Casual Business Email

To: Steve
From: rd
Subject: Thursday schedule

Extra large tub filled with cold soapy water and blue jeans (very heavy when wet).
Loud squealing noise.
Cessation of agitation (except emotional, which has increased dramatically).
Unpleasant smell of burning rubber.
Early phone call to washer repair.
Working at home today (sigh).

Short Story

My niece Elizabeth was an amazingly quiet child. She could sit for hours without a toy, TV, or anything to look at - just thinking "Elizabeth thoughts." If my sister Carol wanted to practice piano or organ at the church on a Saturday afternoon, we didn't need to bring a book, a doll, or anything else to entertain Elizabeth; she preferred to just sit on my lap or on the pew, and do nothing. Occasionally she'd change positions, but that's pretty much it for activity.

One day, when Elizabeth was about 3 1/2, we felt perfectly safe taking her to a wedding. Carol was playing the organ for the event, and Elizabeth and I were sitting in the audience. The sanctuary is a half-round configuration, designed so that it's easy to see everyone. There was a huge crowd that day, and Elizabeth and I ended up about 3/4 of the way back from the podium. Because everyone was squeezed in, she was sitting on my lap, contentedly admiring her party dress and occasionally lifting her feet so she could look at the ribbons on her new socks.

All went well until the vows started. Bride and groom were standing at the altar, the audience was quiet in anticipation, and suddenly my little lapful started not just changing position, but squirming. After a moment or two, when the wiggling hadn't stopped but rather increased, I whispered, "Elizabeth, what's the matter? Can't you sit still?" And she announced, in a very LOUD voice, to the entire silent congregation, "MY UNDERWEAR WAS STUCK IN MY BUTT!!" After which, she jumped off my lap and proceeded to correct the offending garment. As she was only about three feet tall, standing between two pews Elizabeth was basically invisible to the 230 or so pairs of eyes that swiveled in my direction at that moment - including the much-amused orbs of the bride, groom, and minister. Only the people in our row and the one behind us could see her. The majority of the congregation, who didn't know I had a child with me, must have thought that I said it! At least our friends and family recognized Elizabeth's voice; Carol bent her head down over the organ and I could see her shoulders shaking with laughter.

After everyone recovered from more or less success with controlling their amusement, the ceremony continued. The bride and groom were good friends, loved kids, and forgave us that little faux pas. But the Drake family still quotes that "Elizabethism" frequently: "My underwear was stuck in my butt!"


Getting Ready for Your Surgery

Surgery is an alarming thing overall, but the actual experience is usually much less of a big deal than the anticipation/dread beforehand. I've had about a dozen surgeries, ranging from 10-minute removal of a skin lesion to "Let's see how much hardware we can install in her leg before she sets off the metal detector." All were with different medical teams at a variety of facilities, and my experiences have been universally good. Here's my advice on dealing with surgery.

Ignore surgery horror stories that people tell you or that you encounter in the media. It's unlikely that you'll have a problem, and it's too late to fix someone else's problem.

Take a small tape recorder and someone you trust to meet with your surgeon. Ask every question you have - regardless how stupid you feel - and record the entire visit. You'll want to listen to that tape (perhaps many times) while you're waiting for your surgery date to arrive. It's very reassuring to know all the answers to all your questions.

These are some good questions to ask your surgeon in your pre-surgery visit:

  • Which of my current medications, vitamins, herbal remedies, physical regimens, exercises, or activities might affect the surgery? When should I stop them? When can I resume them?
  • What medications, vitamins, herbal remedies, physical regimens, exercises, or activities, if any, should I start prior to or after surgery, and when? (For example, will you need physical therapy after your surgery? It's helpful to know when your doctor anticipates that process starting, how often you'll need to go, and when you can expect to finish. Or your surgeon may recommend starting a program of exercises, stretches, or mineral supplements weeks or months prior to your surgery, in order to speed your recovery time.)
  • How long does this surgery typically take, from the time they wheel me into prep until I'm in recovery?
  • What kind of anesthesia will be used? What kind of side effects does it have?
  • What will happen and how should I expect to feel in each stage of the procedure?
  • How long will I be in recovery? What will happen and how will I feel while I'm there?
  • When I leave recovery, will I be able to go home, or will I be moved to a hospital bed? If I'm going to be hospitalized, when can I expect to go home?
  • What kinds of medications will I receive during and after surgery, and after I go home?
  • What level of pain should I expect immediately following surgery? (Use the 0-10 scale, with 0 being "No pain at all," and 10 being "Please kill me now.") How will my pain be treated?
  • What level of pain should I expect when I go home? How will it be treated?
  • After I've gone home, what symptoms should I expect to experience? What unusual symptoms might mean that I need to seek immediate treatment?
  • What side effects can I expect from the surgery?
  • How long does recuperation typically take following this surgery? When am I likely to feel "back to normal"?
  • How should I treat the wound? How often should I clean it, and with what? How should I dress it, and for how long?
  • Will I have stitches or staples? When, how, and where will they be removed? (For example, by a home healthcare practitioner, or at the doctor's office?)
  • What will my scar look/feel like? What can I do to minimize scarring? Is it okay to scratch the scar if it itches or massage it if it hurts?

Essential Information: Create an Electronic Document with Your Stats

If you haven't yet created an electronic list of prescription and over-the-counter medications, supplements, etc. that you take regularly, now's the time. Your surgeon will need this information ahead of time in order to modify the standard pre-op instructions provided for you. For example, s/he is likely to tell you to stop taking vitamin E a week prior to your surgery if you're having a skin growth removed - but only if s/he knows that you're taking the vitamin in the first place. Your list should include the name of the drug or supplement, the dosage you take and when/how often you take it, and the reason(s) you take it. Remember to list any known drug allergies and what type of reaction(s) each drug causes - believe me, the more places you record this information, the likelier you are to prevent someone from accidentally giving you that drug.

By the way, surgeons want to know about your previous surgeries, so add that information to your prescription document. Include any available statistics about the surgery: date or year of the surgery, the surgeon's name, the type of surgery, and why it was performed. Be sure to note any relevant problems with anaesthesia, post-op difficulties, and so on. When it's happening, you think you'll never forget it, but years later you may not even remember that you once had a mild reaction to demerol given to you in the recovery room.

Once you've created your list, you'll find that it's a very handy thing to have; you should update it each time you make a change in your regimen, and take along a copy to give to any new healthcare provider. What a time-saver! With a clean printout of your meds and operations in hand, you'll never again have to dread those horrible "new year, new forms" visits to your practitioner. Simply write "see attached list" in those tiny blanks and boxes, and wait for the kudos when the doc looks at your helpful details.

Surgery Day

Even if your procedure is minor, get someone to drive you to and from your surgery. Nervousness prior to surgery and medication following can keep you from being alert enough to drive safely.

The day of your surgery, have your trusted person take your tape recorder and your pre-op tape to the waiting room while you're in surgery. If desired, he or she can play the tape there for your friends and family. (In some cases, you might want to sensor the tape prior to allowing other people to hear it.) People who care for you will wonder about many of the same questions you had prior to surgery; playing the tape gives everyone the same answers directly from the doctor, without being subject to interpretation or memory lapse.

When the surgeon comes out of the operating room to report to family members or friends, your trusted person should record everything s/he says on a new tape, including everyone's questions and the surgeon's answers. Because you can't be in the waiting room (you'll be in recovery, remember), making a tape gives you a chance later on to hear what the surgeon had to say. And you may want to listen to that reassuring tape - perhaps many times - while you're recovering.

When You Go Home After Surgery
After your surgery, your doctor probably will send you home with a list of post-op instructions. Ask your trusted person to read these instructions and go over them with you, making sure that you understand exactly what you're supposed to do - particularly if you have medications to take. If you need to take your medications at specified intervals, ask your friend to write out a schedule for you, specifying the times and drugs you're supposed to have. (Example: 8:00 a.m., take one Skelaxin with food. 11:00 a.m., inject the Lovenox. ...) Even if you're having a "minor" procedure, surgery affects the body in ways you may not have anticipated. You may feel completely normal, but immediately post-surgery you really aren't the most qualified person to judge how you're functioning. Let someone else be your guide for a little while.

Even if you don't feel particularly tired after your surgery, sleep as much as possible for the following two weeks and avoid strenuous activities. The body does its best repair work while we sleep, and the stress we inflict on ourselves in the time approaching surgery can cause as much damage as the invasion of the scalpel.

Drink a lot of water. You won't necessarily feel dehydrated following your surgery, but you will be. Medical science recommends 6-8 glasses of water a day, and most Americans don't get even half that much. For at least a couple of weeks after your surgery, you should try to take in about a gallon of fluid a day, with clean, filtered water being the best choice. And cut back your caffeine intake to "none," or as close to it as you can get. Remember that caffeine is a drug, and dosing yourself with it when your system is already stressed by surgery and recovery is just a bad idea.

A final suggestion: If you have friends and family who care about you, your surgery will affect them as well. If people want to baby you after your surgery, let them, and tolerate it with good humor. It will help them to heal their own stress.