Surgery in Taiwan is not really that different than surgery in the US. I’m sorry to say I’ve had to be surgically aided in both locations. In both places the biggest challenges are communication, and understanding the billing process. In the final comparison, I was better taken care of here because everyone was trying so hard to help with all of the details and make me comfortable. That included visitors, flowers, cards, someone cooking and shopping (thanks, Mom and Dad), and logistical assistance with things like getting around the hospital and taking care of finances. Sure, I was apprehensive at various points along the way. Also, I had a day or so of post-op blues, which were partially dealt with by just taking some acetaminophen (generic Tylenol) and a nap, not to mention a gentle word on “patience for the patient” from my husband. There were memorable moments unique to this experience, though, so if you are interested in that, read on.
If you read
Natalie’s (soon to be published new site) blog
then you know that this trip to the hospital included witnessing culture and history on the island in a vivid way. I never walked out near the mob, as Mom and Natalie did, but I had to listen to them just below my 9th floor hospital room for a few hours. Nine floors notwithstanding, they felt close, loud, and unpredictably angry. Many in the crowd had a noise maker that sounded like a cross between a kazoo and bad microphone. There was a nearly constant wave of sound from these, beginning as a vague whine which crescendoed to a battle cry like broken trumpets, then back again.
If the large amoeba of people got too quiet, someone would utilize a speaker system that ironically reminded me of a dragon. I couldn’t see the bottom of it well, but it had a crane like neck that gave life to two adjacent horn-shaped speakers that hovered and pranced above the heads of the followers. The voices that were projected were straining to express their anger and discontent. This would be interspersed with the mob chanting in unison, completing the impression of being barely controlled. It was all punctuated by a volley of firecrackers, unexpected by me and just a few feet away from my window. I felt pity for the rows of policemen standing at attention on the asphalt in the warm tropical sun. There was a thick, barbed barricade between them and the protestors, but they were still within a few feet of all of the mob.
No one inside the hospital seemed to be concerned as they methodically went about their business. The only reason I know they noticed it is that each caretaker who showed up for something would matter-of-factly tell me it should be quiet by 8 PM. Just, I “shouldn’t go outside at all. It wasn’t safe.” So, I just rejoiced that I had brought my iPod, plugged myself into it and sang quietly to myself. My roommate was gone for a time and who would care with all of that noise outside? After that, I practiced my Mandarin and listened to an audio book by Ann Coulter entitled Treason.
Greg showed up around 6:30 Friday morning as arranged. I had been up since about 5 AM. I figured I was going to be sleeping much of the rest of the day, so I might as well get up and enjoy it a little. All was quiet outside. All was quiet inside. I walked the hall a bit. A hospital gown was left for me (I had slept in my clothes). An IV was hooked up to the catheter that had been placed in my hand the night before. At 7:30 a wheelchair arrived to transport me to the operating floor.
Once there, I was transferred to a gurney. This was just the waiting area and Greg was allowed, well, actually required, to be by my side there. It was teeming with staff and patients. I was surprised to be wheeled close to two babies apparently also waiting for surgery in their mama’s arms. Both were about 7-9 months old. I smiled at one mother who was looking my way and she smiled back, losing some of the tension in her face as she did.
Various nurses showed up to try to ask me basic pre-0p questions, some in Chinese, some in a few basic English words, amid some giggling at taking care of the foreigner. My observations lead me to conclude that they were well trained and I was in good hands. Since old habits die hard, I kept checking the drip rate in my IV tubing, my last effort at taking some care of myself that day. Then, all of a sudden, tears came to my eyes and I cried quietly for a minute. I told Greg that I thought it was the babies that had been the final trigger. He squeezed my hand and made eye contact with me once more before they rolled me away, number 27 swinging from the IV pole.
We had wondered what the 27 meant. I had been told I would be the first operation for my doctor that day, at 8 AM. I continued to wonder as the two nurses wheeled my bed on a seemingly unending trip down corridors and on elevators. I was carefully maneuvered around other gurneys, around corners, around equipment in the halls. Then I began to see numbers on doors and came to understand I would be in operating room 27. Sure enough, there was 27 on a door and in I went.
I began to feel a sense of surrealism. There must be someone back behind me with a movie camera. Any second I would here them call out, “Cut!” and “next scene!” It turned out to be real life. I didn’t have to wait long for the nurse to set me up on the EKG. She also added an extension to the operating table so that my right arm, with the IV, could be more accessible for the anesthetist. She checked to see if the oxygen mask fit well and I found that a couple more tears had rolled down my cheek. However, when the doctor showed up soon after that and asked if I was nervous, I could honestly and peacefully tell him I wasn’t, and smile. I think girls just cry sometimes and they don’t always know why.
In a few minutes more, the anesthetist began to administer his potion, asking me to tell him if it hurt. Unfortunately, it stung rather badly, but it didn’t matter for long. I could feel myself slipping away. I don’t remember anything until I began to regain consciousness in the recovery room.
Okay, I THINK I remember some of what happened in the recovery room. I heard a baby crying and began mumbling, “poor baby, is the baby okay?” I guess a nurse was right there, because she told me it was fine. It kept crying, so I asked the nurse to “tell the mama that I would pray for it.” She said she would! Then, in my stupor, I thought I had better do it right then, because I was likely to forget later. Things got quieter. I still couldn’t open my eyes, but it occurred to me that I should try to sing, so I did. I tried to croak out several tunes, but my throat was sore from intubation. I think “Oh, Happy Day” by the Edwin Hawkins Singers made me happiest.
I have no idea how much later is was when I was wheeled out to Greg and then up to my room. I did periodically sing, which was frustrating since my voice was not responding, so at one point I may have resorted to an operatic style to gain satisfaction. It didn’t last long, though, because I really was still in a stupor. I could not help them get me into my bed, but they did a fine job of it. I couldn’t open my eyes for any length of time for quite a while. It was hours before I could raise my head off the bed. It was late afternoon before I could sit up for a short while without feeling sick. There was no choice but to rest, so I did.
Saturday rolled around and I was released to go home, with an appointment to go back Thursday (today as I type) to get my 3 stitches removed. The incision was just up into my hair line, above my ear. I’m not allowed to wash my hair until tomorrow, even though it has been a week. I am limited to a soft diet for a total of six weeks. I don’t really feel like chewing anything anyway, and my stomach has already shrunk from limitations the two weeks before surgery. I have graduated from ice packing my face (the first 3 days), to hot packing it and trying to gently stretch my jaw. Progress seems slow, but steady. Some feeling has returned to my upper left lip, but we’re told it could take months for the rest of the face under the eye to heal from the nerve damage. I’m not supposed to apply any pressure to that side of my face for those same six weeks.
Believe me, I promise to be careful. Its disconcerting to even walk around thinking I might bump my face too much. I also promise to rest well, combined with a reasonable increase in activity. ….I must be feeling better because it sounds hard to moderate my activity… Still, I promise….. Swimming, shopping, hiking, all are sounding enticing. But don’t worry, I’m sure Greg will keep an eye on me….. I promise.