Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lessons Learned

Today is Thursday and I am very so glad it is Thursday and I am done with the surgery on my back.  For whatever reason the thought of having this surgery gave me a lot of pause.  Normally, I don't feel like that at all.  I remember going in for the surgery on my leg wondering if I should have been more hesitant.  That surgery didn't leave me with a churning in my gut wondering if I was going to live through it or not, but for some reason this back surgery gave me that feeling of uncertainty and caution.

Coming away from this surgery alive and somewhat no worse for the wear there are a couple of key lessons that I took away from it.

The first lesson, is that you cannot trust your surgeon when it comes to rosy outlooks for the results of your surgery.  The surgeon who performed my operation is by far a very talented and well-respected surgeon.  He was recommended by my sister-in-law who is a doctor.  (Kind of funny how many times I have put my life into Celinde's hands by trusting her 100% when it came to medical stuff.  No matter what she always knows what she is doing and makes excellent recommendations!)  And all the reviews of him on the Internet were glowing.  My own personal experience from meeting with him left me feeling like he really knew his stuff.

Regardless of all that, surgeons have a way of looking at the outcomes from surgery with rose colored glasses.  Twenty minutes before my surgery started, the surgeon stopped by to check in with me in the pre-op area.  His nurse practitioner had already gone over the consents with me so he didn't have to do that.  Nonetheless, he wanted to talk to me before the procedure.  He was very optimistic in his outlook and told me almost without any reservations I would wake up from the surgery and would not feel the horrible pain I have felt for the last 3 months from the herniated discs.  This made me feel very optimistic but the end result was that that outlook didn't come true and it left me questioning a lot and very puzzled.

To that story I must now add a caveat.  It could be I might have woken up in the recovery room and not felt any pain except for the fact of what I will describe next - which is also the second lesson learned.

The second lesson I learned is that medical mistakes happen frequently and anytime you are undergoing medical treatment a mistake could occur.  In my case the mistake happened at the end of the surgery when everything was being wrapped up and I was being moved from the operating table to a bed for transportation out of the operating room.  At first I had no idea what was going one.  The last thing I remembered to that point was lying on the gurney from the pre-op area that was used to transport me into the OR.  The anesthesiologist had reached over to my IV line and injected two syringes of medication into it.  The set up that they had for the operating table looked incredibly complex, so they wanted to knock me out, incubate me and then get me on the OR table.  After the two syringes of whatever medication he gave me I don't remember a thing until I awoke in total and complete darkness gasping for breath.  No matter what I did I couldn't breath.  I forced my eyes open and realized that I was still in the operating room.  As I lay there gasping for breath it felt like I had the end of a MagLite flashlight shoved into my mouth and down my airway.  Not getting any relief from this incredible feeling of suffocation, I began to thrash around as much as I could - even pawing at my face trying to pull what ever was in my throat out.

It seemed like this suffocation continued forever -but I am sure it only went on for a minute or so.  I did everything I could to relieve the feeling but nothing was working.  This is going to sound absolutely horrible but it is what happened.  I didn't seem to have much control over my body at all during this whole event.  Things got so bad, that I actually peed on myself because I couldn't breathe.  (Yes - I do know I will get plenty of crap from some of my friends for revealing that fact - but it is what happened.)  The next thing I know  I felt someone putting their hands on my shoulders and then everything went black again.

The next time I remember was waking up was in the recovery room.  It felt like my entire throat and mouth had been seared by boiling water.  To add insult to injury as I started to move around I noticed that I still had the "radiating" pain that is the hallmark of my herniated discs and I also realized I hadn't been dreaming because the sheets of the hospital bed were soaked in my pee.  How freaking wonderful was it to wake up to that?  Gees...  this is definitely not the kind of story that you like to advertise all over the place.  "Guess what I did when I was in the hospital the other day"  "What?"  "I peed myself."  Well as my one brother put it - at least you didn't s*%t yourself.

As Monday progressed I was moved from the recovery room to a room on the 4th floor in the "new wing" of the hospital.  That afternoon and evening I was able to talk to my nurses about the continuing radiating pain I had on my left side.  They made sure to note it in there report logs.  The next morning when the PA for the surgeon came in I was sure to mention everything to her regarding the pain and how I had awoken with the ventilator tube still in me.  About an hour after the PA was in, the surgeon came by and we talked through everything.  He of course wasn't pleased with what I was feeling.  He offered several different alternatives of what could be going on but there was no real way for him to tell short of me having an MRI.  So later in the morning, I had the MRI.  Then I just had to sit and wait for the results.

Around 2:00PM my brother stopped by to see when I was going to be ready to go home as he had to drop by my sister-in-law's office for something.  We were sitting around chatting when my surgeon came back with the findings from the MRI.  Not that I was happy to continue to be in pain, but I was glad with what he told me as it explained what was happening.  My surgeon told me in most cases there would be a little bit of bleeding from the site of the surgery into the patient's spinal column.  He said in my case instead of it being a little bit of bleeding there had been a lot.  The MRI showed that my spinal column was full of blood from the junction of the L5/S1 vertebrae to the L3/L4 junction.  Given they were only doing surgery on L4/L5 and L5/S1 the blood had actually even gone to the next highest vertebrae junction.  That just didn't sound good to me.  All the blood in my spinal column was continuing to apply pressure to my already fired up nerves.  The surgery had replaced the original thing that was causing the pressure on my nerves - the herniated discs - with another thing - a big huge hematoma.

In the end run the surgeon offered me two choices.  The first was to stay in the hospital for another 2 days and have a second surgery on Wednesday morning by which he would go in and suction all the blood out of my spinal column.  The second was to go home later that day and take a wait and see attitude.  If things didn't get better or they got worse within the next week to 10 days, then we would undertake another round of surgery.  Needless to say, I decided on the getting out of the hospital now approach and do the wait and see thing.  The hematoma in my spinal column is as if you had a bruise on your body.  Over time the bruise would turn all kinds of nasty colors and then eventually just fade away as it was absorbed back into you body.  With any luck this hematoma will do the same thing and just be absorbed into my body without further surgery.

Given that I woke up in the OR with the ventilator tube still in me and the fact that I flailed around like a fish out of water, I am wondering if I did something that caused more blood than normal to enter my spinal column.  I am not even sure that is possible but I do wonder.  I got confirmation that it was a big deal that I woke up in the OR when I got a call from the anesthesiologist's office on Wednesday afternoon.  What was frustrating to me is that they tried to explain the issue away as opposed to just saying "we messed up".  I mean the 2 huge scratch marks I have on face don't lie.  I didn't have them when I went into surgery and I had them when I came out.  Ummm...  I don't think I was dreaming waking up the way I did.  Nor does the excuse that everyone metabolizes the anesthesia different really work.  If you are a professional anesthesiologist then you should figure out how quickly I am going to metabolize something.  Oh well...  It is what it is.  Nothing I can really do about it now.

Another lesson that I learned is just the reaffirmation that I can do anything.  In my life I have now had 3 different surgeries all of which have taken place since Patty died.  With the exception of the second surgery - the surgery to repair my broken fibula I have done the other two totally on my own.  (Having someone - Shelly - there for the leg operation was the greatest thing, but it was still something I could have stood alone to do.)  When I entered the hospital on Monday morning, my brother dropped me off and then headed out.  When the nurses and surgeon asked me if there was any one who I wanted them to call when the surgery was done - my answer was no.  The thing is I am at a point in life that I can do pretty much anything I want alone.  When I talk of taking Zack on the trips that we are taking, I have had many people express concern or wonder how I would do it.  The bottom line is I can.  I know in the absolute depths of my heart and soul that I can stand alone and get through life.  It is a great feeling to have the wonderful sense of independence and know that you can do anything.  This surgery has shown me once again that I can do what I need to do to survive and be absolutely strong - as the power is within me.

So those where the first three lessons that I learned from this little surgical episode.  But by far the more important lesson that I learned is that there are a lot of wonderful, caring and loving people in my life.  Throughout my life I have never wanted to receive help from other people.  In many ways I have a hard time receiving help from others.  During this go round with surgery I didn't ask for or receive a lot of explicit help.  But what I did receive was just a lot of kind words and good wishes from people.  In the past even these words of kindness and concern would have been hard to accept.  But for once instead of turning them down, I received them with gratitude.  Even when I was in the hospital feeling like sh*t and my cell phone ran, I could have let it go to voicemail, but instead I took the calls and felt really good to get the call.  In the end run I truly feel blessed to have good friends who are good people who are in my life.  Many of these friends I don't do that much with on a day-to-day basis, but the fact that they would reach out to me with just a kind word when I was feeling so low was a wonderful feeling.  So to all of you who called, e-mailed and sent texts, thank you so much!!

I am now on my second full day at home.  I am very pleased how Zack and I have come together to work through our day-to-day routines.  Given my restrictions on weight lifting and the intense pain I am feeling when I move my body certain ways, Zack is having to help out a lot.  He is continuing to do his normal activities like feeding the dogs, but there is a lot more he is doing - like making dinner, washing and drying the clothes, always opening the door for the dogs, etc.  We are working very well together and the two of us make a great team.  Though it is supposed to snow tonight and tomorrow - I am planning to get out of the house tomorrow or Saturday.  I made sure the house was stocked up on food before the surgery, but I just want to get out.  I am giving myself today as one more day to do nothing, but tomorrow things will change and I will get moving again.  I will make it through this pain and life is going to return to normal.  I will not allow anything different to happen.  These two stupid injuries have cost me almost a year of my life in terms of restricting what I can and can't do.  I will not be restrict for much longer - particularly there is going to be no way in hell that these injuries cause me to miss our trip to Costa Rica.

Before I wrap up my writing for the day, here is a stupid news story that I just had to pass on...  Newt Gingrich thinks that if a movie is made about his life that Brad Pitt should play him.  Really????  Come on??  That is just nonsense talk there Newt.  You and Brad Pitt look about as much a like as a sea cucumber and the most beautiful Arabian horse.  Not to belittle Jonah Hill, but I think Jonah Hill would be a much more likely candidate based upon looks to play you Newt.  Sounds like you are on a bit of an ego boost there Newt!  Here's the link to the story...

Now if some one were making a movie about me, Matt Damon is the obvious choice!  LOL!  Yes - I have a little "man-crush" on Matt.  Actually if some one was going to play me in a movie it should be someone like Dan DeVito.  His ugliest factor almost reaches mine, but not quite - he is a tab bit more pleasant to look at.

Well - I am on to bigger and better things for the day.  Though I can't physically do a lot right now, my brain is still working so time to get busy and take care of things.  I won't crack open my work e-mail until tomorrow morning, but still plenty to do.

Zack and Nancy are doing well.  Zack has come through my surgery without going into the depths of fear-mongering.  I truly believe the changes in his medication has made a huge difference to him.  Though he is not totally over all his anxiety he is doing a great job analyzing what is causing him to go over the edge with the anxiety.  Nancy came over on Tuesday to see if she could help me with anything, but there really isn't anything I have needed her to do.  She is still settling into Cranbrook and I still need to listen to her daily as there are so many things that she is still adjusting too and doesn't like.

Thanks to you all and I hope everyone has had a great day!

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

1 comment:

tcsTenor said...

So glad you're amongst the living, Jerry!! I pray that the hematoma and pain will disappear quickly and that you will be repaired to your normal self as you were several years ago!

Also, happy to hear that Zach is doing better! Yay!