spinal fusion

Trip to Club Morphine


gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on Dec.9,, 2017

“They tried to make me go to rehab
I said, no, no, no.”

 ― Amy Winehouse  


RE wanted me to blog about some of my recent adventures, which had taken me away from the community of saints in the Diner Forum and set me adrift in the archipelagos of modern medical technology.

Since I once went to Famous Journalism School, I'll not bury the lede: on Thursday, December 1, I had spinal fusion surgery. It is as extreme a procedure as it sounds: a six hour surgery In which one person known to me and a roomful of otherwise strangers open my back for the purposes of relieving the stress on a woefully-pinched spinal cord, and then leave in place a structure designed to relieve the stress permanently. Such surgery comes, of course, with all the risks attendant to spinal surgery as well as prolonged anesthesia.

Not a walk in the park.

This event had been some years in coming. In 2003, I fell down my own stairs while carrying a child, rolled over my ankle and broke it very badly. Repair required surgery.  And then, since I put too much weight on the ankle going up and down stairs, the surgeon told me it had to be redone. This necessitated spending two months in a wheelchair, where I got an up close and personal view of the life of the mobility impaired. And then the screws needed to be removed in a third surgery: the wages of being a "non-compliant patient."

Both of my knees were wearing out from early athletic misuse, and the wear and tear that comes with carrying a person-and-a-half on them for most of my adult life. I had arthroscopic surgery on both knees , and while the first one responded well, the left knee was left bone-on-bone and largely ornamental. 

Which led to a changed gait, as the body adjusts to pain with a variety of subtle stratagems, some conscious, others not. In the fullness of time, my left hip began to ache. Over time it got worse. Cortisone shots in the hip provided some relief from pain, at least for a while. But with each successive shot the relief window shrank. The last shot that I took lasted for a day. at this point, my surgeon suspected that the problem was rooted in pressure on the sciatic nerve, and ordered up an MRI.

The MRI confirmed his suspicions. I can read an MRI with the same assurance I would bring to translating the Rosetta Stone, but I could tell the difference in the appearance of the spine above and below L5. An X-ray confirmed that my left hip is arthritic and pretty well trashed, but that recovery would start with surgery to relieve pressure on the nerves. 

Given that in the last six months, my life has gotten progressively smaller, more sedentary and more painful, opting for the surgery was a clear quality-of-life play.

D-Day came and went. It took me some time to come out of the anesthetic fog, and my ever-dedicated Contrary was waiting for me. I spent most of the first evening in a morphine-induced haze, abetted by a cocktail of painkillers left behind in my spine courtesy of my surgeon. Contrary tells me that in the recovery room, I asked the attending nurse if it was time for me to try to stand and walk a little. Uh, no, bucko, don't jump the gun, she said. I remained in expansive good spirits even though effectively confined to bed. On the second day, I did get up and moved to my chair for about three hours. 

The Friday after surgery, I was still living large off the drugs the doctor had left implanted in my spine. I was laughing, cutting up, and had a good appetite. On Saturday, not so much. They moved me from ICU into the "ortho wing," which featured a room the size of a janitor's closet. It had room for one chair, which was wedged against the wall at the bottom of the bed. To bring equipment into this room, they actually had to move stuff out. I started to go downhill and had lost all appetite. Probably abetted by the fact that they served up some sort of "mystery meat" that looked like a small brick with moss on it.

Then they took away my magic button, the morphine pump, and substituted oral medication. Problem was they failed to tell me I had to ask for it, so I slipped into a slump of woozy pain and a miserable fog.  It was only after what seemed like two weeks of this that I asked a nurse, "Aren't you supposed to be giving me something for pain?" that she replied, "Yes, but you have to ask for it."

Hmph.

Then on Monday, the Three Stooges Ambulance team transferred me to a local rehab facility. The story of the transport is worth retelling sometime, as these three yokels looked like I was the only thing holding them back from their afternoon beers. They strapped my fat ass to a gurney and fed me into the back of an ambulance, and went barrel-assing down the interstate, obviously forgetting or oblivious to the fact they were transporting a spinal surgery patient. BANG! POW! CRASH! OUCH!!!

They moved me into a local "transitional hospital." It is a large rehabilitation facility, with multiple buildings devoted to different kinds of cases. My wing has responsibility for surgical patients.  The staff consists of a number of specialists who are very good at their jobs. As in most medical settings, the heroes are the nurses. My nursing care is absolutely nonpareil. As has been the dedication of my wife, who has spent the equivalent of two fill time jobs sitting with me and managing a household. And at Christmas, to boot.

My most immediate problem is that my wound keeps draining, and requires multiple dressings over the course of the day.  But it does seem to be getting better. Also, as I get in and out of bed, and move around with the assistance of a walker, I have gained strength every day as well. The days, which have flown by, are filled with therapy; an "occupational therapy" session in the morning, and physical therapy in the afternoon. Both types include simple strength building routines which go to buttress the legs and core. It is remarkable how demanding and challenging some of the simplest actions are post-surgery.

I will be discharged on Sunday December 17 according to plan. I don’t expect I’ll be going back to work before February.  It might be sooner than that; I just don’t know, and from now there is no way to tell.

There is nothing like being dependent upon the goodwill of well-intentioned strangers charged with your care and well-being to imbue one with a real sense of humility and gratitude. I am grateful for their everyday professionalism, diligence and good cheer. And their attitude and good huimor made it bearable. I am also grateful to be heading home for the next phase of recovery, and to be sleeping in my own bed with my own wife.

 So that’s my story. All for now.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and was once active in Occupy. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary and neither bends, lifts nor twists, and has attempted to be a compliant patient in every particular.

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