October 3rd, 2011. Picture morning in a movie: an alarm clock goes off. The screen is dark but gradually sounds fade in - the drip of the coffee pot, the padding of feet across carpet. Then, eyes blink open and shut, and open again. You see that you are in a darkened hotel room, and somebody is whispering, "Ann, it's time to get up."
5:00 a.m. It's about the time I get up to go to work, but on work days I am allowed coffee and the snooze button. I don't get coffee this morning, or even water, so in my groggy mind, I have no business being awake.
I'd been told to take a shower and use some packets of Hibiclens I'd been given to ritually purify myself before the Gods of Surgery descend upon me. I seriously hate a first-thing-in-the-morning shower-without-coffee, but I did as I was told. I don't know why I expected the Hibiclens to smell like hibiscus - it didn't.
I got out of the shower and put on Juicy Couture sweats. They were the same ones I bought for my mastectomy two years ago, so they are not quite in the best shape but this is not my first hospital rodeo, and I know nobody cares what I have on, not to mention whatever it is will taken off immediately anyway.
We wake my son up. He is surprisingly perky for that hour of the day, and off we go to the hospital.
We drive around in the black of a San Francisco night. It wasn't foggy, fortunately. We could see streetlights and lovely architecture and an emptiness that is rare in that city. I rested my head against the window for a bit. Suddenly, a booming voice cuts into my doze, "We're lost."
What? What do you mean we're lost?
My husband has made a wrong turn somewhere and can't find the hospital. And, we have to be there in five minutes. I get upset at him for never wanting to use a GPS (which we've lent to my son anyway) and then I get a text from my older son, "Where are you? We are all here."
Great. I'm going to be late for my own liver resection.
I grab my iPhone and try to use location services to get a read on where we are but my husband is frustrated, is driving aimlessly, and won't slow down. (This is a man who I have to beg to at least up it to go the speed limit). I yell at him to stop the car, we need an address, and then I see a cross street, tell my son where we are, and his girlfriend finds it on her phone and gives us directions to the hospital. I text them to let everybody know we are on the way, and we arrive within 10 minutes of our appointment time.
Not late at all in my book.
My husband drops me off to park the car and my son and I run in. The hospital staff sees me and immediately whisks me to the pre-op area, I don't even get to see the surgical waiting room where the rest of my family is. I wave as I'm hauled off, and since two people are allowed to go with me, both of my boys go.
Upon arrival in pre-op, they ask me my name and birthdate for the first of what turns out to be 4,327 times.
They give me a big yellow bag for my clothes and give me a thin, ratty hospital gown, and yellow socks that mean I'm a fall risk, and close the curtains. The boys wait outside while I get undressed and get into the bed. I complain of the cold, so they bring me those nice warm blankets, straight out of the heater, and I sit and chat with my boys.
My husband shows up eventually and since only two people are allowed to be with me, my younger son goes down to be with his aunt. They do some pre-op stuff - IVs, wrist bands, but not much. I meet my doctors and am told I'll get an epidural for pain control, and ask if I have any questions.
I never do. The only one I want to know, "Will this cure me" is one that nobody can answer.
It was at this point that I realized that perhaps the Magnesium Citrate had not yet released its grip on my bowels. Fortunately, the bathroom was right in front of me so I availed myself of it several times, while hoping this would not create a situation on the operating table. What if it did? Did they have a way to stop it? I know they'd be putting a foley catheter in, did they have something for that end too? Would the anesthesia drugs stop that sort of action? They had to know this was possible, right? Surely I'm not the only person in the world that had a 7 hour laxitive delay?
I decided it was in my best interests not to think about it.
It was now 7:00 a.m. and the area was a hub of activity. Patients being wheeled in, nurses, PAs, doctors arriving, histories being taken, people stating their name and birth dates, charts being flipped open, families coming and going. It was loud and crowded and a lot like Starbucks at 10:00 a.m. break time. One by one, people were wheeled out to their operations, doctors disappeared, nurses disappeared. It was 7:30 - my surgery time - and I was left all alone - just me and my husband and son.
The cleaning staff came in and picked up dropped linens, mopped floors, tidied everything for the next round of surgeries.
Then there was silence.
I began to wonder - have I been forgotten? Is my surgery cancelled? Is this a passive/aggressive way of punishing me for being late?
Eventually, somebody walked by and we asked them to find out what is going on. A few minutes later my nurse came in and said that they were waiting on a piece of equipment to arrive from Mt. Zion hospital and didn't want to start without it.
I had flashbacks to when my implant for reconstruction hadn't been ordered and I never did get my surgery. What part was missing? I'd met my Super Surgeon so it wasn't him. I'd met the anesthesiology team, so it wasn't them. The only thing I could think of was that it was part of the microwave ablation tool that my doctor likes to use.
What if they couldn't find it, like my old implant? What if it was broken? What if the operation was called off? Would I have to choose another date, more time off work, more hotel time, more money spent? It's unthinkable.
Somebody needs to come and take me to the OR, STAT.
At 8:15, they told us that it would be another hour. I was getting really hungry by that point, and my sister texted me and offered to drive it from Mt. Zion herself. But, their Currier was faster than expected, because it was only about ten minutes later when they said it was time to go.
Back when my older son (now 25) was 8, he had a life threatening seizure of unknown cause. He seized for 45 minutes. He stopped breathing and had to be taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital. He was on artificial ventilation for 24 hours and in the hospital for a week. That was, without a doubt, the absolute worst week of my entire life and that includes everything that has happened to me to date and trust me, my life, even aside from cancer, has not been an easy one.
Nothing compares to your child being critically ill, and there is nothing I wouldn't have done for him at that point. But, what can a mother do? You stay by their side and you comfort them as best you can, in a way you think will help them. At one point, as he was coming off the breathing tube, I said to him, "If you get better I'll get you any video game you want."
It was time to take me to the OR, and as they did, my big, burly, curly-haired, 25 year old son bent down, gave me a kiss, and said, "If you survive this, I'll give you any game you want." That made me laugh, and cry a bit, and I kissed all of my family and went through the doors to the operating room.