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. ..