After my accident, I spent 2 weeks in the "ice tong" traction laying in the Special Care Unit waiting for my body to stabilize enough for surgery. My 5th vertebra was crushed on the right side & my 6th was broken, so surgery was required to repair the bones. There was nothing they could do for my spinal cord. Once a spinal cord is damaged, it's up to God to heal it (which, by the way, I totally believe in). At the time of my accident in 1986, research was underway for a medical cure for spinal cord injury & they felt they were having positive results. The doctors were saying that they believed a cure was just 5 years away. Funny. Every time I've ever heard of medical advancements for a cure, they have always said, "Just 5 years away." Never 3 or 7 or 10...always 5. It's been 22 years & still no cure.
My surgery was scheduled for Friday, December 5th. I had always been a very healthy child, so the time following my accident was my first experience with hospitals. Because of that, I was a bit nervous about surgery. They didn't give me any explanations of what to expect either. I just sort of found everything out as I went along.
The first thing they did was take me to a curtained area to allow the anesthesiologist to perform a procedure. He cut a tiny slit in my wrist in order to insert something he would use during my surgery. I have no idea what. Then they wheeled me into the operating room, which was FREEZING. I asked them why it was so cold & they said it was to keep down the risk of germs causing an infection.
The next thing they did was transfer me to the operating table, which was no small task. They had to insure that my head didn't move AT ALL because, if it did, it would cause further spinal cord damage. And they had to do this while holding the ice tongs & sliding my body over. Not only were the nurses there, my orthopedic surgeon (Dr. Apple), another orthopod (Dr. McDonald), the anesthesiologist & who-knows-who-else were there lending a hand in my transfer.
After I was placed on the table, Dr. Apple explained that they were going to give me something to make me sleep & then flip me over on my stomach to do the surgery. That explained the army of people in the room. How many people DOES it take to flip a quad? Today, as I understand it, SCI neck surgery can be performed through a front incision made through the throat, but in my day, a neck incision was the only option - which meant flipping me. Before I could say anything or ask any questions, they put a mask on my face & told me to count backward from 100. I think I made it to 97...then nothing.
While I was under, they intubated me (put a breathing tube down my throat), removed the ice tongs, did, indeed, flip me over, removed a piece of bone from my right hip to use in my neck, shaved the underneath layers of my hair from about my ears down (lovely), opened my neck, replaced the broken bones with the piece of hip bone, wired everything together, stapled my neck & hip closed, placed a hard collar around my neck & flipped me back over. Oh, & extubated me (removed the breathing tube.)
I have no clue how long I was out. When I say I remember nothing, I mean NOTHING...no dreams...no out-of-body experiences...no memories...nothing. One minute I was counting backwards & the next minute some nurse was calling my name. I was so blank in fact, that when I heard my name I started yelling, "Wait! Stop! Don't flip me over! I'm not asleep yet!" The nurse, giggling, said, "It's OK. You're in post-op. The surgery's over."
After I was taken back to the SCU, my family was allowed to visit. I don't remember much. I do remember my throat hurting terribly, which is when I first found out about the intubation. I also remember my mood being very volatile. Up until the surgery, I had loved it when people touched me where I could feel it...my shoulders, neck & face. I craved it in fact. I was always asking my family to rub my face. However, after the surgery, when my stepmom put her hand on my forehead, I yelled at her to get it off. Apparently, anesthesia does strange things to me.
Saturday was a blur to me, but by Sunday, I was back to reality. I remember that Sunday as being an unusual & very special day to me...what I call my "man day". My family had spent 2 weeks practically living at the hospital, but on that Sunday, they finally felt able to relax some. My dad's family & my sister's family were able to go back to church & my mom was ordered to stay home & get some much-needed rest. My big brother, Mike, decided to come & surprise me with a visit. We hadn't spent much time together since the wreck & never alone. I was very much looking forward to the opportunity.
Mike arrived just as I was being served breakfast & was put to work feeding me. He had never done that before & didn't even have experience feeding children. It was quite obvious that he felt a bit awkward. He did remarkably well though, especially considering the fact that he had to feed me cereal...with milk...in bed...with me laying on my side! I was thoroughly proud of him. He didn't spill a drop.
That day was also the only time I had a male nurse. At first, that was a bit strange for me. Maybe it shouldn't have been since I knew he was a medical professional, but I was a 23-year-old girl. The idea of having a strange man take care of me was weird. Yes, my doctor was male, but that was different. Doctors don't do the physical hands-on care that nurses do. I was really uncomfortable with the whole thing at first, but his kindness & quirky attitude changed my opinion, & he turned out to be one of my all-time favorite caregivers.
After he had conscripted my brother into feeding me, he made me a VERY happy girl when he announced that the two of them were going to wash my hair! Of course, my brother was even more nonplussed by THAT news than he had been about feeding me, but I was thrilled!! Because of the ice tong traction, my hair had not been washed in 16 days! It felt AWFUL! This was a dream come true, made that much more special because my "Bubba" was going to help.
My nurse placed a special board under my head that would allow the water to flow off the bed. Then he & my brother poured water over my hair, added shampoo & washed. IT FELT WONDERFUL!! Those two men did such a loving & caring job that it felt like a "spa day". I don't know if my brother realizes it, but his presence in such an out-of-character situation made me feel like a queen, & I am grateful to God for blessing me with such a wonderful bonding experience.