Greetings from CancerLand: Call Your Nurse

Alysa Cummings
The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: August 28, 2008

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Call...your...nurse.

The mechanical voice coming out of the rapid infuser wakes me from a drugged sleep with a start.

Where am I? At first, I’m not sure. The room is pitch black except for a small bit of light seeping in from the hallway. Peering around the room, my eyes slowly adjust to the darkness. At first, nothing looks even vaguely familiar and I momentarily panic. But after a tense minute or two, I begin to get my bearings.

(Hospital. I’m in the hospital. Okay. Surgery this morning. BRCA-2 Hysterectomy. That’s right. I’m post-op. Great. Great. That’s just great.)

It feels late. Maybe it’s the middle of the night. But I can’t be sure since I don’t see a clock on the wall and my sense of time is totally twisted. I swallow. I’m so dry, so incredibly thirsty, so very hungry and my throat feels sore and raggedy. There’s a remote control with a button near my right hand. Morphine for pain. I remember that now. I push the button three times. No more panic. No more pain.

Then I tentatively grope under the covers and place my hands gently on the ON-Q pain pump the surgeon told me about and move my hands sideways to find a small pillow resting on top of a thick surgical dressing that covers my abdomen from hip to hip. While I investigate, compression stockings wrapped around each of my calves mechanically fill up with air and deflate, fill up and deflate, over and over and over and over and over...

Then I hear the voice again.

Call...your...nurse.

Maybe this is something new, I think to myself, looking over at the rapid infuser parked on the left side of my hospital bed. In the dark, I can barely see the outlines of two bags of medicine hanging from the pole and follow the intravenous lines trailing downwards to my left arm. I haven’t spent this much time up close and personal with a rapid infuser since my chemotherapy days, and I wonder maybe if these gadgets have gone super high-tech now and can actually talk! Chances are one of the bags is empty and needs to be replaced. This all somehow makes perfect sense to me and I want to be a good patient.

There’s that voice again.

Call...your...nurse.

Where’s the nurse call button? It must be near the bed somewhere, I think to myself, so let’s see if I can find it. Holding my pillow across my incision with my right hand I feel around the edges of the bed in the dark to hunt for a remote control attached to a thick cord. I feel a cord off to my right and reach in that direction. Ouch! The incision pulls painfully up the middle and at the same time the IV line reins me in from my left side. The compression stockings throw my body off balance from the knees down. After a few minutes’ of awkward exertion, I am halfway off the bed unable to move in either direction. Stuck. Horribly stuck: a turtle on its back.

And that’s the way a nurse finds me when the shift changes a short time later. She immediately calls in another nurse, they grab the sheets on either side and one-two-three efficiently pull me back to the center of the bed. Where were you trying to go? What were you trying to do? the nurses ask me.

The rapid infuser kept talking to me. It said I was supposed to call a nurse so I... Suddenly I stop talking when I see one of the nurses biting down on her lip to keep from laughing in my face. She quickly turns and leaves the room.

Don’t feel too badly, the other nurse says trying to comfort me. It’s just all those drugs in your system.

My chart states that I was released on post-op day three with a prescription for Percoset (‘take 1 tablet by mouth every 4 hours if needed for pain.’) The surgeon had kindly given me the prescription during pre-op testing so that I could check that off my list before I went into the hospital. And that’s just what I had done a few days before surgery – run over to the neighborhood Rite-Aid, filled the prescription and placed the bottle on the bottom shelf of my medicine cabinet where it would be easy to reach when I needed it after surgery. But you know what? After my close encounter with a talking rapid infuser in the hospital, I confess I learned my lesson well. I never broke the seal.