This is Part 2 to last week’s story.
In the morning however, just like a hungry baby, I awoke, ready to howl my lungs out. They were trying to time my morphine crash with the surgery timing so with each ticking minute, the onset of the pain in my leg grew. When finally I could take no more, they wheeled me down into the surgery prepping area. And ‘there’ is where the real fun occurred.
For the actual surgery, they were putting me to sleep via the common method they sometimes use to numb the lower extremities of women delivering children, the epidural. I found this next paragraph on the web:
Epidural anesthesia is a form of regional anesthesia in which a narrow tube, (also called a catheter) is placed in the epidural space in your back. The epidural space is a part of the spinal canal that is in close contact with nerves. By injecting anesthetic medication into this space, the spinal nerves are numbed. An epidural requires the insertion of a special needle into the back. The epidural needle can be inserted with very little discomfort by an experienced practitioner, using local anesthesia to numb up the skin and tissues of the back. When the needle is in place, the epidural catheter is threaded through the needle and the needle is then removed.
That is I guess a textbook description. Here’s what really occurred:
The anesthesiologist turned me over on my side and proceeded to sneak a thin wire into my lower back. That’s when I got struck my lightning! Ok, so that’s what it felt like. He accidentally hit a primary nerve and immediately knew his mistake as he was extremely apologetic. I felt every nerve ending in my body seize control of my muscles and tense up. Given I was already in pain, this new episode put me over the edge. I was begging at that point – please don’t do that again, please. I was ready to give up all the government’s secrets. Mr Anesthesiologist just kept apologizing. I probably should not display his picture like this in public, but I guess I’m still carrying a grudge.
Earlier, I had written that there had been a ‘snap’ but actually, there were several snaps. I had really done a number on my left knee and leg. According to the X-ray, there were 3 bone breaks; two hairline fractures lower down towards the ankle and a larger break off of the top of the tibia. There is a small section called the tibia plateau, commonly broken in this type of accident. The fix for that was to insert two long surgical screws to help fuse the broken bone section back to the top of the tibia. I now beep when those security wands are passed over my leg.
In addition to the bone break, I had also torn the meniscus, the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament and the LCL (lateral collateral ligament). There might have been a few more CL’s torn in there – all I know is it felt like someone was constantly stabbing me with razor blades.
So my orthopedic surgeon had quite a challenge ahead of him. He was actually quite excited about this surgery because he was going to attempt to do all the repairs via arthroscopic maneuvers. He had medical journal photos to show me what exactly he was going to do in this relatively new procedure. Apparently he had been waiting for someone like me to come into his life. Glad to be of service, Doctor Joe.
To this day, that lightning bolt issued by the anesthesiologist remains the worst memory of pain I have, (except for the time my head was squeezed like a vice grip as I was being pushed through a dark and wet cavern). In any regard, after that was over, the next I remember was waking up after the surgery. Morphine – morphine where, oh where would we be without morphine? I think Shakespeare said it best – The quality of morphine is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven. Upon the place beneath – my blood vessels. I was told by my doctor that I would be visited by the pain for several weeks but it would dissipate. In the meantime, press this button to release ‘more pheen’, (morphine, get it?), and get some rest. I pressed the heck out of that button, me and that button became BFF’s.
One of the more special aspects of coming out of an anesthetic sleep, (while being pumped full of fluids), is the release of those fluids. I’m talking about that first time you go to the bathroom. Yes indeed kids, I highly recommend this as an exercise in futility! I tried and tried and tried. My bladder was so full it felt like a tick full of blood, about to pop. Imagine yourself being driven somewhere, hundreds of miles with the driver passing up every roadside rest area. Now magnify that by a factor of ten and you should be able to relate to this sensation. I sat and sat, trying to will my bladder muscle to release, thinking – oh sure, you won’t release now but you have no problem releasing almost every night as a child, (much to the dismay of whoever slept in the lower bunk).
Like a frightened turtle
The male nurse, (I hope he was a nurse and not just some random dude wandering around in scrubs), was being very nice and patient, allowing me the opportunity to keep some dignity when I finally had to admit defeat. The pain had become too great to bear. He, (the nurse), told me that this was very common coming out of surgery. At that point, I didn’t care. I didn’t care that my privates were being touched my another man. I didn’t care that they were in ‘turtle formation’. I didn’t care that someone was about to insert something into the end of my penis. All I cared about at that point was getting my bladder emptied. I recall with great clarity the sensational relief I felt as the nurse was pushing on my abdomen, allowing the water to escape my body. Remember the look on Tom Hanks face in The Green Mile when he could finally urinate without it feeling like razor blades? That’s what I felt just then.
Most of the few days I spent in the hospital after the surgery, are a bit of a blur. I’d sleep, I’d wake up to pain, feeling like I’d slept all day only to look at the clock seeing I’d been down for only an hour, I’d press the morphine release button and then I’d sleep again. To sleep was to escape pain.
I remember a couple of visitors but not many. My doctor came to see me a few times to check up on me. He was really happy with how the surgery went but he informed me that likely I’d never be able to run again without pain and possible further damage. (That part really bites – I really miss running). I do have a clear memory of a visit from my dad. It’s vivid I guess because I could see that he was really concerned for my welfare.
After four days, (I think), we made the journey home. My wife drove us to our Ohio home and as she drove, the morphine wore off. By the time we reached the house, I was hanging on, nearly in tears. Kim had set me up a temporary bedroom in our front living room, (you know the room – it has the nicest furniture in the house and never gets used). We owned a nice hideaway bed/couch and that became my bed and my bedroom for nine weeks. Getting out of the car was difficult but luckily our next door neighbor, (Mike), was in his front yard when we drove up and he offered to help get me to my bed. (We’ve always been lucky having good neighbors).
My new bedroom was right inside the front door, just to the right inside the foyer entrance. Inside there was my hideaway bed, a small end table that became my nightstand and a chair. On the bed was a medical contraption that had a purpose of constantly, slowly bending my leg. Bend, extend, bend, extend, it moved most of the day and night for me.
Kim ran out and acquired my prescription for the pain – Percocet is what I seem to recall. For the first week or so, I pretty much lived on those pills. Slowly but surely though, the pain lessened and as it did, I cut back on the number of pills daily and the time in between taking them. After a few weeks, the pain was low enough to bear without meds. My boss from P&G visited me at the house after five or six weeks, either out of concern or perhaps he just wanted to confirm my injury was as bad as I called it in to be. I like to think the former.
Nine weeks; nine boring weeks of being laid up in a bed, crawling on my hands and backside to the bathroom, doing nothing but reading, sleeping, eating in bed, rinse and repeat. And of course the first couple of weeks I had to use the bedpan and little urine bucket. I’m sure my boys just loved bringing that to their dad, but hey, it’s better than changing diapers.
When the pain got manageable after a few weeks, I was left with my thoughts for most of the day while my kids played outside or watched television. There were lots of things to consider. When would I get back to work, at what point in our project at work would we be at, what would life be like without running, how nice will it be to be able to stand again in the bathroom and what adjustments could I make that would move me to becoming a happier person (my wife and I argued quite a lot before this accident and it was becoming very trying).
Above all, I decided that I was pretty damn lucky to have survived being hit by a school bus as a child (link) and that ‘this’ accident was inconsequential. I could be living on borrowed time so why not be grateful? Why not try to maintain a positive outlook as much and as often as possible? Why not try to remove anyone and anything that is negative? Am I on track to realize my life goals? After I heal, what can I do to improve our marriage (I thought about that a lot). Not to spoil anything, but there will be a future story on this last point.
Doctor Joe was my doctor; what a great technician and who makes house calls anymore? I don’t remember how many weeks after I was walking again, but naturally I had weakened after being laid up all that time. One late afternoon, and I don’t know what triggered this, I had a horrible pain in my ribs and could barely breathe without feeling a sharp pain. It was towards the end of the day, but I called Joe on the phone. He said it sounds like a slipped rib. He told me to hang in there for an hour and he’d drop by my house before going home.
I think it took him all of two minutes to fix me. He got me flat on my stomach on the carpeting and popped a rib back into place like he’d done it a hundred times. The feeling of immediate relief was amazing. I was sore, but I could breathe again. I’ll never forget that gesture. I visited Joe from California, many years later. He had an office set up in Sharonville and so I made an appointment to see him. I took the appointment time as an opportunity to tell him face to face how much I appreciated his work and his kindness. I put a tear in his eye – just briefly, but it was there and he thanked me for sharing. He wrote me a nice little thank you note a week later….nice guy. The world needs more doctors like Doctor Joe.
So after all of that, you’d think that maybe this is the end of this story, wouldn’t you. I wish it were true, but unfortunately, there was a little more bad luck to come. Stay tuned for the big finale next week.