A(nother) surgical resident (the third in two days) just approached me and confirmed that Ana’s Broviac removal is scheduled for 11:00 a.m. tomorrow and the MRI is scheduled for 12 p.m. She will be brought down to the O.R. around 10:30 to be put under and, if all goes well (fingers crossed) she will be done and in recovery at around 1:30.
Now nothing is written in stone, but this latest resident just made a few phone calls so it seems pretty likely that things have come together and both procedures will get done tomorrow. I asked the resident if he knew who was in charge of organizing all of this (e.g., what staff member or department). I mean, it’s all so tenuous and uncertain until the very last minute. He literally shrugged and said, “The Hospital.”
Right. So even though the surgeon just confirmed everything with me, I remain highly skeptical that all of these moving parts will miraculously come together tomorrow so that Ana can actually go home.
Meanwhile, we’re inhabiting Planet H (H is for hospital, kids!), an in-between place where time either moves too quickly or doesn’t move at all. Even though the hospital’s entire system is supposedly structured to meet the needs of patients, it doesn’t really feel like that from this end of the bed. Here’s a picture of what most of the hallways look like after 5 p.m. (and holidays and weekends).
You see? It doesn’t even look like planet Earth. It feels more like we’re trapped in some sort of post-apocalyptic science-fiction video game where everyone’s died of a virus and we’re the only ones left alive (not including the zombies).
The patients (and parents) are like characters in this game – controlled by many players some of whom we know (Dr. Hochberg, the floor nurses, the pediatric residents) and many of whom we don’t (the mysterious surgeons who rarely make an appearance at bedside, the hospital administrators who make the rules, the insurance people who only drop in to bring bad news when something has been denied).
Mountains of paperwork are generated while we try to get through the day, forced into a pattern of 7 am to 7 pm shifts that include regimented eating times, cleaning times, medicine-giving times and lots of waiting in between. All of this apparently gets filed away in a mysterious “medical records” department that everyone is afraid to go to, which I assume is why they keep asking me to retell Ana’s medical history.
The physicians stand out in stark contrast from the ancillary staff, particularly the attendings. They come and go when they can – their schedules are chaotic. They are the wild cards – interrupting carefully orchestrated routines which are designed to ensure that patients are eating, taking medication, going to the bathroom and not experiencing pain. Everything stops when a physician comes through the door – plans get changed, meds get changed, procedures get ordered or unordered and then they disappear and we’re forced back into the in-between place – wondering how long we’ll be here and why no one has showed up to replace the empty toilet paper in the bathroom.
I’m becoming an expert visitor to Planet H. This must be how frequent travelers feel in airports. I’m learning how to navigate the system. I know how to recognize the surgeons (always in scrubs! almost always men) and the RN’s (they wear RN badges, huge comfortable shoes and cute scrub tops) from the aids (also in scrubs, but almost always women in their 20’s or 30’s who wear sneakers and look apologetic). I can often identify the new parents or visitors by the lost, exhausted look in their eyes from the veterans who, like me, are learning how to exist in this Purgatory (we’re showered, we get coffee by 8 a.m. when the pediatric cafeteria opens).
These aren’t complaints. Merely observations, because there’s nothing to do when you’re waiting by your child’s hospital bed except observe. I’m filing it away in my brain and some day it may show up in that great American novel I keep meaning to write.