Hurdle #2: Not Leaving The Hospital Already

Laura Zigman Health Guide

    Laura Zigman



    Almost as hard as getting out of bed for the first time after surgery is getting to stay in the bed. This is because the minute you get out of bed the doctors will start telling you that's it's time to go home already.


    They'll tell you this on their rounds in the morning; they'll tell you on their rounds in the afternoon; interns, residents, surgeons - doctors you've never seen before and will never see again will appear before you like a Greek chorus of shameless shamers to pull back the sheets and the gauze and check your new breasts and tell you that you really should start thinking about going home.

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    It's bad enough that two days after surgery they're trying to kick you out -- to go home where there are no nurses to help move you, check your incisions, empty your drains, administer pain medication. But the worst part is that word already. Since it implies that there is something wrong with you for not being home. Already.


    The first time -- or maybe it was the tenth time, I can't remember -- a doctor said this to me -- said I should think about going home already -- I thought he was kidding. If I had been physically capable of laughing (laughing takes abs which I didn't have anymore), I would have laughed hysterically. Already? Except for a few trips to the bathroom when I wasn't in a coma-like sleep, I had barely moved. The idea of life beyond the bathroom in my room -- the hallway, the elevator, the giant revolving door in the lobby of the hospital, the car -- let alone my house -- was unfathomable. They might just as well have been telling me that I should be thinking about going to Mars. Already.


    But they weren't kidding. They were completely serious. Standing over me and gently poking and inspecting my "flaps" (breasts), their eyebrows would furrow.


    "You really should start thinking about going home already."


    "Already?" I would say, blinking and trying to look as pathetic as possible. Which wasn't difficult since I did look as pathetic as possible. "But it's only been two days."

    "Right, but tomorrow will be three days. And the sooner you get up and walk around the sooner your recovery can start. Already."


    OK, so maybe I imagined that last already, but I was getting the point. Just because you've had your body cut in half 48 hours ago doesn't mean you get to lie around and not go home. Already.


    Confused, and still blinking, I refused to budge. That wasn't hard either since I couldn't anyway.

    Everytime I fell back asleep I figured that would be the end of being made to feel like there was something wrong with me for still being in the hospital. But I felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog's Day: everytime I woke up, it happened again.


    Have you thought about going home?

    When are you planning on going home?

    Don't you think you should think about going home? Already?


    I was incredulous. The situation seemed farcical. Was there something they weren't telling me? Like, had they only simulated the 12-hour TRAM-flap surgery and not actually done it? What else could explain the ridiculousness of sending me home when I had barely woken up?


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    Knowing that a three-to-five day stay for my type of surgery was customary, I held my ground, politely blinking when the doctors came by, and trying to explain that actually, I hadn't started thinking about going home already because, well, it felt like I'd been hit by a truck and the truck was still sitting on me. This only made things worse since it made the doctors think that there was some sort of psycho-pathological reason for my resistance to leaving the hospital. I realized this when a female social worker was sent in to ask me why I didn't want to go home.

    "Are you afraid?" the social worker asked. "Do you not feel safe at home?"

    I was going to say, Yes! Yes of course I'm afraid to go home with all these surgical drains and gauze dressings! And, Yes of course I don't feel safe at home caring for myself three days after surgery since I'm not a registered nurse and neither is my husband! But before I said anything I realized that the social worker's question was probing for something else:


    Are you afraid to go home because you don't feel safe because there is domestic abuse? That was the real question. And while I don't like to make jokes about domestic violence, I'll admit that for a split second I was tempted to lie so I could get a few more guilt-free days of hospital time without being shamed every two hours by the doctors on patrol.

    In the end, I got my five days of in-hospital care, and on Wednesday, at about 7 p.m. they finally kicked me out (they will, I found out, discharge you at any time of day or night). I left the hospital with my husband who was taking two weeks off to be my full-time caretaker, a prescription for painkillers, and a list of post-operative home-care instructions that neither of us fully understood.


    I also left with something else: a sense of sheer incredulousness and horror.

    Because I suddenly realized that no matter what you do in life -- sit in a wheelchair, ride in the passenger seat of a moving automobile, sneeze, cough, breathe, laugh, pee -- you need your abs. And I was on my way home without them.

Published On: December 21, 2007