Tag Archives: surgery

Celestial noses

Yesterday I shared a recovery room with an 18 year old girl who had gotten a nose job and a boob job for her high school graduation present.  I had just finished getting an operation on my spine, and we were put in the same sweltering room. 

She was less than three feet away on the other side of the curtain, hacking and moaning and making weird strangled cow noises.  Her mom was by her side, murmuring and telling her to take deep breaths.  After one particularly bad episode of angry mooing and bed thrashing by the girl, the mother said, “No pain, no gain, right sweetie?  Just think how pretty you are going to look!” Now I am not a mom, but her words gave my fuzzy brain pause.  Is this just a California thing — giving your young daughter the gift of a new face and body?  I find it unsettling, mainly because at that age I was positively radiant with ignorance.  I had absolutely no idea of who I was or what I wanted do with my life, and certainly no sense of what I was capable of.

I don’t know many teenage girls who have their self-esteem all sorted out by the time they graduate high school.  I DO know that If my mom had let me, I too would have gotten a nose job at 16.  I hated my nose when I was growing up!  Kids on the bus used to make fun of it because it was so pointy.  The nerdier ones said it looked like an isosceles triangle.

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(I see your point)

Somehow I made it through junior high and high school and out of my small town and around the world.  The more I traveled, the more I started to like my nose.

Italy was a revelation!

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(Where my girls at?)

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(So pointy yet so noble)

I truly believe that travel is the single best gift you could give any kid, including teenagers.  It opens your eyes to other definitions of beauty, and it gives you a sense of perspective that you can’t get any other way.  It forms your character when you are young, and then keeps you young when you are old.  Plus, isn’t Italy the best??  All that food and art and wine and sex and passeggiata-ing.  For all I know, maybe sharp noses are the reason that Italians make such excellent wine.

It’s a little weird that these thoughts are at the forefront of my mind the day after getting surgery, but I guess it’s just my brain wandering around while my feet can’t.  

Along with a lifelong love of travel, I inherited a bad back and this nose from my dad.  So I’m perfectly happy getting the back fixed and having my pointy nose lead the way to the next adventure.image

 

The Rollercoaster

“Life has many ways of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or having everything happen at once.”                                                                   — Paulo Coelho

Talk about a crazy month.

I married the love of my life in a magical ceremony, surrounded by the people we love most in the world…

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We adopted two chickens from Luckenbach, Texas (that’s them in the Shiner Bock beer box)…

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My shiny new husband and I went on a glorious mini honeymoon in Northern California…

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Then we moved out of our house, packed everything into pods, and saddled up to relocate to Atlanta for a fresh start…

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…only to find out a few days before the move that I need back surgery!

Always in my life things have come in waves, and long ago I got used to the ebb and flow of good and bad, but this particular wave has knocked me over and I’m still fighting to catch my breath.

We were in the midst of packing up the house when we got the test results back from an MRI I had done back in April showing a herniation in L4, nerve compression, stenosis, as well as a creeping arthritis and small tear in L3.  During the moving-out process, I had become increasingly incapacitated and spent most of the weekend lying on the floor on a yoga mat moaning while Chris, my brother-in-law and another heroic friend did the heavy lifting.  New tenants were moving in, and staying one more month in our home wasn’t an option.  We had to scramble to put together a Plan B.  The back pain got so bad so fast that it soon became impossible for me to stand up straight, sit, walk or even lie down for more than 20 minutes.  I looked in the mirror one morning and I looked like a sideways S.  Flying (or driving) across the country was no longer an option.

So…instead of spending our glorious newly-wedded bliss reveling in a new city, we said a said goodbye and began playing a waiting game.  Chris drove across the country solo in order to be in Atlanta for work, and I stayed in Los Angeles to meet with spine surgeons and get second opinions.  I had a back surgery done in 2005 — my friends and family know that it was the single toughest thing I have ever gone through due to some devastating complications.  It is hard to believe that I will need to get through it again but I will.

Compounding the whole messy situation is the fact that we don’t know yet whether the back injury is related to the boat accidents from last year, or if it is a problem that would have happened on its own, or if the accidents exacerbated a problem that was already there.  And because the disc is torn and has herniated, there is the risk of long-term nerve damage if it’s not taken care of quickly.  There is no “quickly” in the Wonderful World of Workers’ Comp*…so I have been seeing my own doctors rather than wait.

This could so easily turn into a rant but I won’t let it.  A few months ago, the thought of another surgery following so soon on top of that mindfuck of a shoulder surgery would have sent me into a tailspin.  Now, however, I would give anything for the pain to stop so that I can resume a vertical life.  The only thing I can compare this back pain to is one of those white-hot toothaches, the kind that leave you sobbing and begging and staggering around the streets in search of a dentist who can help.  I’d have to ask women who have had kids or men who have been kicked in the beanbags whether those are worse or better experiences on the “I want to die just so it will stop” pain management scale.

Tomorrow morning I’m getting an epidural steroid injection.  That’s the final step of the “conservative” treatment, and the two surgeons I have consulted so far have told me that they don’t expect it will stop the pain itself but it will be a valuable diagnostic tool for surgery.  So, onward and upward.  I’ll leave you with this inspirational quote on top of a stock photo which I have always despised.  Screaming and enjoying the ride are not mutually exclusive!

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* Coming up next: a post on how to navigate Workers’ Comp if you have been injured during a production.  I have learned so much in my past six months and I am hoping that I can shed some insight to others in the same boat…er…situation.

Shoulder surgery – 6 weeks later

They say 45 days is the magic number.  I have laid here like a Christmas ham for the past six weeks yet there has been a frenzy of activity going on in my shoulder.  It’s amazing that whatever the surgery — back, leg, arm, shoulder, brain — it’s always six weeks until you really turn the corner on your recovery.  The human body is so predictable and efficient in this way.  If it can make a whole new liver every six weeks, and an entirely new stomach lining every five days, then it can certainly make some real progress on a centralized trauma wound when all systems are focused on healing.  Cells spewing out chemicals to get everything going, other cells replicating themselves to replace the damaged ones, the immune system ramping up to squash infection, tiny little fibers sprouting up to reattach the torn ligaments to the bone, collagen collecting near the wound to build up the scar tissue — a surgery marshals all the body’s resources in order to heal itself.  When I think of how much is going on at my surgery site it’s really not surprising that I still have to take breaks when I walk up a flight of stairs.  

It was really tough to go from being so physically active to this slug-like existence, but I have found that reading and learning about how it all works has been comforting during the more frustrating times.  Apparently there is 100% turnover of the atoms that make up your body every five years.  That means that you are literally not the same person you were just a few years ago.  And we have 60,000 thoughts a day, yet 90% of them are the same thoughts we had yesterday.  So even as our body gets constant upgrades, our thoughts tend to go around and around like a hamster wheel.  I know mine do.  ”What would we look like without noses?” pops up pretty frequently.

I also think it’s crazy that we are all made up of 65% water.  Which means that when PCA says “I love you,” what he really loves most about me is water.  And babies are 80% water!  So weird. 

Okay, enough about our bodies and ourselves.

Last night we hosted our Christmas party and it was wonderful!  We hadn’t planned on doing it, with PCA out of town and me being of feeble body and spirit, but we rallied and it turned out to be one of those magical evenings where everything goes smoothly and you laugh all night and reminisce all the next day.  I love our friends because they don’t care that I’m rocking a fetid sling and bad hair (still can’t reach my arm up to style it) or that we served ham, biscuits from a can and Peeps.  PCA made chocolate peppermint martinis, my sister brought homemade marshmallows for the hot chocolate bar, my adorable nephews showed up in Christmas sweaters and flashing Rudolph noses, and although we had every intention of stopping early we ended up going until 1:30am!  I LOVE when parties have a good ebb and flow and last night was one of those.  PCA has to go back to work for a 20-day stint out of town the day after Christmas, and so we both felt very lucky to have the time to catch up with old friends, new friends, neighbors and family.

PCA is working so hard these days to pick up the slack.  The surgeon has said it will be about a year until I can go back to work.  Which I am reeling from.  Speaking of thoughts going round and round, what does this mean?  What will I do?  I always had this vision in my mind of a time when I would happily say goodbye to my career with no regrets in order to try something new.  I find myself wondering if that time has come, and whether I could ever make my peace with having that decision made for my by someone else’s actions and negligence.

I started physical therapy and have had two sessions so far.  PT has been great for understanding why it could be upwards of a year out of work.  The therapist told me that I had enough work done in my shoulder for 5 people, because all of the tears were so serious.  I can’t lift my arm more than a millimeter at a time and all the exercises we do are passive range of motion — meaning the therapist flings my arm around and yells at me to relax while he does it and I grit my teeth and concentrate on not screaming.  He asked me to make a muscle with my bicep and I couldn’t!  Where did it go in such a short time?  I love physical therapy though.  It’s the good hurt.  It is forward progress and it feels like someone is in it with me for the long haul.  It’s hard for me not to push it and my therapist keeps telling me to slow down.  He’ll say “do five reps” of one baby exercise or another, and when his back is turned I quickly do 10 or 15 reps.  I can’t help it.  I just want to get better quickly.  It’s very hard to not feel in competition with the person I used to be before the accident.

Most days now I don’t think about the long term and I try to focus on the small successes. I can mostly dress myself now, and tie my own shoes.  I can drive short distances if it’s a route I know and I can avoid the freeways.  I can almost sleep through the night.  I can cook, as long as I have a sous chef there to help me lift a pot off the stove or chop an onion.  All of these seem like small miracles and I’m so grateful for them.

One last anecdote.  About 20 years ago there was an experiment conducted on mice at the National Institute of Health.  A scientist, the Head of Molecular Biology, injected the mice with a chemical that stimulated and enhanced their immune systems.  He had them smell camphor at the same time.  After a while, just the smell of the camphor would stimulate their immune systems without the use of the chemical.  Then he took some other mice and he injected a different chemical that destroyed their immune systems, and he had those mice also smell camphor at the same time.  And so he ended up with two groups of mice: one group that could smell camphor and stimulate the immune system, and one that could smell the same camphor and destroy the immune system.  Which is so crazy, because it means that it is the brain that is deciding whether to heal or destroy itself based upon external and arbitrary factors.  It says so much about the mind-body connection when it comes to getting better.

Four weeks tomorrow

One month down…eleven to go!  These past four weeks have been an eternity and I’m glad to be crossing this milestone.  I wish I could say it’s been easy so far but it has not.  I have had pain like I’ve never experienced and moments of complete despair.  There were days where I literally sat motionless for 23.5 out of 24 hours and other days that just passed in a haze of pain medication and Netflix.  Those were the dark days.

Now, at four weeks, I am still so far away from recovery, but things are getting better every day.  There are some scary developments, like being completely unable to move my arm out in front of me — not because it hurts too much, but because it is not responding to what my brain tells it to do.  It just hangs there.  I can move it in other directions and so I know that it is not a case of the muscle atrophying.  It just feels like whatever muscle was needed to lift it slightly is now gone.  In order to type, I have to pick up my arm and rest my hands on the keyboard.  Once I do that, I can type (with my arm pressed in to my side).  I have no idea if this is normal but I’ll be asking my surgeon when I see him on Wednesday.  Until then, my orders from PCA are to stay positive and not freak out.

I had wanted to write more frequently so that I could keep track of my little victories.  I would love to say that life got in the way, but I don’t have much of one.  I’ll try to make the best of it now.

I made a lot of progress between weeks two and three.  We went to Vegas for Thanksgiving, and PCA hooked up the ice machine in the car so that I could ice the whole way there.  Then we spent most of the time relaxing in the hotel room.  Occasionally I would put on the sling and stroll around the casino, but it sometimes got stressful because there are so many people who don’t look where they are going and I was constantly bobbing and weaving trying to avoid a collision.

We had big plans of going out to dinner and a show — PCA had planned the whole thing, including a Pretty Woman-esque day of shopping for something to wear since I only brought elastic-waist sweatpants and slip on shoes.  Unfortunately, after a few hours of shopping, my shoulder was throbbing and it soon became clear that we had been overdoing it.  I think that was the night that I took a few Percocet and watched a intensely detailed documentary on PBS about David Geffen instead.  

I have no regrets.  It was wonderful to be with my family, and also to be out and about socializing.  We even found a craps machine I could play since I couldn’t throw dice at the table.  It was the first time I had slept in a bed since the surgery.  We got 6 pillows and made me a sort of inverted V shape and I slept on my back propped up with my arm resting on a pillow.  My other triumphs were: taking a shower on my own for the first time (still washing my hair one-handed though) AND I managed to tear the TP off the roll myself.  All in all, I’m so glad I went.  

Today, at four weeks, I feel like I’m slowly getting better.  It is so clear when I overdo it, and I pay the price for days.  I tried to go for a long walk over the weekend, and ended up doing 3.5 miles, including some small hills.  It took me an hour and a half to walk, including two breaks.  I ended up having to sit on a wall outside someone’s home because I thought I was going to get sick.  Once I got home I laid down and could not get warm for hours afterwards.  That night we went to the tree-lighting on Main St and out for a drink, with a plan to walk to a neighbor’s party.  But the walk was too much and we ended up having to turn around just half a block from their house.  I went home and went straight to bed.

As I’m sitting here now, my shoulder is hurting.  I still do my routine of icing and passive exercises and Tylenol.  I stopped taking the pain meds about a week ago and stopped taking Ambien two nights ago.  The nights are still very difficult as I am still sleeping in my sling and lying on my back.  I’ve had terrible nightmares and insomnia.  The pattern seems to be one very bad night followed by a good one, over and over.

What else to report?  The days are longer now since I don’t get as many visitors and I can’t sit in the chair for one minute longer than I need to.  I feel like I can’t watch any more TV and I’ve never been much of a movie person.  I do lots of crossword puzzles and am reading a book about every three days (“The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet” was unbelievable.  David Mitchell is a virtuoso).  PCA has been working a lot and that’s a good thing.  We were together every minute for three weeks (except for breaks when my sisters or mom came to take care of me) and he has been there pre-tearing TP, fastening my bra, getting me dressed, putting my hair up (still a source of frustration), tying my shoes, filling my ice machine, washing my hair, making tea, hosing me down in the shower, cleaning the whole house, cooking to order, running errands, grocery shopping, doing laundry AND working.  But more than anything, he has been my cheerleader.  He has patiently listened to me through the worst of my fears, anger, doubt and sadness.  He forced me to follow the doctor’s orders exactly, and forbid me to overdo it.  And through it all he stayed positive and always brought me back from the “dark place” to one of hope and excitement for the future.  Had I any doubts about marrying him — which I never did — they would certainly have been squashed by now.  He is the most wonderful person on the face of the planet and he’s my rock.

Right now he is dozing in my reclining chair.  I so wish I could wrap (both of my) arms around him.

Anyway, the past few days have seen huge milestones.

  • We had people over for brunch on Sunday and I felt great the whole time.  That night we went to the movies and although I was uncomfortable sometimes, I found that shifting my arm around seemed to help.  P.S. “Lincoln” was incredible.
  • I drove for the first time — to the gym 1 mile away.  I don’t think I’ll be driving any farther for a while, as it’s still one-handed and it’s hard to do any type of twisting to look behind me which makes parking a small challenge BUT it’s so great not to feel trapped
  • I went to the gym and rode the recumbent bike for 20 minutes, then walked to the library a few blocks away to get a few new books.  A guy in the gym told me I was hardcore.  So true.
  • And…I finally managed to reach my hair with both hands!  By crouching over and tilting my head down to my right hand, and keeping my arm firmly pressed against my side, I could almost sort of put it up.  It’s a weird-looking retro side bun but it is huge progress!

Tonight we are heading to the Promenade to get a little Christmas spirit.  I’m about to make coffee with cinnamon whipped cream and can’t wait!

Here’s a pic of my messy side bun: