Years ago, Tony Bennett sang of leaving his heart in San Francisco. Well, My tale of leaving my gallbladder at Winn Army Hospital in Fort Stewart, Georgia isn’t romantic but it is of importance to me and its passing wasn’t one of sorrow, sweet or otherwise. As the surgeon had stated after the surgery it was totally blocked and “rotten”. I’m frankly glad it is gone. Good riddance in my opinion.
This tale started towards the end of July when I was awakened from a sound sleep by stomach cramps. I’m not talking about your “ate a couple of green apples” kind of cramps, I’m referring to the doubling over, “shove your arm down your throat, grab an organ of choice and toss it on the fire to exorcise the demons within” type of abdominal cramps. As it lasted only half an hour or so, it was relatively easy to pass it off as an occurrence of some kind; nothing dramatic. After a couple more of these episodes it was starting to concern me, but no other symptoms were being displayed so I chalked it up to the recent purchase and consuming of those round chips in a can which coincidently had proceeded each of these events. I quit eating them. Then I had another incident followed a couple days later by the granddaddy of them. By the time the cramping had gone on for six hours, I got cleaned up, dressed and went into the emergency room with my wife.
I checked in and was promptly shown to the triage desk where my vital signs were taken. A few minutes later I was in a cubicle and the show started. Within four hours I had blood samples taken, a urine sample taken, a CT scan performed, an ultrasound performed, had an EKG taken, been put on an IV with various drugs within, been issued drugs to take home, and tentatively diagnosed with gallbladder disease. In each of these steps I was treated with courtesy, respect and caring by a various member of the ER or radiology staff. Each of these persons explained what they were doing and why and performed their duties in a professional manner while still giving me every impression they cared what they were doing and cared about me. In addition, there was a shift change shortly after my arrival. Frankly I was impressed.
I was seen the next morning by my Primary Care Provider. I arrived at the clinic 15 minutes earlier and was promptly escorted to the station where my vital signs were taken. At the time of my appointment I was called and escorted to another cubicle where I soon met my Doctor for the first time. She went over everything, performed an exam of her own and apparently agreeing with the diagnosis made an appointment with the surgeon for me. Again, everyone was super polite, efficient, professional, and friendly. I was given an appointment for the following week with my surgeon to discuss options and procedures.
During the time spent waiting for this appointment I did as much research as I could on this puny little organ with the capability to wreck such havoc and just what my options were. The subject came up among my friends and on-line friends to which the general consensus was to “go civilian”. Most of these friends had never served in the military instead relying on horror stories passed on quite apparently. Now, I have had military medical care my entire life; growing up in the military and spending a career in the Army myself and had always been rather pleased with the care I or my family had received.
The day of my appointment arrived and again I showed up 15 minutes early only to be told shortly thereafter the surgeon had been called away to an emergency surgery. The staff was up front with us and asked if anyone wanted to be rescheduled or if we would prefer to wait. They kept us informed every few minutes as to the surgeons status. When I was finally called into the surgeons office, he advised me of the findings, his conclusions and his recommendations as well as the options available. He ensured I understood everything and answered all the questions I had as well as apologizing for being called away. His staff set me up with a pre-op appointment and the surgery date. Everyone in this department also, was super polite, efficient, professional, and friendly. I had a warm and fuzzy feeling about everything when I left.
Over the next few days, the situation deteriorated. The pain became constant from the time I was awake to the time I went to sleep. The only way I was even able to sleep was due to the medications the ER had prescribed. However, I was running out of them and no way would the meds last until my surgery. So, with ten days to go before my surgery I called my surgeons staff and asked to speak to the surgeon about renewing the prescription. He called back rather surprised I was taking the medicine or even needed to. When I explained the situation he stated he would call me right back. Within minutes he called back stating I was to fast after midnight and be in the next morning for my pre-op and surgery was scheduled for the following morning after the pre-op.
I reported to the pre-op desk the next morning to be greeted by a very friendly staff who started by having me fill out a minimum number of forms after which I was placed in a waiting room for a few minutes until I was called by the first of my appointments. She briefed me was to what was going to occur and had me sign a few more papers. My next appointment was with a pretty, young private who took some blood samples and performed an EKG about as smoothly and painlessly as I have ever had done. That was followed by an interview with an incredibly friendly and outgoing anesthesiologist who asked me a gang of questions, briefed me as to the procedures which were to be used and checked me out for suitability for the laryngoscope. She also asked if I had allergies. The next step was to get a chest X-ray which was obtained in a matter of minutes. I was frankly amazed at the speed and efficiency in which the x-ray was taken. The last step was to check in with the inpatient section, I believe (although the name may be wrong). I read a few documents and signed signifying my understanding. I read the sign on the wall stating the charges regarding various medical plans. Contrary to popular belief, I as a military retiree do not have free medical care, which is in fact what I had been promised my entire career, particularly around re-enlistment time. I have medical and dental premiums that I need to pay if I want any medical care; again, contrary to all promises made to me and other retirees in the past. Again; everyone was friendly, polite, professional and caring. I was reminded during the course of this pre-op that I was to consume no food, drink, nor tobacco after midnight.
I could see the next morning was not going to get started on the right foot at all as far as my comfort went. But, after the dealings I had with each and every member of the staff I dealt with, I was left with no doubt in my retired military mind that I would receive excellent care while I was there.
(end of part 1)