Tuesday, April 30, 2013

SPINE SURGERY-- getting home after surgery

Maybe the most important thing I can say to you is:  Don't expect other people to understand - you're not a cripple, but you can't pick up those shoes off the floor!  Or that piece of lettuce.  And you can't run to the gate to catch the city's home bus service.  Or stand for a half hour at the airport or anyplace else.

My younger daughter, Kaye, brought me home from rehab. 

Luckily I got the walker before surgery, from the first hospital stay.  And I had had some company deliver a shower chair.  Kaye was staying in the wonderful house of a friend.  She took me (and the shower chair) over there for a shampoo and shower, and a nap.  She had brought me some clothes that covered the abbreviated remains of the brace.  She even took my picture and ours together. 

One evening we decided to eat dinner out. I had not been doing that for a long time, partly because I hadn't been able to drive, and partly because of the drastic cut in my hours where I had worked.  When we got there, the restaurant had stairs going up from the parking lot.  I was so jazzed by the rare outing and wearing a real dress that I decided the rehab had better work:  I grabbed the excellent railing and climbed the stairs.  I needed that outing so much, and I hope you have such a fine experience after your surgery.

 Fortunately the apartment had heavy carpeting and a bathroom for me.  In my room was my posture chair and ottoman, which would become my base of operations to save wear and tear on the leg nerves that had taken a beating before surgery. 

The surgeon had also arranged for a different visiting home health service. (I have to say here that the hospital rehab social worker had been useless about that, but someone at the hospital did help my daughter by phone.)  I think I've already written in here about the first visiting nurse and her instance on the rush trip back to the surgeon that turned out not to be an emergency. 

My daughter had searched out an in-home help service that I would pay for. The owners came to call for some reason, all jolly, and assured me they had the perfect helper.  Her job would be driving me to get food and to doctor appointments.  She also would be doing laundry because I could lift very little, and the pavement near the laundry room was a mess.  A totally overworked social worker came over and talked to my daughter in the patio, but all he could do was get me a dollar off the rate for the home helper.    

A cane had been ordered, but I don't think I had one yet. 

Those first days with my daughter were perfect, and I didn't realize then how much I would look back on them.   I hated to see Kaye leave.

The ongoing recovery wasn't fun.

I was more comfortable than I expected, got a lot of rest, served myself the food brought from the market salad bars, supper bars, hot food bars and whatever.  But at best, especially because of still not driving, the recovery period was no substitute for the life I had known even six months before.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

SPINE SURGERY and my head

I expected to wake screaming after lumbar fusion.  Instead I felt great.  Not drug fogged, not nauseous, not in agony.   The Recovery Room nurse said:  I guess you're awake, and she almost laughed.  Not every day has been like that. . .

The most important thing my surgeon ever said:  Surgery takes a lot out of your body.  I tend to forget that my brain is part of my body. 

 My days at home were at the mercy of the visiting nurses' and PTs' schedules, which could eat a whole day.  My helper came on two afternoons.  I was still seeking work as a condition of my unemployment, feeling helpless and sometimes just plain dumb.  Some days I didn't write.  

Every day something or things felt overwhelming.  More often than not, I had trouble making decisions.  I couldn't reach much of what was in my apartment.  I couldn't drive.  I had no idea what the rest of my life might be like.  Many days I felt okay, but I made lousy decisions.

The search for work wasn't  successful; I had to move to another state two months into recovery.   My head fog got worse as I got ready to move.  

 I chose all the wrong things to take.  I forgot that Everything we make and write and create is our resume, our portfolio.  The model house  I painstakingly  made and was proud of.  I left it behind.  With a lot more.

One hospital's instructions used to say: "Don't make any important decisions for 24 hours."  My rehab Instructions should have said:  Don't make any important decisions for two or three months.

If you have days after surgery that make you want to suck your thumb or throw dishes, please have more kindness for yourself than I did. I can probably get more clothes, even a new cane.  But those things I made learning and achieving, that would have cost almost nothing to ship... Now they're gone.

My daughter, however, made me do a very important thing--say goodbye to my beloved doctor and friend.  His office was a refuge for me and a place I could count on for comfort and respect.  That goodbye is one thing I did right.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

SPINE SURGERY - About post-op rehab. . .

A nurse changed my life by asking why I wasn't going to rehab instead of a nursing home after surgery.  (I had gone over to say Hi to her in the market because she had crutches in her cart.) I checked again with the surgeon.

 All three possible hospitals had in-house acute rehab.  I wanted the one near home and friends, but listened to the pitch from surgery hospital  rehab, though I wasn't happy about that hospital.  

The surgeon over-ruled my choice of the rehab closest to home, and booked me into the hospital by his office; said he likes to check on how it's going.  An ambulance took me comfortably to the next town, directly to the rehab unit.  Having the surgeon across the street was kind of comforting.  A friend, my wonderful roommate, and my dear clergyman made the complicated trip to visit me. (I say complicated because poor directions and signage had made the ambulance trip there take literally hours.)

A lot of the rehab was walking the halls and wheeling myself in a wheel chair, plus some exercises in the hall and in an activity room.  But first: practicing the "logrolling exit from bed" and putting the too-large brace on and off, fastening it to my walker, since I couldn't pick it up if it fell on the floor.  (Yes, some of this is a repeat post.)  Down the hall to practice getting up from a low sofa, trying out the latest in dumbbells--lime green, fuzzy, two pounds.  I am so tempted to call them Muppet bells.

Became a sponge-bath virtuoso, but never got to take a shower.  I insisted on using the toilet, using their papa-size potty chair only for support when getting up.

The occupational therapists had me pantomime on their sample tub exactly how I planned to shower without breaking my neck at home. 

I learned several exercises to do in bed; these were also doable for my chair and ottoman at home.

I finally met the best physical therapist -- she made me learn to go down a few "model" stairs using only the cane - scary.  But she also took me out to the hospital garden to walk (I'm still kicking myself for not getting a photo of this actual patient, me, USING a hospital garden to get better!)  She also took me to the parking lot to practice safely stepping on and off curbs.

Now in the seventh month of recovery, I eagerly use the in-bed exercises before I get up most mornings.  My daughter got me the shocking pink store-bought two-pounders (an improvement over using shampoo bottles.  And I walk.  And walk. I've been driving again after almost half a year.  I do chores with the grabber, squatting instead of bending at the waist.  And I walk some more.

I may check with the doctor soon about going to local water aerobics at some point.  Whatever moves us forward.

Friday, April 19, 2013

SPINE SURGERY - what I regret, versus what I hope you do

What I regret:

1.  When my younger daughter once told me I looked good except "you lean too far forward when you walk. . ."
I regret not learning that the muscles that make me stand straighter could also protect my spine.  That holding my stomach in could also make my torso stronger. 

2.  When the damaged chair dumped me on the concrete floor at the computer school, I regret not marching right into the doctor's office, instead of believing the nurse' suggestion that I probably broke my tail bone. I could not climb stairs for many weeks.

3.  After a friend said he was too old to move his own furniture so he paid someone to move him to his new place, I regret taking apart that heavy drawing board that pushed my spine over the edge, instead of paying someone.  At any age, dumb reaches for heavy things are just dumb.

4.  After I was diagnosed and temporarily stablized, I regret I didn't walk farther, bend less, watch my posture every minute, rest more.  Okay, and pay the $50 for workup for the nurse-led exercise program near the airport.  And Rest. 

5.  I regret every time I didn't speak up louder and again and firmer in rehab about what I needed and what was causing me pain.  And I regret I didn't insist on a patient feedback form.  (I still could ask for one.)

What I hope you do:
When I got the walker, and in rehab; later when I got the cane:  I got very complete and specific training on what posture is safe when using them.  I see too many people leaning at amazing angles on small walkers.  I hope you will check with a great physical therapist (or read the directions) to be sure your cane or walker is adjusted to promote healthy, strengthening posture.  Please. 

I hope you stand tall and sit straight and speak up and speak up again.  Please.