Chapter 4- The Operation

Okay- so here’s the thing. I had been REALLY good up until that point. I didn’t lose my sense of humor (entirely) when it happened. I didn’t lose my sense of humor even through the week of fear. Didn’t lose it when they rebroke my hand, or through the five hours of Brazil-like paper shuffling in the hospital. AG can attest to that. But on the day of the operation I lost my sense of humor.

Everyone give a warm round of applause to C. and AG for not once rolling their eyes at me or throwing me out of a window.

I’m constantly astounded, but not particularly bothered, by the Turkish way of doing things, which is best described as loosey-goosey. Laws are really just… suggestions. Times are approximate. It’s a very Turkish thing to shrug and say regretfully of a previous arrangement, “Yeah, that’s not going to happen. I’m busy.” That morning at the hospital- so early in the morning, my belly so empty from pre-op fasting- I knew no one knew yet whether I would have general or local, whether they would put in a pin or a plate. I had bulwarked myself against this uncertainty, imagined each possible outcome in detail until I was emotionally prepared for any eventuality. I knew they didn’t know what time i was going to be operated on, and i was more or less prepared to sit and wait for that. My appointed time with the anesthesiologist came and went- he was busy- and then someone casually informed us that the operation might not happen that day after all.

“He says they’re really busy,” AG said, FAAAARRR too calmly. “So maybe your operation will be pushed to Wednesday. ”

It was a little before 10:00 at this point. We’d been at the hospital for two hours already.

“When will they know?” I asked.

“We don’t know. They’ll come back in an hour and tell us something.”

That was the moment when I stopped pretending to be a strong, assured, unflappable woman. I flapped. I flapped my hands around and paced around the “waiting area” (six uncomfortable chairs in a crowded hallway) and let out a strangled, “unacceptable!”

I paced around again.

“They have to do it today,” I said. “They HAVE TO DO IT TODAY.” I had prepared myself for every eventuality but that one. AG and C looked up at me with sympathetic alarm but said nothing. “I have to go for a walk,” I said and abruptly turned heel and went outside, C following me shouting “Wait, I will go with you!”  I paced around outside and listed for C’s benefit all the very obvious reasons they had to do the operation THAT DAY, most of which I’ve forgotten now, but foremost among them that I would completely lose my shit if they didn’t.

An hour and a half later someone came by and said they still didn’t know if i would have the operation that day, they’d know more at 1:00. At 1:20-something, when I was as close to having a stress aneurysm as I have ever been in my life, someone came in and said,

“Okay, it’s time to have the operation now.”


They showed me into a room that had two old women in beds with their daughters sitting by in plastic chairs, eyeing me with curiosity, handed me the world’s most confusing hospital gown, and closed the door on me who was standing there with no idea what to do. Undress in front of the women? Get into one of the empty beds? One of the daughters got up languidly and pulled one of the bed curtains so I had a modicum of privacy and I looked down at the hospital gown and had no idea what to do with it. It was just a big sheet with a lot of ties on it. I poked my head around the corner.

“Effendim,” I said to the helpful daughter, “bu ne?” She chuckled and came over and helped me out of my bra and tied me into the gown. And then I was on a trolley whizzing through crowded corriders. And then I was in the operating room with a bunch of doctors hovering over me, inquiring if I spoke Turkish.

“Nope,” I said. “I’m American.” They murmured among themselves, trying to decide who spoke the best English. Finally a woman said, in the clear, deliberate way of someone who knows exactly one phrase,

“What is your name?”

“Sarah,” I said. This caused a moments confusion because of course on all the paperwork I’m Elizabeth.

But then the head guy came in, and he knew English, so he asked all the questions for the team, (finally, for the first time in this whole process someone asked me if I’m pregnant.) (No, by the way. Decidedly not.)  And then the anesthesiologist came in and started poking needles into my armpit. When my hand or finger twitched He injected whatever nerve he’d just found with anesthetic. When he ws finished the doctor picked up my hand (so naked without its cast) and asked what I felt.

“I can feel you holding my hand,” I said. “I can feel your fingers.”

“Feeling is okay. You will feel something the whole time. But is the pain okay?”

I looked at him like he was crazy. How the fuck was I supposed to know if the pain was okay  when he was just tenderly stroking my hand? Shouldn’t the try sticking a needle into it or something…? and then I realized he was tenderly stroking my broken bone.

“Oh!” I said. “That’s my broken hand! I forgot.”

“So the pain is okay,” he said.

They bundled me up in blankets and I got real dozey as they gave me what felt like a very pleasant hand massage but was in fact a violent shoving in of sharp metal pins.

And then they wrapped up my hand again and wheeled me back to recovery and I swiftly fell asleep.

Now a big difference between Turkey and America is the strength of the family unit. Childcare isn’t an issue cause when you have a baby, you mom just comes and stays with you for a year or so. No big deal. And when you’re in the hospital, someone in your family comes and takes care of you. This changes a nurse’s job description. When I woke up and needed someone to help me cover myself sufficiently to hobble down the hallway to go to the bathroom, I was told that that’s not the nurse’s job. The janitor could help me, but the janitors were all dudes, so…

I waited for C to show back up and she gently helped me wriggle back into my dress. And then I limped down the hall, clutching my un responsive arm, marveling at the lump of inert, strangely warm flesh that had previously been my arm.



Filed under Turkish Culture

5 responses to “Chapter 4- The Operation

  1. nicole

    i saw the fb picture and came here to catch up on what happened. so glad you are okay!!

  2. ck.terrific

    Lookit you, all bundled up for surgery!
    And lookit that crazy shit in your hand!
    I am super-impressed that it took all of this to make you lose your sense of humor. And that it’s been regained so quickly. You’re a hell of a gal.

  3. Last time I had a cold here, someone earnestly suggested that I go to the hospital. Turkish healthcare baffles me.

  4. Let me firstly say Geçmiş Olsun. Your encounter with the Turkish hospital system dosnt seem that bad. I have been to Turkish hospitals on several occasions, usually when giving birth and recently when my 2 year old has had to stay a couple of times. The doctors I think are fairly good but its the nurses who are just incredible. Are they expected to be rude and mouthy? I just cant fathom it that all they do is dispense the drugs and when they do it can be hours late. My daughter had to have ventolin every 2 hours and have her sats monitored. They checked her once that night and never did her stats so she wasnt montitored and wasnt given a decent level of care. I have given birth on top of other peoples blood and discharge and even prepared for an op by the cleaner. Also the cleaniness of the hospitals are sooo appaling. Im sorry dont mean to complain but its disgusting. I actually got jaundice after an operation because the toilets hadnt been cleaned for the whole 3 days I had to stay. Plus one of the most amazing things I have witnessed is they dont have showers. I was recently at the local childrens hospital where they actually had a nice bathroom in the room for 4 people but no shower and no hot water. Instead they had a fantastic touch screen tv to keep all the kids entertained. Turkey has along way to go before its hospitals are up to scratch in the way of cleaniness and the way the nurses are trained.(this was all experienced in the local state hospitals)you would only hope that the private ones are better.

  5. Suat

    quite a long time we haven’t hear from you, I hope you are ok, get better soon.

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