Last Thursday, I was in the surgery preparation area of St Vincent Hospital, in the middle of chapter three in the story of my cancer.
Mark, a medical assistant, had come to get me from the waiting room, and after stopping to get my weight and height, I was now sitting on the exam room table. He reviewed the details of my medical history, asking me to sign a couple more papers indicating that I wanted to receive blood if necessary and would be willing to share medical information with my parents if they asked. Then, he handed me a gown to put on.
“Remove all of your clothes and put this gown on,” he instructed, taking the paper gown out of the plastic wrapping.
“Oh, I’ve never had a gown like this before,” I told him.
“Yeah, it’s one of our pall-bearer gowns,” he explained. I stopped breathing for a minute.
“Pall-bearer?” I asked, my mind immediately going to the macabre. Was the hospital now trying to save money by preparing surgery patients for burial, just in case?
“Yeah, they are special gowns that can hook up to a hose for warming,” he said, pointing to a device near the head of the bed. At the same time, I noticed the logo on the gown. Relief flooding over me.
“Ohhh, Bair Paws,” I said.
“Yeah, Paw Bairs, Bair Paws. I get them confused,” he admitted.
If he only knew.
After I was dressed in my Bair Paw, prayed over by my pastor, and hugged tenderly by my friends and family, Mark carted me down to the surgery staging area. Here, I would have an IV started by the anesthesiologist, since my bad veins had once again alluded the nursing staff, and I would be set up with a post operative pain injection in my spine.
At least that’s what I thought would happen.
Once the IV was started and the anesthesiologist was explaining the procedure, instead of the one-time injection I was expecting, she began to explain that she would be placing an epidural in my spine that would be in place providing continuous pain control for the next two-four days.
“Two to four days?” I asked. “Will I be going home with that?” As far as I knew, I was to be discharged the day after my surgery.
“No, you can’t leave the hospital with an epidural,” she explained, slowly.
“So, I am going to be in the hospital two to four days?” I asked.
“Well, that looks like the plan from your doctor,” she said. “Is that not what you were expecting?”
“No, I was planning to go home tomorrow,” I told them.
The anesthesiologist and the nurse both reviewed my chart and the orders sent over by the surgeon that morning. I laid on the exam table growing more worried as the seconds ticked by.
Had something changed? Had the doctor decided the case was more serious than initially conceived? What about all the plans I had made?
Recognizing my growing distress, the nurse said she would page the surgeon and have him talk to me before the surgery and promised that she herself would go tell my family. And after talking briefly with the doctor, I learned that nothing had changed. I just had assumed the wrong information. I went under relieved.
But I woke up agitated again. My plan! What would become of my plan? I was supposed to be in the hospital overnight. I would then go to my mom’s for the weekend; I would attend my sister’s wedding shower on Sunday. Sunday evening I would come back to my place for a week’s recuperation and then back to work the following Monday. If I couldn’t go home the next day, the rest of the plan would be off.
That’s all I could think about as they brought me out of the anesthetic in the recovery room. All I could think about as the nurses poked and prodded, bringing me a cup of water for wetting my lips and a plastic breathing device for filling my lungs. All I could think about when my family and friends gathered around my bed when I was assigned to a room.
I started crying as everyone stood around, making arrangements for bringing my clothes back from my mom’s car and keeping my dog longer and organizing visits so that not everyone was there at once over the next few days.
“But I had a plan,” I said through my tears, as though staying in the hospital three days longer was the first time my plans have been interrupted.
This morning, I listened to the sermon my pastor preached this past Sunday, while I was still in the hospital two days longer than I had planned. The sermon was on boasting.
Boasting is not just talking arrogantly, he explained, not just exaggerating my strengths or underemphasizing my weaknesses.
No, there is prideful talking that goes beyond just talking about me. It’s the talk that completely forgets God. This boasting is “simply talking as if God is not part of the plan at all, as though he is not essential to everything we do,” Pastor Mark said. Or to put it simply, boasting is the “absence of God in our talk.”
Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I even asked God what he thought about my plan for leaving the hospital last Friday.
That night after my surgery, after my Bair Paw gown had been replaced with a more traditional cloth hospital gown, after my friends and family had hugged and kissed me goodbye, and as my epidural slowly released Fentanyl into my nervous system, I realized no one had actually told me how my surgery went. I had been so upset by my plans being thwarted that I hadn’t asked if the cancer had been removed, if the surgeon had found anything else.
I called my mom’s house, and my step-dad answered. I was glad to talk to him; he was happy to pass along the news he had heard third-hand that the surgeon had been pleased with the results. I hung up relieved. Again.
The arrangements I had made might not work out in the end, but I was safe and sound in God’s plan. There was no better place for me to be.