Two nurses and a doctor surround me where I lay in the hospital. I feel like a human sacrifice, a thought that makes me giggle. After all, there will be blood. Quite a lot of it.
Evan, who always stays in the room for these events to “make sure they’re doing it right” and to give me a focal point, sees the slight shake of my shoulders and steps forward, concern etched on his face. He knows I laugh and smile when I’m anxious. He can’t reach me, though.
“Alright,” the doctor says, “I hear you’re a tricky change, so we’ll try to make this fast. Hopefully we’ll get it in the first time.”
I’m not interested in what he’s saying, though. I’ve heard it from six other doctors. What I’m concerned with is my pain medicine – two Norco – wearing off as my fear mounts. Over two years of this, and I’m still terrified every time.
Thankfully, I remember what I am supposed to do when I’m this scared. I look for Evan and find he’s already looking at me.
“OK, we’re going to disconnect the ventilator, take out the old trach, and put the new one in, hopefully in about a minute,” the doctor says.
My heart rate ticks up to about 140 by my estimate because I know exactly what this is going to feel like. I’m going to slowly suffocate without my ventilator. A minute is a long time to go without air. Then if I’m lucky there will be only two sharp shards of pain, one when they rip out my trach – the breathing tube in my throat – and one when they shove the new trach in, and that’s IF this doctor gets the new trach in the first time. They never get it right, though, because I’m between sizes.
Evan, Evan, Evan. Focus on those blue eyes. Nothing else matters.
“We’re taking off the ventilator in 1, 2…”
Evan holds my gaze with his as they take away my air and pull out the old trach.
“It’s a tight squeeze, that’s for sure,” the doctor says as he attempts to push the new trach in.
My toes curl. I’m really feeling the lack of oxygen. The pain overwhelms the Norco. Evan doesn’t look away. I stare into his eyes even as I feel the doctor rip out the new trach.
“It’s a sharp down angle. Again,” the doctor says. Time is not on his side.
I swallow blood. Clots will come out through my feeding tube later. One more powerful pop of pain, and the doctor says, “There we go! It’s in. And here’s the ventilator.” Delicious air rushes into my aching lungs. “All done. You did great,” he tells me.
I finally look away from Evan up at the doctor. He looks tired, like that minute lasted forever. I want to tell him I know how he feels, but I can’t speak without my tobii (eye gaze computer).
As if reading my mind, Evan grabs the tobii and hurries towards me. Then he pauses and says, “Is that her old trach?” I follow his wide-eyed stare and suddenly feel a weight on my chest. A bloody plastic tube with ridges lays on me. My stomach rolls. In the frenzy of the trach change procedure, the doctor must have laid it down and forgotten about it. One of the nurses snatches it up.
“Oops! Sorry about that. So I will see you in two months for your next trach change.” I relax a little. This doctor was clueless about me at first, but he adapted. Maybe next time he’ll remember the peculiar anatomy of my cut.
“When is that, June? Actually, I’m on vacation for most of that month, so you’ll be seeing Dr. Roberts. He’s great, you’ll love him.”
Another different doctor. Suddenly, I can’t catch my breath. I start to cough up blood, and my ventilator tube turns ruby red. A nurse jogs over to suction my lungs. Evan pushes through to coach my breathing, hoisting the tobii under one arm so he can hold my hand.
“Slow down,” he says, his voice steady and calm.
The nurse says, “Don’t be afraid. This is normal.”
It’s not the blood that’s scaring me, though. It’s the vision of trach changes every two months for the rest of my very unnatural life.
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