Today is day 9. There’s a boa constrictor wrapped around my neck, and the muscles are tight around my cervical spine. Do I feel better than last Saturday? I’m going to say yes. Todd said I’d forget the pain at some point, and I do think he’s right. Last Saturday I was 24 hours into recovery and I remember thinking I f**king hate this. Never again.
I went in for surgery on Friday the 22nd at 6:30 a.m. I was back in pre-op in no time and my nurse, Stephanie, was kind and patient and introduced me to Buffy, the venipuncture slayer. Seriously, Buffy made me nervous at first, the way she kept slapping at the veins on my wrist while Stephanie collected the exact same data I’d given three different people by phone in the last seven days. This was probably a lame attempt to distract me from Buffy’s overtures, but Buffy’s tapping and slapping left me feeling quite unconfident in her abilities.
I have big veins. I mean big, juicy veins that aren’t difficult to tap. Was she blind? Unsure? A trainee? OMG. Anyway, she popped that IV in like a mosquito and Stephanie turned around and said, wow, you didn’t even flinch. And Let Me Tell You. A week later and you still can’t see where that IV was. Buffy IS the Boss.
A minute later this man who appeared to be in his late 50s popped into my room and said, “boo!” And of course, I’m like, WTF? Who is this dude? He warmly introduced himself as my anesthesiologist, and assured me he’s done so many of these, for 500- er- he’s even put dinosaurs to sleep. He also remarked that I looked like a deer in the headlights. My neuroses clearly is not easy to conceal. Buffy started cleansing my neck until it turned beet red and apparently a reaction ensued, so the two of them decided I’d had enough. He told me he could give me something to relax me, but only after I’d spoken with the PA or the surgeon or both.
Documents to sign, giving them permission to cut me open, put me to sleep, do whatever they do to save your life, etc. And then Todd was brought back, who is always full of funny anecdotes that AREN’T funny when your nerves are as bad as mine.
I laid in the bed with a pillow behind my head for support, because the position itself was painful as always. I was ready a full hour before my surgery was scheduled and trying not to flip out. I remembered this pain I was feeling, and considered that it would be gone when I woke up again. Todd snapped a photo of me in the bed for my mom, so I gave my best bitch face that I knew would get a giggle from her (she knows me well). I’m so NOT a good patient. I’m better than I used to be, but some things go like teaching an old dog new tricks.
The neuro-technologist (because I don’t remember her exact title) came in to discuss the surgery with me, starting with the standard questions. I told her my name, and the surgery I’m having – breast implants. She stopped reading my chart and stared at me momentarily, and then back to the chart. I gave it a beat or two more and said, I’m just kidding. I’m having two discs replaced in my cervical spine. I needed the break more than she did obviously, but she took it in stride and said that’s never happened before, laughed a little while I clarified the REAL surgery and then I secretly prayed she wouldn’t hurt me while I was knocked out. Her job is to test my nerve conduction during the surgery to make sure all is well. And I have the bruises on both arms and one shoulder to show for it. But they don’t hurt.
The PA came in and explained the surgery, went over recovery procedures and medications, etc. and then Dr. Dinosaur returned with his vial of nirvana and that hit me so fast I said, whooooaaaa. And then it was time to go.
Second time for me in an OR, and it’s always surreal. Lots of movement and faceless people, and then there’s the mask over your face and then suddenly I’m coughing like a drowning victim. I’m assuming that was the moment I was extubated. Dr. Dinosaur placed a hand on my shoulder and told me to relax.
Todd said the surgery lasted 2 and a half hours, during which he got a very important call I will share in a later post. I started the waking process in the PACU, where my right arm felt like Grendel was pulling it out of its socket and my legs felt like they were disconnecting from my body. My new nurse, Sharon, asked me my pain level. NINE. Dilaudid to the rescue. I have no idea of time passing, but I felt more lucid by the time we hit a five. She refused to give me more because she thought I stopped breathing several times (an alarm would sound), until I assured her I am NOT sleeping and that it’s my MO to hold my breath when pain is really intense. So, we spent the next several hours with her reminding me to breathe through it or else. (No more pain meds.)
I can’t say enough about my experience at this hospital*. Everyone was very caring, gentle, and they didn’t push me out like we had experienced with Todd’s surgery last summer at an affiliated hospital. They did encourage me to move to a “chair” and out of the bed, where I turned white and felt a violent wave of nausea that turned out to be gas. I guess burping is a side effect of anesthesia? Sharon mentioned I hadn’t been to the bathroom since awakening, and I told her that I’ve actually had to go since I woke up, but was afraid to ask. (Bad patients don’t like bed pans.) So Tara assisted me to the bathroom – I chose to walk – and informed me she had to come in with me. I didn’t give a rat’s ass who was in there with me.
Funny how life and maturity changes you, and your views on modesty. I was ready to go afterward, and the two nurses helped me dress (but kept Todd outside the curtain AS IF he’d never seen his wife naked before) and I was soon being wheeled to the curb by a nice man who said he was getting over pneumonia, which seemed wrong on some level but I was in no position to argue with anyone.
The ride home was uneventful and not painful. And the rest of Friday was lost to fits of sleep and well wishes, one son who announced that I looked like shit, and a phone call from Veruca who had been terribly worried. I took one Oxycontin that night, and continued to feel awful until the next morning, when I threw up. I DO NOT do narcotics. So, my recovery this week has been punctuated by frequent walks around the house, belching, muscle relaxers, a steroid for alleviating swallowing issues, and extra strength Tylenol.
I’ve been out twice – once with mom driving me to the pharmacy and grocery store in my collar of shame that scared small children; and yesterday to the bank where one of the tellers exclaimed, “holy shit!” which made my day and I burst out laughing.
It’s day 9. I’m still waking in some significant neck pain, but the pain my upper back and shoulders and right arm is all but gone. I understand that some pain will linger as the nerves reassert themselves under these new conditions. I had this pain in my right elbow (painful even to the touch) that was terrible for months that I was treating as tennis elbow, though nothing helped. I woke up last Friday and it WAS GONE.
I still feel like someone has their hands wrapped around my throat. I try to be patient, but it’s annoying and uncomfortable, and causes me nausea. I can’t bend over, as it puts pressure against my throat. I can’t look directly down. I’m still getting tired easily.
But, I did it. This is the After. And every day the After is getting better. I can swim after my 6-week post-op, when summer will be more than half over, but I’m doing it. And I made Todd measure me, because the neurosurgeon said the discs he implanted are going to stretch my neck a bit, which is causing the muscles around it to stretch and strain. I gained an INCH. I am an INCH taller than I was last Friday. How about that?
*University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center
**I cannot take full credit for the breast implant joke. Todd made a remark while we were waiting in pre-op that “at least you’re not getting breast implants.” Which I still don’t know why he thought was funny, but when the neuro person came in, the procedure just flew out of my mouth. And Todd looked at me appalled, that I’d stolen his joke that not 10 minutes before I refused to laugh at.