Friday, October 12, 2012

Knee Jerk Reaction

When I was 19 I underwent a total knee replacement, and was one of the youngest patients to have ever done so. The events leading up to the necessity for that surgery are a whole story unto themselves, and for another day and time.

The operation was January 3rd, 1990, a Wednesday.  Quite the way to start a decade, especially the last one of the century and the last of the millennium.

I had my hair cut pixie-short like Demi Moore in the movie Ghost. Since Ghost didn’t come out until that summer, one could fairly argue that Demi had her hair styled like mine. Yes, let’s say that, okay? I was always ahead of my time (or so far behind as to never catch up).

Most of Thursday was spent sleeping and barfing, General Anesthesia and I never having had an easy relationship.

By Friday morning I was able to eat a good breakfast, though my nurse wisely warned me not to even attempt the hard-boiled egg. Coffee never tasted so good or so warming, as I thanked the powers that be that my bed was not near the drafty, frigid window. Sheets had been folded and jammed onto the window ledge in an attempt to stop the sneaky cold from blowing in. My shivering Italian hospital roommate was discharged by noon, so I had the whole fabulous place to myself.

My urinary catheter was removed, which meant I was free to begin physiotherapy. To be tethered by one’s bladder is a strange notion and sensation. I performed a few simple exercises while still lying down, then the PT  got me up to sit in a chair while a funny orderly from The Islands changed the sheets on my bed and tried to make me laugh. It felt like an eternity, as the pain and strain covered me in a cold sweat and nausea again was knocking on my door. I was returned to bed where the pressure of swelling and the pounding of blood flow could be felt far beneath the wrap of white gauze and plaster cast. An injection of sweet morphine derivative and some lunch did the trick.  A nap soon beckoned as I stared at a crossword puzzle book, held upside-down.

I awoke around 2 p.m. to my day-nurse taking my vitals, as they had been every 4 hours, even during the night. My pulse was a bit fast she said, but since I had been startled awake, Mary* said she would repeat it in a few minutes when I was calmer. I did feel rather agitated and had trouble concentrating on my novel; I kept rereading the same sentence and paragraph, over and over. The repeat pulse check was even higher that the first. The reading was recorded on the clipboard at the end of my bed. I had no fever, my white blood cell count from that morning was fine, so no signs of infection. Mary came twice more to take my pulse before her shift change at 4 p.m.. Conferring with the evening nurse, Mary and Nicole* decided to page the surgeon, Dr. Rivers* , who felt that it sounded like I was having a transfusion reaction from the 2 units of blood I had received during the surgery. They were to keep a close eye on me, continue taking my vitals every hour, and keeping track of my fluids in and out.

By supper time the heart in my body was pounding and I was hot from the internal workings, though still no signs of a temperature. My mind, however, was floating off, out to the middle of the ocean, where I hovered over refreshing  aqua green swells  close enough to touch. The Sears catalogue had a bedroom comforter set with the color they called (08)Sea Foam, and that was the exact color of my cooling waves.

To put it mildly, I was stoned out of my gourd. When I, that is Mind, would return to the Body, it was too restless and quickly needed out again, out to sea. Lying completely still in bed, my pulse rate was racing, so the orthopedic resident-on-call was paged around 9 p.m.

Young Dr. Morris*  appeared at my door with nurse Nicole, who was wondering aloud if she needed to be there, since she was all alone on the ward for the moment as other R.N.s were on their breaks . Dr. Morris waved her off, saying he could handle it alone. He was cute, with massively curly auburn hair and light brown eyes. As he pulled the privacy curtain and sat on the edge of my bed, I could immediately detect that he was too heavy-handed with the cologne. He looked and sounded tired, but was chipper as he chatted, telling me that he was actually in the O.R. during my operation; how damaged my knee was; how the lead surgeon Dr. Rivers  was such a great physician, etc. Dr. Morris said I should sit up because he had to listen to my lungs, and huffed on the end of his stethoscope to warm it before slipping it through the slit in the back of the blue hospital gown to check my breathing.  I drifted back to my personal Bermuda Triangle. Next I obeyed the command to lie back while he eaves-dropped on my heart. I simply surfed.

At some point I came back to dry ground when I realized the cardiac auscultation was taking much longer than usual. Though too zoned out in the tactile sense to actually feel anything, I could see Dr. Morris’s hands cupping and squeezing my breasts. My eyes flew up to meet his, which were now about 6 inches from my face. He was breathing heavily and zooming in closer for a kiss. My sudden awareness caused him to pause for a split second, which gave me the chance to say “Please remove your hands”, because I was brought up to be a polite girl. When he did, I said “Thank you”.

Dr. Morris turned bright red, quickly stood up, adjusted his white lab coat and exited without a word. Lying there, I was left wondering if what I thought had just happened had indeed happened. Soon Nicole reappeared and said Dr. Morris wanted her to draw another blood sample STAT, to rule out an infection. As she fluttered about, getting the equipment ready, I was about to tell her what had just transpired, but stopped myself. For nothing really did happen, right? Had I been a little more stoned, or a little less, who knows, but nothing had happened.

By the next morning, Saturday, my heart rate was normal, as were the CBC results. Weekend physio consisted of a tiny Asian PT named Cindy*, whom I out-weighed by about 50lbs and whose head barely went to the level of my shoulder,  helping me to “walk” with a walker festooned with green tennis balls on its feet. The effort was worthy of a Wimbledon match. My parents and my brother with his soon-to-be ex-wife visited. I talked on the phone with 2 friends and one of my CEGEP teachers. I read and did crossword puzzles, watched TV. I ate bran cereal and prunes, cardboard hamburger steak smothered in dark gravy, and little packages of Social Tea cookies. I listened to my Walkman.

Before the sun was even up, Monday morning rounds began. Dr. Morris was sheepishly grinning at me from the back of the medical mob standing around my bed. I was now finding him to be more handsome than I had on Friday night. To my disgust, I was surprised to hear myself flirting with these young doctors-in-training. The herd left, but  Dr. Morris popped back in, patted me on the hip and said he’d be back to the check on his “favorite patient” later. I was thrilled, and could feel myself blushing. I wanted to kick myself for having rejected his Friday night advances.

When the sun did come up that morning it was bright, and the PT I had been assigned for the rest of my two week hospital stay arrived, ready to whip me into shape. Lindsay* was about 25 and also had her dark hair cut like me (and Demi Moore). While we did some stretching and strength exercises, Lindsay never stopped talking  to me and my new elderly, though spunky, Maritimer roommate with the broken hip and possible blood clot. Ruth* and I were literally her captive audience as Lindsay regaled us with the tale of her weekend, spent at her brother’s wedding. She had invited the new guy in her life, Beryl*, to accompany her and meet her parents. Though they had only gone out a few times and had not slept together yet, Lindsay felt that Beryl was “the one”.  He had been a true gentleman at the ceremony and later at the reception too. Ruth, a consummate old-maid, snuck me a wink when she heard that part, and I had to laugh through my pain.

Out in the corridor for the walker portion of my stamina training, several people remarked that Lindsay and I resembled each other quite a bit, though she had dark eyes and mine are light. I was flattered because I thought she was pretty, but certainly didn’t feel so about myself.

With the effort  of trying to stay balanced, my eyes were focused on feet meeting floor. I was determined to heal quickly and recover exceptionally so that I could get on with the rest of my life. I wanted to be an A+ patient.  As we passed the nurse’s station, Lindsay called out in a sickeningly saccharin voice, “Dr. Morris, look how well your patient Andrea is walking!”

Fighting the vertigo, I quickly chanced a glance up, only to catch sight of my preferred orthopedic-resident choke on the mouthful of coffee he had just brought to his lips as he sat half-assed on a counter.  He spluttered out some coffee onto the chart he had been writing on, which he began to blot with his tie, even before he had stopped choking and had gotten a good breath of air. All the staff around tried to stifle giggles. Dr. Morris mumbled something like ,”Wow. Yeah, that’s great”, as he buried his head back in his work. On our return trip back past the nurse’s station, I could not bring myself to look up.

Lindsay told me that I was doing so well that the next day my physio would be downstairs on the second floor in the actual physical therapy gym where we could begin my rehabilitation in earnest, using pulleys and weights.

True to her word, Tuesday morning a husky looking Russian porter arrived before my breakfast tray had even been taken away, and whisked me off in a wheelchair to meet Lindsay and do my exercises. The paraphernalia seemed a lot like torture devices, and I soon became reacquainted with my penchant for laughing loudly in a demented tone rather than crying in agony.

After about an hour of intense “therapy”, Lindsay said I deserved a 15 minute break and set me free in the hallway to find the water fountain. I dutifully found it and drank deeply. My thirst quenched for the moment, I searched for a place to perch. I spied some vinyl upholstered benches at the end of the corridor near the elevators, back past the entire length of the physio department. Beginning to feel weak and nauseated, I really needed to sit down, so I began my steady trudge, aluminum walker clanking with each ginger step.

As I passed through the arch way that held the doors which, when closed, could block off the elevator bay, a movement back over my right shoulder caught my attention. There in the shadows the couple who had been necking parted. The man had his back to me, but I could clearly see that the female of the pair was a wide-eyed Lindsay. Then he turned to look at me too.

Our eyes met and the clarity hit us both like an arc of lightning. It was Dr. Beryl Morris who stood in front of me and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. All I could manage was a feeble, “Sorry”, as he took off on a light jog down the hall.

Clueless, Lindsay called out, “Beryl, wait! She won’t tell anyone, she’s cool with it”. Then she turned to me and said, ”Oh look at him, isn’t he the cutest? He’s embarrassed!”

I never did tell anyone because nothing really happened, though that nothing still bugs me 23 years later. Sorry Lindsay, we all make mistakes.

 *Names have been changed


  1. Sunday, October 14, 2012 12:33:25 AM

    Holy shit, what a page-turner!!!!!
    What a story!
    What a disturbing "nothing"!
    What a fine, near-invisible line between reality and fiction/hallucination!
    What a writer!!

  2. Truth is always stranger than fiction!

  3. Hi Andrea,
    Your latest blog was very disturbing...I was hoping it was only loosely based on real events but I've heard of this kind of thing from a patient at the Pain Clinic. You're a brave woman to write about your experiences as it makes them real again, although I guess it's cathartic at the same time. When I get home we'll have to talk more about it.

    1. Unfortunately, "tightly" based on real events.In that same hospital stay I had a male nurse eagerly offer to put in my urinary catheter (I declined) because nurse "Mary" was pregnant and having difficulty crouching up on the bed to do the job. Also, Dr.Jerk's boss,surgeon "Dr.Rivers",had a habit of examining my leg, then letting my foot rest on his bulging crotch while he sat on a stool in front of me. And when I was at the Children's in the burn unit, I had 3 interns or residents or something come into the "tub room" while I was having a bath so I could sign a consent form for another surgery. So there I was, covering myself with 2 wash clothes while they pretended to search for a pen, but then the nurse caught them and kicked them out. Idiots (and I include myself in that category).