Today’s surgery was as easy as I was promised it would be. We went in at 7:30, and I was out, filled with banana-walnut pancakes from Roxy’s, and home by 11. There was only one hangup, and I was expecting it.
Maybe in bigger cities this isn’t an issue, but the problem here is that no one expects 37 year old women to need cataract surgery. This is only relevant because I had to smile through a whole lot of “wow, you’re young, is that congenital?” and because no one remembers that I need a pregnancy test before they can give me anesthesia — it’s a New York Law. I ran into it with my shoulder surgery — had a seriously annoyed nurse who had to shuffle a bunch of things around so they could do a stick and a test before the anesthesiologist came in, and all I could do was say “but no one told me I needed bloodwork!” So this time I knew, and I was expecting it, and was prepared.
But cataract patients are old. So no one believes me on this surgery.
It started when I asked the pre-surgical coordinator at the doctor’s office. She didn’t know — that not only isn’t her job, but she doesn’t run into the question very often, if ever. She said I should ask the hospital pre-registration nurse.
I asked that nurse, and she said “Yes! Stop in the blood lab on your way up to the 4th floor.” Ok, great, a straight answer. Awesome.
Then I asked the scheduling nurse (who was telling me to go straight to the 4th floor for outpatient registration), and she gave me a moment of stunned silence before incredulously asking “How OLD are you?” before agreeing that, yes, potentially fertile 37 year old women do indeed need pregnancy tests before receiving anesthesia.
So today I get to the hospital, and go to the registration desk. She fits me with my stylish bracelet, copies my ID and insurance cards, and says, “Now go on up to the 4th floor.” I stop her, and say, “I was told to go to the blood lab for a pregnancy test first.” She consults her lab list, and says “You’re not on it.” I thank her and go to the lab anyway.
In the lab, the receptionist can’t find me on her list. I explain. She calls the 4th floor. The 4th floor reports I don’t need it. So I give up, and go to the 4th floor.
Where, half an hour later, my outpatient nurse, upon preparing to do my IV, says “And you stopped in the blood lab for a pregnancy test, right?”
It turns out that someone named “Blair” who works on the 4th floor didn’t check my age or my chart when filling out the presurgical bloodwork orders, or when taking the phone call from the lab. Because I’m a cataract patient. I must be old. Old people don’t need pregnancy tests.
In case you’re curious, I’m not pregnant. I was also amused by the outpatient nurse’s followup questions:
“Did you have a tubal?”
“Then why did they send you up? You’re potentially fertile! It’s a law!”
“I have no idea. I tried, I swear.”
So. In my case, this is no big deal: A competent nurse and an informed patient worked together to get shit done right. But I couldn’t help but think, as I waited for the surgical nurse and anesthesiologist to finish hooking me up and injecting me with cheerful sedation, that this is the kind of small screwup that can happen to anyone. Anywhere. And it won’t always be a missed negative pregnancy test. Sometimes it’s big. Sometimes it’s a real thing. And sometimes it has major consequences.
Don’t make assumptions. All cataract patients are not old. All things are not what they may seem. All categories are not homogenous. There’s a lesson there, in and outside medicine.
All of that said, the surgery was easy. Like, EASY. Light sedation, a good, efficient doctor, cheerful and capable nurses, and a great partner to ferry me around, buy me pancakes, put drops in my eye, and tuck me in for a nap.
And when Justin took down my eye patch so he could put my drops in at 3 today, I could see all the details on the wall across the room in high-def. 15 feet away.
That hasn’t been true since before I was 7.
At some point in this process, I’m going to break down and cry with the wonder and joy and gratitude of it all. But not yet. I’ve got another eye and a scrip for reading glasses to go before we get there. But I’m gonna get there.