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Having Surgery Alone

Having Surgery Alone | After the Heartbreak
Having Surgery Alone
signing a waiver form when you have nobody to stay with you

Do you have someone to stay with you tonight? No? Then you’ll need to sign a Waiver.” The nurse admitting me to hospital for surgery gazed at me before pushing a form across the desk and indicating where I was to sign. I was relinquishing their responsibility in this matter. This is a story about one of the aspects of being a widow (or even just being single) that you don’t even think of…until it happens.

Apparently you must have a responsible adult with you when you leave a hospital, and someone (presumably the same person) will stay with you overnight. That would be…ummm….your spouse? What about your family? Don’t have either? Then surely you must have friends? It felt like a judgement on my social situation that I was fronting up for surgery by myself, and apparently I’m not alone in that opinion.

Why should I be denied care if I’m single and new in town?  For that matter, why must I be a friendly, sociable person who attracts dozens of caring friends? Can’t I be a curmudgeonly hermit and still get medical care?”

How Hospitals Do Us Wrong: Psychology Today

This whole saga began a few weeks earlier when I visited the dentist because of a loose tooth. Turned out that it wasn’t a problem with the natural tooth at all but my implant which was inexplicably falling out. After lots of visits and x-rays, the dentist suggested a bone graft to give the new implant more chance of success. It was just day surgery.

I’ve had small operations in the past, but back then it was easy to fix up these little medical issues requiring day surgery. My husband would take me to the hospital in the morning, do his own thing while I was in theatre and then come and pick me up afterwards. He would take me home and put me to bed while he made a meal and responded to my calls for drinks, pain-killers etc. I felt nurtured…and safe.

But times have changed. I am now a widow and having to face all of these issues alone. To add to the complication, before Norbert died we had moved to a small coastal town over 2,600 km away from our family. It was our retirement home and the place where we planned to grow old together. It didn’t happen that way though.

Read: The Day My Heart Broke

This operation was day surgery again, but the closest large hospital is now 2.5 hours drive from my home, and as is often the case, I needed to be there early in the morning. Just figuring out all the logistics was an exercise that I don’t think hospital staff really appreciate.

I have to state upfront that although I don’t have family anywhere near me, I do have some wonderful close friends who offered to help. Logistically though, it wasn’t an easy thing to work out when they had their own lives and plans, and this wasn’t about a single day event…it was going to stretch out over 3 days. When that nurse looked at me in askance as to why I didn’t seem to have anyone to look after me, I said “Do you have friends willing to leave their families, travel and give up 3 days to help you?” She didn’t respond so I assumed that was a negative.

What’s at stake here is more than just a ride home from the hospital. It’s a harbinger of what’s in store for a tsunami of over-65 boomers. Millions will be like me: living alone, fiercely independent, and lacking support systems to get through even a simple medical intervention.”

How Hospitals Do Us Wrong: Psychology Today

The hospital wasn’t asking me to sign the waiver because they were concerned about me…it was to prevent litigation. As a responsible adult myself, aren’t I in a position to determine what is best for me? Especially as I have had many surgeries and anaesthetics, and knew how I would feel afterwards. Sure, you could argue that I might have had a heart-attack during the night, but then I might have a heart-attack anytime…or fall…or have a stroke etc. As someone who lives alone, every day is a risk.

Anyway, I’ll get off the soapbox now…this is how it turned out….

Because of the early start, I had to drive the 150km the day before and book into a hotel for the night. The next day I left my car at the hotel and took a taxi to the hospital and checked myself in.

dressed in a hospital gown

Before long they had me dressed up in one of their ridiculous hospital gowns which I’m sure are designed by people who enjoy the humour of the situation, but I was saved further mortification by the anaesthetist who arrived to insert a canula in my hand….and that is when it all went very much downhill as he couldn’t find a vein.

After the 5th hole I felt like a pincushion and he said he would have to resort to using a gas mask. My arms were covered in little white sticking plaster dots and I felt like crap…to say the least. I was wondering if I would leak everywhere next time I had a glass of wine!

He was keen to try one more time though when I was in Theatre so I walked with him to that big, cold room and got as comfy as is humanly possible on an operating table under massive lights. The anaesthetist looked like he was sending up a silent prayer, then he took my right hand….and Voila! He finally found a vein and the world began to recede. Zzzzzzz……

waking up in the recovery room after surgery

Woke in Recovery with my mouth feeling like I’d been hit in the jaw by a prize fighter. I could taste blood in my mouth but wasn’t in too much pain thanks to some lovely local anaesthetic. (Gotta love modern drugs)

I did have some kind friends picking me up from the hospital to take me to the hotel as I’m not sure the nurse would have discharged me to a taxi driver. 🤣 They had offered to drive me home but remember I’ve had experience with these day surgery escapades and the thought of sitting upright in the back of a car for two and a half hours gave me the horrors. I reeeeeally just needed to lie down.

Back at the hotel I spoke briefly to the hotel receptionist to ask for a late checkout the next day. She took one look at me, said I looked dreadful and of course I could have a late checkout! Ha ha I guess there are advantages. Somehow got myself up the stairs and fell onto the bed….where I stayed for 14 hours as I expected.

The next morning I was supposed to be driving home, but I still felt shaky and woozy. How was I going to do this? I made myself have some breakfast and then went back to bed for a while, finally getting up to have a shower which brightened me quite up a bit.

I’m a sensible person so was all prepared to book the hotel room for another night if necessary but I really thought I’d be fine if I just took it easy. Checked out at 11am and drove to a local shopping centre (so far, so good) where I sat for a while with a coffee. Finally, I made the decision to get myself home. I don’t think I’ve ever been so focused on my concentration and driving skills as on that trip, but I finally pulled into the garage with absolutely no problems along the way.

I made it! Yet another milestone/battle of widowhood under the belt. 🤗

I guess a lot of people would argue that I could have leaned more heavily on friends, but that is hard for me as I’m fiercely independent and that won’t change any time soon. I did get used to leaning on Norbert but…well….it was his ‘job’ to look after me.

The hospital also has a high expectation that my friends are conveniently free when I need some simple surgery, whereas the reality is that they have their own issues with ill health and other life situations. I am happy to look after myself but having the medical system make it even harder for me is not helpful.

I don’t think this type of scenario is going to change or get any easier as I get older. Is there an answer? Drop a comment into the Comment box below with your thoughts.

Marlene is an Australian widow who has written about all the good, bad and ugly stuff that happened after her husband Norbert died tragically. Marlene responds to all comments.

Further stories about having to do things alone…..

When you injure yourself

This post is taking AGES to write as I only have 9 fingers. Well, 9 operational fingers. One of them is out of action thanks to a ‘kitchen incident’. Let me tell you the story of what happened, and what I’ve learned from the (somewhat stressful) experience.

Selling your house

I walked through my (our) house for the last time, my footsteps echoed in the empty rooms. I left my key on the kitchen bench and went out the front door, closing it behind me for the very last time. Did I have any regrets about my decision to sell?

  • Linda RIchardson says:

    There are times when I believe the hospital system is designed to take away all dignity and self respect. While I can understand in a way the hospital not wanting to take responsibility when you leave, on the other hand I believe they should have some responsibility – and not just making sure you leave with friends/family. Regional hospitals need to realise some of their patients travel away from home to attend procedures and be aware of what difficulties this often entails. While I can understand your fierce independence, sometimes you have to give in and accept help offered, not easy for you I know.

    • Marlene says:

      Thanks for your comment Linda. I don’t think the hospital had any real interest in my wellbeing after I left as, quite honestly, I could have paid somebody to just roll up and say they were going to stay with me. They wouldn’t have cared.I do agree that maybe I need to practice accepting help offered though. 🙂

      • Gloria says:

        What a difficult time for you Marlene. Not easy on your own particularly when you are not well.
        Having been in charge af a Day Surgery for 7 years I know it is very difficult especially when you are on your own. Unfortunately hospitals have so many protocols which must be adhered to and one is that of responsibility of anyone for the first 24 hours post surgery. Many investigations are carried out because of post operative complications. The hospital has to try to cover themselves if post operative instructions are not carried out.
        Yes ‘the system’ is not flexible.
        Thank God that you have friends that can help you out and the hotel permitted you a late check out.
        Love hearing your blogs and are continuing to pray for you as you face life’s challenges every day.
        Many blessings to you as you share your journey and are able to help others along the way.

        • Marlene says:

          Thanks for your comment Gloria. It is definitely a case of ‘the system’ vs a genuine respect and caring for people. I think next time I’ll just lie as it would be much easier. 🙂 I appreciate your interest in my blog.

  • Eunice Paschke says:

    Marlene, in defence of the hospital, their duty of care is that you have a responsible person to be with you after surgery, yes for legal reasons but also for your well being. You may not take action against them should something happen to you but that is not to say your extended family would not take action against the hospital should you give adverse reactions in that first w4 hours after surgery. It has happened to hospitals in the past hence their requirement for you to sign the waiver. I do feel however that they could be trained a little better in how they handle this side of admission and discharge and have staff make contact via phone with you after you have been discharged. When I was in your position some years ago, the hospital gave me a call at home 4 hours after discharge and then twice the next day, but that was a private hospital -Sportsmed – in Adelaide.

    • Marlene says:

      This was a private hospital Eunice…and I’m wondering why you feel the need to defend this institution? I have learned a lot from this experience and next time ((I’m sure there will be a next time) I will be more prepared. I read an interesting article (admittedly from the US) where collecting somebody from the hospital is actually a service that you can organise and pay for through a company such as Airtasker. It’s a shame when ‘the system’ forces this duplicity.

    • Judy says:

      It has absolutely nothing to do with care for a person’s health and everything to do with legal liability. How do I know this? Because almost everyone who has an outpatient procedure never gets a follow up call from the facility where the procedure was performed. They literally dump liability for the patient into the lap of a friend or family member who doesn’t know squat about medicine and call it good.

  • Jack says:

    Thank you for sharing. I understand. I have major surgery in two days. I have two friends, neither are able to help. My children live 1500 miles away and I’m told COVID 19 is preventing travel. I’m taking a taxi to the hospital and back home 2-3 days later. I will be there alone. My greatest fear is if something goes wrong, I won’t have someone by my side. Maybe I’m just feeling sorry for myself, IDK, but it sure doesn’t seem like the comfortable way to do things.

    • Marlene says:

      Hey Jack, you’re right….it is a horrible way to have to endure surgery. Sometimes we don’t have a choice though, and that is especially true during these current times of pandemic restrictions. Are you able to take a tablet/iPad/smart phone into the hospital so that you can at least video chat with your children after the surgery? I know it’s not at all the same as a hug, but it is better than feeling alone. I genuinely wish you all the best for your time in hospital and I’m sure everything will turn out fine. [virtual hug]

  • Mashelle Patrick says:

    I am scheduled to have surgery in 2 weeks. I live with my boyfriend however he can’t get the time off to be with me you see he here had his kidney stones blasted about a month ago and he had to take nearly a week off to get them taken care of. So His mother will take me to the hospital and bring me home and I will have to be alone for several hours before he gets home from work his bosses are real son of a pitch

  • Marlene says:

    Hi Mashelle, you are certainly going through a tough time…can’t be easy for you. You are lucky to have somebody to at least transport you to and from the hospital though, as otherwise they may not do the surgery. That’s a good thing! I’ve found that things have a way of working out and you might find that too. Please know that you aren’t truly alone as there are a lot of us who have had similar experiences, and we’re behind you all the way. Keep smiling. 🙂

  • Desiree says:

    I’m recovering from surgery number 23 in two months it’ll be surgery number 24 my parents passed away in 2010 since then I have had seven major surgeries and 20 procedures in hospital and I’m doing this alone. Your article touched me when the hospital was insisting that you have Aftercare person with you, because of general anesthesia. I too dislike the pitiful look people give when you say your alone. With each of my surgeries,when they ask me who will take care of me, I just feel more lonely and alone then I ever had. I’m a trooper I get through the surgeries and prepare for my R&R very well. M9st surgeries require. 6 months downtime. Boy can I now cook as though im cooking for an army. I prepare 5 months worth of food. I just moved to a new area and befriended a couple of female neighbors. Daily they are ready to help. You would think that this would be a wonderful thing but being single never married no children, I’m just not used to having people. I don’t really like having people I dont really know in my home and in my private life. Yesterday it was asked of me why I didn’t have a bed side rail or a shower chair the true reason is that I am disabled and I could not afford it i made up some stupid goofy answer.I felt horrible. I don’t want this person to know about my finances and my disability another neighbor just showed up and mowed my front yard and her daughters were in the backyard playing with my dog . Well I wished she asked first. I would never be so presumptuous as to go on someone’s property and do something like that even though its just being nice and helpful. I have an old dog and his hips neck and shoulder are all quite bad and I don’t want him being played with aggressively because if something happens, I’m going to have to put him to sleep I cannot afford to have surgeries for him and that breaks my heart. Even though I don’t like it texting is the way people communicate these days and so I sent a very nice text to this lady thanking her for mowing my lawn and in the future to please ask I couldn’t troubleshoot in the moment to have her not mow my lawn and not play with my dog because I was on the phone with the pharmacy and my doctor going back and forth it was just bad timing. I know her feelings were hurt and I told her please don’t let your feelings be hurt it’s just me , I’m in pain and I’m an old curmudgeon woman. I’m going to reach out to her today and make sure everything is okay and that in and of itself, makes me mad. Here I 5 days out from major surgery & I have many problems throughout my body, everything is flared up right now , I need to be focused on myself relaxing and letting my body heal but instead Im worrying about these two ladies and their feelings. If all of this was not the case, then I would be writing a different response to your article and it would be “oh woe is me”, ” Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”. Ah, chalk it up to human frailty. Thanks for writing this article. You touched on some much that people do not think about.

    • Marlene says:

      Hi Desiree, you are certainly going through a tough time and I hope your current surgery is successful and that you recover quickly. It is difficult when we have to manage everything by ourselves, isn’t it, but it sounds like you are a strong, resourceful woman and have long experience….you could probably teach me a thing or two about resilience and perseverance! Just keep smiling, as I’ve found that starting the day with a smile helps a lot.
      Cheers, Marlene

  • melissa coventry says:

    Hi Marlene! I do not know how I got into your narratives. Right a minute ago, the hospital called to coldly let me know that my husband was out of surgery (a day surgery for his broken finger) and that because I was not there with him to drive him 3 hours away(as my husband feared the covid 19 prevalence at hospitals and did not want me, highly at risk, to contract it) he was to stay at the hospital for 24 hours. She also said that right now his hand has been numbed and everything that you said about the pain will happen. I appreciate your sharing and I fear that though my husband has had many surgeries, the distance to home was never too far before. I did not expect whoever called me to be so uncaring. I guess she is tired having done surery or tired having to talk to a spouse who had no feeling to be by her husband’s side. I pray he comes home safe with one hand as he did going 3 hours to the city and opts like you to stay a bit longer to gain his lucidity and strength.

    • Marlene says:

      Hi Melissa, You must be feeling somewhat ‘attacked’ to have a hospital staff member speak to you so bluntly. I’m sure, as you point out, that they are people too and likely just tired but even so, something like that might have made me burst into tears on the spot! I hope your husband is home and feeling comfortable now. Thank you for commenting on my post.
      Cheers, Marlene

  • Missy Owens says:

    Came across this while trying to figure out how i am going to get through a major surgery coming up soon. I try to advocate for myself. I am recently dx with lung cancer and my best chance is having my right upper lobe removed. This, unfortunately is not the only health issue i have. Brain anurysms unruptured, flow diverter placed in my brain in june, half of my pancreas is atrophied a very painful condition no cure, svt, afib, colon preforation and resected colon, reulting in massive abdominal adhesions to name a few. Was having some trouble functioning before this. I tried advocating for myself to try and figure out how to take care of myself at home after a 5 day hospital stay. 2 to 5 month recovery…family and a few friends are over 1500 miles away and said they will say a prayer…
    Social svcs said i appear to be stressed and gave me a psychatric referral. I live in a semi rural place and called my insurance company to see about any benefits i might have to have an aide to come and help. They called my surgeons office to tell them i have limited benefits should i need them. Surgeons office is now mad at me for doing that and said of i wanted help i would have to pay out of pocket.
    When i asked the surgeon about recovering alone with no support his suggestion was get frozen meals!
    I am scared, cause i have had major surgery and understand it is not gonna be doable by myself? But I’m going to have to!
    It’s appalling that they don’t help and the best support they can offer is a PILL FOR STRESS!!!! They want to act like I’m mental for trying to access my benefits and take care of myself realistically

    • Marlene says:

      Thank you Missy for being trusting enough to write this account from your heart about what you are experiencing. I can hear in your words that it has been tough, yet I admire your strength that you are still doing your absolute best to sort things out. You are amazing. I can’t offer advice except… continue to look after yourself.

  • Katharine says:

    I see this post is almost 2 years old, but I’m just coming to it now after wondering how I will get home after cataract surgery. I know the surgery facility will not release a patient to a cab or Uber driver, and I can understand that the drivers wouldn’t want to take the responsibility anyway. However you would think that with the soon-to-be vast numbers of over-65s living alone and needing surgery, the outpatient facilities would have come up with an alternate solution for this exact situation. I am currently looking into hiring a non-emergency medical transport service. And if that doesn’t work I will need to hire a companion type person for a day just to drive me to and from the surgery.

    • Marlene says:

      I wrote the post a while ago, but the issues still remain – and I’ll likely have to go back for more surgery sometime in the future. I think next time I will approach a local Community Centre to see if they can help. I have been told that this kind of organisation has volunteers who help with things like this. Probably better than some random Uber driver. 😁

  • Susie says:

    Hi Marlene,
    I have surgery coming up in a week. I am using a service to drive to/from. (Only 1.5 mile away to center) It is outpatient with only lots Valium. Then painkillers at home and a drainage tube. The service has a great reputation. And it will be a 5 minute ride. I am suppose to have someone that night, but I don’t. Covid has been ramped up in my family. Huge. I can’t take that chance. Plus I am
    new back in town. I also don’t want a stranger with Covid. (Like a nurse or aide).
    Am I a little nervous? Yes. Because the surgeons office is saying I must not stay alone. I have tolerated painkiller pretty well in previous surgeries and plan to stay out on the couch/in bed. But not sure about the drainage tube. (Okay…full transparency… never done before…mini face procedures. Yikes. No judgement, please…or a long story will entail. :). )

    • Marlene says:

      Susie I don’t judge anyone for anything…ever! I can understand that you are nervous as I did the same and stayed by myself that first night because it was unavoidable. I’m sure you will be fine but might be a good idea to have a couple of phone numbers that you can call in an emergency. I’m sending out positive vibes though. 🥰

  • Ander says:

    I recently had general anesthesia for the first time. Being alone I found myself in a situation close to what you described. It was very comforting to read your post on this topic.
    I just discovered your site and I think I will be reading more of your posts.

    Thanks so much and I wish you the best.

    • Marlene says:

      Hello Ander, I am so pleased that you found my experience was helpful to you. All the very best for you….and your health. 🙂
      Cheers, Marlene

  • Lara says:

    Thanks for writing this article. I 32 and will need a surgery that will leave me unable to care for myself for 2 weeks. I moved to a new town a few years ago for work and although I believe I am liked generally I haven’t made any friends in this town. I am single as well. I have family but the relationships are complicated. Being ill is upsetting but then realising that there is no one it would be appropriate for you to ask to help you is am added blow. Life doesn’t always turn out like you plan. It’s looking like I will have to plan for and pay for home care. Reading your story made me more normal, sometimes it’s just how it is in that moment and that’s ok.

    • Marlene says:

      Hi Lara, thanks for commenting on my blog post. I wrote it a while ago and now see things with a new perspective which I notice you also touch on. You said “life doesn’t always turn out like you plan” and I’ve come to understand that. When I wrote the post I was feeling like a victim….poor me, my husband died and now I have this to deal with. 🙂 I am now in a better frame of mind and it sounds like you see things in the same way. We just need to accept that things are the way they are, smile and surrender to whatever is happening. You are doing a better job of this than I was back then, and I appreciate what you teach me. All the best for your surgery…you’ll be fine. [hugs]

  • Cindy says:

    24 – 36 hours home…. my friend was feeling unusual … she waited a while and luckily she had a neighbor drop her back at hospital. She was having a stroke!!!! They got it taken care of with an additional week in the hospital. She had 40 infusion appointments and then the infection returned. She went to her follow up appointment- and was instructed to go to the hospital immediately! Surgery that next morning. Surgery again on 3rd day. Then she went home. She DOES HAVE a daughter that SHOULD of simply spent 2 nights. But I guess some people just don’t understand that something THAT SIMPLE – truely is the difference on YOUR LIFE OR DEATH! —— I couldn’t spend the night…. but I did use my key & checked I on her at 2AM. I’ve got a hospice relative and my job…. I will be there for my mom!!! And I will try for my friend. But you NOT having a friend simply kick it for 2 simple nights…. you were not being responsible!!!

  • Lauren says:

    Hi Marlene,
    I’m glad I came across this. I’m a single 35 year old who is faced with having to get surgery. I live alone and my family either lives 3000 miles away or has small children, and work obligations and I would not feel right about asking them to take time away from their own lives. It’s scary. I never thought I would be single at this age and facing a pretty big surgery alone, but sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way we thought it would. While I’m sure I can get someone to bring me to hospital and pick me up, I have nobody to stay with me overnight or to run errands for me for the 4 weeks I cannot drive. I plan to figure this all out now while I still have a semi clear head. I’m convinced hospitals and doctors (many not all) want to strip us of what dignity we have. I’ve had to repeatedly tell them that I don’t have someone that can stay with me, finding someone to take me to the hospital is tricky, etc. Each time I repeat myself I feel myself getting smaller and smaller and their looks of pity don’t help. With more and more single people and people living longer there needs to be serious discussion in the medical field about what to do in these situations, and alternative solutions

  • Mark says:

    In the period of 8 weeks , I lost my mother who fought dementia, watched my daughter go through a health scare , then had my own heart surgery , 8 weeks!
    Came home to no one , no one reached out to help .. I realized when I was caring for mom I was on my own . Save your text messages and phone calls that just ask “how you doin?” They became very offensive to me , was that for me or the person on the other end , knowing they aren’t going to help and trying to feel better about themselves. Thanks for your story, I realized I am not alone

    • Marlene says:

      Hi Mark, my heart goes out to you because you have had a very bad run. 😟 I can understand that life has been very difficult for you with so many challenging situations, one after the other. Please know that you are definitely not alone as one thing I’ve come to realise during my own journey, is that however bad I think my problem is, somebody out there in the world is travelling along on the same road. I take strength from that, and I hope you can too. Take care. 🥰

  • Colleen says:

    Hospitals need to hire some sort of ride assistance / care assist for people I this situation. It’s completely ridiculous something like this isn’t in place already. The worst part is that they make you sign waivers and basically accuse you of purposefully neglecting your own care!! If people actually HAD options, they would use them. What about those who literally don’t have someone who can provide these services, and can’t afford to hire someone for it?

    I’m fairly young (46) and am caretaker to my boyfriend (47) because he has a myriad of health issues that come and go. He alternates between crutches and a wheelchair, and sometimes if the pain is excruciating in his legs, he can’t even leave the house. This can change overnight. I’m freaked out because I’m supposed to have surgery to remove some growths on my ovaries, which they say can take weeks to heal from. Not only might I not have someone to pick me up, how in the world am I supposed to caretake for him while healing!? On top of that, I’ll be out of work, and I’m our only income. We have nobody that can assist, and certainly can’t afford to pay anybody. He has insurance because he’s unemployed, I have none. It’s such a frustrating situation when hospitals, doctors, and social workers just assume you have this legion of family and friends who will step in to basically be your slaves when you’re out of commission!!

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