Today is my anniversary

A “Jubilarian” is someone who is celebrating something special, especially the anniversary of something special.  Today is one of those special celebration days.

One year ago today, at this very hour, I was starving.  I hadn’t eaten anything since 7pm the night before.  I was standing in a carport, it was snowing, my head was pounding and I was having a full-blown panic attack.  They’d predicted snow, yes.  But only flurries.  This?  This was not flurries.  Flurries are not measured in inches.  Several inches, by the look of it.

I was waiting for my father, because I couldn’t drive myself.  No one drives themselves to surgery, much less something this big.  But if he couldn’t make it through the increasing snow, the rush hour, if there was just one accident, I wouldn’t make it.  They’d cancel the surgery, I just knew it.  I’d have to somehow live with this pain longer.  Maybe I could call an ambulance… could they do pre-op on the road?

As each minute passed my anxiety increased, my blood pressure rose and the pain reached new levels of “Kill Me Now”.  This was to be my second spinal surgery.  The first was on my lower spine to repair a ruptured disk (the other, still inoperable, remains to this day – probably the subject of surgery #3).  This one was to repair a rupture between C5-C6-C7.  Without the procedure I felt as though I’d been shot through the shoulder, close range, but somehow the shoulder was still attached.  My left arm was on fire and my migraine had a migraine.  I smelled pain, I chewed pain, my entire world was pain.

Suddenly, there he was.  Late, yes, but not by very much.  I was shaking with relief, nearly babbling gratitude.  Now all we had to do was make it across town, in an unexpected snowstorm, at rush hour.  I don’t know how we did it.  No one else was expecting heavy snow either – the normal procedure of “set your clock an hour early to get to work on time” hadn’t been factored in.  And yet, somehow, promising to hire a team of huskies if he had to, my dad got us through.  I checked in exactly on time, headed for my bed in OR… and waited.

And waited.  And waited.  And waited.  And oh my heavens waited some more.  The nurses continued to update me as best they could.  The previous surgery was taking longer than expected.  No, the doctor started on time, she was just being thorough.  She was thorough to the tune of an additional six and a half hours past when I was scheduled to go in.

The nurses were so grateful I was taking the delay so well, they bought my family lunch.  I wasn’t taking it well.  What they didn’t know is that I’d handcuff myself to that bed if I had to.  I’d wait until midnight if I had to, just don’t cancel the surgery.

Still, six empty hours is a long, long time to contemplate your mortality.  Oddly, this is the first surgery I’ve ever done that.  I’ve had my tonsils out, my knee operated on, I’ve had windows put into my sinuses and of course the first surgery on my back.  Sad to say, I’m no stranger to the OR.  But I’ve never thought I’d die, until this one.  In fact, I was so convinced I might die that I set up my will and signed a DNR.  I asked the staff to offer a prayer for me (it’s a religious hospital).  I even set up a “If I Die” app on my Facebook page.  I don’t know why it hit so hard this time.  Maybe just the words “spinal fusion” were enough.  Or just thinking about it.  She was going to slit my throat, push my vocal cords over, and fuse my spine from the front.  Really?  How?  I didn’t want to know.  I still don’t

I didn’t die.  In fact, the surgery was a blazing, almost startling success.  But 1 year ago right now I didn’t know that.  1 year ago right now I was in so much pain I couldn’t see.  1 year ago right now I had zero quality of life and very little hope.

At this moment I am looking out over a gentle bed of new snow.  My fingers are a little cold and I really should have worked out last night.  I’m training for my first 5K.  Apart from the fingers I’m in great shape.  My head doesn’t hurt, my shoulder is fine, I can feel my arm and the shot gun feeling is a distant memory.

Without going through that, I would not appreciate sitting here.  Sitting still, without the pain.  I’m grateful for the perspective.  I’m even more grateful I don’t feel like that anymore.  I’m grateful for modern science.  I’m grateful I had the opportunity to have this surgery that even a decade ago would have been much more complicated.

My attitude is one of gratitude this morning.  This is wonderful, and I can handle whatever comes next.

I might get the collar off today. Or… I might not.

I leave for an appointment with my surgeon in seven hours and twenty two minutes.  But it’s hard to get excited about it.  I got excited about it the last time, because she told me that I’d only have to wear the neck brace for four weeks.  Ok, perhaps I was a bit optimistic, but you might be too if you had to wear this thing.  Communication is never the strength of a surgeon – what she intended to say was that I could then move into a soft collar unless I was walking around outside, but I still had to wear the damn thing for at least another six weeks.  Which brings us to today.

Our last appointment was not exactly a premium experience.  She had cancelled our previous appointment with barely a half hour’s notice.   When I was finally able to reschedule she was three hours late and took a call in the middle of our conversation.  Seriously.  She answered none of my questions – just told me to wear the collar an additional six weeks and get X-rays done.  I had to ask my questions to her assistant, who shouted them down the hall to the doctor’s disappearing back.

Surgeons.

Of course, there’s no more pain.  The surgery seems to be a success, so I feel like a schmutz for complaining.  But there’s also no more skin around my neck.  It’s rubbed raw from this damn collar and I wouldn’t mind looking down now and again.  Or to even have a reasonable expectation of what the hell is going on.

I mean, surgery is hard enough.  Do I have to be constantly reminded that I’m the least important person in the room?  Christ.

Funeral for a friend. Actually, lots of little friends.

I’ve always liked this quote.

Henry V, Act V, Scene 2

Henry: If thou canst love a fellow of this temper, Kate, whose face is not worth sun-burning, that never looks in his glass for love of any thing he sees there…

I don’t think I’m vain.  I really don’t give a damn about my looks.  In the last 10 years I’d guess I’ve spent $10 for cosmetics.  If that.  The one thing I’m vain about is my hair.  So, naturally… it’s falling out.  Ha!  Of course.

The collar I’m in goes over my collar bone and up high enough to cover the ears.  This is very very bad for long hair.  Right now my hair is 22 inches long.  Yep, I just measured it.  But so thin I have to wear a hat everywhere I go when the sun is out or I’ll burn my scalp.  And my hair and the collar have decided they hate each other.  I have to pull it over to the side in a knot just to function, but it’s hell to sleep in like that.  In fact, I can’t.  For one reason or another I haven’t slept through the night since about Christmas.

I’ve been putting this off for a long time.  But, like a 60 year old rock star, there comes a time when denial is just pathetic.  So tomorrow I go to the chop.  Except for a brief period resulting from a tragic perm I’ve had long hair all my life.  *sigh*  But this isn’t long hair so much as a rat tail.  It looks like someone cut off one of my pony tails.  Yeah, it’s pathetic.

Bye old friends.  I’ll miss you.

Of stress tests and alien DNA – or how I spent my spine operation

Even in the fabled words of Inigo Montoya… there is too much.  I can neither ‘splain,dm
nor sum up.   As usual, I’m certainly not normal, and the fictional character I now have the most in common with is Dr. Manhattan.

It started with “chance of flurries” predicted for the morning of surgery.  Which manifested into, well, not exactly a blizzard, but one hell of a lot more than “flurries”.  Several inches certainly of the nasty white stuff with traffic at a stand still and me in a dead panic.   Somehow by the grace of God the surgery had been scheduled when there was no other conflict with anything.  And with the pain quickly growing from “bad” to “unbearable” to “kill me now” to “no, seriously, now” the only thing I could think of was calling for an ambulance and somehow doing pre-op in the back of the truck.

clock Fortunately that wasn’t necessary.  Not only did my father deliver me across town in a snow storm in rush hour ON TIME, but the surgery was delayed.  First by one hour, then by two, then by several.  I was scheduled to check in at 9am and be in OR by 11.   I’m not sure what led to the delay, but I was actually wheeled back into the room at 4:30 pm.

Several cool points of interest here.  They let me get onto the table by myself.  None of this “I am the walrus” heaving of flesh which does terrible things to the dignity at a time when it’s least needed.  Also, each member of the team introduced themselves while I was still awake enough to be gracious about it – again a very nice touch.  If they’re mucking in my spine these are people I want to be polite to.  My surgeon gives rise to phrases such as “liquid pools of obsidian” – she has lovely eyes with absolutely no pupils.  She’s a tiny little Puerto Rican 10 years younger than myself whom I have a serious intellectual crush on.

ab Then I pass out.  When I faint it’s usually one of two ways, either the world goes away in tunnel vision, or there’s the sound of a billion bees before I hit the ground.  Usually it’s the bee feeling I feel when the anesthesiologist is finished with me.  And that’s as sick as a human can feel and live through it.  It’s not pain, its a sick that attacks to the point of making one regret the very idea of life.  When they’re calling you out from the drugs, all you want to do is crawl back in.  This time?  When I woke up it was like waking from a nap on a May morning.  I couldn’t believe it.  It was about 7:30 or so and I felt FANTASTIC!  It was so… weird.  I hardly knew what to do with myself!  I was talking and things and stuff.  All good.  And I got wheeled into a private room.  Oh folks, I hit the home run of health care.  Which is why the next part is so weird.

Whatever happened at 2:30 in the morning no one can figure out.  Not me, my MedicalEmergencysurgeon or an entire hospital full of doctors.   What I know is that I suddenly couldn’t breathe.  I was being compressed between a vice and there was a hot rock in the center of my rib cage.  Cardiac?  Anxiety?  Who knows?  I still hadn’t eaten anything, so for all I knew it was acid.  But suddenly I had EVERYONE’S attention and they were moving fast.  My private room melted behind me to a fast trip to cardiac and that’s where the fun began.

Last week I had 3 chest X-rays, 4 spine X-rays, a mammogram, and a CAT scan.  Suddenly I’m back in radiology for 2 more CAT scans, 2 ultra sounds and a stress test with radioactive isotopes.  Really?  From an acid reflux something or other?  Oh, but it gets better.

See, I had to fast before the surgery, which had been delayed for hours.  So the last time I ate was at 10 pm on Monday night.  We’re heading into Wednesday afternoon and I still haven’t had so much as a saltine.  And what do we do before a stress test?  We FAST!  Which triggers what?  Acid reflux.  Talk about a set up!

cpr

I’m so freaked out by this point that I’m nearly gibbering.  And I’ve been hearing all day how sick a chemical stress test makes you feel, which I figure is my karmic payment for how good I felt waking up from the anesthesiologist.  It’s going to open all my valves and give me the world’s worst headache, which was just what I had surgery to avoid.  It’s going to be the world’s worst hot flash.  It’s… who knows?

doctor chemical The stress test is in three parts.  They take pictures of your heart “normal”, then introduce the chemicals, then more pictures.  So after the first set the nurse wheeled me back to where they’d give me the IV for the chemicals.  Except normally she’s not in transport.  She just felt sorry for me.  So she’s managing my charts, my IV, and my wheelchair, and she suddenly drops my charts onto my head.  Which I think is funny as hell.  Now, all she did is say sorry for bonking me and vanished.  It wasn’t until later that someone said “Where did that blood come from?” that I realized that she actually cut my head open!  Now that was bad enough, but this was even better.

So there I was, laying on the table about to be injected with chemicals guaranteed to alien-chest-burstermanifest Sigorney Weaver’s Alien straight out of my chest, I’m pretty sure, blood pooling in my hair, totally freaked out, when suddenly (no, seriously) the fire alarms go off.  We’re talking Awoogas, with the blinking lights and the official response over the intercom and WHOOSH go the chemicals into my veins and I’m laughing so hard that I’m pretty sure I shot alien DNA all over the wall from my nose.

So that’s how I spent my Wednesday.  I finally got dinner around 6:30, they never did find out what was wrong and because I got transferred from neurosurgery to cardio it took them about 9 hours to figure out how to discharge me today.  But that’s another story, I’m home now, and I’m very very glad to report that on top of a temporarily repaired spine, I also can confirm I have an incredibly healthy heart.  And I may be possessed with Alien DNA.  We’re still not sure.