Surgery in the Time of Coronavirus
I sat in the early-morning dark of the hospital parking lot, my phone clutched in my hand. I’d been in the lot since 3:30 am. The charge on the phone—my lifeline to my husband—was running out. No one else was in the lot. A fluorescent streetlight blinked. Was the pain in his leg a blood clot? Was he in danger? My gaze flickered between the door to the ER in case a nurse came to update me and the impersonal messages of the phone: Patient has been admitted. Tests have been order for Patient. Patient has been given medication. Together, my phone and I waited.
I have been isolating at home with my husband since he was discharged from the hospital March 5 following hip replacement surgery. Early on, I made a couple of grocery runs after the home health nurse called to tell us to gather 2 weeks of food and 1 week of water. We already had somewhat of a supply on hand because (1) you cannot leave a hip replacement patient alone for any length of time until 10 days post-surgery; and, (2) I’m not our cook so I wanted to have what I needed to fix meals.
About 2 weeks ago, when our ability to get physical therapy in New Orleans seemed in jeopardy, we came over to our beach house. We haven’t left the house since arriving…except two nights ago at 3:30am when we had to go by ambulance to the ER at the local hospital when Tom’s hip dislocated. It was terrible. The pain was extraordinary.
Tom’s surgeon did not want him returning to the hospital in New Orleans because the coronavirus made it too dangerous. So, in a move right out of M*A*S*H, the surgeon talked the ER doc through a reduction, which is when they put the patient under anesthesia and wrestle the hip back in place. The ER doc had never done the procedure before. She has now.
The reduction gave Tom immediate relief. The hip is now in an immobilizer to keep it from moving an inch. We have placed great faith in the immobilizer, which he will be in for 3 weeks. We are counting the hours until we can talk on the phone to the surgeon next week with our many questions.
The bad part of this experience has been the uncertainty generated by recovering from surgery in the time of a pandemic, not only in the world but in our city. The intersection of the two this weekend was awful: access to needed care was cut off by the virus.
Each day, I tend to rollercoaster between what needs the most worrying about: Tom’s hip or keeping us safe from the virus. This has meant washing everything that came into the house from the ER including clothes and shoes; disinfecting everything the EMTs touched in the house; disinfecting medicine bottles and disposing of packaging without bringing it inside; washing my hands before and after almost all daily activities. And so much more.
Some of the things I’m thankful for:
- Tom’s bad hip kept us from mingling with the Mardi Gras crowds—we could walk no further than the base of our apartment and waved at those walking by on the sidewalk across the street. I wasn’t wearing a mask, but I was wearing an astronaut helmet.
- We still have running water and working electricity. You might wonder why this is even a concern, but we’ve lived through 3 hurricanes. This feels like a long, slow-moving hurricane when you lose water and electricity. We are glad we haven’t.
- The ER doc. And ER nurses. And the careful surgeon.
- The young man at the post office who is bundling our POBox mail and sending it to the house. The systems Walgreens put in place to get medicine with the least contact possible. The many genuine offers of help we have received. All the folks who are being flexible and doing their best to help—thank you.
- Every single person who has sent us prayers. I am reciprocating. For the first time in my life, I actually have a written prayer list. And I’m using it.
What I’m not grateful for:
- People who can stay home and distance themselves from others but, in pathological self-centeredness, are not.
But mostly I’m thankful for my husband’s freedom from pain, his resilient attitude (the ER nurses told him he was their favorite patient of the week), and his beautiful smiling face.