On April 27, 2009 I entered our local hospital to undergo my third back surgery. The two previous back surgeries were to repair damage from disc in the lower lumbar region. Again here I was with some type of lower lumbar disc problems and severe sciatic nerve pain. I wasn't afraid as my previous surgeries had gone smoothly with great results. However I was totally in shock when I awoke after my third surgery. At some point it became evident that I was unable to move my legs. It's not quite clear if I discovered this on my own or if it became evident to a family member. And this is where the life changing journey begins.
I was a bit sad at the thought of being paralyzed but not horrified. It was almost a fleeting moment of sadness though and it didn't linger. Everything around me seemed dream-like but, I suppose that was from all of the medication.
The day after surgery number three all of my staples were removed from my back and I was sent for an MRI of my upper and middle back to determine a cause for the inability to move my legs. I was given a morphine drip which I believe was more for keeping me calm than preventing pain. The following day which was a Thursday, I was told that nothing significant was found in the MRI, with the exception of spinal stenosis in my neck which would not cause me to be unable to move my legs. Therefore an additional MRI would be needed of my lower back, this was scheduled for Sunday, three days away.
I began thinking of all that was being said by people in my hospital room and about why this happened to me. It finally occurred to me that God was answering prayers that I had been praying for years. I know this may sound crazy to a lot of people but as a believing Christian this was and is my true conclusion. You see years ago my marriage was in jeopardy and my husband and I became very distant; I had been praying for God to restore our relationship. Also I had been praying for several years for God to give me patience, and to help me relinquish my control issues, relieve me of some of my OCD tendencies and have greater trust in God. My mama was sitting next to my bed when all of these thoughts came to mind so I shared them with her. Mama was skeptical, that was obvious but, she didn't say anything. She just listened.
On Sunday May 3, 2009, a couple of nurses came to escort me down to X-Ray for an MRI. Once all the imaging was complete we set upon our journey back to the seventh floor once again. Everything about that trip and the one prior was a blur, simply because my only view was that of the hospital ceiling and lights. On the elevator, buttons were pushed, chatter was in whispers and I lay silent just taking it all in stride. Family greeted me as my bed, with my body in tow, was re-situated in the middle of the room. I was told I began to crack jokes and throw out one liners that kept family and nursing staff laughing. It must have been all those drugs because one of my doctors once told me I wasn't the peppy, perky cheerleader type and my son often referred to me as Debbie Downer.
Later in the evening my doctor made his rounds and entered my room with some not so pleasant news. Upon reviewing my latest MRI it was found that my spine was crushing my spinal cord, the bones had collapsed. An additional surgery was already scheduled for 2 pm the following Tuesday, May 5th, 2009. I wasn't scared but neither was I thrilled at the idea of undergoing another back surgery. It was discussed that rods and pins would be used to enforce my spinal column.
Monday came and went with little memory. However when Tuesday arrived family began to pour into the room, especially as time neared for my surgery. As with all surgeries the pre-op hours are always bothersome because you can't eat or drink anything. As a diabetic that became an additional problem for me because my sugar level began to drop. So now my family is panicking and contacting the nurses to take care of the problem. A dextrose injection was given to solve that problem. Soon thereafter we find out my surgery has been delayed until later in the afternoon. Time ticks away very slowly and finally around 5:30 the pre-op crew come to wheel me away. Family members were kissing my cheek and hugging me as if I were going away forever. But I was happy to have everyone of them nearby, showing so much love and concern.
Upon arrival in pre-op, nurses asked questions and charted answers and vitals. An anesthesiologist came in to explain the procedure he would use. Then silence as I watched the clock on the wall tick away the minutes. Slowly the hour reached 7 pm and my surgeon made his appearance. He marked up my hips with a little purple marker which confused me. When I ask why he informs me that they'll also be harvesting bone from my hip to graft to the rods and pins in my back. Did I forget that? Surely my husband or I signed for it. Oh well, I accepted it and continued to lay on the hospital bed flat of my back as I had been for the last several hours. Finally the surgical team came to wheel me into the operating room. I looked about at the large round light overhead and the steel objects, tile walls and green and white linens. Quietly the team began to move about and the last thing I remember is that mask going over my mouth and nose.
I vaguely remember the first time I awoke from my fourth surgery. I do remember that I was still unable to wiggle my toes or move my legs. I had a morphine pump, fluids in an IV, and antibiotics along with oxygen tubes in my nose. I realized at some point I had drainage tubes in my lower back where bone had been harvested and those were cleaned periodically. Still I can't remember the day to day activities of those first few days. But what I do remember is the loving kindness of my husband during my stay in the hospital. He did the job of the Patient Care Assistants day in and day out, changing my soiled clothing and bed pan.
At some point my drainage tubes were removed (If anyone ever tells you that doesn't hurt don't believe them) and
a nurse or tech came to me and molded a plaster cast of my torso and of my lower legs. These were used to created a heavy plastic torso brace that I was to wear for five to six months as well as the leg braces. This torso brace was to be worn at all times unless I was in the bed. The braces were returned the next day and physical therapist were soon behind to attempt to get me out of bed. The therapists brought a walker, they wanted me to walk and I couldn't even wiggle my toes. I just thought it was a bit funny. But up I went and down I went, of course they were trying to hold me up. It would almost have been comical if I had not been in so much pain and if I had not begun to faint. That took care of that and back to bed I went. I scared the therapists and the nurses. I don't recall that they came back to move me again.
I remained in the hospital for one week after my last back surgery. Then the day came that the doctor planned to release me. I still wasn't able to move my legs, I couldn't sit up alone and I could barely turn from side to side in the bed. When my doctor told me he was discharging me I told him I couldn't go home like that. I couldn't take care of myself and didn't have anyone who could stay with me 24 hours a day. It was then that we decided I needed to go to an inpatient physical therapy center. Arrangements were made and then my daughter and I waited out the day for the first available ambulance to transport me across town. When the ambulance crew arrived I was moved from hospital bed to ambulance gurney, and once again treated to the view of hospital ceiling tiles and light fixtures. I was wheeled through the halls, elevators and Emergency Department like a VIP. For some reason I became a bit scared and asked one of the EMT's if I had to ride in the back alone. He made some joke that I don't remember but then seated himself in the back with me. Upon our arrival at the hospital where the inpatient Physical Therapy Center was located the EMT said "Here we are bright lights and all." I asked "Are you going to roll out the red carpet now?" Where was I getting these great one liners? I never had such a quick wit in the past.
Out of the ambulance into the hospital corridors and up the elevator we went. I was wheeled into Room 241, which house two beds and one bathroom. There were tall clothing closets and bedside tables for each bed along with a tiny TV on a hinged arm for each bed. I lay quietly talking to my daughter waiting for the head nurse, Marilyn to come take information. After an introduction and a few questions she said she was going to weigh me. I was confused, how was I going to get on scales and be weighed. She brought some contraption in the room and attached hooks to something on my bed. She pressed a button and my body began to rise with the mesh scale on metal rods. She asked how much do you want to weigh I said " less than I did when I had my third surgery." She read off the numbers and I had lost 33 pounds in two weeks. I was so happy to have lost the weight but that wasn't the way I had planned to lose it. My nurse's next question was, "What is the one thing you have missed the most during the last two weeks." And my response was, "A shower." You see, I was only given bed baths for the last two weeks and my hair was washed with hospital shampoo caps. My hair had not been styled in two weeks and I had not even looked in a mirror.
That first night in rehab was very lonely. I couldn't sleep. I really wanted to be at home but I knew that wasn't feasible in my condition. But I came to like my surroundings and all of the staff at the rehab center. On my second day Nurse Marilyn came to work in the afternoon. She informed me that "we" were going to get a shower. It was hard for me to imagine how but I figured she knew more about this than I so I gladly accepted the idea. Marilyn went above and beyond her personal duties to accommodate my wish to shower by removing her shoes and socks and rolling up her pants legs to get me bathed and my hair washed. However, things didn't go so smooth as I began to faint as she started to get me out. Two male nurses were called in to assist, luckily she got my night shirt over my head and torso before they arrived. Back to bed I went head down, feet up. I was so embarrassed about not being fully dressed. But the anxiety of that quickly faded.
On day two of my stay I was assisted into a wheel chair and taken to the rehab gym. Two, three, or maybe four therapist and assistants gathered around me for the first attempt at getting me on my feet. Up and then down I went. Oh yes, I fainted. I came to with people fanned me, brought me cold cloths, and ice. It was decided perhaps I should go back to my room and they would try again later in the day. Round two, in the wheel chair and back to the rehab gym we went. As the therapist hovered round, two of them lifted me held on to me for a few seconds and down I went again. Once again I was revived with cool cloths and ice and fanned with booklets and newspaper. At this point I dubbed myself Scarlet O'Hara of Rehab. Oh, fiddledee dee!
Eventually I was able to transfer myself from my bed to wheelchair. I was able to perform exercises that were assigned by my therapists, and finally the day came that I was able to actually stand without fainting. As each day passed I regained a little use of my legs. After a couple of weeks I was able to walk a few feet and then rest and walk a few more. By the third week I was walking 90 feet with the assistance of a walker, torso brace and foot braces. I was so excited I cried. I invited my family in to watch me walk. There were so many tears of joy that day because previously we were not guaranteed that I would ever be able to walk again.
At the end of the fourth week I was released to go home with my family. I had been out of my home for six weeks and a few odd days. When I arrived home I had a calmness that I had not ever remembered before. I wanted to wheel around and look at each room and to see my dog, (who my husband said had missed me very much). It was nice to be home to be with my husband. And I was so happy that we were finally able to stay together all night in our bed together. It was such a sweet feeling to hold his hand and have him nearby.
During all of this time I had put my studies for my Master's degree on hold. Also I was on medical leave from my job. I contacted my work place to request additional unpaid leave because I was still unable to return to work. My request was denied and it was suggested I contact our benefits office. I had to retire on disability. This was not what I wanted but the only option offered. I truly loved my job but I believe that God knew that had I continued it that position it would have caused a great strain on my marriage. I was sad but not bitter because again I saw God working in my life. As for my Master's degree I enrolled again in Spring 2010 to try to continue work and again in Fall 2010. But as fate would have it health issues prevented me from being able to complete my lacking 1 credit hour of Thesis Research in a timely fashion and I was left, am left still lacking the 1 credit hour for completion.
As weeks turned to months and months have turned to years I continue to thank God every day for the incredible life changing journey. Everything I experienced strengthened my faith, restored my marriage and resolved my impatience and some of my OCD tendencies. We still face struggles, but my life is good.