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©April 2007

Carol Jane Remsburg


Aftermath of Major Surgery





It's odd, you know, when the expected and planned for becomes reality.  Nearly a year ago, hubby had to stop working due to his pain.  Oh, he's always had back pain, and periodically his spells would get worse and last longer.  This has been for the entire time I've known him, some 29 years now, and before that for him.  However, it came to a head somewhere between May and July 2006.  He finally had the much-needed surgery this year on 04/16/2007. 


Thirteen days ago amid the middle of a howlin' Nor'Easter we arrived at the hospital just before 6 AM.  They wheeled him back and got started promptly at 7:30 AM.  Just prior to them taking hubby to surgery, they advised the surgeon had reserved the operating room for five hours.  That meant 12:30 for me and the beginning of a long wait. 


The news should have been riveting that day, it was the same day of the VA Tech shootings and I'd brought a favorite old book to get lost in.  The news on the TV upset me, and I couldn't read but the same three lines over and over.  It was the clock that kept me riveted. 


For a surgery that I had hung such high hopes on, I knew this was tricky stuff and no major surgery is without risk.  Suddenly all those risks and fears came to the fore for me.  What if something went drastically wrong?  What if, heaven forbid, he died on the operating table.  So like the worry-wart I am, everything that could go wrong kept playing through my mind like some vicious tape on constant re-play.  I couldn't shut it up.


I watched as other families met their surgeons with happy outcomes as people came and went.  Hours passed.  I got up only twice for fear I'd miss an update or something.  The first time I left to get coffee and update his mother when they initially took him back.  The second time, I literally ran down the hall to use the facilities and came right back—and waited. 


When the magic hour of 12:30 came and went with no word, no update, the clock seemed to slow even more.  I felt frozen, unable to move any part of me other than my eyes, shifting nervously from the clock to that door where the surgeon would appear from.  Many passed through that door but not his surgeon.  And I waited just over another hour.  A longer hour I never want to relive in my life.  Oh, and the surgery was a "success." 


Hubby's surgeon, Dr. Pierre, a WONDERFUL, caring man, told me all the important information, and I took it in as best as I could amid my internal voice screaming at me that hubby was okay.  The actual convoluted term for his surgery was: a Laminectomy, facetectomy with decompression of the spinal cord.  Which really means: they removed one disc, shaved a bit off another disc, and then widened his spinal column, putting him back together with rods and pins.


That was on a Monday.  He came home on Saturday.  Between that time, I got sick the very next day and couldn't go to the hospital for fear I was contagious.  With the onset of violent chills on Tuesday night, fever, and what seemed like the flu, I didn't dare.  By Thursday afternoon, I was better and went back to the hospital.  Hubby was in and out and very hungry as he hadn't eaten and needed to be fed.  (In the hospital, they'll bring you food, but they won't feed you.)


They had him up and walking within 24 hours of his surgery and he was doing well until he had a setback by Thursday.  It seemed the combination of his meds weren't enough, his IV wasn't working right so what meds he did have weren't getting through, and he wasn't eating.  By then he'd developed an infection, a urinary infection.  They took out the catheter and had to put it right back.  The poor man was not only wracked with pain, but now terrified that his water-works wouldn't ever work again.  He was also under the impression that when he, err, did try to go, that it would hurt.  He was already in loads of pain, more he wasn't looking for.


Meanwhile, on the home front.  Word was that hubby might get released either Friday or Saturday.  With all that had gone on, the house wasn't ready for him.  Also by Thursday night, it became crystal clear that he'd NOT be able to rest and recover on the sagging mattress we had.  So once visiting hours were over, I dragged the teen with me to the bedding store and pulled out the charge card for a new mattress.  Luckily we didn't need a new boxspring, and they were having a 'sale.'  Okay, we know what some sales are like.  Still, I knew I needed a firm mattress, not a hard mattress, and it had to be a low-profile one as well.  We couldn't have a tall one, nor could we afford what I really want, one of those sleep-number mattresses where I know he could set it just right.  But one day…


They scheduled delivery for Monday, no earlier—almost had me in a panic, but we DID have a sleep-sofa with an air-mattress with it.  I just had to FIND the inflater-thingie.  I'd forgotten what it looked like.  Hubby told me where to look and I spent 1 ½ hours tearing his little TV room apart and then went back to his original coordinates and found it.  I thought it was bigger. 


Then it was time to get the house in shape for his homecoming.  Addressing his little TV room with all his junk piled up and tools and supplies for his lamps was daunting.  That and I was still a little bit weak from being sick on Wednesday (okay, a LOT weak, but I didn't have time to whine).  Oh, and the groceries had to be gotten, the yard cut, the mower serviced, and the laundry caught up…it was busy around here and I only had two hands.  AND I had to get my nephew down to get the big limb that fell from the tree on our garage—and he serviced our mower too (ya gotta love him).


The time since hubby's surgery had been a blur and suddenly he was coming home.  I was in the middle of mopping the kitchen floor when the phone rang on Saturday morning.  "Come and get me, they are releasing me!"


And I wasn't ready yet.  The house was pretty much clean, but the groceries weren't gotten nor was the yard cut.  As for the laundry, well, there was always that.


We raced into town and brought him home.  Hubby's shadow is ever-long as he could see us from his hospital room and saw me take the wrong turn trying to get to the spot where I could pick him up (they are doing lots of construction at the local hospital and I got lost).  The twenty minute ride home was hard on him, but he was so glad to be home. 


The only thing I couldn't manage was blowing up the inflatable sofa mattress.  It was so bad, he ended up doing it, when he shouldn't have.  I cried, he was upset, and then we had the home nurse come and visit for 'information.'  That took a while, and as he was giving her info, I went back to town to pick up his meds from the pharmacy, and then BACK to town to grocery shop as I promised him a particular dinner that night—and he was hungry too.


Finally, finally, things settled down.  He ate his dinner of homemade pizza loaded with sausage, fresh green peppers, roasted red peppers, homemade sauce, and lots of cheese.  He rested as best he could, but he couldn't.


Neither of us slept that much that night.  I kept peeking at him and he was restless, both of us were exhausted.


The next day was pretty quiet.   He got his first bath and shampoo, a bit awkward as nothing can touch his incision.  His mother came to visit, I cooked and did laundry and hovered.  He seemed full of energy but I knew it was a lie.  Again, he didn't rest well that night on the sofa air mattress.  While I was becoming an old hand at changing his dressing for his incision.


Monday came and we had to make another 20 minute drive for blood work.  (He's not supposed to drive/ride in a vehicle for 6 weeks—2 in 2 days wasn't good)  He came home tired and his incision was draining a lot.  So much it frightened me.  He rested while I did my own therapy, laundry—every sheet, blanket, pillow, everything I could fit in the washer, I washed.  It was a grand day for it.


The new mattress was delivered that day and we got him into it right away with the TV playing.  (I was now 'officially' on vacation for the interim until Friday when I went back to work.)  But his incision was weeping so much, it worried me.  But he slept better than night.


Tuesday brought the real 'home nurse' for a visit and to my relief, she calmed my fears over the drainage, which was nothing by Tuesday morning, and then his home physical therapist arrived shortly afterward.  It seemed like a full day before noon.  Finally he rested, feeling even more tired. 


Wednesday we had ANOTHER doctor's visit over his high blood pressure, which none of the doc's, his RA doc, his primary physician, or his neurosurgeon are sure if it's just a separate condition or reaction to his ongoing pain.  They have him on blood pressure medicine as well and it's coming down. 


Meanwhile he would get visits from family, and by Thursday, the weather had shifted, cool and damp with storms coming.  He felt awful.  Geez, I knew he had too, I don't have a 'condition' and both my ankles hurt, as they do when the weather shifts pressure.  (I tried not to whine about it, but I did anyway).


I was even nervous about going back to work as I hadn't been since a ½ day on the Tuesday after his surgery, so it was almost 2 weeks, which where I work, that's a lifetime.  I've never been 'off' from work that long before—ever.


Thursday was just a bad day, but he didn't drain that much.  Friday, I went to work and his mother came to stay with him.  He was bad and took a 'mini-bath' before she arrived.  Which put him in HOT WATER with me, as anything could have happened.  He's been pushing his limits and knew he was done then.


I didn't get home until late, even with all my 'good intentions' about leaving on time.  There was just so much to catch up on, I couldn't leave.  Friday hadn't been a good day for him, but he slept well on the new mattress.


Saturday, he wanted me out of the house and away from nursing him.  Hubby wanted me to have a break, so he called in the reinforcements, both his brothers, twins, to come and visit with him while I went to visit my sister on her birthday.  Teen and I left to hit Walmart for other supplies and then birthday gifts and a visit. 


He stayed 'up' too long on Saturday, but slept very well that night.  Today, he's much improved and even took a 3 hour nap getting up at 2:30 PM.  I was mowing the lawn and doing laundry.  It'll be an easy dinner and tomorrow I'm leaving the teen to baby-sit him and care for all his needs as she's off from school.  From Tuesday on, he'll have his mother visiting until the teen comes home from school.


After this week, I'm thinking, hoping, periodic visits from his mother will be enough as he heals.  That's only a few weeks and he's on the 'honor' system.  I never knew a man who could keep to it, but he's already tested his limits.  He's pulled back for now, but it won't take him long to push it again.


It's a long, long way to Tipperary!  Six months?  Right now I'm lucky to take it day-by-day if not hour-by-hour.  Some people in this house you have to watch like they were three years-old.


(Side-whine:  And can I SLEEP NOW?  We won't even go into what happened to his 'dressing' that fell off because he wanted to use the 'paper tape' and I woke up at 3 AM staring right into his surgical scar, bare to the world.)




Talk about your rude awakenings…


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