Back on 2 wheels.
I’m back on 2 wheels! And two posts. It’s a little like a bike, right?
Today was my first real excursion outside in a week and a half. In search of adventure, by which I mean an activity that is not daytime TV, I grabbed my camera and walker and hit the streets. Campus is still empty except for us grad students and faculty/staff. There was peace and there was quiet and there was not soap operas. Ahhh…so this is what it looks like outside?!
I made a promise to myself that I would write about my surgery experience, if only to have a yardstick for recovery. Here’s my story, omitting the parts which are NSFB (not safe for blog). For google keyword purposes, I’ll mention that I had an anterior L5-S1 discectomy and interbody fusion.
My dad had the pleasure of waking up at 3AM to be at my apartment in NJ by 5 so that we could be at the hospital by 5:30. Everything leading up to, and including, the surgery was pretty standard. Gas mask over the mouth, count to three, 1, 2. I didn’t get to 3. The procedure took an hour and a half and the day passed quickly at the behest of Dilaudid (10x stronger than morphine, each nurse would brag to me) and valium.
Before night, I was moved to my room and put on a self-administered pump with the pain reliever Dilaudid. I had a similar morphine pump when I had my appendix removed years ago. I surprised my nurses back then; I left the hospital without once dosing myself with morphine. Either I had a high tolerance for pain, or things just didn’t seem so bad when there wasn’t an appendix trying to kill me. Back in the present, I found myself in bed with lots of pain in my back (where the disk was removed) and lots of pain in the 3.5 inch incision in my stomach (non-obviously, the doctors have better access to the disk anteriorly). There was to be no avoiding the pump this time.
My hospital roommate was brought in to the next bed just before bedtime. He also had a lumbar fusion, yet his procedure was done through incisions in both the front and the back and took 6 hours. I soon learned that he was a smoker, overweight, had annoying family members, and was in a lot of pain. I thanked my lucky stars I did not have 2 incisions like he did.
We both fell asleep at around 10pm and the nurse turned out all the lights in our room. I awoke shortly after 10 and realized three unfortunate facts. Firstly, it was almost perfectly dark. I could not find my pain-reliever button. I could not find the “page the nurse” button. I could not find the buttons to adjust my bed. I could not find my cell phone to use it’s screen as a light. Secondly, I could not move my body. My back hurt so much that I was pinned, in a non-exaggerating sense, to the bed. My efforts to feel for my cell phone on the nightstand were denied as my back shrieked at my attempts to move it. It became really, really uncomfortable to lay in the same position all night. Lastly, my roommate sounded like he was dying in his sleep. Each of his short, smoker breaths had an associated gasp or “oh god” and were interspersed with wild, flemmy, tarry, coughing. My pity and pain-bred empathy were all that kept me from rolling out of bed, ripping the drugs out of my pain-pump, and inducing a nice coma in him via his unguarded IV.
65,583 hours later, or so it felt, ended one of the top five worst nights of my life. I did eventually sort through the various cords in my bed to find the pain pump, but never found the buttons to adjust the bed. The uber-morphine did little to cut the pain in my back (I would later find out that I could have been pushing the button every eight minutes, instead of my half-hourly appeals to the Diluadid gods). I woke up as soon as the sunlight made it bright enough to see in the room. The following days were marginally better, though the nights were always the time to fear.
I stayed in the hospital for roughly four days and three nights. I spent my post-op time pushing my pain button at an increasing rate, fussing with my catheter, watching TV, walking laps around the hospital wing, trying to wake my digestive system from its anesthesia-induced sleep, and cursing my loud roommate (If you ever want a reason to quit smoking or never to start smoking, I suggest you spend 3 days in a room with a smoker recovering from major surgery).
My wonderful mom stayed with me in NJ for the duration. She even rented a hotel for two nights thereafter, so I could continue recovering before I returned to my less-than-optimal grad-student apartment. Stacey also joined me at the hotel and put in a huge amount of work to make me comfortable and ease the transition to the real world. Now back in my apartment and under the watchful eyes of Don and Aaron, I’ve been trying to jump start a slow and painful recovery process. Sleeping is a chore and I am going through what I call “exercise withdrawal”, the worst symptom of which is the claustrophobic, restless feeling I get from being bedridden. My legs want nothing more than a good 60-mile thrashing and thorough flushing with lactic acid!
So it felt nice to take a real walk and shoot some photos today. I shot the following portrait
to use as my emo myspace profile photo as a symbol of my forward-looking perspective for the year. The sun shines again on my unkempt face!