On the day of my neck surgery, JB, Greg and I met with the surgeon. He drew a picture of what he would be doing once he entered my neck. It was a lot more complicated than we each thought and we were told that the surgery would most likely last 3-4 hours. In fact it lasted over 5 hours. JB had purchased and consumed what was to be his ‘hospital lunch’, Cheetos and a bottle of diet Pepsi. By the time the surgeon came to inform him of the successful surgery, JB was beyond anxious (2 hours later than anticipated) . Once he heard the good news he smiled and shook the good doctor’s hand. Told that it would be about an hour before I would be taken to my room on the 5th floor, JB used the men’s room. It was at that point with a glance in the mirror, that he realized that he had the neon-orange-Cheeto smile and probably left Cheeto dust on the capable hand of the surgeon. They wash their hands between surgeries, right?
So are we done with Cheetos? Oh nooooo. The PT I saw only once at Avalon Care Center told me about a sports bra with a zipper in the front. I had been ‘free-ranging’ since the accident, I was anxious to get the girls back in the corral and the front closure seemed just the ticket. Kellie kindly went shopping at JC Penney and found exactly what I was hoping for. It was two days after surgery when I convinced the OT that it was time to try this new item of clothing. With the neck brace on, nothing is easy. After a few struggles (unsuccessful) of pulling everything together and getting the zipper sides together AND pulling up the zipper pull, JB finally asks if someone could help. She said “you can, after all you are taking her home in the next day or so”. Between the two of us, witnessed by the less than helpful OT, we were successful. It wasn’t til the next morning (yes I wore it all night!) that when I was standing in front of the mirror brushing my teeth that I saw the mark of the Cheeto. Good news! Cheeto dust washes off in a Maytag with a splash of Tide.
Once it became evident that I still had to work on my fine motor skills, the nurse was able to order a different kind of call button. This one is a flat square that can be depressed with most any body part. Wow, that was helpful! Any readers that have been hospitalized recently know that they come to take your blood pressure no fewer than twice a shift and they are usually in a hurry. One day as the cuff is wrapped around my right arm, I hear “can I help you?” through the speaker behind my head. The nurse answers “no, I’m in here”. Ten seconds later “can I help you?” “no, I am still in here”. This goes on a few more times. The nurse mumbles “what is wrong with her, why does she keep asking that? She must be new.” Once she got the reading and released the cuff, the flat call button fell out. With each pump we were asking for help. Nothing wrong with the girl at the front desk, just doing her job.
A few days after I moved to the neuro ward at Valley, it was a quiet evening and I decided to amuse myself with a bit of Wheel of Fortune. The remote control felt like a weighted down athletic shoe in my weakened hand. I found the button that said ‘tv’. I managed to depress the button with a thumb on thumb action. Not sure how I found ABC but I did. Five minutes into the show, 2/3 of the puzzle was covered with “Gwendolyn, are you interested in some information about colonoscopy? We can send that to you!! Answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’”. I so wasn’t interested but had no idea how to dismiss the ‘ad’ and couldn’t find ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the remote. I called for the nurse. When she came she said “oh just hit select two times then it goes away’, then she left. Huh, why couldn’t I have figured that out? While she was fooling with the remote, she turned the volume off. Now I am left with the puzzle but no lively banter between Pat, Vanna and the contestants. Sigh….
At that point in my recovery I was not coordinated enough yet to twirl the volume wheel on the side. Worth another trip from the nurse? Nah, we’ll pretend I never ventured into TV land.
When I went to critical care several weeks ago I found that they had the most modern equipment ever in that newest wing of Valley Medical Center. When I went to critical care I also had a big goose egg on my forehead as well as a scrape and a split lip. One of the pieces of equipment they had was a newfangled thermometer that had to be rolled over your forehead and then tapped at the bottom of your ear to read your temperature. I wondered why no one ever noticed that when that operation happened I yelled “ow” every time. By the time I got down to the third floor, the equipment was back to normal hospital equipment and the forehead had healed and they took my temperature by putting the wand under my tongue.
I have to admit, for years now I read my daily horoscope but after the day is underway. I use them to tell me how day should have gone not what I should do with my day. On Easter Sunday, late in the day I finally got to that portion of the Sunday paper. For the sign of Aries, it tells me that “today would be a good day to climb a tree. You will be amazed at the view and the perspective it will give you”. Well, if you have been paying attention to my current situation, I am sure you would agree that I am not tree climbing material. I have no doubt that my therapists would agree. Give me a week or two.
Speaking of therapists, yesterday I was introduced to two new exercises, both on the parallel bars. The first was side leg lifts with ankle weights holding on to the outside bar. We then moved in to the middle where I did modified squats. Oh how I long for a parallel bar set up in the house – NOT.
I tried not to set myself up but alas I did. I was so sure that today when my surgeon saw the great progress I had been making he would let me lose the neck brace. He wants it on for 3 more weeks. He reminded JB and I that this was not a typical discectomy, but rather a serious compromise of the spinal cord and we just can’t be too careful. The allowance made is that I can take it off to sleep. I have to constantly remind myself – patience and perseverance. By the time I go back see him May 9, I will be stronger and my cup of patience will be overflowing. In the meantime I will find a way to get my hair cut and finally get my glasses professionally adjusted – neck brace or no neck brace. Here’s to a good night’s rest!
The first trip up the stairs confirmed that I learned enough to be able to manage up seven stairs. Took me a couple of tries to figure out what was the best chair (easy to get out of, no swivel). Gary arrived mid-afternoon Saturday with two walkers he picked up in Coeur D’ Alene. Now I had a walker on each level. The new walkers have no wheels. As it turns out that was a blessing. We only need one with wheels for the hardwood floors mid-level. The challenge is to keep the black skid plates on the back legs. At this writing there is one, should be two. We had a nice visit with Garry. I got my early birthday present which I am using to dictate this document. JB found some grab bars for the shower that meant Garry and JB did not have to drill into the tile. As it turns out I can take one of the stable walkers into our long shower, hang onto the grips, and get myself an almost normal shower. We found our old shower seat, JB scrubbed it up, and it has a nice place at the end of the shower when my legs get tired. Of course every shower takes twice as long as the shower used to but it’s doable. Washing my hair feels extra good. I have not attempted to blow dry it so I put gel in and let it air dry. This is the only time I get to take the neck brace off so my neck celebrates the fact that I don’t have this muffler on my neck at all times. I re-bandage the incision and as of this writing this steri strips don’t look anywhere near falling off. Once I finish the drying out process I put the brace back on. My skin is so dry that I can’t wait to put lotion on which seems to get absorbed in mere moments. I have now graduated to using lotion that smells like me and not the lotion I got at Avalon. Once out of the shower and dressed although somewhat worn-out I feel briefly like me. We have a galley style kitchen so I’ve become brave and can walk without the walker between the counters. I took that to a new level and it made the loop between the kitchen and living room and surprised the heck out of JB to see me walking unassisted. I revealed that to the PT and he was not surprised. Of course he cautioned me to be careful. Thursday night (3/29) I took a slight spill. JB had gone upstairs and I on my wobbly legs decided to turn the lights off. My still numb fingers couldn’t quite find the switch. In the time it took to find a switch, the legs gave out. Let’s call this a controlled fall in that I felt myself going down but there was nothing I could do about it. All things non-anchored down on TV trays went aflying.
I think it sounded worse than it was. JB calls from upstairs to ask about the noise. I had to tell him I was on the floor. It was quite a challenge to get me up off the floor and back onto a chair. JB stabilized the chair, we put pillows under my knees and I was able to get myself into a position to get my feet underneath me. I like to believe that I didn’t hurt myself. My right side feels a little extra numb. There is no bruising so will call this a very hard lesson learned. Don’t get overconfident!
I got to practice using a cane at PT last Thursday. It is still a challenge with the neck brace on. I have a tendency to constantly look down to see what my feet are doing. I was advised to look up occasionally to keep from running into things. Baby steps!
I saw more of Valley Medical Center in the last month than I did when both children were born. It started in the ER where I was transported by either an ambulance or Kent Fire Dept. after a loss of balance terminated in me running head on into my parked car. After the 911 call I know that the call home was made by John at the Kent Fire Dept. On a backboard with a C collar on all I knew is that I was headed to Valley and that I had no idea where my legs were. My time in the ER is a blur. I know that JB was there and Greg and Kellie showed up when JB called them.
I was wearing the most uncomfortable but necessary C collar in the known world. It left a groove in the back of my head that I can still feel a month later. I met my Dr. who would turn out to be my surgeon, but I am getting ahead of myself. Dry mouth was so extreme but until they ruled out immediate surgery no water for me. I could have swabs, which are sponge lollipops with approx. 1/8 tsp of water. While sucking on a swab I was wheeled down many hallways (some outside) for a Cat scan or MRI. It revealed that nothing was broken and when compared to a scan done 7 years ago my already fragile neck wasn’t much worse. I had given myself a severe whiplash injury resulting in closed spinal cord syndrome.
I stayed in critical care for a couple of days. There was so many wonderful people caring for me including JB who rarely left my side and Gregory who brushed my teeth and did some other things that you would hope no one would ever have to do for you. At some point in time, Dr. Balousek decided that emergency surgery was not necessary at this time. He made a decision to keep me in the hospital for another few days then send me to a skilled nursing rehab center to gather strength. I learned so much in my stay at Avalon Care Center. We picked that place because it was recommended by Michael when Barbara had a stroke. We took advantage of the fact that Michael did the research. It was on the list of preferred places. I had my very first cabulance ride where you’re strapped in a wheelchair and transported while sitting in the van. It never occurred to me that I would be in a room with someone else. I was fortunate that it was a roommate I could actually live with for a week. Turned out that I was there from Monday afternoon till the following (full week) Tuesday morning. They made arrangements at Avalon for a cabulance to pick me up and take me back to Valley for my surgery. At 530 in the morning on Tuesday Tri-Med came not with a wheelchair but with the gurney. Turns out the cabulance runs don’t run until seven in the morning. I got an opportunity to write flat on my back in an ambulance to Valley. The guys that transported me were wonderful, nice and friendly although they really had no idea where to go at Valley. We got a nice tour of the parking lot and the huge facility that is Valley Medical Center. A couple of phone calls from the ambulance confirmed the Surgery Pavilion was indeed inside the hospital and we should proceed to the emergency entrance. Once inside we surprised the heck out of them by coming in on a gurney not leaving on a gurney. Eventually we found someone who would guide us the Surgery Pavilion through a maze of hallways. One of the ambulance guys took it upon himself to actually find out where we were supposed to go and got me there. JB and Greg were there and we had a conference with the Dr. who drew a picture about what he was about to do. Of course he has to explain how it could go and how it might go. By that time you are somewhat prepared for the worse. We learned that it would be a 4 hour surgery. I had some trepidation as they wheeled me out of the prep room and into the cold operating room. Dr. Balousek was standing at the x-ray machine looking at my films. I asked if I could look at them with him. He said “wheel her over”. At that point in time they sprayed some banana tasting stuff in my mouth and I was off to dreamland. I woke up in the recovery room where you’re staring at the ceiling talking to faceless voices asking questions. The first question I ask was how the surgery go? The answer I got was “boringly normal”. That was explained by only had to go through the front not the back of my neck as well. I spent more time in my recovery room than I think I probably needed to because of a shift change. As it turned out JB had been in my room for a while. They invited him in and said this is your room as well you might as well come in. When I got there it was the spinal ward on the fourth floor. I was happy to find that I did not have a roommate and had a wonderfully appointed room all to myself. The other exciting news was that I could have something to drink and some Jell-O. I also discovered my little blue friend. When asked what I thought it was I told the nurse I thought it was a call button. Turns out that’s not what it was. I was able to press the button and if it is time I would get a shot of the pain medication and if it had been too short a period of time all I got was a double beep. I made up my mind that if pain was not really an issue that I would use this sparingly. As was reported by the night nurse to the morning nurse I indeed used it sparingly. I know there is a downside to staying on heavy-duty pain medication for long periods. I still have numbness but I really didn’t have much pain. By morning I was celebrating the fact that I got through the surgery I was alive and fixed. It was later in the morning that I got a visit from Dr. Balousek and gave him a high five told him that I was just short of telling him I loved him. He seemed excited that the surgery had gone well too. I was able stay in that room until Friday. In the meantime Hillary the PT came back to visit me who I first met when I was on the neuro wing. She didn’t wait long to begin my physical therapy. One of the first steps is to get the catheter out so you don’t have to drag it with you. It probably was only a day or so before I actually was walking with the walker. By Thursday I had had OT and PT and we had practiced the stairs. The original plan including me being released to an intense physical therapy environment. The new plan involved me going straight home from the hospital. It was a very scary thought. Once JB came in the afternoon I introduced that thought which he agreed was scary as well. It meant that the house had to be retrofitted more quickly than the original plan. Once he got used to the idea JB went off to try to find the equipment we would need at the house. I took a couple more trips to the gym at the hospital and tried out stairs and canes. The appointment with the person at Auburn acute physical therapy was canceled. Greg was called into service to transport me home because his truck was just the perfect vehicle. It was probably about 330 when all the paperwork was done I was dressed and indeed he was waiting outside that it really happened. Turned out it was a beautiful day weather-wise. As I hit the door with my walker I knew that I was indeed home.