Lockdown in the Desert II

So, I go to the hospital to get my spine worked on.

There’s some similarities to running a marathon or biking a century. That morning, when there’s no turning back, you might say to yourself, “How did I get myself in this position?” or “What have I done?” or “Is there anyway I can get out of this?”

The morning of my surgery I was tying up loose ends for work. I was nervous, but I knew I didn’t actually have to do anything, except fill out forms and then lay real still. Rose was nice enough to drive me to the medical center. She couldn’t go in. I go in, fill out some paperwork.

I’m the only person in this gigantic waiting room, but I’m only in there for a minute, before they bring me backstage to the VIP room. Just for fun, they have me disrobe.

“Socks and underwear?” I ask the female hospital person.

She said, “Yes, take it off, take it all off.”

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Apparently, she has some things she wants me to do. Got some people to meet. Gowns to put on. They gave me the hospital gown, which I was expecting, and the world’s worst pair of socks, which I wasn’t.

“Would now be a good time to visit the bathroom?”

I haven’t eaten or had any fluids since 10p the night before. At noon, the nurse got me started with an IV in my hand. She also wraps my lower legs in some sort of device that is meant to keep my legs from clotting during the 2 1/2 hour surgery. Since it’s freezing in this hospital, David Letterman-studio cold, she covered me in blankets.

The first of many, a medical guy stops by. He has been chatting with the staff outside my curtained area, trying to be funny. He tells me that he will be assisting on my surgery, monitoring my muscle reaction to the nerve manipulation. Make sure everything is working.

He asks me if I’m staying the night. I say no. Out-patient.

I tell him, “I don’t have to go now, but I’ll want to visit the bathroom before surgery.”

He said, “You definitely should do that.”

Next up, the anesthesiologist. In addition to knocking me out, he is going to monitor my brain waves. Cool.

He asks all kinds of questions, like how did you end up here today? I had to convince him that the operation was necessary. I got the impression that this guy thought I walked in off the street and ordered up a spinal fusion operation. I said, no, I have degenerative arthritic discs. I’ve had symptoms. I have a diagnosis. It was actually Dr. Scully who suggested surgery. Wasn’t my idea.

Oh, okay, he said.

Do you have any questions for me?

“Yes,” I said. “Are you covered by my insurance?”

He was supposed to contact me before this moment. He had not.

“Second question, has anyone ever sneezed during surgery? I’ve been sneezing a lot lately.”

He was stumped.

Finally, I let him know, “I don’t have to go now, but I’ll want to visit the bathroom before surgery.”

He said that I should absolutely relieve myself before the procedure, then left.

The original nurse returns. “Dr. Scully’s running a little late.”

“Well, I’ll just hang out here.”

A young woman drops by, the attending nurse. She says that Dr. Scully’s been doing this operation longer than she’s been alive. However, he is still running late.

I tell her, “I don’t have to go now, but I’ll want to visit the bathroom before the surgery.”

She says, “He’ll be here any minute.”

“Should I just go now?”

Yes.

She walks me to the bathroom and asks, “How many nights are you staying?”

The answer is none, but now I’m starting to wonder if I should be staying the night.

Dr. Scully arrives. I pull out my phone with my list of questions. I type up his answers.

I can bike in six weeks, get a massage in six weeks. (Biking is going to be difficult with the neck-bending angle required. I’d hate to have to get one of those old man, tool around town bikes.

Massage … needed desperately.)

Don’t sleep on your stomach. (Not good, that’s how I sleep.)

Shave around the incision. (Easier said than done.)

Any stretches or exercises? (Just rest.)

And away we go. One minute I’m in the operating room, and then the next minute I wake up in recovery. Someone I did not meet, or even see for that matter, gives me a spoonful of crushed ice. It is the greatest thing anyone’s ever spooned into my mouth.

I’m sitting up. My feet are up.

I have neuropathy, which is a nerves-in-the-feet condition that, for me, causes random bouts of insane itchiness in my feet. There’s nothing I can do about it because the itchiness isn’t on the surface; it’s nerve-based. In the recovery room, my left foot is driving me crazy. I tell the faceless nurse that I haven’t had my last two neuropathy pills (because you don’t take your usual meds before surgery.)

Then my right foot goes, but only underneath my toenails. Not good. Oh my god, that feels weird.

The faceless recovery nurse checks all around the recovery room until she finds gabapentin pill (or a placebo) in a drawer. I take it and miraculously the itchiness goes away.

It’s time to go home. The faceless recovery nurse wheels me out to the car. She compliments me on my posture.

At home, it’s time to eat. I don’t feel too bad. Can’t really move my head. I get all propped up and Rose makes me buttered toast. It’s the greatest food I’ve ever had. Man, butter is good. She makes me a shake; she put spinach in it and yet it was still the best shake ever. I’m surprised I don’t feel worse. Going to bed, after taking a pain pill, is easy. It’s hard/weird/scary to change positions rolling side-to-side, but I manage.

The next morning I feel terrible. Miserable. The hospital drugs are wearing off. (Below my jaw, numbness down to the incision.) It feels like someone hit me across my shoulder blades with a canoe paddle. My left trapezius feels torn; it pained me getting out of bed. My esophagus feels like it has a dent in it, making swallowing difficult and painful. I had to take tiny bites and chew my food into oblivion or it felt like I was swallowing wood chips whole.

I spent a week, napping, icing and grimacing. My right shoulder … the reason for the surgery … didn’t hurt or have that buzzy feeling anymore. The trade off for that improvement … everything else hurt. Icing helped. I got into a routine.

One unusual pain … my gums in the back left of my mouth. I noticed that pain immediately when I get home. I guessed that intubating tube irritated my gums. After I stopped taking the pain pills, the pain grows exponentially in my teeth, gums, just everywhere in my mouth. It hurts to chew on my left side and I’m now super sensitive to cold. I visit my dentist. She discovered that the intubating tube rubbed a hole in my gum down to the bone, causing pain to resonate throughout my mouth.

My dentist recommends that I to see an oral surgeon to remove the now-dead bone and suture the gum. Great.

Other than that, my recovery seems to be going well. I decide to return to work on Monday, June 8, 12 days after the surgery. I feel up to it. So, this past Monday I got up early with Rose and we went for a walk; she’s been walking everyday for the past month plus. After putting in a few hours at my computer and after dinner, we hit the pool. We’ve been doing that lately. Rose swims, I walk. Sam and Gina join us. It was fun.

When we got back to the house, Rose notices that something is not right with Kirby, our 13-year-old Miniature Schnauzer. His belly is clearly hurting him. I take him and hold him for a long while. I feel like he’s calming down. Later, as we were getting ready for bed, Kirby’s breathing becomes labored and fast. He is whimpering in pain.

We take him to the after-hours emergency dog hospital.

We can’t go in with him; we have to sit in the car because of COVID-19. The doctor calls us. She explains that they’ve found a mass on his spleen, likely cancer, and the mass is bleeding into his abdomen. The prognosis is bleak. She gives us impossible options and we have to make the unthinkable decision.

How did we get here?

At 12:45a on June 9, we said goodbye to our dog.

My so-called tolerance for pain has reached its limit.

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