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The Brave and the Beautiful
Although the hospital room was rather large, the minute I opened my eyes I felt claustrophobic. Waking up was horrid. It was like I’d forget what had happened, and I would try to open my mouth to breathe, and nothing would happen. The worst though, was when I had something I wanted to communicate. I would try to speak and I knew what I was trying to say, so I was constantly frustrated with my mother for not understanding me. It was completely understandable that she needed me to write everything down. My speech had become a jumble of muffled sounds.
I wasn’t allowed to look at myself at first. I guess the doctor thought it would upset me.
When I was finally allowed to see a mirror I looked at myself and wrote on my pad of paper: “I’m not going to look like this forever, right”? I had cheeks bigger than a newborn baby. It looked like I had two tennis balls tucked into each side of my mouth. There were marks on each cheek that looked like little puncture wounds. My lips were dry and cracking, but when I opened my mouth, that’s when things got interesting. There was a big plastic splint in my mouth that looked like a mouth guard. Thick yellowing surgical bands held my mouth firmly in place. There was a tube in my nose to keep blood from draining into my stomach, making it virtually impossible to breathe.
The nurse came in with a cup of broth and a popsicle. She was very nice, all the nurses had been. I knew she probably hadn’t realized her mistake. I tried my best to smile at her, but as soon as she left my smile faded.
My mother then looked at me and said, “Maybe we can crush it up.” I swear that woman is psychic. I tried to somehow get this fruity frozen goodness into my mouth, but eventually I became frustrated and gave up. Appearing strong as my mother handed me a little plastic carton of apple juice was hard. I loathe apple juice, but it was the best thing ever in that moment. That first night in ICU was filled with sleep, only waking to push the button that would relieve my pain. The next day they moved me to the children’s wing. It was filled with equally nice nurses who were wonderful to me. One nurse made me special chocolate milkshakes that provided me with at least some nutrients. My friend Olivia came and visited me, bringing cards and pictures she had drawn for me. I never knew lying in a bed watching television could be so exhausting.
That night was when things went badly. I had a different nurse. It baffles me why this woman was ever allowed to work in the children’s wing. She was unpleasant and almost seemed hateful as she tended to me.
She brought me in a syringe of Tylenol with codeine and stated, “Here’s your medicine. You have to be able to take it orally or you won’t be allowed to leave.”
This didn’t seem to be a problem until I tasted it. It was the most bitter thing I had ever tasted. I instantly gagged, causing my jaw to shift slightly, sending me into instant pain. I began to cry as the nurse continued to try to squirt the vile liquid into my mouth. She stopped and began to walk out of the room, handing my mother the syringe as she left.
Her voice trailed after her, “I’ll let you try. There’s no other way for her to take it. If she can’t do it, she’s not leaving.”
My breathing became shallow, and I began to have a panic attack. My mother was trying to calm me down, but nothing was working. I couldn’t catch my breath. My nose was clogged with blood from the tube that had once been there, and my mouth was sewn shut.
I scrawled on the paper, “I can’t breathe. I’m scared.”
My mom looked at me with tired, worried eyes, smoothed my hair, then left to find the nurse. I could hear the nurse’s snippy voice telling my mother that any medicine they could give me to calm me down would have to be taken orally which obviously wouldn’t work out. That’s when my mom decided to call my Aunt Jane, who’s a pharmacist. After explaining the situation to my aunt, my mother quickly got off the phone and informed the nurse that they could give me Ativan through my iv.
The nurse shot my mother a rude look and said, “I’ll have to check with the doctor”, as she stormed out of the room.
My mother sat by my bed and smoothed my head, assuring me that I’d get some medicine soon and it’d be better. Time had never gone so slow. A few minutes felt like an eternity. Finally the nurse came back in, shot the magical liquid into my iv, and left. The results were almost instant. I could feel my heartbeat regulate and I could take deeper breaths. Once I felt comfortable again, I fell asleep. I was in a very deep state of sleep, but something woke me up around 2 in the morning. I looked down, and my iv had come out of my arm. I just looked at my mom who was sleeping in a chair next to my bed, and she instantly woke up. It was like she knew. She pushed the call button and we waited for the nurse to come in. She looked so annoyed when my mother told her that my iv had fallen out. She jabbed it back in, and then wrapped nearly half a roll of tape around my arm so it wouldn’t fall out again.
After that little mishap, I quickly fell back asleep. When I woke up the next morning I had a new nurse who was much nicer.
She smiled at me and said “I hear you had a rough night. How are you this morning my dear?”
I smiled at her and nodded, indicating that I was doing better.
“Good!” she exclaimed. “Would you like for me to make you a chocolate milkshake?”
I nodded again, this time with much more enthusiasm. When she returned, I drank my delicious breakfast as my mom explained to her what had happened the previous evening with the other nurse. The new nurse looked concerned and asked my mother to write down exactly what happened, so she could confront the rude nurse about her behavior. Then she pulled out the pain medicine I was supposed to take when I got home.
“Maybe if we mix this in with your milkshake it’ll be a bit better.”
The mixture was still horridly bitter, but I managed to get it down.
Finally, it was time to leave. The nurse handed my mom a bag of huge syringes and another with all my medicine.
“You’re going to be using these a lot for both her medicine and food. If they break or anything, I think you can get them from a medical supply store or CVS. Here’s your anti-nausea medicine, your Tylenol with codeine, and your Ativan for any anxiety you may have.” I smiled as best as I could to thank her as another nurse came in the room with a wheelchair.
She smiled and said, “you ready to go home kiddo?”
I nodded my head as I lowered myself into the chair. As she wheeled me out, all the nurses said their goodbyes. They told me how beautiful I was going to look, and that I was a beautiful girl already, and that I was one of the bravest people they knew. Their words inspired me, and the whole experience has changed me. The surgery helped me change from a self conscious girl who was made fun of for her smile and mouth, to a confident girl who, for once, feels beautiful.