NOTE: If you are at all squeamish, stop scrolling when you begin to see a photo: it’s of my sister’s arm.
If you’re being tapped as the “go-to” person to look after a family member post-surgery, I have a cautionary story for you.
My sister recently underwent surgery to remove hardware from her elbow: it was put in to mend smashed bone caused from a fall from a tandem bike last summer. Like most surgeries, she was required to fast prior to going under the knife. The surgery went smoothly and she was given the best of care in post-op.
We picked up pain medication that the surgeon prescribed and, because she was a bit nauseous, some Gravol. The Gravol was a small package of eight “Immediate Release & Long Acting” caplets. My sister and I didn’t have a long discussion about the Gravol, because . . . it’s Gravol. We have both used it many times for motion sickness experienced during travel, for occasional bouts with the flu, etc.
Without detailing the entire timeline, she vomited shortly after we got home, took one of the Gravol caplets, one of the pain pills, ate a small but hearty meal of lasagna and drank some water and some ginger ale. We also sat through two hours of American Idol before she was finally so tired that I ordered her off to bed.
About twelve hours after getting her home, around 5:30 a.m, I awoke to noise from down the hallway. Concerned, I went to investigate and found my sister slumped on the bathroom floor, her chin touching her chest, gurgling noises bubbling from her throat.
I took her in my arms, leaned her forward and held her head upright as I tried to rouse her. Her eyes rolled. I yelled (very loudly) for my nephew to call 9-1-1.
Her dog bounced nervously across her body a couple of times before I managed to get a hand on him and unceremoniously tossed him into the hallway. (Yes, you’re a hero and I’m glad you noticed something was wrong . . . but you were also in the way. PS: learn how to bark like a real dog.)
I reached for her jaw to see if she was choking . . . and then she came around.
I don’t believe I’ve ever been more relieved in my entire life.
Paramedics arrived and I followed the ambulance to the hospital. Her blood pressure was low and she was dehydrated. Hours later, after multiple tests, two bags of saline solution via intravenous brought the colour back into her cheeks.
As my sister explained it, she got up because she felt sick. She went to the bathroom and knelt down by the toilet. Then, she leaned back against the counter. What she remembers next is me cradling her. She has no memory of my calling for help or trying to wake her. Neither of us know how long she was there.
Here’s the kicker and I hope she forgives me for writing this: she’s a nurse. Patients are patients — after a surgery all anyone wants to do is rest and recover.
Later, she told me that when she has taken Gravol in the past, it was a 25 mg dose. (Again, this was a “long-release” form of that medication and I’m not implying it was what caused her to lose consciousness.)
However, if there is a next time, I’m making coffee and staying up for the night. Fasting, surgery trauma, stress and the effects of some over-the-counter medications can combine to hit some people pretty hard. I’m also going to instruct the recently operated on to follow the post-op instructions (especially the bit about staying hydrated) to the letter.
And — no matter how silly or inconvenient it may seem — to call for a spotter if they want to get out of bed for a trip to the bathroom.