Health & Wellness, Humor

The Bionic Woman Eats BonBons

3 Feb , 2018  

The hybrid cervical disk replacement and fusion surgery – to fuse C5-C6 and replace the C6-C7 disk with a bionic version (Mobi-C) was done a week ago Friday at CHI St. LukeThe Vintage. Fitting for A Fresh Perspective, I’ve seen this hospital many times – from the back side – while walking around Kickerillo-Mischer Nature Preserve. Now, I would see my favorite nature trails – from a different angle, through glass.

I was there at 6:00, for an 8:00 AM surgery. My dad used to say I’d be late for my own funeral; doubtless, after losing my head because it wasn’t screwed on tight enough. I bit my tongue on that joke – didn’t think the kids would be amused, under the circumstances. And of course, my husband would never let that happen. He woke me at 5:17 AM, and I hit the showers faster than light speed. Bonus: The panicked rush gave me no time to sniff longingly, enviously, at the coffeepot. I dressed casually – with a minimum of fuss or undergarments, knowing I’d be shoving everything into a plastic drawstring bag less than an hour later and donning a nondescript, backless mini-dress and warm socks with sticky tread. I have a small collection of these socks, pilfered over the years: red, green, blue, and cafe-au-lait. Did they really have to make them coffee colored? I consider starting a charitable thing to donate cuter socks with adorable patterned tread made of puffy fabric paint.

I barely got to visit with J.J. and the kids before the bustle of pre-op prep really took hold. No minute is wasted on the ol’ “hurry up and wait,” at St. Luke’s. I was asked sixty-two times for my full name and date of birth, as if I might have surreptitiously switched wrist bands and hired someone to fill in for me on surgery day. I’m not honestly sure what good that would’ve done any of us, but I only made up six ridiculous nicknames to test whether the nursing staff was paying attention after the thirty-fourth form. If anyone had asked me, “Why are you here today?” I had answers at the ready. “I heard it was free colonoscopy day.” Or, “Shhh, I’m hiding from the IRS!” Seriously – do people come into the hospital unsure why they’re there? Does curiosity just overwhelm them, sometimes? “I just thought I’d order a barium a little barium swallow. Roommate told me it’d make my poop smell minty fresh and glow in the dark.”

The anesthesiologist did not even have to be asked not to “dumb it down” for me. We discussed my previous “odd” reactions on coming out of anesthesia: sobbing, pitiously, over nothing at all. Or laughing like a hyena at everyone, especially the terribly serious and unfunny people, which is embarrassing if they’ve not been warned and think I’m mocking them. Never aspirating my own watery vomit. Not once. “Please don’t let them argue with me over ice chips. I swear on all that’s holy I’m not about to die from a gulp of water.” He thought it wasn’t any particular drug, just the disinhibiting effect of anesthesia in general. Those times I cried, then – what were those about? Had I squashed a mosquito? Did it have children who would mourn it, waiting for it to bring home the blood? Had the genocide of whole colonies of bacteria flitted through my mind? Was I mourning the microbes? I thought that sounded terrible; inhibitions must be wonderful things. We must never speak of the hilarious orderly I caught sight of after having teeth pulled when I was a child, or how inappropriately funny Roseanne can be, when I haven’t the good grace to be above it all.

Fine, then. I suppose I could be fun at parties, if I didn’t get nauseated before I hit “dancing with a lampshade hat” levels of “disinhibited.” I was pretty sure that wasn’t it. He detailed for me each specific ingredient of the drug cocktail he would administer, knowing I’d never remember them all – the what, where, when, exactly how much, and to what purpose or effect.

“Any local, at the incision site? I mean, so I don’t have that sudden, intense pain on waking that makes me want to punch the first face I see?”

“I don’t know – that’s up to the surgeon. I’ll mention it to him. He’ll decide.” Later, given that I didn’t wake in restraints or under police guard, and the nurses didn’t seem overly alarmed, I assumed that was a “yes” from the surgeon, or that the incision didn’t – well, you’d think getting your throat slit really would hurt that much, but that’s not been the worst of it.

“Oh, Mother. Stop asking the man so many questions.” My daughter sat across the room, ready to step into the role of Mama Tiger. She’d flown in to take care of me. I caught a glimpse of my elder years. My vision: To watch Netflix, make up drug-fueled versions of “Bards Dispense Profanity,” and laugh till it hurt. Hers, apparently: To make me drink my Milk of Magnesia and try not to act like Maggie Smith. Fuck that. I refuse to grow old.

The surgeon and his PA stopped by. I’m glad that I’d learned, over Christmas break, that surgical PA’s are qualified to do many aspects of surgery. I joked with him, “Who’s doing the surgery, you or Dr. C?” I tried to sound nonchalant. We’d never discussed this. I was pretty sure I knew the answer, thanks to conversations at a bridal shower last year. Tim said he’d be closing. The bulk of the surgery would be done by Dr. C., of course.

Dr. C stepped in, waved, introduced himself to the rest of the family, and asked if any of us had questions. I didn’t. I don’t recall if anyone else did.

And then there was the person who, in my mind, was almost as important as Dr. C.

I can’t remember his name. I try, but it floats away and all that’s left is his face. I’d know his face – if he were wearing scrubs and a surgical cap flopping off to one side. I’d know that little half-smile, anywhere. He warned me that he would do annoying things to me while I slept, and that I would see the visible signs of it on my body in the days to come. Needle holes and bruises in random places. I shuddered, but he inspired trust and had an important job to do – failure to do it well could mean the difference between typing this and drooling on the keys. Walking, or being rolled down the grocery aisle and made to double as a cart. He didn’t say that, of course. I just got the gist and imagined worst case scenarios. I’d never heard his job title, “Neuromonitoring technologist,” before, but I knew what he did. He and the surgeon would work together to make sure I didn’t end up neurologically impaired.

“Do your worst,” I said, grinning. “Just as long as I’m sound asleep. Don’t look away. Be present in the moment. Did you get a good night’s sleep? Feeling alert this morning? No potty breaks. You’re on – till I wake up again.” It was his turn to grin.

“I’ve got this.” I don’t remember anything after that. The Versed must have done its job. I worry about that. Lovely stuff, I suppose, but I don’t think I need to forget things. Why do I need to forget things? Does the Propofol not do its job well enough? I think I want to remember everything except what went on during surgery.

I have bruises, all right. Bruises on the palms of both hands, bruises on my biceps. Bruises and scabs on my head; they don’t hurt, but the scabs come out in clotted clumps, like strips of adhesive dried in lumps of hair. Bruises, bruises, bruises. They look worse than they feel, and they are hardly noticeable. They bloom, and vanish. I imagine that I was pecked at by ducks, while I dreamed. I can read, do math, reach over my head, balance on either foot – in short, the neuromonitoring tech did his job admirably, and this was one of my biggest, secret fears – that I would wake up neurologically impaired, worse off than what I went in for. I am not worse off. I reserve judgement on how much improvement there’s been.

The team took good care of my eyes, as well; there’ve been no corneal erosions. I didn’t have to argue with anyone in Recovery over ice chips, and I only tossed my…chocolate malt, water, coffee, tea, chicken soup, veggie soup, and fish…twice in the first twenty-four hours. The worst of the pain was the sore throat; it was exactly like tonsillectomy pain for the first four days, or so – with one notable difference: the chocolate malt felt lovely going down. Ice cream after a tonsillectomy is just a cruel, sadistic joke.

I can’t drive till I’m released to do so. Of course I could drive, but I will be a good little obedient patient. (I’m past thinking my head’s going to fall off if I turn it too fast.) I figured I could work, after the first few days. Maybe half days, the first couple of weeks; I still nap at the drop of a hat. I’ve cut way back on the painkillers, snapping them in half and stretching the doses out to 8 hours or so. I’m taking about 1/6th of what was prescribed, but I cannot take NSAIDS for the first four months – they supposedly interfere with bone healing – so I’ve not cut the painkillers out completely. Not just yet. Sleep-deprived is not a good look on me.

Neither are Lindt truffles and chocolate malts, though to be fair, I haven’t gained weight in the past week.

Before surgery, I’d traded my dark purple gel nails for clean, clear O.R.-approved gel nails. Yesterday, it was time for an outing. After clipping my claws to a keyboard-productive. 98%-accuracy length and restoring my purple nails, my manicurist used a bit of acetone, followed by oil and a gentle massage, to remove pesky, sticky remnants of surgical tape from I.V. sites and EKG leads that had not come off in the shower with several vigorous soap scrubs.

One week post-op, I do not feel worse. I enjoyed dinner at Olive Garden with my guys.

That bandage, by the way, is covered in a window of tape so strong, so waterproof, that the builders of the Titanic could only wish they had a layer of it. That is not coming off till Thursday, I’m afraid. I could peel it off, with work, but I seem to recall that being against my discharge orders. I’m trying to behave.

I am planning to crochet a collar-cozy, if I can figure out a cute pattern for it. Should be a good stash-buster project. I wonder if someone’s already thought of it; mental note: check Ravelry. Looks like the cervical collar cozy market is wide open! (Or I could just make a wide cowl, or something.)

If the weather’s crisp and sunny, or at least not likely to drench me or electrocute me, I’ll get a ride to the park, later today, and look again at the hospital from the other side. I keep reminding myself that there’s nothing wrong with my legs that a good stretch and a brisk walk won’t cure.

Best get moving! How’s your week going?

Holly Jahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; and A New Leaf for Lyle. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young at heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.

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18 Responses

  1. Cheryl says:

    Holy smokes! They go in from the FRONT?! As for the collar cozy, you could just tie on some tassels to make a little curtain over the incision.

    • Oh, failed to mention that, did I? (Well, I did allude to it in my next to last post on the subject – there’s even a diagram, in comments, of where the trachea goes. I was kind of obsessed – if I hadn’t found the diagram, I was all ready to ask to WATCH an actual surgery from the gallery. Yeah, they’d have probably said no. But I’d have asked.) It’s safer and a much easier recovery – they don’t have to cut muscle when they go in through the front. The muscles supporting the spine are untouched. It’s only painful because of the intubation.

      Little TASSELS!! I like that idea! Still there are only a few spots where they’d attach. Not a lot of velcro or holes. I guess I could tie them around the plastic and UNDER the padding…

      I was thinking of something kind of discreet, but I could turn the big hole at the front into a 3-dimensional gaping maw, in varying colors of red and redder…

      I’m lucky my family hasn’t disowned me, yet.

      I should make a nice heart motif for the center, since it’s almost valentine’s day. I’m thinking “anatomically correct.” With a dog’s squeaky toy crocheted into it.

  2. Mike Goad says:

    How’s my week going? Other than shoulder and neck pain from degenerative changes in my cervical vertebrae, just fine. This is only a periodic issue for me that I’ve been living with for about 15 years. When it flares, my TENS unit and or heat gets me by. It doesn’t flare up often, fortunately. I’ve been alternating the TENS with heat today.

    So, your post is amazingly current for me today. If my condition gets to the point that I can’t cope with it any longer, then surgery will likely be required. And, yes, I knew they went in through the front. I just didn’t know why, so thanks for explaining that. It makes sense now.

    Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

  3. Glad you’re back.

    That’s all. Carry on.

    • Thank you for joining my “Goal Day” challenge yesterday. I think, for now, I’m up to one day at a time. The “Workweek Hustle” consists of “Wake up. Crawl out from under the soft, warm, blankie. Carry coffee back to the table. Burrow back into blankie like I’m a baby kangaroo in a pouch. Sip coffee. Repeat till mug is empty. Work. Contemplate a shower. Think better of being cold and wet. Crawl back under blankie. Work. Make lunch and a second pot of coffee. Throw out lunch, eat some chocolate. Work. Sip coffee. J.J.’s home! Yay!” It did feel good to stretch my legs at the park, yesterday, but I am not ‘overdoing it’ by any means! “Weekend Warrior” means facing the shower. Don’t get me wrong – LOVE the showers. Warm, steamy showers. Clean from tip to toe! It’s the getting out again that’s icky. And we have a big hot water tank, but it’s not big enough to keep the water hot and steamy all DAY. I do have to get out again.

      Trust me: two of these, one on the bottom and one on top, and you’ll never want to leave the womb–I mean, room–again: https://www.target.com/p/microplush-bed-blanket-threshold-153/-/A-50950586?lnk=rec|adaptpdph1|related_prods_vv|adaptpdph1|50950586|0#sneakTo=51354068

      OMG, it now comes in PURPLE. I’m in deep purple trouble now.

  4. Geesh! You look great for just having gone through that surgery, Holly. Just take it easy and don’t rush the recovery. The post is a fascinating trip through Holly’s post-surgery thoughts. Loved it!

    • Muahahaha…my post-op thoughts are never for the squeamish (see my reply to Mitch – why do I always think “Anklebiter” instead of “Anklebuster”?) over there. 🙂

      I have also decided that if I cannot grow old like Maggie Smith, I shall simply not do it at all. That said, fifty is the new thirty, and I am not at all amused by any implications to the contrary. Do young people not realize our generation BUILT the @#$%ing Internet? (I will credit theirs where it’s due, though – probably for insisting that hospital rooms ought to be equipped with wifi. I can’t see ours agreeing to it; we’d be all, “You’re here to rest, not to post weird selfies on Facebook and play Words with Friends.” So I’ll thank the young for that. Or maybe it WAS our generation – the older nurses might’ve got together and said, “Look, if we just give them the means to get online, they’ll get distracted and push the call button 83.4% less, making us significantly more productive…” Yes, come to think of it, that’s probably all our generation’s doing, too.)

  5. Anklebuster says:

    My week is fine, thanks for asking. And you, Holly, are one of the coolest people I know. Rest up, recover well, and think about our little project.

    You had me at “…well, you’d think getting your throat slit really would hurt that much…”

    Cheers,

    Mitch

    • heheh…well, you would THINK so, wouldn’t you? It just feels a little bruised, there, even now.

      Remember the JP drains I had after breast cancer surgery? I had ONE of them in my throat when I came out of surgery. I remember saying something like, “Oh, f***, you’re not going to make me go home with this thing, are you?” They looked at me kind of funny; turned out, they weren’t planning to let me go home at all till they could take it out. I ditched that the next day, once output was below 20 cc’s/8 hours. I had to explain that I’d gone back to work, five weeks after the cancer surgery, with four of those things still pinned under my clothes, and was still having to empty them myself for weeks. I just didn’t want to deal with THAT again, not that I COULDN’T deal with that.

      Now I’m hoping I don’t get in trouble for peeling off the boat caulk. (I think that the medical term is “Tegaderm transparent patch” or something.) It was rolling at the edges, after a week, and last night, the compulsion to peel it off was exactly like the compulsion to peel dead skin after a bad sunburn that’s mostly healed. It’s gross, but just feels so good – and of course you give yourself extra points if you can get anatomically recognizable features off in a single peel. My head did not fall off, either. About three of the 27 or so Steri-strips look like they’re about to fall off. I may hasten their demise in the shower. For some reason, this reminded me of an old movie from 1973: “Frankenstein: The True Story.” The scene where Jane Seymour gets her head ripped off. OK – so the ribbons and chokers were just for looks, I thought the Creature ripping off the choker was what made her head fall off. And apparently, judging by how I found the flick (which is on Amazon Prime, btw), I wasn’t the only one who misremembered that and literally thought the choker was all that was keeping her lovely cadaveric head on her shoulders.

      So. We’re good. Back to thinking about our project. 🙂

      • Anklebuster says:

        Ha-ha, you with your wry humor. The human body is amazing; I’m sure it was TELLING you to rip that thing off.

        I will be looking forward to chatting with you!

        Cheers,

        Mitch

      • That may well be true. I was a little amazed at how little blood was on the gauze when I did peel everything off – layers and layers of clean gauze! This is likely why I’ve had so little bruising and soreness at the incision site, though, too – it has had a bit of pressure and plenty of protection over it for over a week. (I know a woman who showed me her incision, from the same procedure, the same DAY. She did not even spend one night in the hospital, and was not given a rigid collar to wear at all – another reason I’m pretty sure that my head won’t fall off if I go for a bit without mine – besides just taking the doctor’s word for it!)

  6. That chocolate malt thing sounds intriguing; I haven’t had a malt in decades! The few times I’ve awakened from anesthesia I was giggling like a hyena; it seems to have made others laugh along. “Neuromonitoring technologist”; that’s what that woman I’m married to used to do and she loved it, though I’m betting she’d have never had quite the conversation with you that your guy did. lol

    Glad you’re recovering; now I also want to go to Olive Garden!

    • The first time I had that giggling like a hyena thing, I was about 8. I’d had baby teeth pulled. I’m not sure the black orderly I laid eyes on first, cared. Looking back, I’m CERTAIN he’d seen that reaction before, and would’ve known better than any of us that it was the drugs. But I can tell you this, my mom could not shove me into the car and peel away fast enough, lest he take it personally and be offended. (And that thought makes me giggle, to this day. I used to feel bad, imagining she was right and he might think I was laughing AT him. Now, I’m pretty sure he’d have been the first to laugh right back and say it was totally normal.)

      I LOVE chocolate malts. Sonic makes the best ones near me. Potbelly’s does, too, but they’re not cold enough to survive much of a journey, if you’re getting take-out. The only bad thing about them is this: a SMALL one is about 900 calories. OMG. I told myself that a healing spine needed the calories, but I’m a week out and doing pretty good, now. I doubt bone grafting takes 900 calories from start to six months out, let alone a couple of times a week. But damn… chocolate malt. Mmmmmm.

      Olive Garden is better than I remembered it being. For a while, back at Compaq, they catered (one of several local restaurants that did) lunches. Unfortunately for them (and for me) I was pregnant. Smelling cheese and garlic on the raw edge of morning sickness, from the parking garage to my cubicle, turned me off OG for two decades. I went to one in California, maybe 10 years ago? Wasn’t impressed. But this last visit? I can see why they’ve stayed in business. They have kept doing right the things they always did right (the breadsticks aren’t AMAZING, but they’re good enough to ask for seconds), and added new things to stay interesting. It was all tasty. A bit too busy and we were seated near a screaming toddler, but that wasn’t OG’s fault and one of the staff (I think it was one of the staff) came and even walked with the child a bit to quiet her. They stayed calm and friendly throughout. It was nice. I’d definitely go again!

  7. Claudia says:

    Congratulations on your successful surgery! I hqd a similar on December 21. Trust me, you are doing great. Heal well, dear one.

    • Thanks, Claudia! How are YOU doing? Sounds like either a good way to ruin the Christmas holidays, or a great way to bring the family together and get totally spoiled! (By day four, I was pretty much feeling spoiled. I’m going to miss that. So far, though, my husband has taken over the dinner duties and I’m still feeling pretty darned spoiled. I do hope I get to drive again after my first follow-up on Thursday!)

  8. Rowan says:

    Hi Holly, I just read about your surgery and saw the photo you posted. You look great! I’m amazed at how objective you always are about these invasive events. I’m so glad you are doing well. I too have always loved chocolate malts but haven’t had one for years now. Maybe I’ll make an exception and have one to celebrate your successful recovery.

    • Oh, that’s a delightful idea, Rowan!! Celebrate with me. Especially if I get to drive tomorrow!! That’s my goal for the day.

    • And I am officially allowed to drive and resume (I think the words were “slowly ease back into”) normal activities! Still no heavy lifting, and no PT for 8 weeks (till after my next f/u). Ditched the stitch – there was only one, apparently, but it was about 3″ long! And all the Steri-Strips are gone. Got to see an X-ray of the work done; that was pretty cool. Stole some stale office candy. Good morning, all in all!

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