for Dr. House. In 2009, Chicago Review Press published her non-fiction book, I Didn’t Work This Hard Just to Get Married. She’s also the author of two mystery novels.