She was crushed.
“What do you mean?” she asked as she fought back tears. “You mean, despite all of the fancy tests and close follow-up that it’s back?”
And so began her evening after surgery. It had started like so many of her surgeries before: the check-in, the issuance of a special HIPAA privacy number to tell her friends whom she wanted to permit to call an check on her, the paperwork, the donning of her surgical gown, the holding area, the meeting with her anesthesiologist and surgeon in the holding area, the trip on the gurney to the operating room.
But no one had prepared her for the news post-operatively. It was to be a routine revision of her breast reconstruction. Instead, the news changed everything. It seems the tumor had recurred locally – an occult recurrence – a finding that no one could have predicted or anticipated. And now she laid in the recovery room full of drugs, full of despair, full of questions, and full of pain.
She was wheeled back to her room – her head spinning. The nurses were attentive, checking on her every hour or two, helping with her physical and emotional needs. The pain was significant and made worse by the realization of the surgical findings. He mind was flooded. Only the drugs could dim the reality and pain of the moment, she drifted in and out of consciousness. Finally she slept.
But sleep would not visit her for long. She woke at 2 AM at first with moderate discomfort, but soon the pain grew. She pushed the nurses call light on the side of her bed and waited.
She pulled the IV infusion pump closer to her bed and used the light from the illuminated panel to assure she was pushing the right button. There it was, the small figure of a nurse with one of those characteristic nursing caps on the button. She pushed it again and waited.
After twenty minutes, she rolled to the opposite side of her bed – the side her surgery had been conducted upon, and found the other nurse call button and pressed it along with the other button.
She scanned her room. By now the pain and throbbing were unbearable. She fought back tears. She couldn’t understand why no one would come.
And then she saw it. Glimmering faintly on her bedside table. Her cell phone. She was able to reach up and pull the bedside table closer. She grabbed the phone. She dialed the only number she could think of:
4 – 1 – 1.
The robot answered: “Welcome to 4-1-1 Connect! Which city and state, please?”
“St. Elsewhere, IL,” she said.
“What listing, please?”
“St. Elsewhere Hospital”
“One moment please…. The number is….” And finally it said… “Connecting.”
The phone rang and rang. Finally, a pleasant receptionist answered. “St. Elsewhere Hospital, how may I direct your call?”
“I need my nurse!”
“I need my nurse! I’m a patient in your hospital and can’t get my nurse in here!”
There was a pause. “Oh. What room are you in?”
“How the hell do I know? They brought me up here after my surgery. I don’t know what room I’m in!” She thought for a moment. “But I know my HIPAA number! It’s 4-2-7-5!”
“You don’t know your room number?”
“Dammit! No, I don’t know my room number! I just need my f*&()^ng nurse!”
“Okay ma’am. Please calm down. I’ll get them for you right away.”
She felt like a jerk. But her pain was intense. She collapsed back in bed, exhausted.
In a short time, her nurse came running in… “Oh I’m so sorry. Why didn’t you call?”
“I tried to. I pressed my frickin’ call buttons about eight times!”
“Oh, those don’t work. You were supposed to push this one above your head.”
She looked at the white board at the foot of her bed. On it contained her nurses’ name, the date. She thought for a minute. How was she supposed to know, on a mechanical bed where all of the buttons move the bed in a seemingly infinite number of directions, that two of those buttons did not work?
“Sally?” she said. “I need more pain medicine.”