Surgical experiences can bring out the best and the worst in people by means of extremes that do not surface in daily living. Surgery occurs more frequently than any Hollywood escapade, and is more terrifying to the individual who is undergoing it. Psychologically, the fear and tension are high and additionally, chemical and physical reactions add their burden. Adaptation to all these changes takes time and may be demonstrated in strange ways.
Mrs. W, at 72, was a spry, alert widow with neat short white hair. She had an infectious twinkle that accompanied a witty remark, and she was more reassuring than in need of reassurance.
Surgically, her problem was complicated by the necessity first for removing her inflammed gall bladder followed in less than ten days by a second procedure to correct a bowel obstruction.
Two days after the second procedure a hospital volunteer and I arrived in Mrs. Ws room at the same time - she with a dozen American Beauty roses; I to make rounds.
"Good morning, Mrs. W. How are you today?" I asked.
She roused to look blankly in the direction of the strange noise. "Oh, Doctor . . . it's you," she said uncertainly.
I checked her dressing and her chart. All seemed to be going well at last. The volunteer put the vase of roses on the night table for Mrs. W. to see.
"They certainly are beautiful," I said to Mrs. W, but she had rolled over and had fallen asleep again.
A few days later, I was back. "Good morning, Mrs. W. Are you with us? You were a little confused there for a while." "Well, I'm back all right, but there are a few gaps here and there. Do you remember when my roses came?" She smiled and seemed most interested in my answer.
"Yes, indeed. I was here when they arrived."
"Oh, were you? I don't remember."
"Yes, and they're still beautiful."
"Well, there's more to it than that. My husband and I had a close friend in the Legion before my husband died. This friend knew my husband used to send me roses on special occasions. He sent these. They are the first thing I remembered. I woke up and there they were - like a message telling me to come back. So I did." She grinned at me with her old twinkle.
I patted her hand and left the room with a small tear in my eye.