Posts Tagged ‘clock’

Two Clocks

November 12, 2008

“How long has he been gone?”

“Five and a half hours… maybe a little longer.”

“I’m getting worried, they said it would take about four hours.”

“I was just thinking the same thing.”

Heart Moms and Heart Dads, have you ever had that conversation? Who hasn’t? Whenever your child is taken from you for surgery, time seems to slow down. The first hour may actually be the hardest: the more time that passes, the more sure you can be that something didn’t go wrong at the outset. To quote Tom Petty, “The waiting is the hardest part.” Then as the operation goes on longer than we expect, the tension level moves to an incredible high. It’s taking too long. There’s a problem. We would have heard something by now.

For our loved ones, the goodbyes come to a climax when we reach the door with the large WARNING! sign. Where they can go no further with us, because beyond is a sterile area that only hospital staff and patients can enter. Where they turn us over to the surgeon and his team with no guarantee of what may happen next. They tell us that they love us, and everything will be OK, and they’ll see us later, and hope all they’ve said will be true. And then it’s really time, and I’m sorry but we have to go now. And when that door closes behind us with a loud click, real time stops and waiting time begins.

Start the Clock.

But while Mom and Dad are being shown to the Surgical Waiting Room and being told that someone in the OR will call with updates, there’s a whole lot of…. nothing going on. More than likely we’re just on the other side of the WARNING! door, waiting. A surgeon who is worth his salt – and he wouldn’t even be here if he were a slacker – is not going to be rushed; he’ll take just as much time as he needs, thank you. And besides, “the operation” is the entire process, not just the act of cutting and stitching. Records are being checked, double checked, and even triple checked to make sure that the patient and the scheduled procedure match. We’ve probably been lightly sedated (no one wants to chase you down the hall if you change your mind at the last minute) but we are still awake. The Anesthesiologist may stop by for a few words and to reassure us, one of the surgical assistants may lean over our gurney to say hi, and he may even ask us who is our surgeon and what are they going to do to you today? You mean you don’t know? you think, suddenly worried, but don’t fret. It’s just another safety check.

We’re still conscious when we are wheeled into the operating room. First they aren’t sure what they have planned and now we’re going into the OR awake? That’s normal. The Anesthesiologist can put you under at any time, and they would rather wait as long as possible. The less time you’re knocked out, the better.

Finally you are unconscious, the surgical team is ready, we’re certain that this is the right patient, all the equipment is functioning, and we have a backup available in case anything malfunctions. Scalpel, please.

Start the (real) Clock.

You don’t rush a surgical procedure, especially heart surgery. Surgeon Sid Schwab has written of how at a critical moment, he stops and double checks everything. Extra blood, more clamps, IV fluids ready. Music off, and everybody make sure your brain is online and functioning. There are also various safety rules that are followed, such as the “two sponge” rule. You count your sponges before you start and you always place two sponges in the body – even when you only need one. By using two, anytime you count sponges and get an odd number, STOP! One’s missing, and it could still be in the patient’s body.

Operation finished, you’re stitched up. Someone is on the phone to Recovery, making sure there is a bed open and alerting the people there another surgical patient is coming down. Another call goes to Surgical Waiting, where they tell your family that everything went well and the surgeon will speak with you soon.

“Good to see you,” your family says, leaning over your bed. You can’t speak because of the breathing tube pushed down your throat. “You had us a bit worried, it took longer than we thought it would. But everything went great.”


October 29, 2008

UPDATE: As of 6:00 PM Eastern, Katie is out of surgery. Click here to go to her blog for more information.

It’s been an interesting day. Even though I’m here in South Carolina, I’ve been following Katie’s surgery, checking her website for updates. Judging from my website stats page, quite a few people are also keeping up with her by clicking through from here to her blog.

The Internet has given a whole new dimension to friendship and concern. In 1967 and 1977, when I was a long way from home having surgery, all my friends and family had no choice but to wait by the phone for updates. In ’67, no one had even thought of a home answering machine, (as far as I know) so you pretty much had to be there or you missed the call. The first time it was just the three of us, but in 1977, my church passed the hat and collected enough money to send my pastor to Alabama to be with us for a few days. He arrived the day before the surgery, stayed for 3 days – they got up enough cash to pay for a hotel room, too – and then he flew home. I didn’t find out until later that someone (and I still don’t know who it was) gave him two rolls of quarters so he could call home with any news. And in those days, you had to find a pay phone. But since hardly anyone had a cell phone (I had never heard of one) there literally WAS one on every corner.

Websites are active 24 hours a day (unless the server goes down, which occasionally happens) and e-mail is almost instantaneous, so we can find out what is going almost as soon as it happens. Sitting in a waiting room waiting on someone to let you know how a surgery is proceeding is a mind numbing kind of loneliness; having friends to share the burden doesn’t seem to make it any easier. When it comes down to it, it’s just you and the clock.

Rodney Dangerfield once said, “I’m having heart surgery; if everything goes right, it will take about four hours. If it goes wrong, it’ll take about thirty minutes.” Rodney was only half joking; you mentally note the time your loved one was taken from you and watch the clock. If you don’t hear anything for a while, you’re relieved: apparently nothing has come up that would alter or cancel the planned procedure. But if they are gone too long (and everyone has a different idea of how long is too long) your worrying again. Something’s up… it’s taking too long. There must be a problem. What’s going on? It’s a natural reaction.

You have family and friends there with you, and those who can’t be there but who call in to check. Hopefully they are doing all that they can do to support you. Your internet friendsĀ  – many of them you have never met – are “standing” with you too. Because “alone we can do so little; but together we can do so much.” (Helen Keller)