Friday, December 18, 2009
Anyone who lives on Cape Cod knows the closest ER is in Hyannis where I rushed Sven the Friday of Thanksgiving. His urologist scheduled a “procedure” to deal with enlarged prostate. Fortunately, Cape Cod Hospital has an excellent reputation, but no one likes to go under the knife, so yesterday we were both feeling subdued during the forty-minute drive down Route 6.
As our Volvo reached the Main Street rotary, Sven asked out of the blue, “What would you like for Christmas? How about a new nightgown? Maybe, Victoria’s Secret? Heh, heh, heh!” His lascivious chuckle broke the tense silence. After a pause, he added, “Or, maybe you’d just like a healthy husband?”
With a quick nod, I offered up a brave little smile.
Sven has been seeing Dr. Hartnett for a dozen years and obviously felt confident of his capability: “This has been hanging over me for years, like a Damocles sword. About time we took care of it.”
I could only admire my husband’s realistic optimism.
Upon our arrival, nurses swept Sven off for pre-op prep, and I settled into the O’Keefe Surgical Pavilion waiting room, where a receptionist, behind the counter, was discharging patients. I removed my coat, then put it back on because the two corner walls were made of glass. Outside pedestrians hurried towards the parking lot, still quite full at 3:15. By the door stood a Christmas tree, decorated with blue and white ornaments. A wheelchair had been abandoned beside the Coke machine, below a flat-screen TV, on full blast. In the far corner, a slim, elegant gray-haired woman, dressed in black and gray, fingered a gold bracelet as if it were a rosary. Several other people sat stiff, holding worn magazines, their eyes on the status board where strips of color jerked from top to bottom in an electronic minuet.
Stephanie, behind the desk, explained how the board worked: “Pink means operating room. Dark blue, that’s a patient’s ready to receive family.” Seeing my worried expression, she added, “If I can get you any more information before I leave at 6, I will.”
The gray-haired woman stepped up to the counter.
“That goes for you, too, honey,” Stephanie said.
I glanced back up at the board. The stripes had begun to resemble a whacked-out rainbow. Yellow was the predominant color. That meant “home.” I looked forward to Sven’s number turning yellow.
A shot of frigid air rushed in when the glass doors slid to one side and a hospital volunteer pushed a discharged patient in a wheelchair past the Christmas tree. I reached into my purse for a book but impossible to concentrate, so I leafed through a recent issue of People Magazine instead. The gray-haired woman had begun rubbing her palms up and down slowly, as if about to make a decision. I noticed her eyes were red when she turned away to answer a cell phone.
Sven’s operation began at 4:15. From the board I could tell he was Dr. Hartnett’s final patient, the last of seven that day. I was doing my best not to think about the scalpel, carving into my husband’s flesh. Since the wait would be over an hour, I drove downtown and purchased Sven’s favorite bread at Pain d’Avignon.
Upon my return, Family Feud was drawing to a close. Since the room had almost emptied, the receptionists started playing along: “A flying cartoon character? That’s easy. Superman!”
The evening news broadcast was well underway when a middle-aged man in a blue pinstriped shirt joined the anxious lady, now sitting on the edge of the chair across from me. A second son, also dressed in suit with pinstripes but beige this time, rushed in ten minutes later.
From their conversation, I understood the father of this family had a brain tumor and his “procedure” with a neurosurgeon was well into its third hour.
“That it’s taking so long is a very good sign,” the mother told her sons hopefully.
At three minutes to six, Sven’s stripe of color flashed from pink to lavender, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
True to her word, Stephanie hit the phones before departure. A doctor in blue scrubs appeared for the gray-haired lady as Stephanie pointed me, with her head, towards a white phone down a corridor.
“Mrs. Rudstrom? Sven did really well,” Dr. Harnett said. “He had a large prostate, but we knew that already. He should be able to go home tomorrow at 3.”
Unfortunately, the neurosurgeon did not deliver such good news. The tumor, attached to nerves, required shrinkage. Chemo would follow radiation.
A nurse fetched me an hour later. I found Sven reclining in bed, surrounded by two young nurses, both of Scandinavian ancestry.
“I’ve been kidnapped by Swedes!” he said, opening a sandwich. “I had such a sweet dream that I was in Wellfleet!”
“Dr. Hartnett said your prostate was really big,” I told him.
“Trying out for the Guiness Book of World Records, are we?” joked the dark-haired nurse, the one whose ancestors were Norwegian. She pointed at a vial and, with a knowing look, said, “Dr. Harnett prescribed morphine, if your husband needs it.”
But for now, Sven was on a roll. The drip might as well have contained ecstasy because his mood had become even more jolly. My husband was chatting with the night nurse about the origin of her French name. I followed them through a maze of corridors into an elevator. Sven had a private room, paid by Medicare. The Mugar building still smelled brand new although it has been open for three years. I turned back to hear the day nurse, about to go off duty, admit she had Swedish ancestry, too.
“Can you say something in Swedish?” Sven asked.
“But I don’t speak it, I’m afraid.”
“Can you at least say skol? I told my wife to bring a small bottle of whiskey, but she forgot.”
When I left a half hour later, having slipped him Swedish snuff, I took the elevator down. The door opened and there was the woman, with her two sons in their pinstripes, startled to see me again. I sent them a hope-everything-will-be-alright look of compassion. I was going home to a warm bed and Sven would soon follow, but their ordeal was far from over…
Posted by Alexandra Grabbe at 4:51 PM
Sven Has Successful Procedure at Cape Cod Hospital