Thursday, March 19, 2009

Part 8 - The Wal-Mart Miracle

On the Monday morning 3 days after my surgery, my nurse popped into my cubical in the Special Care Unit all bubbly & smiling & said, "Good morning. After we get you your breakfast we'll get you in a wheelchair & send you down to therapy!"


"You're starting therapy today."

"What? Just like that? No warning or anything? But, how? I mean, I don't have any clothes." (I'd been in some form of ICU for over 2 weeks. Who needs clothes for that? Mine were in my closet at the home I shared with my mom, who, by the way, was already at work & so couldn't bring me any of said clothing.)

My nurse replied, "Oh, that's OK. We'll just send you down in your gown until your family can bring you some clothes."

-- enter sound of screeching tires here --

"In my gown?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!"

"No. What's the big deal?"

What's the big deal?! OK, for those of you who have never been in the hospital, visited anyone in the hospital, or seen any number of TV sitcoms on the subject, allow me to describe the "big deal" of my going to therapy in this gown to which my nurse was referring. First, it was thin & white...a combination that always translates into "see-through". Second, it was short...not 60's mini-skirt short, but knee-length, which was certainly too short for rolling around on a therapy mat table in a gym full of 40-some-odd strangers. Third, & most importantly, IT WAS OPEN IN THE BACK! Oh, it had a couple of ties at the neck & shoulders, but the all-important bottom was WIDE OPEN! Oh, & did I mention that I had NO clothing with me...i.e. no undergarments either?


My crazy nurse was standing there, all smiles & sunshine, seriously expecting me to go to my very first therapy day in that gown! She thought nothing at all of the fact that my therapist would be stretching me by raising my legs & rolling me on my side in that see-through, short, open-back gown! I would be exposing myself to all of Shepherd Center & she didn't find anything wrong with that!

At this point, my mathematical mind began a mad dash for some sort of solution to my dilemma. I only had about 2 hours to get some clothes. My clothes were at my home 13 miles away. My mom was at work 6 miles away, so she couldn't bring me anything...& nobody could get in our house to get them, either. The only chance I had was to beg this crazy nurse to call my dad, who was 30 miles away & pray he had a solution.

My nurse agreed to call. She came back a few minutes later & said that my dad wasn't home, but she had talked to my stepmom & she said she'd do what she could. At this point I was down to only about 1 1/2 hours & time was ticking, so I didn't have much hope. I kept praying anyway all through my breakfast & my bath. Then, just when my nurse was about ready to get me in a wheelchair for the first time, the miracle happened. My stepmom raced into my cubical carrying a Wal-Mart bag full of sweats!

I call it a miracle for good reason. What else could it have been? She had managed, in under 2 hours, to get dressed, get in & out of Wal-Mart, & drive 30 miles into the city through rush hour traffic! The drive alone was usually a good hour + in those days, but the real miracle was getting in & out of Wal-Mart so fast.

For those of you reading this from outside the States who don't know about Wal-Mart, let me describe it for you. Wal-Mart - or as my husband & I not-so-affectionately refer to it, The Black Hole - is a one-stop discount department store where you can purchase everything from auto parts to Ziploc bags relatively cheaply. I say "relatively cheaply" because of that "Black Hole" effect. You see, although science has yet to prove it, it is my belief that all Wal-Mart stores contain a black hole that causes it's shoppers, upon entering the store, to become suddenly unconscious & then sucks their money right out of them, leaving them with a bunch of useless crap in it's place. Here's the scenario:

You pop into Wal-Mart to quickly pick up a jumbo bottle of laundry detergent for the great price of only $2.87. The next thing you know, it's 3 hours later & you're standing at the register writing a check for $267.16. That's when you discover you are now the owner of a bouquet of spring flowers, a bottle of shampoo, a blue purse, 6 greeting cards, the latest edition of Women's Day, a carton of eggs, a 6-pack of Coke, 3 fishing lures, a 10-pack of white wash clothes for only $1, imitation gold hoop earrings, a 5 pack of Hanes briefs, a cat toy with jingly bells, a tube of Crazy Glue, a bag of potting soil, flip flops, a 64-pack of AA batteries, a quart of oil, printer ink, a "Best of the 70s" CD, toothpaste, a Shamwow that they said could only be purchased on TV, a 50 lb. bag of dog food, 2 pairs of Faded Glory jeans, a box of Leggos for the kid next door & a Twix bar. Oh, & absolutely no laundry detergent.

I don't know how, but it always happens this way. It is humanly impossible to get in & out of Wal-Mart quickly. I personally think it's caused by some form of hypnosis preformed by the 96-year-old greeter when he says, "Welcome to Wal-Mart."

Anyway, that's why I say a miracle took place that long ago December day. My stepmom, who, by the way, loved Wal-Mart, succeeded at the impossible task of going in, choosing several outfits (including a rather pretty red velour warm-up suit that was perfect for Christmas stuck in a rehab center), getting out with only those clothes & making it to Shepherd in time to save me from unthinkable embarrassment.

Miracles happen everyday. You just have to know where to look.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Part 7 - Surgery & Spa Day

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 out-of-body 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 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 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.