I wake and blink, it’s like looking through the bottom of a whiskey glass. I blink again to clear my eyes and see 6:30 p.m. on the clock. I feel a burning sensation through my whole abdomen, hand over cheese grater type pain. Someone takes notice I’m there.
“Are you in pain?” yes.
She comes to my side and I see her press a vial of something that makes the veins of my hand and arm go cold again. Within moments, I don’t feel anything but chilly.
“Are you cold?” yes. Can I have a second blanket?
This nice lady doesn’t give me a second blanket. Instead, she installs a big tube the blows heat on me. It’s like sitting on top of the heater vent drinking coffee in the winter, only better. I smile, and nap.
I see the clock again at 7:30, and my nice nurse lady starts talking to me. She says I can go up to my room now. I’m disconnected from a menagerie of things, and several people are beckoned to push me where ever I’m headed next. “Your husband sure is handsome!” She tells me. Damn. This reminds me I always have to keep an eye on him or the little Thai Ladies will steal him while I’m under.
As I am wheeled out to go, she holds a little jar out to me. I take it in my hand and inspect. “Eeee, gads! Did these come out of my body?” The jar is filled with jagged, triangular shaped rocks the size of the first knuckle of my thumb. It now seems indisputable that surgery was the proper move, and I feel bad for my gallbladder. “Sorry little guy, thanks for trying.” My nurse waves goodbye and they roll me away.
We arrive in a fully private room on the fourth floor. Private bathroom, shower, and flat screen tv. The exterior wall is a window pane that stretches from floor to ceiling. Outside, I can see the corrugated metal rooflines of a Thai neighborhood. Streets are glowing with motorcycle headlights and the bustle of restaurants. Andrew is tucked into a chair in the corner.
“Hi,” He says, “How do you feel? You’ve been gone a long time!”
I stretch my bottle of rocks in his direction with triumph of (again) being confirmed as not a hypochondriac. “Wow! That’s a lot of repressed anger and resentment!” He says. So, he does listen to Overthinker… “Where are you going to put all that gall and bile now?”
I smile. “It is free to shower upon you without interference! What did you do while I was gone?”
“Oh, I explored the nieghborhood, went and found something to eat, had a massage. If I knew you were going to be gone so long, I would have upped it to ninety minutes.”
How do you like that? If only I had a gallbladder in which to store this resentment.
My nurses help transition me from the surgery bed to a bed with a warm, heavy layer topped with a fluffy duvet comforter. They wrap my legs in blood clot cuffs which squeeze my one calf than the other, alternatively, every thirty seconds. They hand me a remote control that allows me to mechanically raise or lower my head, my feet, or both. I have a call button that my nurses answer immediately over an intercom, then come to my room when help is needed.
Andrew yawns. “Go home,” I tell him. “I’ll be fine, I’m just going to be snoozing anyway. Go explain our situation to Sonrisa and the rest of our crew.” He looks at me uncertain, but he is tired and I can see on his face he could use a nap of his own in Sonrisa’s comfy bed. “You can sleep like a starfish all tonight.” With this he is convinced.
I call my mom and dad (he’s a worry wart, too) and introduce them to the notion that their eldest daughter is currently tucked under a fluffy blanket in a Thai hospital. They take the news on the chin, and we have a fun conversation until I’m ready to sleep.
I ring my nurses and they arrive to help me wearing crisp white jackets, white pencil skirts, and white sneakers. Their hair is tied up in little bows, and atop their head is pinned a traditional nurses cap. Such snappy hospital wear! Then, to my surprise, they bring me a change of sea-green pants and a wraparound top with a waist tie. “You mean I don’t have to walk around here with those drafty hospital duds that pose a constant risk of exposing showing your bare ass? This is luxury. With this discovery, I decide I’d rather be in this hospital than one at home.
That night, they monitor my condition on an hourly basis – taking my temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. “No fever!” They report for me each time. “Are you cold? Too hot? In any pain?” With each visit, they made sure to adjust me to sustain a proper level of comfort. Between visits, I try to sleep, but my blood pressure cuffs grumble and growl, then expand with a “POOOF” every sixty seconds.
“Leslie, the cuff is going to poof every sixty seconds. Get over it!” I tell myself. My eyelids droop, then I hear “GRRRRRRRrrrrrruuuuuuuuhhhhhhhh…..POOOF!” My eyelids spring back open again. I sigh and just relax.
The next morning, my nurses greet me at the crack of dawn and invite me to take a walk. Which I do, and it is no struggle. I wheel my IV cart with me, absorbing saline solution and an antibiotic pack as I go. “Such an efficient water delivery technique,” I think, and wish I could sit with a saline IV while I write blog posts on Sonrisa. Back in my room, they begin unwrapping my legs from the blood pressure cuffs. “You don’t need these anymore if you can walk.” JOY!
I immediately fall asleep until my surgeon comes in for a morning visit. He inspects my incisions, asks me a few questions about how I feel (No problems!), and he pokes my belly here and there. He instructs me to start sipping water – no drinking! And lets me know that today I can eat lunch and see how that goes. “ If you eat well today, you can go home tomorrow.” Then, he scowls. “Are you staying on your boat?” I nod, and he huffs. “Well, let’s see how lunch goes.”
When Andrew arrives, he’s brought the cribbage board and my Comfort Team along with him. “The nurses are going to think I’m insane.” I tell him.
“Maybe so, but then they’ll just get an accurate assessment of their patient.” He tucks Osmond and Tasman against the pillow next to my face. When I’m ready, he sets up the cribbage board and I spend my one hour of energy beating him to a pulp in the first round.
Then lunch arrives and I drop everything. Corn soup puree, a cup of non-fat yogurt, and a box of stabilized milk doesn’t seem like gourmet fare, but a full 48 hours without any food is the best spice of all. Dinner is all the better. Lunch having gone smoothly, the doctor clears me for solid foods and when my dinner arrives I rejoice over grilled salmon, mashed potatoes, braised carrots and cabbage, a tangy oil and vinegar sauce, and on the side – watermelon slices cut in the shape of hearts! “Look. At. THIS!?” We marvel over the watermelon slices, and of course they are as delicious as they look being sweet, juicy and perfectly ripe tropical island watermelons.
Let’s just pause here for a moment and consider my situation. So far, my experience involves a successful surgical procedure using all the latest technology and techniques, gentle, attentive, and friendly care that gives me constant feedback about my state of health, a comfortable private room, picture window view, a fluffy duvet cover on my bed, PANTS!, and watermelon slices cut in the shape of a heart? I start to worry. There is no way this is all going to come in on budget.
After Andrew beats me twice in a row at cribbage, I shoo him away to go back to Sonrisa and let my Comfort Owl take the night watch. I sleep like a baby, waking only for the handful of times my nurses came in to check my vitals again.
That morning, I notice a text string with our friends Pete and Jen from Steel Sapphire (owners of Grin’s Odd Fellow Dinghy Friend, Tango El Steel Steven). They’ve invited me to convalesce for a few days in their land abode they are renting while their boat is on land having repairs done. Without hesitation (and before they can think better of their offer), I accept. One problem solved. When I deliver this news to my Doctor, he is satisfied and he says I’m free to go after I have a nice warm shower and another lunch. This time there is a Papaya carved into the shape of a seashell. Andrew springs me out by paying the bill. The final count is exactly on budget:
We pay $2,613.00 US which covers our $2,500 deductible and the prescription antibiotic and pain medicine I’m sent home with. (I can probably get $113 reimbursed by insurance.)
Insurance pays $8,534.03 which covers everything. Pre-surgery diagnostics, surgery, anesthesiology, the recovery room, and two nights in the private hospital room.
Total: $11,147.03 USD* Exactly on budget, and on the very low end of the spectrum to have this surgery completed.
*I tried to research the cost of diagnosis, laparoscopic gallbladder surgery, and recovery in the U.S. I could not get a quote for the whole shebang, but a search of laparoscopic surgery alone yielded a range of prices from $10,000 - $95,000 in the US.