Monday, February 10, 2014

Post-Op Sum-Up: Dreamt Of An All-You-Can-Eat Buffet, Totally Disappointed To Wake Up In The Recovery Room

Yeah, so I had surgery last week for the 4th time in 10 years ... I have a reoccurring cyst in my upper jaw which affects my sinuses as well. I've had two operations in the US and this was my second procedure in the UK under the NHS.

The initial reaction I received from Brits and non-Brits alike when I told them I was due to have an operation at an NHS hospital was alarm, and then: "But can't you go private?" Though I do have access to private insurance here in the UK, I politely but firmly assured them I was totally against this, as the consultant I've been seeing was recommended to me by my surgeon in the US (they're good friends) - plus, I had such a wonderful experience at The Royal Surrey County Hospital the last time around, I had no intention of paying extra to receive the same (if not worse, in my opinion) kind of treatment with the same doctor but in a slightly more modern building.

The Surgical Short Stay Unit is a separate arm of The Royal Surrey and is set off to the side of the hospital in a small building. It's for minor (and in some cases, more serious, as I learned while I was staying "on the ward") operations and patients may be discharged the same day though they usually stay overnight.

I was admitted at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, but was apologetically told by my consultant that since I was "quite low" on the priority list, my operation would likely be that afternoon. Now, I don't mind waiting, but having not had anything to eat since my delicious Jamie's Italian meal the night before around 7 p.m., and not being allowed to eat or drink before my procedure, I wondered how I'd make it through the awfully long hours ... particularly since every magazine I brought happened to mention, in detail, recipes for thick chunky stews or the most delectable appetizers. An article in Grazia, clearly written to torture me, even profiled a day-in-the-life-of a food taster. I kid you not.

In the meantime, I had my paperwork and vitals recorded by the nicest nurse ever (who then periodically returned to check on me while I was waiting, making sure I was warm enough, etc.), and was visited by my anaesthesiologist (who I remembered and really liked from my last operation at the hospital) for a pre-op chat. I was then assigned a bed around 10:30 a.m. or so and spent the rest of the afternoon mindlessly flipping through magazines and avoiding all mentions of food.

By 2 p.m., I wanted to eat my hospital gown. And the sheets. I was so hungry. Being on a ward of 6 other women doesn't afford much privacy, so I was a little embarrassed but saddened to hear that the woman on the other side of the curtain next to my bed was there for a laparoscopic hysterectomy due to cystic fibrosis. I had glanced up only briefly when she entered the room with her partner, and she didn't seem that much older than me - maybe by 10 years? So although I'd been feeling sorry for myself that morning, I was quickly put in my place upon overhearing her consultant discuss her procedure and the risks with her.

I was finally wheeled in my bed to the operating theatre around 4:30 p.m. or so, where I was prepped with a cannula. The last thing I remember was the nice anaesthesiologist telling me that I'd start feeling like I'd had a few beers shortly and me joking that it only takes a sip of beer to get me drunk since I'm such a lightweight. I then asked feebly, "I won't wake up though, will I?" And he assured me that I wouldn't.

And then.

I (as I always do when I'm under general anaesthesia) had the best dream. EVER. An all-you-can-eat buffet with lots of fried chicken and juicy pieces of steak danced tantalizingly in front of my eyes, the steam rising from the mountainous trays of food as if everything had just been freshly prepared for me (during my very first operation in Seattle, I dreamt that I had scored an excellent pair of Marc Jacobs heels at the Nordstrom sale and subsequently yelled at the recovery nurse for waking me up just as I was about to "pay").

I took a step towards the gleaming plates and, of course, opened my eyes to bright lights instead. And pain. So I did what I always do in these situations: I bawled. I was mostly crying at the injustice of being denied the steak and realizing that I probably wouldn't be able to chew steak for at least another two or three weeks. "I'm so sorrrrryyyy," I blubbered to the nurse, who was probably about 20 and insisted on calling me "sweet pea". "I don't even know why I'm cryyinnnggg. I-I-I-I'm finnnnnneee," I howled, as she patted my arm and smoothed my hair away from my face.

After pumping me with painkillers, I was wheeled back to my original spot on the ward and John's mom came in shortly after to sit next to me and read her book while I grumpily drifted in and out of sleep. A nurse stopped by to ask if I wanted any dinner and my mind momentarily flashed to my heavenly dream of fried chicken and steak. She rattled off a few choices, including steak pie, chicken casserole and a few other non-easily-chewable items. I glumly replied that I probably couldn't eat any of those, but she perked up and said, "I know! I'll give you a huge helping of mashed potatoes, with extra gravy, how's that?" She returned with a plateful of the promised potatoes, along with extra gravy and some carefully chosen mushrooms, which was heart-warming.

Because I was suffering from a common but rather unpleasant side effect from the general anaesthesia, the nurses decided to keep me overnight. Instead of sleeping, I spent the night anxiously pacing the hallway, close to tears, as I tried to deal with my embarrassing condition. Something similar had happened to me during my second operation in Seattle and the night nurse on duty was cold, brusque and completely unsympathetic. Here, it couldn't have been a more different scenario: the nurses offered suggestions, comforted me, scrunched their faces in sympathy, and continued to check in with me as the night progressed. I was so incredibly impressed with the professionalism and kindness of the night team on duty that evening. They worked tirelessly through the night in dispensing medications, dealing with my "drama", fielding requests from difficult patients - all the while remaining compassionate, calm, and very patient.

I've been back home for nearly a week now and I'm almost feeling back to my normal self. I have John's mom to thank for accompanying me every step of the way and taking amazing care of me as soon as I came out of the operating room (she literally had to put my shoes on for me and then stayed with me for hours!). She then stayed with me in London for a few days, cooking, cleaning, and reminding me to take my pills. I'm so, so lucky to call her my mother-in-law.

So, another op down and hopefully none whatsoever in the future. Once again, I am so grateful to the Maxillofacial Department at The Royal Surrey County Hospital and the whole nursing and medical team - especially the night team - at the Surgical Short Stay Unit. To think that the treatment I received costs around $10,000 (I know, because I was not covered under US medical insurance for my last op in the States and had to pay out of pocket for an emergency procedure) in the US but was covered by the NHS here makes me quite happy to be a UK taxpayer.


  1. Nice to read something so positive about the NHS. I wrote something nice about it here too ( I don't know how you didn't eat the hospital gown. I definitely would have snook off for something gross out of the vending machine! Feel better soon xx

    1. Ah, Laura, that post brought tears to my eyes. I love reading about these positive experiences because I hear so much negativity in the press and, in particular, from other Americans (mostly on forums like American Ex-Pats In London). I appreciate that the care isn't wonderful everywhere, but when they get it right, it's just so incredibly good. Just really, really decent. I am so thankful for the NHS, particularly as I watch my Dad work himself down to the bone in the US when he really should be retiring, simply because he'll lose his health insurance if he doesn't. It makes me sick. xx


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