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?