Friday, December 21, 2012

SPINE FUSION - shoes and a couple Real Solutions

I'll start with some solutions, and get to the whining later.

    - a long-handled back bath brush is good for feet and calves.
    - in a situation with no grab bars, I've fastened the cane to a door knob.  The door to the bath area opens with the knob right right next to the tub.  It steadies me safely getting in and out of the tub.
Thank Heaven this tub has a non-skid bottom surface. 
     -there are non-skid mats for the bottom of the sink.  You can carry a couple home for the tub easier than the tub-size non-skid mat.
    - I found a funny looking glove for 99c that is apparently intended for the tub.  I bought it because it's some kind of plastic mesh that dries quickly and you can slip a little soap inside so you never drop it.  A regular bonanza for anyone who can't bend.  BONUS:  it makes a nice exfoliator if you're gentle.
    -At probably the same little store, I got a small mesh bag that hangs over the shower rod AND holds my shampoo and my "soap glove." (The grabber doesn't pick up wet shampoo bottles that fall in the tub.)
Maybe the shoe thing isn't a problem unless your fusion is lumbar?  Or maybe it is.  I gave up heels.  I bought the walking shoes that look like nurse shoes used to look, because they don't have dangerously excess non-skid tread.  Lacing them feels like it's putting my fusion at great risk. 

Would a professional brow shaping make up for the way I would feel with Velcro walking shoes?  Might as well wear a sign that says Beware of Old Broad.  Note to shoe manufacturers - a wedge can be wider than a razor blade and still be stable-with-style.  Please manufacture some right now. 

Your turn:  How many uses have you found for your "grabber?"

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

SPINE FUSION - more incidental healing

A nurse, somewhere away from the hospital, heard me say something about swollen feet.  She looked me in the eye and said firmly:

     Swollen feet are about the chair, not the shoes. 

Finally someone who gets it!

The supposed solution is to put a cushion on a hard chair (or a painful wheelchair) which makes the seat even higher.  As I mentioned earlier, some nurses or aides didn't know that the foot rests on a wheelchair can be raised to take some pressure off the backs of our thighs.

When I was a decorator, I never found a manufacturer who gave a choice of seat height on a particular chair.  So if the client/wife was much shorter than her husband. . .

Donald A. Norman, in The Design of Everyday Things reminded us that even if we design for over 90 per cent of people, we still  neglect millions if others

After the hospital trip in July, I gave up wearing heels (except for the mid heeled evening slippers hidden in my closet In Case.)  So a church pew is going to be torture.  

Now I do what I have to do.  I put a box "footstool" in front of my posture chair, since my ottoman didn't make the move to TX with me.  I also put a low box in front of the desk chair. 

If you want to share how you change your environment to serve your recovery, please let me know.

Soon:  about the car

Monday, December 17, 2012

SPINE FUSION Incidental healing and

One more incidental happening:
I may have mentioned this, but it's worth repeating:
Waiting in the surgeon's office, I mentioned that at the end of 4 weeks, I started getting some leg pain.  His assistant asked what I'd been doing and I confessed this blog kept me at the keyboard a bit longer.  She said:

Divide your time:  a half hour at the computer, some time lying down, some time walking. . .
And of course I need time for the exercises.  I still have to force myself away from the keyboard.  Since it's a laptop, my posture is at risk.

Look around you in a coffee shop, and ask yourself if you're doing some of those duck postures that will have consequences.  I see a bonanza for orthopods coming in future years.

The car
I liked my car and my jeans.  In my free time, I liked being totally relaxed, JoanCool in the driver's seat.  Since the surgery I realized:

That shoulders-and-hips in the same plane move that gets me out of bed should be getting me in and out of the car.  Guess what!  In my youth, all women were supposed to back into the car and then rotate shoulder-and- hips in the same plane into the car.  So now I do.  Takes too long, but. . .

Guess what else?  I saw my friend Tom getting out of his vehicle that way, mentioning that it's good for his back trouble.

Now I'm getting a real course in using the side mirrors, hoping to eliminate twisting to look around the hateful head rest to see whether I'm backing into someone's lobelia or on someone's shiny new bumper.  Another learning experience. . .  Face it, I'll still have to get out of the car and look sometimes.  And since my lens replacement, I'll still be four feet from the car I thought I was hitting.  I'm way too young for all this.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

SPINE FUSION Incidental healings

Sometimes I'm tempted to take a physical therapist's or someone else's word as true and vital, because some of them have seen much. 

The very first PT, when I was first diagnosed, said several things that stay with me: 
       Hold your stomach in.  
       People don't do their exercises, so they end up back in here. 
That last remark sent me right to my floor mat.  Like my favorite mystery fiction heroes, I finally started doing the exercises before breakfast, so there would be no excuses later.

Now floor work is NOT advised, and I can do some routines standing up or sitting

She even wrote a letter to my employer admonishing no twisting, no heavy pulling, no lifting over eight pounds, no strenuous activity. 
I still try to stick with this in everyday life, and try to stand my ground with people whose are sure I am now Good As New.
  My daughter warned me away from a certain airline where she had needed to twist even to get out of her aisle seat. 

In the hospital, two therapists mentioned my big fear:
     Yes, you will need to be careful from now on to protect the rest of your spine from the fused part. 

The surgeon had handed me a huge-looking plastic-y thing with some bolts.   When the shock wore off, I knew the adjoining verebrae would be working overtime.

In another hospital, a PT or nurse dropped into the conversation:
     Well, it's better to push yourself up than pull yourself up.  

This one is hard to abide by, since the grab bars in bathrooms are so high that only an NBA star would be pushing down on the bar to get up.  The arms of my chair are the only place I can push myself up.
   My friend got a stool to help me get into his Jeep, so I could stop pulling myself up.

The thing that I count on daily is my "posture chair," the light weight chair my  daughter bought me at IKEA.  Its back is nearly flat (no funny lumps like dentist chairs and airline seats.)  I can get some rest there.  Moving, I had to abandon it and I was really worried about my back

With a lot of effort, the daughters made sure the identical chair was in my new room when I got here.  Bless them both.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

SPINE FUSION - Arm Exercises

Before the surgery, I was doing floor work with five-pound weights.  

But in the hospital, my elbow and arm were straining to learn the new "log-roll" method of getting out of bed - keeping the shoulders and hips in the same plane, pushing up with arm and elbow to sitting position. 

The surgeon did mention in rehab that surgery takes a lot of your system.  The OT or PT handed me those cute lime green plastic dumbbells, but only for a couple of seconds.

Then I got home and the PT was taught arm exercises by putting a few ounces on the almost weightless "grabber."   I used it with both hands and it seemed foolishly easy until the second sets  of all these:

1.  Straight arms:  lift the "bar" up and down ten times--higher than shoulders then not necessarily down to thighs.  Repeat.

2.  Straight arms:  shoulder height--bring the bar toward you then push it away until arms are extended still at shoulder height.  10 times.  Repeat.

3.  Straight arms:  shoulder height. Move the bar left and right and back 10 times.  Repeat.

Embarrassing how easy this looks and still my arms got tired.

Now I use the cane for the bar.  I need something to hang on it--better do some research for when I can drive to stores.  Soon, they say.

 Finally the Duh moment:  Haven't been allowed to lift more than 8 or 10 pounds since diagnosis almost two years ago.  Then the week after surgery, couldn't sit up far enough to get fork to my mouth. So the arms didn't get much stronger - use it or lose it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

SPINE FUSION - protect yourself: the all-day PT exercise

Work on your Red Carpet/Grammy Award walk. 

BatMan doesn't slouch.  I have to back up against the door frame and check whether I'm leaning forward.  And hold my stomach in even when I'm reading Michael Connolly.  Right posture is the exercise that keeps that lump of new spine hardware from abusing the rest of my vertebrae.  This surgery should keep working way longer than a vintage Rolls.

Upgrade leg exercises:  after I'd done them comfortably, the visitng PT put light, soft ankle weights on me.  I doubt they weighed more than a few ounces, but it's a start.  And did I mention: ask the doctor before you do even ounces. 

If you were a jock before the surgery, don't necessarily expect to get away without the stiff legs now.  All my years of climbing around my hilly past neighborhood are not helping with today'sstiffness after unpacking my clothes one at a time with the grabber.

Did I promise arms exercises?  Next post.   Honest.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Might as well start with the usual disclaimer:  do not do any exercises without checking with your doctor.  

The visiting Physical Therapist gave me this series.  On her visits, she made me do them in front of her (clearly I'm not the only patient who forgets to do them.)

One nice thing is:  one set lying on the bed; one set in the chair.  Since the surgeon's assistant told me some of my pains could be avoided if I alternate places--lying down gets us away from the computer. 

OK Lying down on my back:  again I remind you that I have buns, so I don't lie on my back with both legs flat on the bed; I need a pillow under them.  So:

First the bun squeeze - just tense both buns a few times.  I do this with a pillow under my knees and calves.

Then with one knee bent, extend the other leg and then dig the heel in to the mattress as you pull your heel close to your buns.  Back and forth 10 times.   Then other heel.

Now: one leg straight - move leg left to right and back 10 times.  Then other leg straight, same move left to right and back.

In the chair:  my chair supports my back - the seat and back make a letter L tilted back a couple of degrees. 

Lift one knee  a few inches ten times.  Do not strain or force it. Rest.  Then other knee.  Rest.  Repeat both

I rest legs on my ottoman and:  Lift one whole straight leg an inch or two.  Ten times. Rest.  Then other leg.  Repeat including the rests.

Then on the ottoman:  I move one leg at a time left to right and back 10 times.  Rest.  Other leg.  Rest.  Repeat.

Next time:  Arms

I really mean ask your doctor before you do any exercises.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

SPINE FUSION - Healing - more Doctor's orders

The surgeon has insisted from the beginning:  WALK.  I realized months ago (not the same as practicing it) that walking is the only place I can really watch my posture.  Otherwise I'm reading or leaning toward the keyboard, or grabbing a desk phone or a boiling pot on the stove.

The walker is still an awkward nuisance but necessary.   The leg with the most recent nerve punishment still feels a bit awkward, and once in awhile a bit weak for a second.  Wanting to get back to my room with a pretty cup of coffee and the walker has been a powerful motivator.    

The alley to the laundry room is now strictly forbidden.  Even with the walker, that rough rubble surface back there can throw me. 

It's easy to use the walker wrong, and I often do.  They taught me to stand sort of inside the walker (not too far in, or you would bump the front piece.)  This keeps us from leaning forward or putting weight on the handles.  Yes, I learned all this before the surgery, but sometimes lately  I feel like a weakling who's lucky to stand up.

The PT says the leg stiffness will go away after awhile. 

(Apologies for times I repeat something from earlier posts.)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

SPINE FUSION - Healing - Doctor's Orders

  Home at last.  My surgeon or the hospital has arranged for a different set of home health visitors than the ones I had in July.  The  nurse arrives and starts at the gate talking to my daughter about me.  When she gets into my room, she sits facing my daughter and  keeps talking only to her, referring to me as "she."  I just want to yell the words from . . .THE TITANS:    I'm hurt, not dead!

I finally stand and say as calmly as I can, "It would be good if you talked directly to me."   When she looks at the incision, she becomes upset because the area is red.  She puts a gauze pad over it, though the doctor had taken the cover off.   She insists I must see the surgeon.  Now I'm upset.  After a three-way conversation, we make an appointment to go clear back to Pasadena the next day.

While waiting in the surgeon's office I learn from his assistant that I was  given a sheet of post-op instructions earlier that urged me to shower!  (No baths.)  With only a few hundred papers from the first hospital, how could I have overlooked that instruction sheet?

The surgeon comes in and says the incision is red only because it was irritated.  I am short.  The brace has been way too tall and not nearly tight enough at my waist.  (Irritating and painful as it sometimes is, I remember being grateful in Rehab that I didn't have the hard braces up to the neck, and one hard wood neck frame I saw on other patients.)  He sends my daughter downstairs to have the big outer shell (heavy as a winter coat) removed.  One hurdle overcome.  He removes any remaining steri-strips.                  


My daughter went back to her home in a few days.  When the nurse had only me to talk to, we became friends. 

The two steps/landings into the apartment I used to do in my sleep.  Now I stop and think of the PT slogans. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

SPINE FUSION - Stayin' alive - most dangerous

What I find most dangerous that not one Occupational Therapist mentioned is:
Lack of safe lighting!

So many rooms have a light switch only at one end of the room, or worse, only at the foot of the stairs!

Anyone can accidentally drop something that could make a person with a cane go cane sailing with the predictable unhappy landing.  I've had to resort to carrying a rechargeable flashlight in my purse to get from the front door to my room.   There just isn't a good place right inside the front door for a lamp.  Maybe inside a book case or beside it could be an unobtrusive  push-button light like the ones in some closets.

I don't see a way to clap on a clapper light without my cane really breaking something . . .

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

SPINE FUSION - Occupational Therapy in real life

After patients are released, some medical insurance supplies home therapy--not just physical therapy and exercises.  An occupational therapist may visit the home and point out steps, narrow walkways, objects in the way of walkers, and tough cabinets to reach.

The therapist and the patient will soon discover some ongoing problems that aren't simple.

1.  Things That Plug.   Even when I worked as a decorator, I was never in a home that had the electric plugs at no-bend height except in the kitchen and bath.  Shaving plugs, yes.  Computer plugs - lotsa luck.  Somewhere in some catalog is a long gizmo that fastens a plug-extender at waist height so I can actually plug and unplug the laptop every time the tech says " just unplug it and then plug it in again."

2. Dishwashers.  Waist-height ovens are available for those of us who still dare eat pie.   The Barbie and Ken bending from the hip really doesn't help put the pie making dishes in the DW or cover all the acrobatics of re-organizing the dishwasher load until the door will close.

3.  The trunk of the car and most of the SUV load space.   Even the things we can reach are probably too heavy or too far down in the trunk or too far back in the SUV.   You can buy a six-speed car here, but the local auto parts places have not found me a gizmo that makes the trunk floor high enough for me to lift my less-than-10- pound belongings.

4.  Groceries.  Eighteen people have suggested the wire cart that rolls food home.  None of them can figure how I would get the food out of the bottom of the cart without bending.  I think I know how the cart should be modified, but I don't have a teen-ager handy to rig it up for me.

5.  Child car seats.  The acrobatics needed to install and uninstall a child from a vehicle are entirely outside of what we're allowed to do.  The people who ask you to baby sit will be unaware of this.  And borrowing your grandchild will be tough.

Yes,  there's plenty I've figured out how to do.  There's a mob of us, however,  who don't need a wheelchair or a lift.  The industrial design world hasn't even scratched the surface of what we do need for the only back we're going to get. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

SPINE FUSION - rehab - Stayin' alive Part 2

More about "home alone."

My bedroom looks spacious because when I was able to do floor work, I left open space for my great exercise mat. Somehow one room holds: two file cabinets, a desk, an end table for drawer space and to hold a lamp.  (The spine problem was diagnosed before I moved here.  My daughter gave me or helped me choose things that don't require a lot of bending.)

At night, I roll my desk chair to bedside, and use it for a night stand - there's a basket complete with flashlight, a little Tylenol, ear plugs, maybe some lotion, etc.  I like a flashlight when I have to get up at night, instead of turning on the bright light.   The walker is right beside the foot of the bed, in case I don't get my land legs right away.

With The Grabber, I'll be able to pull the covers up more or less neatly for daytime, though it's not a photo oppportunity.

I've liked my shoes on the floor, so I could just slip into them.  But I do own two shoe hanging bags with open-end compartments so all shoes are visible and not so dusty.

My daughter got me these wonderful compartments that hang on the closet rod.  I can see all the undies, tee shirts, etc. so no need for a chest of drawers (couldn't reach the bottom drawers anyway.)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

SPINE FUSION acute rehab - Occupational therapy = Stayin' alive

Today, as I get used to the idea of going home, an Occupational Therapist I've never seen before comes in.   I describe my room and bath and the apartment they're in, almost step by step, for her.

The bath   Has room for the walker to sit in there safely.
The tub has shower doors--not useful for stability. 
 I have a bubble mat on the tub floor with a shower chair on it.  A towel goes on the floor outside the tub on the faucet side, for firm footing. The back of the toilet is just inches from the tub--something to stabilize me as I get out of the tub area.  The other towels are right on the other shower door. When I'm clean, the grabber will pick up the towel/mat so I can hang it up.

There is a vanity right beside the toilet, if I need stability getting up.  The toilet is exactly the right height for me, since my legs are short. 

I keep my cosmetics, soap, tooth stuff, etc., on the vanity top so I don't have to bend down to the cupboard underneath.  It is only a couple steps to the bedroom - good for safe passage at night.

The living/dining area has a generous aisle leading to the kitchen.  On the living room side, there is room for the walker to move from the dining room or the bedroom area to the front door.  Then only one step from the outside landing down to the lower landing and then down to the courtyard. 

In the kitchen I keep some of my dishes on the counter top, and a couple of clean pans on the cooktop.  Some food goes in a little upper cupboard I can reach without leaning.  The refrigerator at least has glass shelves, so I can see what I can't reach in the back and on the lower shelf.  The dishwasher is off limits now, being mostly too low for me.  If  could drive, of course, I'd hunt for a black dish dryer rack, but . . .

Every inch counts in the bedroom.  The desktop is easy to reach, and so is the top of my folding shelf rack.  So, things get moved from desk top to bed to desk top as necessary.  The thick carpet keeps my rolling desk chair from rolling (I had that same trouble where I worked.)   I rigged up a sort of end table from black file boxes, and another on the hidden side of my posture chair.  I can reach my coffee, water, note pad, book, morning pills and so on from the chair.  It has an ottoman in front of it, for resting my feet, since the chair (great support back) is too tall. 

More on the bedroom in the next installment

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

SPINE FUSION Acute rehab- what do you mean, go home?

There must be some mistake.  I'm not allowed to get out of bed alone, take a shower, go into the bathroom alone. . . and you think I'm ready to go home alone?  And as for walking with a cane?  There's no one home with one of those canvas safety belts to catch me.

Nevertheless, the top PT is here again with the cane.  We not only go into the garden, but we walk around with the cane.  We go out through the gate and practice stepping onto and off the curb with the cane.  I note that the curb here in the parking lot is rather low and safe looking.  It's too hot for a really prolonged walk thru the garden - much of it is not shaded.

Back inside and into the event room.  No, there's another room here called gym.  It has a tiny step stool that I still doubt I'll ever use.  And THE STAIRS.  Someone has made a set of four wooden stairs with handrails--looks like it was once a stage set.  I go up a couple steps with the cane and the hand rail.  Then the PT sends me to the top and tells me to come down alone with the cane and NO touching the hand rails, not even steadying myself by touching them with a shoulder.  She stands near the bottom, encouraging me.  I decide if I ever get out this place, I'm definitely never going down any stairs with a cane. 

They want me to go home Friday.  I panic.  Loudly.  My daughter is not coming to town until the 23rd.  I live alone.  And I definitely will have to get out of bed alone, go to the bathroom alone, get cleaned up alone, fix food alone. 

The next morning there are five people in my room including the head doctor.  They give me the Medicare rules, which are incomprehensible.  It's either go home or go to a nursing home.  We finally agree that I can wait until my daughter comes to get me on Sunday.  I have some time to consider how to get food when I get home. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

SPINE FUSION - Rehab - the home stretch?

Did I already mention the mystery neurologist who insisted on knowing all the pressures in my life outside rehab.  I still wonder why that phrase "not doing your best" came up again.

Things have started speeding up; I'm getting little pieces of paper with the day's schedule of as many as six occupational and physical therapy appointments, sometimes back to back.  The OTs also have some exercises for me, but no shower.

 And my walks are getting longer.   Today the hallway leads us right into an elevator and, imagine, right out into the hospital garden!  There is a long wall with plaques about the history of the hospital.  The long walk in front of it is blessedly in the shade, so we walk along there with my walker.  Bliss.  A hospital garden that the patients actually get to use!  Of course, I'm not allowed out here alone.  There should be a photo to send back to that hospital with the not-so-accessible koi pond.

A friend visited me in the Glendale hospital right after my surgery and brought me a copy of Vogue.  I had a little trouble identifying with fashion mags right then.  Now I leaf through the photos.  There, believe it or not, is a model wearing what I'm sure is a shockingly expensive black leather belt that looks so much like my brace (except for the velcro) that I don't know whether to laugh or ... laugh. 

Today brings a new and scary addition to my PT!  A cane.  All of a sudden I wish I had done more of those balance exercises, like the standing on one foot position, for instance.  After those first few days in the hospital in July, since I couldn't drive with that unreliable right leg, I would walk 2 blocks to the market.   The bag person would hang my two grocery bags on the walker, and I'd make my way safely back to my room. 

Now it takes me about two seconds to confirm that the cane is not that secure.  What if my right leg has one of its weak moments?  Even going out in the hall where there's no bed to fall into takes a minute to get ready for.  The PT puts the canvas belt around my waist, but she's littler than I am, and I wonder if she really can catch me with it if I fall.  (Of course, right now, she's a lot stronger than I am.)  Most people are. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

SPINE FUSION acute rehab - what to take to rehab

After the surgery, in the other hospital, I was in no condition to put on clothes.  I had been given a list, so bought two big summer robe/housecoat things and slippers, which were instantly rejected by the physical therapists at rehab.  And forget going to the bathroom wearing the housecoats = wrapped around my neck perhaps?

I had arrived for the surgery wearing some above the ankle knit pants with an elastic waist.  Since the brace is the thickness of a long cat wrapped around the waist, I can only wear elastic-waist pants with it.  (It sort of scrunches up the cotton lounge/bag dress things I brought, so way too much leg shows.)  The knit pants have to do for all purposes this week.  Since they were new, they still seem fairly fresh.  I hope.

I wish I had hidden certain prescription creams in my medicine pouch.  There have been unpleasant discussions all week about who decides which of my regular meds I get, and who gives them to me, and when, and how often.  My primary physician is not here to get involved in these talks.   And a couple of really bad episodes with a certain cream that I did NOT enjoy explaining to a college age boy from the hospital pharmacy.  Most of the stress has been blamed on some Medicare rule.  Okay, now you know how old I am.

I also need some things to cheer me up.  I wish I had more pictures of happy times in my wallet.  Even pictures of things I made, to remind me that I can still draw or make a model of a design while I'm wearing the brace, once I escape from this bed and the painful, too-tall, perma-lock wheelchair and get to a place with an actual table.  Somehow, when I get my instructions in the wheelchair, and when the meals cart is near, the nurse has to leave before I think to ask her to hand me some paper and to move my pen closer to me.

Just let me say that the nurses are all kind and some are truly friendly.  It's the schedule, the crowded room, the iffy medicine-schedule computer, and the furniture moving that make things tough on nurses and patients. 

Luckily, the ambulance guys who brought me to rehab also brought the fabulous orchid plant in its very heavy little planter.  And luckily it's some variety of orchid that stays alive whether I get there with any water or not.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

SPINE FUSION Acute Rehab. Why Occupational Therapy?

We've pretty much nailed down the possibilities of the sponge bath.  A word has been added to the whiteboard:  independent.  Who are they kidding--I'm not supposed to get out of bed or out of the wheelchair when I'm alone, so I haven't been to the bathroom alone.  By the way, I was the one who suggested letting me use the bathroom.  There isn't much ventilation in there.  I don't want to faint again; I need the door open.  I have met at least one stranger with the door open, but modesty is the first to go in a hospital.

And in the bathroom, here's that latest safety-design, curbless shower that I haven't used.  Am I not cleared by the doctor to shower?  Of course, I didn't get any list telling me to bring shower shoes. . .

But ignore the future or not, I will be going home.  Even if we don't live alone, there are a couple hundred ways to mess up our remodeled spines at home.  The family will be at work or at school much of the time.  All the things we put where we wanted them at home are now things we won't be able to reach with the Barbie Bend.  Or with this delicate "grabber" that will pick up a fried egg, but won't pick up the frying pan off the bottom shelf.

The occupational therapist (OT) is working with me on doing things by myself.  She takes me to the event room/lunch room/toy room.  There is a bathtub.  It doesn't have shower doors, which I'll be dealing with at home.  Luckily talking with my hands is my specialty.  I show her where the imaginary shower doors are, and what I can grab onto at home, like the flat-top toilet tank, so I'll never unconsciously grab for those unstable doors when getting out of the tub.  I even get into the tub to show her I can step that high. 

I make a mental note to buy a strong, long-handled bath brush to scrub my calves and feet.  This toy long-handled sponge I had to buy at the other hospital will last about two weeks.

We do some walking and stepping exercises and again I'm shocked by how fast I get tired.  And of course we practice getting up off the low, low sofa.  She hands me some cute lime green two-pound, Head-Start dumbbells and assures me Target has them. I doubt that Target delivers them.  I enjoy them and I'm glad I can lift something besides my fork. . .

The room here is crowded, and since the wheelchair sitting is part of rehab, something is always moved to make room for it. The meals cart/bedside cart is usually what gets moved away from me.  Or my walker.  The real bedside table is somewhere else,  to make room for all the moveable stuff, so the purse and phone and call button and my book are often in the bed and falling out of the bed.  Often I forget to remind the nurses and aides before they leave that I have to be able to reach my water and hopefully my glasses and my book and a tissue.  Helpless. 

It's hopeless trying to write in bed. 

All along, I notice most hospital folk I meet have not gone through this surgery and they can't really picture what it is like not to be unable to reach  the call button that fell thru the cute plastic side rails and is tangled up down there.  I call "somebody!"  Repeatedly.  Helpless.

I think about that movie, where the doctor recovered from his cancer makes all the newbie doctors take all the nasty tests patients have to take.

It's a blessing that my daughter will come down here to get me started at home.  A big blessing.  (I am unable to think beyond that day, and how I will manage when she goes home.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

SPINE FUSION - Acute Rehab - exercises for here and at home

Today when I'm in bed trying to rest without knocking the old-time shiny grey pushbutton phone, my purse, or my call buttons onto the floor, the physical therapist appears.  She has exercises I can do lying in bed. 

In July, my injured spine had been pressing on the nerves to my legs, once causing so much pain that I went to the hospital by ambulance.  Lying there, despite whatever pain pills they were giving me, I still had pain when I bent my right knee, moving my foot closer to my buns. 

Right now they don't conside me helpless, even though I can't unsnarl the phone cord from the call buttons cord or from anything else. 

So -- leg exercises.  I definitely appreciate the one that builds strength in my thighs and allows moving the foot closer to my buns and then stretching the leg out again without much discomfort.

The worst thing about the exercises is realizing how easily I could have done them in June - how easily I could often have done them until just before the surgery.  It's a long way back.

 I learn to move the legs side-to-side flat on the mattress.  Hopefully this sideways motion is good for balance, in case those rumors are true about learning to walk with a cane. 

Also there's one I never heard or read of before:  pressing the back of the leg into the mattress so the back of the knee really pushes into the bed.  This is supposed to help the--oh whichever muscle.  Paying serious attention, I don't really feel what muscles are working, but they are.

The most impressive exercise so far was operating the wheelchair.  I could feel it using those forearm muscles like brachioradialis (most interesting word I remember from anatomy.)  There is no wheelchair at home.  Might as well order some more long-sleeve tops.  I'm many months from my next pushup.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

SPINE FUSION - Occupational (and vehicular) Therapy

I've always thought occupational therapy would be teaching me to run a drill press, or just get the round pegs into any of the holes with injured fingers.  Instead, the occupational therapists (OTs) are taking me seriously about living alone. 

The shower in my room's bathroom has been studiously ignored by everyone.  Now I'm in the wheelchair with a pink basin in my lap.  I had learned about NO-rinse soap at the first hospital, due to the wonderful "shampoo cap."  Now the basin contains some warm washcloths with no-rinse soap on them.  I wash the top half, and get the sputum basin to brush my teeth.  I'll wash the bottom half in the bathroom.

Attempts to do my flossing and brushing standing up have lasted less than five minutes.  The therapist saved me from melting down onto the walker; she said five minutes is enough standing at first.  I did the Barbie bend for the teeth brushing, of course.

And a nurse gave me this spray bottle to use as a sort of portable bidet.  Of course, if I drop it, I'm out of luck since I don't bring  The Grabber to the bathroom.

After lunch, a bit of clandestine vehicle-therapy.  Someone has left my wheelchair unlocked!  (I'm supposed to be able to use it as long as I don't get up when alone, but one lock is too tough for me. )I swivel the food/beside table out of my way.  The area on the sides of the bed are too narrow for all the equipment in this room, but I am Highly Motivated.  By backing up and practicing a bit, I get all the way around the bed, get some of my possessions off the wonderful wide window ledge. 

Luckily my walker is on this side.  Using it for balance, I'm out of the wheelchair and into the "guest chair."   It seems to be upholstered concrete.  But the excitement of freedom is wonderful--this is how my baby brother must have felt escaping from his crib at night and fixing crackers and milk in the dark.  From now on I'm on the hunt for another wheel chair, though I know I won't need one at one.  Probably.

Of course, I have to back the wheelchair out and around the bed to get back to the starting point with minimum damage to the wall.  I'm too chicken to go into the hall for fear they will double surveillance in future.

Later the OT gives me a peek into the room where there are a few therapy items.  There are some home-made stairs and a home-made "curb" for practicing.  We practice getting into and out of the only furniture in the building where my feet reach the floor, a mushy sofa.  I know I won't be allowed on the backless piano bench.  I hate how hard it is just to get out of this sofa.  

I've been here a few days before someone remembers the foot rests on the wheelchair can be raised so my feet don't turn blue, and to avoid some of the pain from the too-tall chair.  So much for avoiding blood clots.

I plan how I really will manage in the shower at home, so I can sound ready to go.  It has shower doors, and no grab bars.  I had refused a shower stool in the other hospital because I hadn't seen it.  Now I will have to buy one.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


The admitting doctor comes in and announces that she's disappointed in me.  The PTs from the day before have said I didn't work hard enough.  I gave her a step-by-step recap of that day, including a detour into the group room to play a few notes standing at the piano, and walking farther than the PTs' goal.

Today:  the complaining PTs have disappeared.

The brace, the dumb socks (my Clark's have been pronounced unsatisfactory) and the walker.  We're out in the hall.  I'm told that I walk with my feet too close together.  (This gait is a lifelong habit, but I guess it is really dangerous for my rebuilt spine.)   We also work on this.  I work on my posture, and standing upright inside the walker-- breaking the habit of leaning slightly and pushing it.  I tell them I need repeated posture reminders, since slouching was the norm in high school and I still slouch.

In the hall I see a woman seated in a wheelchair, quietly looking in front of  her.  Her head is held motionless in a tall wood frame. I realize I have a lot to be thankful for.

There is a wheelchair in my room, so I get to sit up and eat like a normal person. After last week of not eating, the food suddenly looks good.

The chair is locked, however, and I can't unlock the right lock without way too much pulling. (Pulling hard has been a no-no since the spine problem was first diagnosed over a year and a half ago.)  So I'm trapped until someone comes, in the too-tall wheelchair that hurts the back of my thighs.

I can't reach my book, purse, phone.  I experiment with pushing the wheeled eating table/bedside table to see if I can rotate it enough to reach at least my water.  That actually works. 

An occupational therapist is due.  Maybe we will work on something besides putting on socks.

I haven't had a shower since the morning I reported for surgery. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

SPINE FUSION Defining rehab terms

Since there is so much rehab lingo and more abbreviations than an ad for government technical writer, I really need to clear some things up:

Lumbar spine -  near your waist (I'm sure there is a more exact description) but I'm giving you what some medical types use in conversations.  And of course I can't see back there.

BLT - you will not find this item on hospital menus.  It's about what we fusion types are not allowed to do, especially lumbar patients:

    B is for bending (a definite no-no) and B is for Barbie.  In an emergency, lumbar problems patients can do what I am going to call the Barbie and Ken bend--from the hip and only from the hip, not the waist. Since I'm no longer 29 or even ... never mind) squatting instead of bending to pick up things is rarely an option.  It took what seemed like a half hour to pick up a large grape off the kitchen floor so I wouldn't slip on it and break my neck.)

What causes bending?  For instance, our overpriced cell phone/robot slips out of our fingers or pocket and heads for that stream of mystery liquid beside the curb--we BEND with lightening speed, by reflex, to save it and our entire communications life. This reflex has been in our DNA since the first caveman had a red-hot spear point fall out of the fire and hit his foot. We can't help bending.   But now we must not bend.

   L is for lifting.  Picking up anything heavier than your thermos bottle, well actually anything more than 5 pounds for post-op patients, is not allowed.  My laptop weighs 5 1/2 pounds.  (Never mind how I found out.) I want to go back to work. Between no bending and no lifting, even a file clerk job is out of the question.  As for corporate work, the million-string black brace is very hard to hide under a white shirt.  Have you ever seen someone try to lift a walker onto the bus? 

   T  Twisting is perhaps the worst mistake.  No, they're all the worst.  But what are you going to do when you're in Priscilla's Gourmet Coffee shop (having arrived there without climbing onto a bus) and you know positively that the voice from the table behind you is definitely George Clooney.  (Ok. We both know George doesn't go there for fear of being trampled.  This is just an example.  Work with me.) 

We hear George and our brain flips our upper torso around for a quick  peek.  The only way I can think of to avoid this is to sit with my back firmly against the wall so no famous people can get behind me.  Must remember Barbie doesn't twist, either.  And you can forget fund-raiser dances because somebody will grab you to demonstrate a so-called dance step, and you're back in rehab.

If this little bloginar was of no help, I hope it at least made you smile.


Monday, November 5, 2012

SPINE FUSION - Actual rehab begins

Practice new method of getting out of bed:  shoulders and pelvis must move in the same plane - no twisting.  Ever.  Funny non-skid socks.  And we go out in the hall to walk.

I still have a mental picture of physical therapy in the movies.  Remember to be grateful that I'm not as damaged as in the movies.  I also miss the machines that my physical therapist (PT)  had me use many months ago, after the first diagnosis.  I guess I'm not even strong enough for them yet.

  There is a "seat belt" physical therapists use over my brace, just around the waist, so they can grab me if I fall, even though I use the walker.  

Walking doesn't seem like rehab to me until I remember the pain in July and more recently, before the X-rays, especially in my right leg.  Those leg nerves have to heal.  The two PTs go with me.  They seem to hover, pat my shoulder, give me a lot of encouragement with each step.  What I really need is reminders to stand straight, hold my stomach in, shoulders back.  I'm not used to someone talking at me.

Too soon, we're back in my room.  I'm tired.  Remove brace, fasten it on the walker.  Every time I meet a new pt or nurse, I have to explain that basically, I live alone, and if the brace falls on the floor at home, there is no one to pick it up.  Back to bed.

 I manage to get someone to give me my book and put my water where I can get it.  I want my purse in the bed, since it is the only safe place for my cell phone--feels like my survival machine. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

SPINE FUSION Next chapter: Acute rehab

The ambulance drivers have more phone calls and conferences about the exact address of Huntington rehab.  We finally pull into an alley entrance of what looks like a disadvantaged youth center or municipal vehicle facility.  The drivers wheel me and my flowers inside.  One says: I don't like the way it smells in here.  We're in a  windowless hall lined with flower-painted  closed doors so close to each other that the rooms inside can be only wide enough for a bed.  I make up my mind I'd better like it.  Finally a  harried man in charge announces that we're in the wrong place.  Thank heaven.  I'm glad to leave and sorry for whoever is behind those bizarre grown-up dollhouse doors.

It's dusk already and more calls, more streets, finally the right place.  We go inside--spotless and new-looking.  They wheel me into a pleasant room.  My first thought is:  can I afford this?

The admitting physician, a woman, is two and a half hours late for her supper because of our trouble finding the place.  She acts as if it is my fault.

There are questions and questions.  Finally I'm settled in bed. An aide is sentenced to recording every single item in my suitcase.  The bed has the same hospital tough edge all the way around so I can't lie on my side, and cute plastic side rails that let everything fall on the floor. And those 80's Naugahyde pillows that hurt my ears.   Yes, I know I'm fortunate to have such a nice place.  I haven't forgotten the one we went to by mistake.  This is pretty, and smells good.  There is a wall of windows so I can see beautiful lights on the hills.

The two night nurses are big but pleasant guys.   I decide I'd better like male nurses.  Rehab has not been mentioned.  Everyone goes away, and I can't reach my books.  For the first time in months, I watch TV--David and Bathsheba. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Spine fusion - more on the first four days

Get out of bed.  Put the brace on.  Do what few things you can do.  Walk a few steps.    Somewhere along in there I get cleaned up a bit.  Take the brace off. Get back into bed.  I suspect this brace and I will be together for quite a while. 

My visitors are saving my sanity.  Making me feel almost like a well person.  My friend Tom who drove me to the hospital has drawn the most wonderful picture of pink, happy get well flowers, and it's in a wonderful silver frame.   My daughters sent some real and wonderful flowers. 

In the flowers, which are really an orchid plant, is a little nest with a mommy or daddy bird sitting on it.  One of the sweet nurses is soon to be a mommy.  I ask if I may give her a gift, and hand her the nest and bird.  Twelve hour shifts for nurses seem tough to me, and right now I can't imagine handling 12 hours working on anything.

At this point, I think they have already started poking my abdomen with a gauge that shows whether I am retaining urine.  My body seems too tired to produce much of anything but a little nausea, tho I'm sure the anesthesia is long gone.

 I haven't said much about pain in here, for more than one reason.  I do have a high threshold.  Also, I remember vividly the night I needed the ambulance, and a lot of days before and after.  The weekend before the x-rays, I really did feel like someone was stabbing my right leg.  I did take pain medicine on a number of days before the surgery.

The hated long white clot prevention stockings are painful.  Do they put these stockings on guys, too?  I bet the men hate that.

The surgeon says he wants me to go to rehab at Huntington, which is in Pasadena, which seems too far from where I live, and where I have only 1 friend.  He wants to be able to look in on me and see how things are going.  I'm thinking he'll be my only visitor.

My suitcase hasn't even been unpacked--I certainly don't feel like getting dressed.  But finally the end of the day Friday is here.  The ambulance drivers are young and nice.  The gurney is shiny red and yellow just like in the movies, and comfortable.  I want a tiny mint.  They're not allowed to start if I do (danger of choking?) so I take it out of my mouth.  There is much talk on the phones about exactly where we are going.  Now we start out on what is a longer journey than I expected.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Spine fusion - the first four days continued

One day, the doctor had said in passing:  The nursing homes want us to ship everybody out on Fridays.  I start realizing that means only four days in the hospital!  There must be some mistake.  Four days?  I can't even sit up to eat.  I haven't been to the bathroom--I'm sure it's around here somewhere.

What I have now is an ancient and home-made looking portable potty chair (hospitals call them commodes)  that is too tall for me.  There is a sofa in my room.  It's the second or third night.  I'm sitting on this commode, and the nurse is sitting on the sofa behind me.  I feel like it's hard to breathe.  I say:  It feels hard to feels stuffy in here.  She says nothing.  I say I'm having trouble breathing. . .

I wake up back on the bed with seven pairs of eyes staring down at me.  I had fainted.  I don't feel any new pains, so I guess somehow she got up and caught me before I hit the floor.   I am not pleased that she had not replied when I said it was hard to breathe.  Maybe I need to be more forceful?  Or louder?  Other than that, she's a kind person and the other nurses seem to admire her. 

Now they take my blood pressure early and often, especially when I stand up.  The horrible white anti-blood-clot stockings from the day of surgery are painful; the nurse will order bigger ones -- they keep the blood from running to my feet.  There is also a machine they fasten to my feet and legs that vibrates; that also is supposed to keep my blood circulating to places like my head.  Let's hope so.

I get a pain pill before my physical therapy one morning--doctor's orders.  predictably,  I later start getting the heaves and need the sputum basin.  It becomes my companion. 

Friday is coming closer, and I can't imagine being popped out of here.  I remember meeting a nurse a few weeks agowho asked why I wouldn't be going to physical rehab.  The doctor had said something about MediCare taking rehab away from us.  I decide to ask again, since no one has come to talk to me about my nursing homes list.  I'm told that there is rehab connected to this hospital.  The rehab doctor arrives with the speed of sound, talks. 

At night, I try to read with the reading light my friend brought me, but the ceilinglight is in my eyes. I go to sleep holding the sputum basin.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Spine fusion--What? No turtle suit?

Months ago, when I was still trying to evade the surgery, I saw a man wearing what was apparently a brace - much of his front torso was covered with a plastic shell like a turtle shell.  I was sure I would have to wear such a thing if I had the surgery.  How the devil did he even get in and out of the car?  No.  Please no!

Fast forward to the second day in the hospital.  The PT (physical therapist)  presents me with a huge, heavily padded black thing with many vertical posts and lots of strings.  It would frighten any NFL stalwart or the average stevedore.  My new brace. 

I sit on the edge of the bed while they put this thing around me.  It fastens with velcro in the front.  My breasts are squashed somewhere inside it.  The PT directs me to hold up my bust while he re-fastens the velcro.  I have been measured for this, but it's clearly too tall.  I wonder who will hold up my bust while I put the thing on at home. 

There are two strings with little velcro fasterners on the ends.  They more or less snug the middle of the thing closer to my waist.   If I put it on over my pants, then I can't get them off to go to the bathroom.  I compromise and sort of pull my pants over the brace.   So much for modern health design. 

I get it away from him and figure out how to fasten it shut when I take it off so it's corralled on the handle of my walker-- if it falls on the floor I'm not allowed to bend over and get it.  There is no one at home to pick it up.

 I soon learn that the thing will settle on or near my incision and hurt.  At times I tell the nurses that it hurts.  They nod.  I remind myself that it's not the turtle suit. 

The occupational therapist tells me I'm buying a set of tools.  One is a flimsy sponge on a stick.  I can use it to wash my feet.  One is a flimsy "grabber."  They confess it will break if I use it to push off my socks.  Clearly socks are about all it is strong enough to pick up.

The bright side is that the nurses are kind, and I have some some dear frinds who come and spend time with me.  And the friend who gets me to eat some bits of turkey and yams.  And some lovely flowers from my daughters.  And I can stand up and walk a step or two.  Progress.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


There's this question they ask you a hundred times or more in the hospitals:  on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst pain you can imagine, what's your pain right now?  I'm not good at those numbers.  I think I already mentioned that the July night I needed the ambulance, the pain in that leg was my 10.

The night after surgery, I don't think it got over 7 or 8.  Yes, I know, my 7 or 8 might be someone else's 11 or 14.  I don't remember a lot except just lying there.  Once or twice I thought about how they say we don't remember labor pains. 

There was a computer for medicine in the room, the billboard-bright screen aimed right at my face.  Well, they always told me you don't get any sleep in the hospital.

The next morning, if I remember correctly, a physical therapist showed up (could that have been the very next morning!)  The first basic skill for fusion patients is a brand new way to get out of bed safely.  (This is also the first, very subtle, reminder that maybe the surgery hasn't made me good as new.) And I thought I'd been getting out of bed just fine since I was two.

This new method is called log rolling for no verifiable reason.  The term log-rolling made me sure I would roll out of bed and land face down on the floor.  Actually all it means is that your shoulders stay in the same plane as your pelvis--no twisting at the waist (as I had been instructed when I was first diagnosed with the spine problem, but sometimes forgot about.)

The first or second time I saw the PT, I asked about protecting the rest of my spine from the weight and solidity of the new fused lump.  The PT (and all the ones to follow) assured me that this was a real danger and a real concern.  To protect myself, another new idea, the BLT: no bending (in emergency, bend a bit from the hip only,) no lifting over 5 pounds or so, and again, NO twisting.

By then I had far more new information than I could enjoy.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Spine Fusion really happens

Back to September 11:

My dear pal, Tom, calmly gave me a hug and drove me to Adventist. 

They took me to a big open room and a bed between a couple of curtains.  The surgeon and the anesthesiologist came and greeted me.  An attendant took my clothes, and put me in some anti-clot stockings (which I found out later were several sizes too small.

In the operating room, the anesthesiologist told me "you're getting your margarita now" and a half second later, I was out.

I had expected to wake up screaming and to continue screaming until they tossed me into a broom closet to avoid scaring the others.  Instead, there must have been some anesthetic still in me, since I woke feeling fine and talking to the nurse. 

Eventually, I was taken to a private room, shown my big IV tree, and handed something with a push button--my pain drug pump.  I decided I did not want the pain meds with their accompanying nausea.  But just in case I might change my mind, I clutched the little pump. 

It was a long first night, but not quite as bad as I expected.  I had survived.  I was alive.  'Nuf said.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The spine fusion and I

The past month has been a blur.  That ambulance ride in July to St. Joseph started a whirlwind of visits to and from doctors, a new pattern of painkiller shots, and a date for surgery.  (If I didn't say so last month, I thank Dr. K again for his visits to the first hospital long past when he should have been at home in bed.)

The surgery schedule prompted many, many phone messages, and a clear phone call that surgery would be 2 days sooner than scheduled originally, at a hospital I had never seen. 

I hadn't been able to drive since the ambulance ride to emergency in July, so a wonderful person drove far out of her way to take me to registration at Glendale Adventist.  The registration was a nightmare in more than one way, and leads me to a story I have to tell.

After a couple of needles, for some reason I was led to a windowless room and told to wait.  All the chairs were too tall for my short legs, but there was a makeshift loveseat the right height.  I sat.  And sat.

After a little while, a woman came in with a tiny older woman, perhaps her mother.  She pointed at one of the tall chairs, and motioned for the tiny woman to sit.  The next time I looked I notice that the little woman had badly swollen legs and feet.  She had taken her feet out of her wedge shoes, which, from the tall chair, she could barely reach with her toes.  Her "daughter" was busy talking with a nurse and did not look at her.

I wanted to go over and suggest the mother come and sit by me, where she could reach the floor.  Then I was afraid it would cause friction with the frustrated-looking daughter.  So I did nothing.

What's wrong with this picture? 
-The nurse and the daughter did not even look at the mother, who was presumably the patient.  Nor did they speak to her.

-I wimped out and finally did nothing. 

-Our view from our cheerless room of gloomy furniture was into a huge, lavish, glass-walled room, not for patients, but for visitors and relatives.  Big, comfy chairs were in groups around coffee tables, and coffee was available. 

Again I ask:  what's wrong with that picture?  Who is important in a hospital?

More later. ..

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Elephants and industrial design

When my daughters were small, maybe before first grade, we often read a little book called Brave Baby Elephant.  The kids may still remember it, because the title became a sort of secret byword for brave adventures.

The plot was that a pre-first-grade elephant decides that he will go "by himself, alone" up the stairs into the possibly dark second floor and brush his teeth without adult assistance.  Of course, he succeeds.  There were probably congratulations.  So for a long time, we would describe some new plan to do almost anything "by myself, alone."

Why am I telling you this?  I looked at the calendar and realized it's been a month since my first ever ambulance ride, and my walker and I have never gone  past the front walk by ourselves.  Muscles are disappearing, as they will when we are over 29 and under-exercised.

So today, I set out for Gelson's.  By the time one risks the parking lot and gets into the store, it's easily two blocks from here.  In said parking lot, an SUV and a kid on a skateboard each missed me by inches.  Not many inches.  Previously, I had hoped to be inconspicuous and non-invalidish.  Bad idea.  If I had been wearing Jimmy Chous, at least the woman in the SUV would have noticed me.

So my new walker design will include, of course, a London taxi horn, maybe a flashing red light as well.  There probably is no law against having these on a walker.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Designs for the well, designs for the sick

I have a car that was the one I could afford.  It has been running, except for about 10 or12 days in the shop, for over 20 years.

When I left the hospital recently, they (or Medicare) gave me a walker that will, with any luck, last 20 weeks.  The man who adjusted it to my height told me not to give it away-- it was the only one I would get in this lifetime.  A plastic guard at the bottom of one leg, to keep it from catching on the carpet, disintegrated in less than two weeks.  I found the pieces in the alley leading to the laundry room.  I guess I was supposed to carry the walker. 

A week or so later, I was told to buy a shower chair.

This blog is supposed to be about getting what we need, so I should start a letter like this:

Dear Invacare:
About this shower chair.  Really thoughtless design.  It's not safe, except maybe for washing my feet.   
The plastic seat and back are nice and shiny, so my soapy hand grasping for safety slides right off.

The back legs on this beauty do not cant backward.  If I even brush against it, it tilts backward immediately, leaving nothing for me to grab onto.  I'm back to showering standing up.

My roommate just got an exec chair for only $45 more than the shower chair cost.  His chair wouldn't fall backward if hit by a small car. 
What's wrong with this picture? 

Friday, August 10, 2012

It's not easy being without Green

I'm a mystery fiction addict.  I read the big boys--Michael Connolly and that crowd, because I like the way they write.

When a character in the book is on the run, hiding out, broke, or otherwise in trouble, he rents a dingy room that has a commanding view of the side of another building.  No tree, no bush, no sky. 

When I was in the hospital a couple of weeks ago, my room had a window.  It had a great window shade that kept out the hot sun, and unfortunately, the sky.  I missed the sky.

This was not a big deal; I was only there for three days, and it was pretty luxurious as hospitals go.  The nurses and aides were incredibly busy.  I guess I could have thrown myself on their mercy on our many trips to the bathroom, and got the shade opened. 

There is a "garden" at that hospital.  It's really mostly concrete, with a double koi pond and real koi.  As a patient, I saw it for only 3 seconds as I was rolled at high speed down a hallway/bridge to another wing.

Once, as a visitor, I noticed it could not be seen from my friend's room. 

My goal these days is to ensure that hospital gardens are for patients to see, and to heal from.  If you get tired of hearing about this, please give me a comment.  And if you've been a patient who could see or touch a garden when in a hospital or convalescent home, please tell us where it is.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

She Don't Look Sick to Me Part 4

Several years ago, a woman from another country was my regular coiffeur, or however you spell it, cutting my hair in her own salon.  She informed me that multiple customers had told her they didn't want to come any more because so many people in wheelchairs were always there.  I decided I might someday be in a wheelchair for even a short time.  I didn't like their attitude.

Since then, someone I knew went to Europe and the UK and mentioned that they were less concerned about helping handicapped persons than the US is.
(Forget the ramps and such--get along the best you can.)

I'm lucky to be here.

For various reasons, I now have a different woman cutting and styling my hair.

And now, without much warning, I use a walker.   Sitting in the front row without it, I am the still the woman who could probably make you laugh.  Walking to the ladies' room with the walker, who am I?

Friday, August 3, 2012


Suddenly, I do look sick because I have a walker. Now I am the patient.  It's a good name for us because the role requires patience.

A year and a half ago, I made a bad mistake moving furniture, which either  aggravated an existing spine problem or started a new one.  One injection.  Then, for a year and a half, I was okay as usual.  Physical therapy and some lifting restrictions.  Did my job.

Then, about a month ago, I got leg pain that an injection didn't help.
Almost two weeks ago, Saturday night,  the pain was so severe in the right leg that I didn't quite make it back to the apartment.  My roommate and benefactor more or less dragged me to the courtyard and called an ambulance.

Three days in the hospital, home for one night with big pain medicine, then back for a different kind of injections.  There are already three doctors involved.

 That right leg is the one that lets me hit the brake pedal, of course. So I'm not to drive. I can get out of this secure apartment complex, but no one can just walk in even to visit until I go to the gate.   

Some wonderful friends have helped. 
There is also a wonderful home health nurse, and wonderful as she is, there are still communication problems.  For example: Every 4 hours for mild pain as needed seems to mean different things to each of us.  I was not expecting communication problems.  There's a physical therapist and a social worker.  And I don't like thinking their questions sound like I'm 99 and a bit dotty.

Probable surgery is lurking, hovering over everything I do.  I was job-hunting; now that is on hold.  And my family is far away.

Sitting in a meeting or a waiting room, with the walker behind the chair, I don't look sick.  And yet almost my whole life is on hold.  I needed a copy of my birth certificate to apply for transportation vouchers.  The printer ran out of ink, and here I was with no transportation.
Have you been in this situation?  How did you cope with any fears of helplessness, fears of surgery that may not work, or of whatever?


Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Today, for some reason, I'm out of a lot to say.  But I promised someone I'd mention that health professionals also sometimes have illnesses that don't show on the outside.  Tendinitis, for instance.  Illnesses that keep them from working at their profession or seriously limit the hours they can work.  We all need to be aware that someone we may see every week just can't jump out of the way as we zoom through the parking lot.  Or jam into the elevator because there was something on the morning news that made us leave for work too late.  Or when we roar up behind them in traffic after they have stepped on the brakes.

End of preaching for today. 

Monday, June 18, 2012


I remember that day knowing my leg was sore, but I was determined to get that drafting table out of my apartment right away.  The last bolt threatened to drop a BIG piece of wood onto landlord's precious hardwood floor, so I reached way over, and let it down more or less easily.  From then on I could not sleep at night, couldn't even lie still in bed.  I lived on Espresso Pillows candy at work until the specialist's appointment.

The x-ray of my spine was so scary that I couldn't think of a single question to ask.  He made an appointment to give me a saddle block, and an appointment for physical therapy.  I learned what an ice cushion or ice pad is, and how to make friends with one.  I also became  a big fan of Tylenol PM and of walking.  That was more than two years ago. 

My employer was notified that I could only lift eight or ten pounds, and I had some more movement restrictions.  Luckily, I had freedom to alternate sitting and standing. 

My friends learned about my problem.  I learned to yell in my car (with the windows closed of course) at tailgaters crowding my rear bumper and my spine.  My heart skips a beat when little kids play bumper cars with big carts in the grocery store.  When I fell once at work, I thought my heart would stop. 

Then my employer closed the store for good.  I suddenly see a lot of ads for jobs that require more lifting than I can do.  A dear friend and benefactor recommended me for baby-sitting, but I can't lift anybody much older than a newborn.  Breaking up a fight between two dogs bigger than chihuahuas or a fight in a kindergarten classroom is not feasible.  Shipping plumbing and engineering parts is . . .you guessed it.

I can't run for the train nor from a mugger. Even people dancing scare me sometimes.

Is there a good part coming up here?  Let me see: My physical therapy makes me stronger.  Walking in my new neighborhood brings me not just nodding acquaintances, but smiling and greeting ones.  I'm back to writing a lot more about health and exercises.  And I pay a lot more attention to looking healthy even in moments when I don't feel that way.

When I have a minute, I realize how many people I may have driven past or brushed past who look as healthy as I do, but who also have a "hidden" problem that makes them be extra careful. Makes them wish the rest of us would be extra careful, or at least polite.

I'm still learning to ask for help, which is important.  Receiving help is important.  I know who my real friends are.  Do I think this injury was a blessing?  Not so much, no.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Thanks to Ashley Judd for bringing this “look this way or be shunned” movement into the open.  She has done a favor not only for sick women and women with unusual birth anatomy, but for older women everywhere.  Preaching among ourselves about insults and belittling has not worked.  There are some things I believe we should do:

1.       Ready.   Decide for yourself NOW what is not admissible.  Warn your family there may be some changes in TV, subscriptions, and talk around the house.    Or else.


2.       Aim.   Contact “Ask a librarian” or whoever we have to contact to get the direct contact names of people who okay derogatory garbage in their programs and periodicals.  Write to where the buck stops (or starts.)   When we write, there is a record of what we asked.

3.        Fire!  Tell this head guy (or gal) what we are going to stop reading and hearing.  Alas, this means I have to be brave and tell my beloved mystery writers I don’t like depicting undesirable people as having wrinkles or anatomy rather like mine, or clothing of types big women can afford.  And then there’s the matter of describing the lady detective as slightly overweight.  Who decides who’s overweight?

Hit Off; hit Delete!   Turn off programs with derogatory messages and don’t let them in our homes.  One incredibly rude and tactless male fashion guru was barred from my living room and my hearing long ago.

 4.   Salute.  Bestow  very public honors and kudos to people like Mimi Melgaard  who made Loretta Devine look like a million bucks in that pink blazer on Gray’s Anatomy.  This is the part we always leave out!  Praising the people who make us like the way we can look regardless of our size or my short legs.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


No, cruel shoes are not off the market. No, I haven’t found the magic slippers that don’t mess up my feet even more. But there is good news.

The goodbye part is I bought the last cruel shoes on line, and the company paid the postage both ways. They sent me a pickup tag so I didn’t have to stand in line to return them. They sent me the refund faster than a speeding bullet, and were actually interested in hearing why I didn’t like the shoes and what they could do to make working with them more satisfactory. Okay, the company was Zappos. No, I do not get money for saying that.

The bad news is, as you know, a company that sells shoes can’t always influence the company that makes shoes or hires the designer who decides how shoes will look and what shape they are.

The good news is I can try again, and if the shoe doesn’t fit, so to speak, they’ll pick it up and make it go away.  And give me my money back.