Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Ghosts of Surgeries Past

My surgery manicure held up nicely
This is just a test to see if Demerol blogging is any different from my normal blogging.  If anything, it might make more sense.

My little surgery is over and everything went well.  In fact, this is probably the least unpleasant surgery I've ever had.  I almost always have some kind of post-surgical problem but so far this one has been a breeze.  Now that I've said that, the next time I get up to go to the bathroom my new squeaky clean uterus will probably fall out and hit the floor.

The last surgery I had was of an orthopedic nature, or as I like to call it, a Black & Decker surgery.  For several yearss I suffered off and on with wrist pain from what I thought was carpel tunnel syndrome.  I was told to manage it as best I could and when it got to the point where it was no longer manageable we'd do surgery. 

Of course, the pain became intolerable shortly before Christmas about 15 years ago.  As I mentioned in a previous post, it is a Green family tradition to have surgery at Christmas time.  My neurologist did an EMG in his office which showed that I did indeed have some nerve damage going on. If you've never had the pleasure of an EMG I'll give you a brief description.  The doctor sticks a bunch of fine little needles into whatever part of your body is in pain, then he sends an electric current through the needles.  Then he moves the needles around and does it again.  He continues to slowly electrocute you until you confess to everything from cheating on your taxes to masterminding the most recent bombing in the Middle East.

The neurologist sent me to an orthopedic surgeon who took some x-rays of my right wrist and said I did not have carpel tunnel syndrome.  I had a birth defect.  Who knew?  It was clear to see on the x-rays that my radius was noticeably longer than my ulna and I guess in normal people those bones are supposed to be the same length.  Or they should at least meet up evenly at the wrist.  Mine did not.

Dr. Black & Decker was not about to be out-tested by a geeky neurologist, so he set me up for an arthrogram on my wrist.  This one was even more fun than the EMG.  They injected dye into my already painful wrist and took a video x-ray of it traveling around.  The lidocaine shot had worn off by the third dye injection and I probably would have flown out of my chair had I not been weighted down with a lovely lead apron.  By the time they were finished, my wrist was so full of dye it was the size of an orange.

Of course I whined and complained about it but it was a good thing I had the test done since it showed that my radius and ulna had chewed through a ligament in my wrist and the bones were grinding against each other.  Which is painful.  The test also showed that I have Guyon's canal syndrome, which is similar to carpel tunnel but affects the ulnar nerve instead of the median nerve, which explained why the pain shot up the back of my arm and into my elbow.

Dr. Black & Decker told me that he needed to go in there and remove the chewed up ligament and also shorten my radius so that it would be the same length as my ulna and wouldn't cause any more trouble.  I agreed on one condition.  I insisted that we do it outpatient.  I hate hospitals because I almost always leave there with some kind of infection that I didn't have when I got there.

So...I had myself a little outpatient orthopedic surgery which is probably just about the stupidest thing I've ever done.  You know how in recovery they ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10?  Mine was at about 30.  After I'd had enough morphine to kill an elephant, the nurse made the mistake of telling me that if we couldn't get the pain under control, I would have to be transferred to a regular hospital.  Miraculously, my pain level dropped to a 4 and I went home.

Yes, I lied.  All I could think about was getting out of there before the staph infection found me.  I was too late.  The day after I got home, I developed the second worst sore throat I'd ever had in my entire life.  This wasn't just the scratchy throat you get from that breathing tube thing, it was extremely painful and was turning some lovely shades of yellow and white.  Since I was also running fever and my pain level was still hovering at about 20, I felt like a visit to the emergency room was in order.

The ER nurses unwrapped my bandaged arm to make sure there was no infection there.  It looked good even though air made it hurt worse.  They swabbed my throat and found that I had, of all things, a yeast infection there.  I'm not sure how one gets a yeast infection during surgery and quite honestly, I prefer not to think about it too much.  They gave me medicine, I took it, it cleared up, and that's all I need to know.

A ninja star got me once.  Once.
It was while I was recovering from this surgery that I realized just how much of a caretaker my husband is not.  He was very helpful when it came to taping plastic bags around my arm so that I could shower but not quite so helpful for other things.  The first day after the surgery I was pretty out of it but started coming around in the middle of the night.  I needed help getting out of bed and to the bathroom but Jayson was nowhere to be found.  I called out for him but he's half deaf so naturally he didn't hear me.  When I asked him about it the next day, he said he slept on the couch because he was afraid he might bump my arm in the night and hurt me.  Okay, I guess he had good intentions but I did let him know that he need not repeat those good intentions again.

The next day I heard him talking on the phone to his mother and I could tell by his end of the conversation that she was asking him if I was eating.  Jayson said, "Well, I put some food out for her," as if I was a dog or something.  I started to ask him to refill my water bowl but fortunately the pain meds knocked me out before I could get too snarky.

After several weeks of healing I had to do physical therapy for a couple of months which could have been a real bummer if not for the hot wax treatments.  We started off every session by dipping my right arm in a vat of hot wax up to my elbow 10 times, or enough to create a freaky House of Wax looking shell on my arm.  After the wax shell was peeled off, my arm muscles were all relaxed and pliable and my skin was incredibly soft.  The therapist showed me the wax building process a couple of times and after that she just left me in the wax room alone to relax and do it myself.  By my fourth session, I was dipping both arms into the hot wax up to my shoulders and trying to figure out how to get my feet in there with them.

I now have a limited range of motion in my wrist because of those missing torn ligaments, but it's pain free so it's all good.  As a bonus, I have a wicked scar and a titanium plate with 6 screws still in my arm.  I was extremely disappointed to discover that my plate does not set off the metal detectors at the airport but I haven't flown since TSA got x-ray glasses so that might be fun.

Just a couple of years before the wrist surgery, I had surgery on my nose to remove about six extra inches correct a deviated septum.  Actually, there was a little more to it than that.  I had a uvulopalatoplasty, septoplasty and a rhinosplasty.  I had been seeing an ear, nose and throat doctor and on our last visit before the surgery he was explaining the procedures and drawing little pictures on a note pad to show me what was going to be done.  My soft palate and my uvula were going to be removed and my septum, which was almost lying on its side, would be straightened.  I'll never forget the way he said, "Now Mrs. Green, while we're in there is there....anything else....you'd like to have done?" as he circled his pen in front of my nose as if it was a magic wand.

When I asked him if he could maybe shave a little bit off the sides of my nose his whole face lit up and he excitedly explained to me how he could give me my nose, only better.  When I told him it all sounded great but I didn't think I could afford it since I knew my insurance wouldn't pay for that part of the surgery, he started wheeling and dealing until we came to an agreement on what was essentially a buy two get one free situation.

Once the haggling was done, he went back to explaining the details of my surgery package.  He said the rhinoplasty would likely give me two black eyes for a couple of weeks and I'd have to wear a little brace across the bridge of nose for a while.  For the septoplasty, my nose would be packed for 24 hours and I'd have to come to his office the next day to have the packing removed.  He said I would experience some "discomfort" from the uvulopalatoplasty similar to the sore throat you get when you have your tonsils removed.  This should last about 2 weeks.

This ENT is the same doctor who removed my tonsils when I was 14 and I loved him up until this point.  Now, if I ever see that man again, I will punch that lying masochist right in his perfect nose.

First of all, everything that he said would last 2 weeks actually lasted 2 months.  The black eyes went from black to purple to blue in about 2 weeks, then settled on a sickening greenish/yellow color for the next couple of months.  Taylor was around 4 years old at the time and she stayed with my sister while I had the surgery.  When I got out of surgery and got settled at home, my sister told Taylor what I would look like so it wouldn't upset her and she brought her to the house to see me.  Taylor walked into the bedroom, took one look at me and huge tears welled up in her big brown eyes.  She said, "Mommy...I don't think you're gonna make it."  At that point I thought she was right.

When I went to see Dr. ENT at his office the day after surgery to have my nose packing removed, he failed to tell me that this was going to be a painful version of a magician's scarf trick.  He started pulling on the packing and he kept pulling and pulling and it just kept coming out and he braced one foot on the chair and pulled some more and I'm pretty sure the nose packing got wrapped around my brain because I could feel it tugging on the backs of my eyeballs as he continued to pull my brain out through my nose.

Let me tell you about that throat "discomfort" I was supposed to have.  Dr. ENT told me it would be similar to a tonsillectomy and I might have trouble eating for several days, but I could have all the jello and ice cream I wanted.  Jello and ice cream??  I couldn't swallow my own spit!!  This is the sore throat that trumped the yeast infection throat.  It was bad.  It took about a month for the surface pain to subside, but even after that got better, the muscle pain was still really bad.  It's hard to explain, but every time I swallowed there was pain that shot from my throat up into my ears.  Not fun.  But my nose is cute.

My sister called yesterday to see how I was doing and to update me on everything that's going on back home.  My mother cut herself shaving while she was in the shower and evidently she nicked some major artery.  She takes aspirin every day so she called my sister in a panic, convinced she was going to bleed to death.  My sister told her to apply pressure with a cloth really hard and it would eventually stop bleeding.  Mom called back and told her it wasn't working and she was pretty sure she was starting to float toward the light.  My sister asked her what kind of cloth she was using and Mom told her it was just a wash cloth.  A WET wash cloth.  Evidently those 2 weeks Mom spent in nursing school didn't take.

My dad has taken up a new hobby of collecting flattened aluminum cans and selling them at the recycling plant.  This could be a good thing since he's recycling and earning a little extra cash.  The only problem is that Dad is operating on what's left of his brain after a major stroke several years ago.  He actually manages pretty well and most of the time it seems that the only area of his brain that was damaged is the one that has all the common sense.  He will only collect pre-flattened aluminum cans and most pre-flattened aluminum cans are found in and around areas where cars have run over them.  When Dad is out driving around and spots a flat can, he just stops his car and gets out to pick up the can, even if it's in the middle of a busy highway during rush hour.  The man is risking life and limb for flat cans.  But it makes him happy.

My sister is in the throes of yet another medical disaster.  She has Crohn's disease and the most aggressive treatment they have for it isn't working for her anymore.  Her doctor told her there are some medical trials going on that she could be a part of if she'd like to try it out.  Somehow, someone discovered that hook worms may be able to cure Crohn's disease.  Apparently there's almost no Crohn's disease in Africa or Asia or some country like that where they typically eat more worms than we do.  For the medical trial all she has to do is drink a cup full of microscopic hook worms.  Then her body will attack the hook worms instead of its own colon and she might be able to poo without bleeding to death.

I told her I couldn't do it.  I don't care how microscopic they were, just the thought of drinking a cup of worms is enough to make me wretch.  She pointed out the hypocrisy of that statement by saying she intended to hide them in a shot of Mezcal like we did in the old days.  She just hopes the Mezcal doesn't kill them.

I miss my family.  They make me look so normal.

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