“Don’t eat or drink anything, because you might need a surgical procedure today,” my nurse told me. “You have to fast for at least eight hours, or they can’t do it.”
It was noon, the tail end of her shift, and she snagged the lunch tray someone had just delivered. The smell of french fries lingered in the air as my stomach growled. I regretted having sent back my breakfast untouched, but at the time, I didn’t realize how valuable that oatmeal really was.
I know some medical procedures require fasting. No one wants to choke on their own barf while they’re sedated, so I abandoned all thoughts of a cheeseburger and picked up my book instead.
“We’ll get you prepped to go downstairs in an hour or so, and you can have lunch as soon as you’re done.” My nurse was a sweetie, but she wasn’t going to fudge on the rules. No food meant no food. I never thought I’d fantasize about a hospital meal, but hunger does crazy things to people.
The hour came and went, and then another ticked by with no word from anyone.
“When will you know?” I asked. It was a Saturday. On weekends, surgeons don’t roam hallways looking for unscheduled procedures they can pick up on the fly. Experienced hospital-goers know that the worst time to get sick is on a Friday night, when lots of doctors are off-duty and some procedures aren’t offered until Monday morning.
“It could happen any time,” my nurse said. “The doctor is not actually in the building, but I’ll see if I can dial in the schedule before I go home for the day.”
A few hours later, while I enjoyed ice chips, I asked my new nurse if she had any updates. “Not yet,” she said. “The surgeon doesn’t want to come in for just one patient, so he waits until he has enough to make his trip to the hospital worthwhile. Right now, it looks like it could happen around 9 o’clock this evening. As soon as he calls in, I’ll let you know.”
I couldn’t help visualizing my would-be surgeon reading a newspaper while he waited for his tee time and enough patients in the queue to justify putting his golf clubs down. It’s an unfair and probably inaccurate stereotype — I know. But a dull headache had taken firm hold, and I was grumpy.
At around 7 o’clock, I asked again. The only water I’d had all day came from a few ice chips and the droplets I could suck from the nasty sponge-on-a-stick provided to moisten my mouth. “Probably just another hour or so,” my nurse said again.
As I was getting ready for bed that night, someone in a white coat told me I was scheduled for surgery first thing in the morning. “Try to get some sleep. You can have a huge breakfast as soon as you’re done.”
I don’t know why I wasn’t offered at least a vending-machine sandwich, or hadn’t thought of asking for one.
I woke up starving. “Have a few ice chips,” the nurse said, “but nothing more. It shouldn’t be much longer.” By midmorning, I was miserable, and my surgery still wasn’t scheduled. “The surgeon will be here at noon, but a few patients are ahead of you since their cases are more urgent than yours.”
Sunday night, at 7, they finally wheeled me into the room for a quick fix that required sedation. I felt sick and weak after going nearly 48 hours with nothing to eat or drink.
Consumers scream when the plumber doesn’t show up on time. Contractors get fired if they have unexplained delays. Even cable companies provide a window so we know what time they’re going to show up.
It’s ironic that the people we often admire most, the doctors with the ability to save our lives, drop the ball in an area that shouldn’t be so difficult. In basic customer service, they often get beat by plumbers, contractors, and cable guys.
Medicine is complicated. Emergencies and unforeseen circumstances require us all to play nice. I fully understand this, and fully agree. However, there was no medical reason for the experience I endured, and it could have been prevented with better communication and more compassion.
When we are weak and vulnerable — as we are during breast cancer treatment — it can be hard to speak up and say what needs to be said, especially to people of very high esteem. So, I’ll say it: No one gets a pass on extending common courtesy, no matter how many credentials follow their last name or how important and valuable their skill sets are.
Yeah, doctor, I’m talking to you.
Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.