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.