Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Part 4 - Tests, Test & More Tests

First, thank you for giving me the time I needed to not look back. That time & the warm sunshine we've been having (68 degrees F in February!) have brought me to where I can continue writing about my journey.

When I left off in Part 3, I was describing my time spent in the Special Care Unit at Shepherd Center. I spent about a week & a half in the Unit while my body was being stabilized for surgery. During that time, I underwent several tests - all of the usual pre-surgery things including blood work, x-rays, CAT scans & a myelogram. Some of these were no big deal, but others....

The Blood Work

As I said earlier, I was injured in 1986. This was at the height of the AIDS scare in the USA. Only a year previous, actor Rock Hudson had died from AIDS & the young hemophiliac, Ryan White had been ban from school for having the disease because people believed that his classmates could catch it through casual contact. It was a crazy time of unknowing, uncertainty & fear. Because of this, my family wanted to donate blood specifically for my use during surgery. I know that my father, a very regular blood donor, & my sister did donate blood (& perhaps others, as well). They were not allowed to donate for my direct use, however, because the Red Cross had, also a year earlier, begun HIV screening of all blood. The medical staff assured us that the blood I received would be safe, which it obviously was.

During this whole blood testing/donating thing, my blood typing had to be done to insure my receiving the right blood. When my results came back, my father just KNEW they were wrong & made them retest it 3 times! You see, my father was O Positive, & he was certain that I, therefore, must also be O Positive. Problem was, my results were A Positive. He couldn't for the life of him believe that my results were accurate - not until my sister piped in that she, too, had A Positive. It seems that it never occurred to my dad that maybe, just maybe, my MOM had something to do with our genetics! Boy, for a girl like me who actually spent several years thinking I was adopted because I couldn't find many early baby pictures of myself, this was not funny. Then I remembered that my dad, who could do almost everything well, had dropped out of pre-med in favor of economics in college because he had flunked biology! It was one of those rare "You were wro-ong!" moments that kids long for.

The CAT (CT) Scan

When I was first injured, my mom brought a teddy bear of mine from home to "keep me company". His name was Baby Bear, as in Goldilocks & the Three Bears. He was about a foot long & dressed in his PJs & I slept with him at home. Yes, I was 23 & still slept with a stuffed animal. Besides, Baby Bear wasn't just a stuffed animal, he was my friend. :-) Anyway, I think she brought him because it was all she could think to do to comfort me. There was her baby, broken, hurting & dealing with a life-changing trauma & she couldn't fix it. She couldn't "kiss it & make it better". All she could do was try to give me comfort, so she brought Baby Bear. What a terrible feeling for a mother (or father)!

Well, Baby Bear became quite a symbol for me. He started a gift trend that would prove epic, but more on that in another post. He also became very popular among the medical staff. They talked to him, always placed him beside me after my every-two-hour turns & even sent him with me for my CT scan. That's right! Baby Bear lay on my chest while I was wheeled into the big CT tube for imaging. I never saw those images & always wondered if his insides showed up because I always knew his heart must be extremely large for his little body.

The Myelogram

In a word, this test SUCKED!!! Please forgive my terminology, but to say it was "horrible" or "very unpleasant", wouldn't come anywhere near explaining how awful it was! For years, I thought it was an angeogram &, who knows, maybe it was. I'm calling it a myelogram because in my Googling on both, the myelogram description fits what they did to me. I may not have inherited my father’s blood type, but I definitely inherited his Biology ability (only I squeaked by with a D), so I could be wrong. All I know is that it HURT!

What ever the test was, let's just say it's never a good sign when you find your doctor/surgeon waiting to "lend a hand" with the "simple" procedure. (Thanks to Google, I now know why...& I'm glad I didn't back then.) In order to perform the test, the traction I was wearing had to be disconnected. Those tongs & traction were literally the only thing holding my head on straight & preventing further injury. It was Dr. Apple's (not the same Dr. Apple from Lifeflight) job to hold my head & neck still. (I guess the Orthopedic Surgeon & Chief of Staff is the only one paid enough for that job. One slip & I could have ended up on a ventilator or worse.) But that fear wasn't the worst of it.

To perform the test, a contract dye had to be inserted into my spine before x-rays could be taken. Here's the thing. Since I'm paralyzed from bout 3" below my shoulders & down, I have little or no feeling in about 95% of my body. With no feeling, needles mean nothing to me...no pain, no fear...UNLESS someone wants to stick a needle in the other 5%, which is exactly what they wanted to do. They had to insert a needle into my neck, while I was lying on my back, in order to get the dye to my spine. This was a "direct puncture" procedure. Dr. Apple gave me the usually song-and-dance of, "This may sting a little," but that was an extreme understatement. As I said earlier, it didn't sting, it HURT!!! As soon as they punctured my neck on the right, the left side burned like touching a hot coal. If you've every turned your head suddenly & felt a burn inside your neck, take that feeling & ramp it up about 1000 times & you might be getting close. Very unpleasant indeed.

Fortunately, this test is rarely used today because it has been replaced with MRIs. I've never had an MRI because they weren't used in 1986. In fact, my sister brought the January or February issue of National Geographic to Shepherd to show me because the cover story was about MRIs, including the cover photo of a spinal cord MRI. It was extremely cool.

Well, now that I have grossed out the squeamish among you & reminded myself why I hate going to the doctor, I’ll sign off. More soon. Thanks for reading & commenting!
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