Friday, December 29, 2006


It's 18 days out from surgery now and I don't think this incision looks much different than it did here. It sure does itch and burn and hurt. I've lost the weight I managed to put back on just before the surgery; I guess 8 days of not eating anything but ice chips will do that to you. I don't recommend it as a weight-loss tool. Also, I'm very, very pale. Not sure what's up with that.

Most of the pain I had when I came home (after the whole "natural gas" disaster, which was VERY painful and weird) was in my legs and stomach from the muscles being stretched. Not only was I not used to walking upright, but the ProDisc that went in a L5-S1 made me at least a quarter of an inch taller than I was before I started stooping. Having muscles stretched 24/7 was so much more painful than I would have imagined. Stretching usually feels good. This didn't.

The worst of this pain was centered right around Saturday (the 23rd) and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, or at least it seemed so because I was no longer on the Demerol. I still have fluctuating pain in my legs and low back and stomach after I've been up and walking for a while, but they say that this will go away eventually. Dr. B. says it is not unusual for patients to have muscle pain from the stretching for months after the surgery. I was in such good shape (the word Dr. B. used to describe it was "remarkable") going in to the surgery (swam a quarter of a mile the day before), I just can't imagine what people go through with this type of surgery that are overweight and out of shape. If you are reading this and considering back surgery, start exercising yesterday!

Anyway, today I walked (gingerly!)from our apartment at 10th Ave to 8th Ave and bought some fruit. I was careful to only buy as much as I could comfortably carry, and that wasn't much; I'm officially not allowed to pick up anything that weighs 10 pounds or more and anything that weighs more than a mug of tea generally causes pain. It was weird being out without the cane, I felt a sense of freedom, but also like there was something missing, like I was exposed and vulnerable to injury. I avoided passersby assiduously, almost to the point of paranoia. Friendly neighborhood dogs are a problem now too, I can't risk getting sideswiped or jumped on by even a small dog, as the sudden jolt could torque the spine, wreaking havoc with all the healing muscles and the fusion. I've decided that the next time I go out on the street, I will take the cane, just because people tend to give you a bit more consideration and a wider berth when you walk with a cane. Even in New York. [That's right, Ben, I'm sacrificing freedom for security. Wanna fight about it?] Still, it was a heady experience, being out and about and upright.

Then I came home and took some Darvocet and went to bed, because this kind of freedom definitely has its price.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I'm on my way home


The breakfast was pretty darn good. Fake eggs that were doled out with an ice cream scooper, a thin, greasy sausage patty and a tiny, very oily muffin. I didn't touch the corn flakes (too much sugar). The first few bites went down, but felt like they didn't go all the way down; I had to take frequent breaks to let the food settle. Had some slight cramps just after I finished up, but luckily everything stayed down, which was what they were waiting to see, so I get to go home! Tyler is on his way to pick me up now.

I can't wait to sleep in my own bed tonight, the hospital beds provide all the support of one of those big balls they have at the gym. They're wobbly, squishy, and you practically need a rope to help you climb out once you're in it.

I'm also anxious to get to my own food. Remember the Triscuits I wrote about the other day?

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Tummy Ache

They took yet another set of xrays (this was the fourth!) this morning and determined that the obstruction had lessened somewhat, at least enough to allow me to graduate to a clear liquid diet. Yay! I've been sipping on cranberry juice and extra salty beef broth all day. My abdomen is still very distended (though you can't really tell from this picture) though not as much as before. Because I'm now ingesting clear liquids, they were able to take me off the IV fluids, and not a moment too soon, as I have not a viable vein left in either of my arms or hands.

Unfortunately, taking me off the IV also means that they are trying to wean me off of the IV pain meds. The Demerol was really allowing me to get sleep that I desparately need and I'm just now realizing that all this hurts. A lot. Dr. Balderston says that I'll have muscle aches and pain for "several months" (ouch!) while my body adjusts to its new way of being. My right leg, for instance, which was always buckling underneath me is now stretched taut, as are my stomach muscles. It feels a bit weird to be walking upright and not have to hold myself up with anything, but, hey, I could get used to it!

Keep your fingers crossed that all goes ok with the clear liquids and that I can graduate to the "mushy diet" tomorrow and then it's on to solid foods. I won't be getting out tomorrow, Wednesday or Thursday is more like it, and I'll know more after talking with Dr. B. tomorrow morning.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Nil per os

I ended up with just one ProDisc and the other two bad discs fused. I'm very disappointed in this result, I really, really, wanted the three discs, but aside from this, I'm doing pretty darn good.

The first few days after surgery weren't so good. I was out of it and in a lot of pain, and then they gave me morphine even though I told them not to. The morning after the procedure I woke up to see my doctor standing next to me with, like, a seven thousand dollar suit a big smile and told him if he didn't want puke on his pants, he needed to step back. The whole side of the bed and me were soaked with puke. It was in my hair, everywhere. I heard Theresa say, "oh, why'd they give her morphine? She gets sick on that." Why indeed? I told the anesthesiologist and anyone would would listen that anasthesia and morhine make me vomit. How is it they don't share this information? Or remember it?

The days after that and leading up to yesterday were pretty much run of the mill post-op days: me out of it and getting ignored by nurses. I sometimes wonder why people with absolutely no compassion or aptitude for working with people go into health care.

Today was the first day I felt coherent in any way. I have some kind of condition or complication called "ileus" which occured as a result of my internal orgrans being moved all around during the surgery. The remedy for this is, of course, to pass gas. I've never had so many people so interested in my farts. Every doctor, nurse, intern and nurse's aide that's come by here since the surgery has asked (sometimes more than once) if I'm "passing any gas?"
They say that average person passes gas around 15-20 times a day. Talk about taking something for granted. I'm up to maybe four times a day and each time, it's a real event. I've been up walking around the floor here, getting my own ice chips, etc. in an attempt to get my sluggish bowels moving, but it's unfortunately a very slow progress.

Yesterday I had the singular indignity of having a tube inserted in my nose, down my throat and into my stomach to try to "decompress" my abdomen. So on top of everything else, I had to sit here watching blackish blood and greenish slime being pumped out of my guts through my nose. I actually asked , no demanded that this be done because my stomach was so distended my skin felt like it was going to snap, this is a very weird feeling. The nurses were saying they could have bounced a quarter off my belly. I was dosed up with drugs, fell asleep and pulled the tube out. Thank god they said they didn't want to put it back in. The canister with the yucky guts stuff in it is still hanging on a hook on the wall. I've had three sets of xrays, called "obstruction series" looking for what was in there. I overheard one of the doctors say it was a dilated loop, so apparently it is just several giant gas bubbles.

It's been seven days now that I haven't eaten. I'm allowed to chew/suck on ice chips but that's it. I've been fantasizing about what I want to eat when I 'm allowed, and it isn't even the elaborate steak or lobster dinner that most people might crave, I'm thinking about everyday little things like Triscuits, some raisins, maybe a handful of almonds, and hot cup of strong tea. Oh, yeah, pretty darn good.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Operation: Lose a Turn

After all the months of waiting and worrying and looking forward to as well as dreading the day of my surgery ... it was postponed. I know things like this happen and can't be avoided, but I sure was frustrated and disappointed.

The reason was that there was one small part that went with the apparatus (small rods, screws, etc.) that would be used if he has to do a fusion on more than one level. We are hoping that this is not the case, but he said he couldn't go ahead with the surgery, that we'd waited too long for everything not to be perfect.

I'm not doing the countdown again, I think it may have jinxed me, as I neglected to post a "one to go" photo yesterday.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

3 AM

What is it about three o’clock in the morning? Is there something hardwired into our bodies, some primal instinct, that causes our secrets to spill out, flowing like blood from a fresh cut, at that hour?

The last month or so I have been struggling with a compulsion to get high.

We keep wine in the cabinet in the kitchen for cooking, but that doesn’t interest me. It’s drugs I need, something strong, something that tastes bad when it drips down my throat, or burns my nose or sears my lungs, something that hurts so good. Something different from what I’ve been for what seems like so long.

Last week I found a Vicodin (ok, I hid it last year, “just in case”) and since I know it will make me sick to my stomach and ruin any buzz, I looked up online how else to get it. into my system. I read that snorting or smoking was the best way to get any drug into your system, so after I failed to make a decent pipe out of aluminum foil I decided to snort it.

I pulled the stool out and sat at the kitchen counter, using the same cutting board and Henkel’s chef knife we’d used the night before in preparing dinner and crushed it up with the side of the blade, like it was a clove of garlic. Funny, but just the ritual of chopping it, trying to get it fine enough, pushing it into lines, then cutting a straw to just the right length, seemed to go a long ways toward calming me. I did these things by rote, without thinking, they are a part of me, even though it’s been twenty years or more since I last chopped and lined anything up. Yet, after a few minutes of disgusted staring at the now sullied innocence of my kitchen utensils, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I swept the powder into the sink and sprayed water on it until it all melted and went down the drain.

In the same drawer with the stashed Vicodin I came across an old cigarette case of mine, lovely gold plated with inlaid mother of pearl, and a matching lighter. I opened the case and was surprised to find a Newport, slightly worse for over twenty years of wear, inside. I took it out and held it between my fingers, here was the thing that had been missing from my hand for all these years. I thought about lighting it up, pulling the smoke into my lungs. At least it would have been a different sensation from what I was feeling, what I have been feeling for months and months: worry, anxiety, fear.

Even now, at the magical hour of 3AM, the time when all bets are off, and every lousy, fucked up nightmare you’ve ever had seems not all that weird, I can’t imagine what my life will be like without this situation, this disability, to deal with. I’ve been shuffling around for nearly a year now. A year is not that long, I know, but I tend to adjust to things really quickly. I once spent four days in London and had a British accent by the second afternoon. I am nervous about what they will give me for pain in the hospital, morphine and demerol most likely. Both of them equally delightful.

Twenty years ago when I had the first spine surgery, I was on morphine for 9 days and was good and addicted when I was released with a script for Darvoset. I went through full-on withdrawal for the first two days, crying, laughing, sweating, shivering, vomiting. It was like I had been a junkie for years. I’m hoping I adjust just as quickly to not shuffling, but of course I can’t see that, can’t picture, now, at 3AM, what it will be like and how I will walk without pain, though I can imagine with precise detail and clarity the sensation of being high on Quaaludes, the numbness in my face, the warm buzzing in my ears, or the sudden rush when my heart starts pounding all the way down to my bowels when the speed hits my system.

Maybe the explanation for the urge to “party” is a control issue. Let's face it, I can't stand up straight, I can't walk more than a few feet without stopping to lean on something, the insurance company, the FDA, the hospital, the doctors, all have more control over what happens to me than I do. Damn it, at least I can get a buzz.

For now, maybe I’ll just have a cup of tea, the caffeine seems about as safe a choice as I have to chase the worry and fear. I can drink it out of a pretty cup, sip it daintily, the hot liquid in my mouth and throat a sensation in itself. Something. Then maybe I can go back to sleep before the sun comes up. What is it about 3AM, anyway?

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Two Days to go!

Last Time/This Time

When I had the thoracic fusion to correct my scoliosis 20 years ago, there was so much that was different, and I don’t just mean my hair.

Last time, I was in the hospital for the entire day the day before the surgery. There was a parade of people in and out of the room, explaining things and taking blood (all the stuff we did on our Pre-Admission day of fun last Monday). Dr. Balderston came in to talk to me and said that studies had shown I would not remember anything that happened the day before the surgery. Him telling me that is the one thing I remember. That and the anesthesiologist telling me there was a small chance of my death. They woke me early the next morning; it was still dark out, to take me down to the OR. The nurse yelled at me when she saw I had a sheer pink polish on my toe and fingernails. She came waddling back in with a few cotton balls and some nail polish remover and ordered me to remove it. So much for the lovely pre-surgery mani-pedi I had treated myself to a few days before.
This time, I’ll walk into the hospital the morning of the procedure.

Last time, I was on morphine for the whole nine days I was in the hospital. The nurses would come in with a needle every four hours on the dot and I would dutifully roll over for the shot. My butt was black and blue from all the shots. Both cheeks.
This time, I’ll have morphine, but it will be going directly into my veins, a steady feed, instead of waiting for the nurse to come in and bruise my backside.

Last time, I took myself to the hospital the day before the surgery, marching in alone, too naïve to be scared.
This time, I have Tyler to take me and stay with me until it’s time to get down to business and I’m all too aware of everything to not be scared. (Curse you Grey’s Anatomy!)

Last time, I brought a backpack full of books with me. Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal? What was I thinking?
This time, I have a brand new copy of one of my all time favorite books, Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim. I probably won’t read it, as there is something about being in the hospital that is more conducive to watching TV (it must be the pain medication), but at least I know it’s there, and honestly, just thinking about the “arty weekend” makes me smile. Fleurs du Mal? WTF?

Last time, I was a member of a union, and we had great insurance. The whole bill, all except about six hundred bucks out of over thirty grand, was covered.
This time, I have UNsurance. They are covering the cost of one disc; I may be getting three, the other two of which we will pay out of pocket for the cost of the disc itself and the surgeon’s fee. It’ll be way more than six hundred bucks.

Last time, I had a young doctor they called the “boy wonder.”
This time, I have a wonderful, wise, very talented and skilled surgeon. Actually, it’s the same doctor, and while he might not be Dr. McDreamy, at least now he’s got better hair this time. We all do.

Three days to go (from yesterday)

I knew I shouldn't have started this countdown thing, I have so much trouble keeping up ...

Anyway these are the three discs I'm having surgery on, illustrated on the front of one of my homemade hospital gowns, in case my doctor forgets what body part he's working on or something. Note the misspelling!

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Four days till surgery!

Yesterday I had a call from Dr. Balderston. He confirmed what I said here about the logistics of the surgery. Dr. Wernsing will open my abdomen and push my internal organs aside, then Dr. B will begin working on my spine. He said they will start from the bottom, L5-S1, and work up to L3-4, inserting as many as three ProDiscs total (IF he can fit them in). If he can't replace the discs in L4-5 and L3-4 he'll have to do a fusion on those and that will be done through the posterior incision. He also said they will tilt the vertebrae back from this anterior opening so that I can stand up straight again.

He assured me he'll be getting lots of rest this weekend, and that I'll see him just prior to going to sleep so I can do "what I need to do." He explained that some patients want to squeeze his hands to be sure that he doesn't have a tremor (sounds like I'm not the only one watching too much Grey's Anatomy!) I said the sight of him with clean glasses and in scrubs and not a golf shirt was good enough for me.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Five to go!

Again, if you got one of those emails telling you to please check out my online shop with no link to the shop, yes, I'm officially losing it. Here is the link:


Countdown: 6 days to go

I made my own hospital gowns!
Come on, I am WAY too stylin' to wear that hospital crap. I designed and made three of these, with different designs on each to wear while I'm laid up in there. I even wrote a Wikipedia article on how to do it!

So, only six days to go and I'm losing it big time. I sent out 140 emails telling people about my online shop to try to help with the hospital bills, etc. and forgot to include the link to the shop! Here it is:


It's not like I don't have a lot on my mind, but geez. Oh and did I mention I got my period yesterday, complete with migraine and cramps. Lovely.

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