I’m Okay, But I’m Not

At 12 weeks post-op, I was back to normal. I was feeling great.

There’s been a lot going on in our lives lately. A lot. I’m now officially working more hours and I’m grateful. Work is where I can be normal, and not think about my personal life. I’m making more money and I’m grateful for that too. The kids are busy and back in school. Opac is a senior now, and has this thing called senior option where he goes in late some days and leaves early on others. He still doesn’t have his license, but we’re one behind-the-wheel lesson away from being allowed to take the driver’s exam.

I’ve been working on letting him go in the ways a normal parent would. Like going with friends to places and trying really hard not to worry about him until he walks back in the front door. He’s good – he texts me regularly to let me know what’s going on. I’m grateful for that. I know that will one day have its end too.

On workdays, I count on him to see Veruca home safely from the bus. In the first few weeks, it caused me significant anxiety. They both text me when they’re home so I can stop worrying. Surprisingly, I am not worrying about my type 1 daughter being home without me. But then when I think about it, I have anxiety about whether I should be worried.

I’ve been letting Veruca go too – with friends after school, walking to nearby food and coffee joints so she can hang out for an hour like a teenager. I worry a bit, but I’ve exhausted the lectures about sticking together, not walking alone, and never, ever approaching a stranger in a car who might beckon. She’s crystal clear on this. Maybe a little too much.

In case you missed the clues, I have anxiety. I can conjure up just about anything to fray my nerves and raise my blood pressure. I’ve forgotten how to pray and leave it all to God. And THIS causes me anxiety too. I take medication for anxiety. I know that anxiety is chemical and biological and that it is also genetic, so I come by it honestly and [abnormally proudly] from a beloved relative who is no longer with me.

Nevertheless, I was feeling good. The lingering post-surgical stuff was gone and I was returning to life feeling confident that surgery can be a good thing, and that I’m ready to start running again.

Until September 19th.

It was a beautiful day after 40 days and 40 nights of rain in most of our region. The sun was bright and the air was warm. You should take the convertible out, he said. The 2001 Mustang GT convertible hadn’t been out on the road for a while and I was weary of driving to my mom’s an hour away and back. Instead, I took the 2012 Mustang (nicknamed the V6), so I could do a little stick-driving on the beautiful back roads in my hometown area. I learned to drive stick at 16, and there is nothing more satisfying than shifting gears and letting go that clutch and letting the car do what it was made to do.

It was a great ride, but my spidey senses were tingling all the way – people were driving recklessly all around me. It made me hyper-alert and I took my time on the ride. I got back to our area shortly after 1 and drove directly to the high school to pick up Opac.

I’d just turned onto the main roadway a half-mile from the school. The speed limit is 50, there were a lot of cars traveling in both directions. I saw this car begin to make a left turn right in front of me – I mean, RIGHT in front of me, and there was no time for me to do anything other than brake as hard as I could. I was trying to avoid hitting her and realized she was following through on her turn anyway. I veered right, sort of into the road she was heading into, in an effort to avoid her hitting me.

She kept going and slammed into my driver’s side door, hard, spinning me around until my rear bumper on the passenger side hit the guard rail, effectively stopping the car. My driver’s side airbag deployed. I don’t remember turning the car off and removing the key from the ignition. I sat there stunned a moment, and looked through my window at her in her car and she was looking back at me – and I was trembling and raging inside. Did you know that when airbags deploy the ignitor emits a smoky smell? Neither did I. I panicked, tried to open my door, and then moved the seat back enough to climb out and over the gear shift and opened the passenger door.

At this point I had no idea how old this girl was, or the condition of the driver’s side of my car. First instinct was to flip out on her for causing this accident, but by the time I’d actually gotten myself out of the car, I’d lost the desire. Todd would’ve been so proud.

I looked directly at this 17-year-old child who accused me of speeding, and bit my tongue for all the things I wanted to say – because I’m 49 and I know waaaay better, and also that less is more. Hysterical, screaming people are generally viewed as just that. So I said to her, you need to step away from me right now. I repeated myself twice.

The state trooper arrived. The ambulance arrived. One of the drivers insisted I sit down. Apparently people in accidents act normal all the time and then boom, they go down? I called Todd, who said, you ARE going to the hospital, right? I honestly thought the car was just going to get towed to our auto-body shop and I was just going to go home. But the EMTs said, you’re going. And the trooper said my car was most likely totaled.

Todd: Well, at least you had the dash cam. Which made me want to cry, but I guess some people in shock don’t cry – because …. I’m not driving the Edge.

Oh, he said. Which car were you driving? But he didn’t care which car it was.

I’ve since seen the neurosurgeon, had a repeat MRI and x-rays (hardware is still well-positioned and I have no acute changes to my spinal cord or surrounding discs). The pain in my neck has returned, depending on my activity and/or work, and it travels down my right arm and encircles my shoulder, just like before my surgery. It’s uncomfortable and I’m upset about it. All providers are in agreement that my pain is muscular, and the efforts now are pain relief and return to normal function without this pain. I’m in PT three days a week now. I’ve had two rounds of trigger point injections at neuro and considering going back again.

I’m sad and angry some days. I’m sad that I can never drive that car again. I’m sad that it all changed in an instant, and I’m angry that it could’ve ended so differently. Todd told me the reason he bought that car is for this very reason, that it’s solid and designed to protect you. And protect me, she did. No part of the other car touched me, and no part of my door touched me. It was intact on the inside, and the only thing different in an otherwise pristine cockpit was the telltale airbag.

I’m an emotional person. I feel things. I think sometimes it’s over the top and that most normal people don’t react to things like I do. I want my car back. When we went to the lot to clean it out, I couldn’t sit in it. Todd went with me and I ran my hands over the hood and felt its warmth and the smoothness of the metal, and stood there thanking her for what she did for me that day with tears in my eyes. It’s been a month. I won’t get in Todd’s other Mustang, or drive it.

It’s been a month. The girl has a new car already. This makes me so angry. Did she learn anything? I want justice in some way that I cannot articulate. Maybe I just want her to tell me she’s sorry, and mean it. But, Todd told me to let it go. I can only live My life, and keep moving forward. But I don’t want to let go of it yet. In a 10-second decision, she destroyed a 2012 Ford Mustang, somebody’s beloved car that cannot be easily replaced, and she’s already driving around in a new car.

Meanwhile, I’m alternately angry and sad. I have moments behind the wheel where I panic, especially when there are other cars around. I’ve seen my counselor. We’re working through this. And then last week a minor infraction by the truck in front of me…I was nowhere near having an accident, but the thoughts racing through my head brought spots before my eyes and I pulled over until the lightheadedness passed.

We’ve begun the college touring with Opac, which also makes me emotional. He’s already been accepted at his first choice, which is thrilling but we need to see that financial package soon. He turns 18 tomorrow, and I’m feeling the acuteness of that milestone.

There’s more. But I think this is enough for now.

Where I’ve Been: Recovery & Coffee-Mate-Gate

First, a technical update: Six weeks post-op two-level cervical arthroplasty. The post-op x-ray shows a textbook-perfect cervical spine with two shiny new titanium discs “well-placed.” The pain is mostly gone, except when I wake up in the morning or I do too much (still). I can’t remember the last time I felt pain radiating down my arm, or the last time I took a muscle relaxer (well, except – last night). The incision is healing, but still looks like I got caught in a street fight. I am cleared to live my life.

I went back to work. I so needed to get back to a purpose that didn’t require hours of “healing” rest and endless, useless doses of Tylenol. First day back I was feeling the pain by mid-afternoon, but Todd and I still wanted to go out to dinner. One – because it was the plan we’d made, and two – it would be the last night for two weeks that we’d be able to dine outside.

ICYMI: The east coast was pummeled by rain and thunderstorms for two solid weeks, widespread and flash-flooding. Hershey Park and Knoebels were under water. The restaurant Todd and I went to that night is in a small, old waterfront town that was later under voluntary evacuation.

So we went to dinner. They don’t take reservations so we had a 40 minute wait. Todd had a beer and I had a club soda, while we stood on the deck overlooking this band of middle-aged white men playing top-40s who had the audacity to play Let’s Go Crazy and everybody who knows me knows this is NOT something I want to hear. But – I listened because I couldn’t escape it and noted that the guitar skills weren’t half bad. Still – please don’t.

After dinner we walked back up the hill to the car and my legs wouldn’t move. I was literally breathless and taking two steps at a time and stopping. The only other time I ever had that happen was when I arrived at the hospital in labor with V and I got halfway across the parking lot and couldn’t move. Kind of scary.

Anyway. Weeks 4 & 5: I worked a full-time schedule. It was a BEAR. One was an 11-hour day that I came home from and hugged V and just started to cry. That is what happens to me under extreme exhaustion and [unnecessary] emotional stress I put on myself.

Opac had senior pictures taken. It was in the high school auditorium, and I sat there all tense trying to hold back tears. Am I handling my son’s rapidly-approaching adulthood well? Ask me again in 3 months, when he turns 18. Or at his graduation – I’ll be the red-faced, swollen one clutching a handful of wet tissues and blind with tears. I’d…. say…. No. I cried at his preschool graduation. He was five.

I worked my last Saturday morning for a while (new schedule means I don’t work weekends anymore, except for one in rotation). Todd and I went to an antique store in Havre de Grace. It was crammed with so much vintage stuff, I was just turning around and around trying to take it all in. Todd lasted about 20 minutes and went outside to break the itching from the dust.

We drove to Concord Point Lighthouse and walked the decks lining the Chesapeake hand-in-hand like tourists. I don’t think of Havre de Grace as a touristy place, but Todd schooled me: Historically, it was considered for the state capitol, but lost to Annapolis. We took pictures and saw residents walking their dogs, an old woman in a wheelchair under the shade of a tree overlooking the Bay, and a 50-something couple blasting music from an iPhone, dancing like they were all alone at a  Dead concert.

The next day: Costco on an empty stomach and I scored one chicken and cheese ravioli in pesto sauce, a small cup of diced pickled beets, and one piece of a Snack Factory Pretzel. It was not a terribly stressful shopping trip, all things considered. (The man who blocked the entire display of blueberries, inspecting every package for Just the Right One.) Sometimes the state of humanity can be summed up in one trip to Costco and, in worse cases, at Walmart. For all that Walmart is and isn’t, I’ve never found anyone there to be nasty. Inconsiderate and oblivious – yes – but not nasty. Meanwhile, more people at Costco are giving the stink eye on the day God rested than anywhere I’ve been recently.

V was in Avalon with her dad last week, and Mom came to visit for a long weekend here. We took her to the Chesapeake Inn for an early dinner – another marvelous restaurant on the Bay with valet parking, live music, and great food. Had two Pain in de Asses, or maybe three? Mom took it upon herself to order us another round while I was in the bathroom.

Opac went out Saturday with friends for a Gym Class reunion. This class was a close-knit group of guys whose teacher baptized them the Mountain Dewds and had t-shirts made up for them. So they went out to dinner and then hung out at one’s house – O spent the night and needed a ride home the next morning. I picked him up around 7:45 – he said he hadn’t slept – and I took a detour to the store for more Coffee-Mate (which we were out of). I was wearing pajamas and he was fully clothed, so I did what any mother would do. I asked him to go in for me.

He is about as cooperative as a tree. First he refused to go in. I pointed out my attire and the fact that I came and picked his ass up. I only needed ONE THING. He didn’t know what he was looking for. I GOOGLED a pic of Coffee-Mate and showed it to him. This! He said, but we’re not at Target (the source of the pic). I told him where to look for it. In the coffee aisle, on the left side, past the cans of coffee, top shelf.

Ten minutes later… he comes out empty handed, looking royally aggravated. That was nothing compared to the storm waiting for him inside the car. He insisted they didn’t have what I wanted, there were all these weird flavors like hazelnut and “some blueberry flavored shit,” I  looked, and you shouldn’t drink coffee anyway, no wonder your teeth are yellow (oh YES he did) and… I’m not going back in there. He hadn’t showered, was covered in pet hair, hadn’t slept, and needed to shave. I told him very matter-of-factly that there was absolutely NO ONE in that store he knew at this hour of the morning on a Sunday, and I KNOW they have Coffee-Mate in there.

He was not going back in there. Well, I told him, I’m not leaving this parking lot without it. The stand-off continued, until my phone rang and it was Todd. I figured he was wondering where we were, since I was gone so long. I explained to him pleasantly that we’ve stopped at the store for Coffee-Mate. Oh, that’s great, he said. I have a favor to ask you.

Now at this point you should assume that my nerves are bristling over the stand-off with Opac, but I’m not letting on with Todd because Opac is still in the car. But I already know that my case is going to go volcanic if I have to ask O to pick up One. More. Thing. But Todd only wants me to stop at the mailbox on the way back, and I sighed heavily which he read only as she doesn’t want to be bothered, and said, you know, nevermind, forget it. I’ll just walk up myself. He had no idea what was going on in that car, at that moment. The twig was just about snapped. We hung up and I tore into Opac.

!!!I’m still recovering from major surgery, I’m in pain, I can’t take meds when I have to drive and I picked you up this morning early because you wanted to come home, my boobs are popping out of my pajama top, and ALL I NEED IS ONE CONTAINER OF COFFEEMATE. He took a loud deep breath and stepped out of the car, pausing to dramatically rest his forehead against the open door to “get some air.” And then he walked back in.

A few minutes later he sent me a pic of the Coffee-Mate refrigerator case – which, by the way – is at the OPENING of the aisle, ON THE RIGHT SIDE. If you’ve remembered the directions I gave him, this is all kinds of wrong. And I know exactly what display he’s looking at, and it’s not the powdered Coffee-Mate I want. I called him. He didn’t answer, little turd. So I start frantically stabbing letters into a text, reiterating the original directions, cause if he comes out again with nothing I will have no choice but to pummel him in the parking lot.

Eventually he comes out, WITH the Coffee-Mate, and all is right with the world again. Don’t mess with momma’s coffee. My mom laughed that I pulled the surgery card, and I told her I also pulled the Nannie-needs-Coffee-mate-for-her-coffee-too card.

There’s more. But my ex just called to ask if he could stop by to drop off some paperwork in an hour, and I need a shower.

Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

So, in case you missed it, I’m still in recovery. Todd says, YOU’VE HAD MAJOR SURGERY, at least once a day. He’s living life dangerously.

Last week we had the septic system pumped out. I got up that morning and suddenly remembered the 3-foot-tall mint patch surrounding the cover, and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that NO ONE else in the house remembered this. I texted Todd and inquired before I actually went out to look. You know what he said? No worries, they’ll crush it when they come in to pump.

REEEALLY? That’s assuming they can even FIND the cover. Which I told him. And you know what he said next? He said, you can go out and cut some of it down. Yes, that’s right. Mr. you’ve-had-major-surgery just told me I could go outside in 97 degrees at 7 a.m. and CUT DOWN the mint around the septic cover. This requires me to bend over, reach out, and use my arms. I don’t know how “they” define straining, but this seems to me to be maybe a little bit of straining.

But I did it. But I only cut halfway around the lid and left the cuttings lying on the ground nearby in a neat pile, you know, so it was obvious that I did it.

On a side note, if you want to grow mint, plant it somewhere that won’t encroach on anything else (like NOWHERE). My mom gave me a small bunch from her garden about three years ago. It was one.little.plant. It was cute, like crocuses. NOW it spans the length of a commercial airline strip and is about as wide as the tailgate of our pickup truck. And you know what else? You can’t give that shit away. Apparently none of my neighbors drink mojitos either.

Anyway. I’m still trying to get stuff done around the house, and have managed to firmly delegate to the prince and princess of the house a handful of chores I need done to not become a screaming lunatic maintain my sanity. Opac’s room does not presently fall into this category, but today I changed my mind when I passed his closed door in the hallway. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

He is in driving school (mandatory in the state of Maryland) again this week, with two days left to go (in the classroom) before he does the behind-the-wheel portion. They “highly recommend” the driving coach ride along for the first session. Well, that aint gonna happen. I’m still restricted from “long car rides,” thank GOD. Sessions are two hours long. TWO HOURS.

So far, the longest I’ve ridden with him was a little over an hour – to meet his dad to drop off/pick up Veruca, because I’m not supposed to drive that far yet, let alone ride. My muscles were screaming so loud I had a headache and when we got home I crashed on that worn spot on the couch.

And while we’re on the subject of long car rides I’m not supposed to take, my mother – who expressed concern over an upcoming 12-hour shift I’m covering at work – asked me to come up to the restaurant (an hour and 20-minute ride, minimum) AFTER I worked my first day back, three weeks post-op from [insert Todd: MAJOR SURGERY] to “oversee” things at the restaurant. This is confusing at best.

So I returned to work last Saturday. And trust me, you have never seen anyone so happy to go to work. Like, ever. We were only open 8 to 12, so it was a short and very quiet morning. But I remembered how to do my job! Great boost for the morale!

And then Todd left to go grill at the restaurant (she needed help) and Opac left for a party and I was home alone for 8 hours! I don’t know whether that’s good or bad, but I spent most of it in that place reading, watching Netflix, eating ice cream, and not sleeping. At least until Opac got home, and then I was out cold until I heard Todd’s keys on the kitchen counter.

I don’t know what I did on Sunday. I have no memory of Sunday. All the days are melting together like a popsicle in the sun.

We had the family over Sunday a couple of weeks ago, because I haven’t seen Dad in months. He travels a lot for work, sometimes for weeks at a time, and I still had his Father’s Day gift. He acted all, oh-I-didn’t-need-a-gift, until he opened it and saw the Trump coffee mug: Nobody is better at Fatherhood than you. All the other dads are a total disaster. Everyone agrees, believe me. I don’t think he found it as hilarious as my brother and I did, but as long as it made me happy – that’s all that matters, right?

It was a nice day, albeit exhausting for me. I didn’t do that much, but it was enough that I needed to lie down for a while.

Surgery changed me in ways I am still discovering. I’m normally all in for socializing and I love going out and being with people. Not now. Peopling is hard right now, and I don’t want to. I’ve always been upbeat and positive and, like the title of my former blog, Finding Joy. My last good joke was when I told the person in the hospital that I was having breast implants. Nothing seems funny right now.

It’s like I’ve been Ignoring Joy, which could be the title of another blog post but I’m done with serious bitching and being negative. Todd has hinted a handful of times that he just wants to enjoy life and be happy, which is a like an elbow to the ribs and a great big, hint hint. He’s not used to this side of me. Even back when he carried me through the darkest days, he still got the good parts of me that were still flickering like the last bit of wick fighting not to burn out. He knows who’s inside of me, and he hasn’t seen her in over a month.

He also understands the struggle, because he’s been there. When I have a particularly bad day, he reminds me – you’ve just had major surgery. It’s only been 3 weeks. And then he follows with, it’s going to take a couple of months. Which is where his rallying speech becomes a warning, really, when you think about it – for himself.

But, as I return to my old work schedule tomorrow, I am feeling eager and grateful. It’s the gateway back to “normal.” I get to see my coworkers and smile again, because work has always been – for me – that place where you leave your troubles outside and forget them until the work is done. You can be anyone you want to be while you’re working. And when you leave, you can pick that shit up and take it home with you, if you want. It’s all a choice. For me, it used to be about survival. But now, it’s the way I choose to live.

And, for the record, I am finding joy again, slowly, even as my body will remind me it’s time to rest. Pull just one more weed? Nope, I’m tired. I need to lie down. Mop that kitchen floor that hasn’t seen water in 4 weeks? Maybe today. Either way, it will all be here tomorrow, as it always is – but my children are growing up too fast and my husband is so busy with his new responsibilities and the time we get alone together when we’re both awake is short for now.

 

Hanging By a Thread

(from July 11th)

The journey is not epic, but rather a drama mixed with occasional comedy, and full of ups and downs. I know I sound melodramatic, but I’m frustrated and a bit stabby, and occasionally depressed. I think yesterday my tolerance meter nearly imploded.

It’s summertime. I had major surgery (Todd keeps reminding me), and it’s summertime. The kids are home. Every day. Because – summertime. This amounts to [now] two teenagers occupying the peaceful space of my home 24/7, restless spirits who also spend hours behind closed bedroom doors. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “mom” yesterday, I’d be buying Todd that antique Mustang he’s pining for.

I’m two weeks and 6 days post-op. I’ve tried to do things. Sometimes it was okay, but more often than not it didn’t turn out so good. I was told I could drive two weeks after surgery. On that day, I had to explain to Veruca that this did not mean I should jump in a car and start cruising around. She’s been fairly understanding of my condition, insofar as a self-centered 13-year-old can be, like yesterday we went to the store and she insisted on carrying all the groceries in for me, but she also insisted on an extra stop at the pet store.

Just now she walked out here where I was typing, to ask me what I was planning to do today. Well, let’s see, what I’d like to do: weed the gardens, mop the floors, do laundry, make some banana bread, finish cleaning out my closet, and pull out the 40lb sewing machine and start sewing. What I told her: resting. She sighed the heavy sigh perfected by teenagers the world over and, with a head roll that likely matched the one in her eyes, went back to her room.

She’s bored. I GET IT. I promise you, nobody is more bored than me. But, I learned my lesson. I vacuumed three rooms – the living room, dining room, and kitchen – last Friday, and spent the rest of the day in pain. And then Todd yelled at me, because, YOU HAD MAJOR SURGERY. You can’t strain yourself. You’re supposed to be resting. And when I look at him, he asks me to stop giving him dirty looks.

I hurt. Every. Time. I. Do. Something. This is bullshit. Everyone keeps saying, take it easy! Don’t rush it! Healing needs to happen first! Don’t do anything to encourage the Steri-strips to fall off! Which, by the way, were by last Saturday literally hanging by a sixteenth of an inch from the skin on my neck and the rest of it was flapping in the wind.

No way in HELL was I going out in public with that. So I took a shower and blow-dried my neck as I have done every day because the instructions said to thoroughly dry the site, and the Steri-strips were flapping like a moth stuck to a light until suddenly…. off!

Have I mentioned that I’m bored to death? I can’t lift anything, I can’t do any of the things I would normally do when I’m home all day. I haven’t been to work in three weeks. Someone posted this meme about “when you go back to work after vacation but can’t remember what you even do.” This made me laugh, because I’m worried it’s true.

So far I’ve watched Netflix, some Netflix, and more Netflix, and finished two books. I’m way too invested in what happens to the folks on Fuller House. I’ve read online articles about Johnny Depp’s downward spiral, followed the breathtaking rescue of the boys trapped in the cave in Thailand, and trolled Facebook which itself has become either boring as hell or annoying me with everyone’s vacations. Sure, I’ve “liked” their posts, even when all I wanted to do was say “you suck!” I’ve tried napping, which only makes me feel like I’ve been drugged.

Meanwhile, Veruca decided to clean the bathroom she shares with O. Except the floor was covered with towels (seven towels. SEVEN.) and dirty clothes she insisted all belonged to him. So she knocked on his bedroom door and bitched him out about the mess on the floor and told him to get in there and clean it up. I held my breath.

Moments later they’re in the kitchen, and she’s bitching at him about the pubic hairs on the toilet and shavings in the sink, and he’s saying those aren’t his pubic hairs. Which was the wrong thing to say, and then an argument ensued which ended with accusations about one of them needing a lawnmower for their pubic hair.

Aside from sibling problems, V has been to a birthday party and a day away at one of her besties’ houses, and Opac started mandatory driving school. He has to go every day for two weeks. The first day was Monday, and the parent (“driving coach”) had to attend orientation with the student. Driving coach? I never signed on for THAT. Needless to say, I heard myself referred to as “old-school” and learned a thing or two about driving in modern society.

He’s getting a lot more driving practice in, while I snap on my “holy shit!” neck brace and people stare because my kid must drive like a maniac.

Monday evening he came home from football workouts with a friend and called me from the driveway asking for help getting out of the car.

What do you mean, HELP you get out of the car?

My muscles in my legs seized up and I can’t move.

How am I supposed to help you with this? I’m recovering from surgery. At this point I’m walking outside, where he is standing stock-still next to Kyle’s car with the door open, and Kyle looks like the cat that swallowed the canary. Opac literally cannot move. I told him to take a few steps and close the door so that Kyle (the hilarity of the situation tickling the corners of his mouth) can go home.

Opac winces and hobbles toward the concrete steps to the front door, says he’s not gonna make it. I call for Veruca to help him, and she does…mostly by holding his hand as he climbs the steps and I am momentarily struck by the sweetness of it all until the moment is shattered by him yelling about the pain. I tell him to take a hot shower to loosen the muscles, and he’s insisting he needs to ice it. A brief pissing match over who is right ensues, so I walk away and tell him to do what he thinks is best, then.

He decides on a warm bath, since he called Dad and that’s what dad said to do, because dad is God today. So he’s running the bath and tells me that Kyle just texted him complaining of the exact same problem, and that he fell down the stairs. What kind of workouts are these?

A few minutes go by and I get this…

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My great grandmother always said, Don’t wish your life away. And that statement has plenty of merit, but lawd I neeeeeed to get to my 6-week post-op appointment. I need August.

As Life Goes On Around Me

As I continue to heal and not complain about it – (I joked with Todd over the weekend that he should be glad I’m not Opac, who would complain about every ache and pain like he was dying and then announce that his funeral was imminent) – life goes on around me.

Not quite two weeks post-op. I’m still doing the same mundane things and suffering a suffocating boredom. My mom was here last week to help, mostly just running Opac to workouts, caretaking my plants, making food, and entertaining Veruca for the 24 hours she came home to be with me. V chose not to stay the extra day until her dad came to pick O up. I’ve reached the pinnacle of boring for her.

My neck is still hurting, and fatigue creeps in like a fog drifting in off the bay, particularly when I’ve done too much – which, if you can believe it, might be unloading the dishwasher or ironing more than 3 shirts. Sunday I was looking forward to going up the street to celebrate my neighbor’s 70th birthday – we drove literally three houses down because a) the last time I walked that far I regretted it and b) it was 97 degrees.

The surprise party was a huge success. Jackie is literally the neighborhood welcome wagon. She is one of the kindest, funniest, craziest neighbors you could ever hope for. The first time we met she hugged me and told me how happy she was that I was there. She goes out of her way for us all, and she deserved nothing less than the celebration we gave her. She also shares my love of chickens and her BFF, who is also a neighbor and friend, bought her a six-foot metal chicken that I am insanely envious of. He’s beautiful. And I joked with her that now she has the biggest cock in the whole neighborhood.

I made Cuban sandwiches and coleslaw (with Todd’s help) and I thought I took it easy, sat most of the time, drank lots of water, and actually ate more in one sitting than I have in nearly two weeks. We were there just over three hours and my neck was killing me. I guess this means I overdid it a little?

It’s weird and disappointing, that I want to do stuff and then the energy gets sucked out of me like air in a deflating balloon. My neck still hurts and my throat is still tight. I wonder, casually and half-seriously, if I’ll ever feel normal again. Which is, of course, a bit melodramatic.

And, speaking of melodramatic, the kids came home yesterday morning by way of their dad, which we had previously discussed. That is, until Sunday afternoon when Veruca called to tell me Nannie was bringing them home. This was after Todd told me my mom couldn’t come down because she had too much to do. OKAY.

Opac literally called me while I was saying goodbye to V, wanting the 411 on next weekend because he was trying to make plans with “someone.” He didn’t mention anything about Nannie or the next day, and I didn’t ask. Two hours later he called me AT THE PARTY all pissed off because the plan as he knew it had changed and V was “running the show.” I said to him – I don’t even know why – I’m sorry you’re upset but I Can’t Talk About This Right Now. He continued to rant about how he needed to get home and something-something about dad and lack of communication, blah blah blah… and I cut him off mid-sentence and told him I’M AT THE PARTY and I cannot have this conversation right now.

Apparently V and mom were taking Mom-mom to the doctor and then out to lunch which, by the way, left O waiting at mom’s house because he didn’t want to go with them, which he called me about later because he didn’t want to sit in Nannie’s house for hours and just wanted her to come back to his dad’s house to pick him up.

So he’s very unhappy with the plan because he just wants to get home and dad can bring them home but won’t just bring ONE of them home and not the other. And O can’t wait until late afternoon to get home with Nannie because he has to “prepare” for workouts at 5:30. So, he wants it his way and Veruca screwed everything up. And I’m wondering how I fell into the middle of this since I’m the one recovering from surgery and there’s now a clusterfuck of convoluted misinformation and I’m failing to see what ANY of this has to do with me.

FOUR phone calls. Mom called to explain the plan. Followed by Opac calling to bitch about the plan and tell me that dad can bring them home since he has an appointment nearby – which makes perfect sense to me and why drag my mother into it? Then he called back to tell me dad WAS bringing them home in the a.m. and that he tried to call Nannie but she’s not answering, and I suggested that probably it’s because it’s NINE-THIRTY AT NIGHT. And then fifteen minutes later mom called me (after she spoke to V) about the change in plans and said she felt guilty about letting V down. Jesus H. Christ.

At 8:41 a.m. I got this text from Opac: V’s in a bad mood so beware.

Yay. Can’t wait. How much of this is she blaming on you? (Asking for a friend.)

I braced myself for tropical storm Veruca, but she came in smiling and huggy and chatty. And O was of course his chatty happy self (read: got what he wanted). So, reentry was peaceful and without incident. No need to reach for the pill bottle.

Speaking of pills, Hell Week for dogs has returned. It started Saturday night. Sabra jumped over the ottoman and me, clawing my leg and stunning me awake, to run over the cat to the opposite end of the couch – WHICH she could have easily gotten to from the other side. She stood there panting and trembling, and ignored my command to lie down. She walked back over to me and the cat, who casually got up and sauntered into the kitchen like he’d just remembered something he had to do, and stood over me offering her best impression of an earthquake. I’m not sure whether it was the seismic motion on the couch or her hot breath on me that made me more nauseous.

Todd started a new job yesterday as a college dean that we are both thrilled about. It’s a big career step but he’s SO the man for the job. My little brother, always MIA, is in Michigan at some big music thing and not answering my texts again. My dad is home again but I can’t text him because he dropped his phone in the pool and it’s fried. I’ve had flowers and well wishes from work and others to brighten the days.

What will today bring? Surely another round of neighborhood fireworks, three more shirts ironed, Veruca’s eighteenth plea to go swimming next door, a new book started? More loosening of the Steri-strips?

 

 

After

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.