Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ice Chips?

                After my fourth surgery, one of the worst parts for me (once I regained consciousness) was my inability to communicate. Due to post-surgical complications the doctors had to perform a tracheotomy; this required me to learn how to talk with a hole in my throat. It isn’t as easy as one might think. For a while there was no sound, and then, even though I felt as though I was shouting, only slight whispers were able to be heard.  To make matters worse, I did not have the dexterity to write so I couldn’t spell out what I wanted. I was able to write letters, but I couldn’t move the pen to the right, so every subsequent letter would be written on top of the previous letter. This may have been easier for people to read if I didn’t already have such atrocious handwriting.

These Taste Terrible!! Yuck!
                Because I was on a feeding tube, I was never hungry, at least not that I can remember. I wasn’t actually thirsty either since I had an IV. However, one major side effect from heavy sedation and narcotics is dry mouth. I constantly wanted to drink something, anything. Actually, to be more accurate, I wanted to chug a gallon of ice water at any given moment. This was not however, possible.  Since I had a hole in my throat I was not allowed to have water yet. I had to learn how to swallow again first. The best they could do was ice chips, or those horrible mint flavored water sponges that they will give you to moisten your mouth after surgery. If you have never had the dis-pleasure, they taste horrible, but it alleviates the dry mouth for about 5 seconds. When they would give me those I would suck all the water out of them (there isn’t very much there, less than a sip) and then try and swallow it, if I could get more than one of them at a time, I almost had a drink of water! Once the staff caught on I wasn’t allowed to keep them by my bed any longer and they would watch me to make sure that I didn’t save them to use when I had more than one. I would also try and wait for the ice chips in my cup to melt and then drink the small amount of water. Needless to say, they were not very happy with me and I required a babysitter most of the time.

                Since I couldn’t communicate very well and usually what I wanted was water, it became a running joke, whenever my husband or sister couldn’t figure out what I wanted, they would just look at me and ask, “Ice Chips?”  (To this day, when my husband has no idea what I’m talking about, he will look at me and say, “Ice Chips?”) Eventually I would usually just nod my head, even if that wasn’t what I wanted. It would frustrate me to no end and I know now that everyone around me was frustrated, even thru their laughter. It seemed insensitive at the time, but sometimes you get to the point where if you don’t laugh, all you can do is cry, and I really didn’t need my support system in tears with me! That would have been something. 

                Every now and then one of my oncology nurses, Cheryl, will tell the story of when she came up to see me in the ICU. I was trying to ask for something. Of course I was thirsty and the first question asked was ice chips, so was the 20th. I think at some point I started flipping people off. This required me using one hand to hold down the other fingers as I was not quite able to hold up my middle finger on its own yet.  Cheryl had brought in a letter board. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a board with letters on it. This allows for the person holding it to go thru pointing at the letters and when you get to the letter that is next in the word the patient wants they signal to stop. 

                So She went thru the first fast: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P. I signaled to stop and someone wrote down the letter P. then a few people started guessing and of course someone yells out, “Ice chips” I think it was my sister. We went thru pass two: A, B,C,D,E. I signaled again to stop. So the letter e was written down. They asked if I needed to pee. I shook my head. When no one could come up with an idea, once again ,”Ice chips” I’m sure I rolled my eyes, or meant to if I wasn’t able to. So we go for pass three: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P. I signaled once again to stop.  At this point it was either my Oncologist or my nurse (I wish I could remember) who realized that I wanted a Pepsi! Everyone started laughing. This was taken as a good sign. I was told no. I am told that I then glared and was very unhappy with Cheryl; I may have even used both hands to once again display my middle finger. I guess I had expected her to run off to the vending machines and sneak a Pepsi in for me. Once I was able to swallow again, my wonderful nurse did bring me a Pepsi. It’s amazing how when life really sucks, it is the simple things that can really make our day; sometimes all you need is a Pepsi.

Language is not just a useful tool, but an incredible gift. I have been in other countries where I didn’t understand the language well, and some where I didn’t understand the language at all. Some of these times were made more difficult when the people around me also did not understand or speak English. However, even during these times, there were ways to communicate: body language, drawing a picture, or even had gestures. When you have no means of communication other than grunts and a limited amount of very basic hand motions, communication becomes nearly impossible. It’s no wonder the cavemen eventually just clubbed their women over the head to drag them back to the cave. It’s difficult enough to get a date in modern society with advanced language skills and socially accepted mating rituals, but imagine if the only way you had to talk to the opposite sex was a few grunts and limited hand gestures. Eventually clubbing someone over the head is all you got!

As always, please feel free to leave comments. Your feedback is always welcome!

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