Finally, after months of waiting and living with crippling pain, it was time for surgery. I think I spent so long fighting for the approval, and then once it was approved I was so busy getting my house ready and making sure I had everything I needed for my post op care, I hadn’t really focused too much on exactly what I was about to do.
Let me preface this by saying that I had never in my life had surgery of any kind (wisdom teeth don’t count), and I sure picked a hell of a surgery to start with. A fusion at L5-S1 and a discectomy at the same level. The surgeon was about to go into my spine, scrape out a disc, then shave off parts of my vertebrae and pack the shavings into some bone that was taken from a dead body and slip that whole mess in my back, then yank a slipped vertebra back into alignment and finally bolt the whole thing in place with a bunch of metal rods and screws. In the car on the way to the hospital, I started freaking out a bit at the REALITY of all of it.
So. I arrived at the hospital around 5 am. Surgery was scheduled for 7:30. I had my girlfriend and my best friend with me. The girlfriend was for support, and the best friend was to keep the girlfriend from freaking out while I was in surgery. They took me back, had me change into a gown, some compression stockings and some ugly little slipper socks with grippy rubber soles. I also had to put my hair up under one of those hideous paper shower cap looking things. I had been told to arrive sans makeup or lotion, and I had to remove my contacts as well and wear my glasses, so by the time I was changed and prepped, I’m sure I was a sight for sore eyes. Or a sight that CAUSED sore eyes. Whatever.
The nurse started some IV lines. I think I had one in each hand? Maybe? All I know is, I had a lot of tubes coming out of me. Then over the next hour I was visited by three ghosts….no, that’s not right. Oh, yeah, I was visited by three medical professionals: the anesthesiologist, who explained how they would put me under; a nurse who asked me a shit ton of background questions; and finally my surgeon, Dr. Sexy himself. There was a brief discussion about who, exactly, would be seeing my naked ass in the operating room, while I was unconscious and vulnerable, and then I asked him to autograph my back. He grabbed a pen from a passing nurse and, with a grand flourish, marked the surgical site with his initials.
Everything got fuzzy after that. I don’t remember them administering the anesthesia or wheeling me into the OR. The next thing I have any memory of is waking up. I was quite disoriented and confused. I looked around and saw a bunch of monitors and machines, lots of beeping and blinking lights. I looked down at my hands, barely recognizable as hands because they were covered with tubes. Then I tried to move.
Mistake. Big mistake.
Pain exploded! I saw stars. I mean, seriously, I saw STARS. My back felt enormous and it was on fire. My legs felt heavy, like they weren’t even attached to my body. Everything hurt, even my hair follicles, I swear. My very first thought was “What the hell have I gotten myself into?” followed quickly by “What the FUCK did they do to me?!?”
I must have made a sound, because immediately there was a nurse in my face saying my name and asking how I felt. Seriously? Bitch, how do you THINK I felt? I felt like I imagine you would feel upon waking in a strange hotel room, laying in a bathtub full of ice, and missing a damn kidney. I felt like Satan himself had reached into my back and ripped half of my spine out. I felt like I had just run a marathon AND given birth to 12 pound twins AT THE SAME TIME.
The next few hours are kind of blurry. My girlfriend and friend came and went, I drifted in and out of sleep and some chick went buck wild and started throwing chairs across the stage on Jerry Springer. (Daytime tv sucks balls, by the way.) I had come out of surgery around 1:45 pm, but for some reason I wasn’t moved to my recovery room until about 10:30 pm. Once I was wheeled up to my new quarters, I had to transfer myself to the bed. It was the first time I had attempted any movement since first waking up. As if the pain from the surgery weren’t enough, I was connected to a urine catheter (bag o’ pee), a drainage tube in my back near the incision (blood grenade) and an IV. So not only did I have to force myself to push through the pain and actually move my entire body, I had to do it without tangling myself up in any tubes or wires that were coming out of my body in various locations.
It took me about 10 minutes to get into bed. Once I was there, the nurse adjusted the bed and tucked my pillows under my head in an attempt to make me comfortable. Ha. That was a joke. I probably would have felt as equally awful if they had nestled me into the softest cloud or simply rolled my broken ass onto the floor. My nurse brought me a cup of water and ice packs for my back. (Word of advice: if they don’t automatically bring you ice packs, ASK for them. They helped so much.) My girlfriend got my bedside table all set up with the magazines I had brought along, my phone and my tablet, along with the chargers. She wheeled the bedside table as close to me as she could possibly get it and made sure everything was in reach. I also had a huge bag of Jolly Ranchers that I kept near me at all times. My throat was so sore from the tube they had crammed down it, and the hard candies really helped to soothe it.
Once I was settled, the nurse set the alarm on my bed (seriously, if I moved out of the bed, an alarm would sound at the nurses station) and left. My friend hugged me and promised to come back in the morning to visit, then she went to wait in the hall. I was alone with my girlfriend for the first time that day. We were saying our goodbyes (no, she didn’t stay with me; she only had so much time she could take off work because the state does not recognize same sex partnerships so she does not qualify for FMLA to care for me, and I felt it was more important for her to take time off to take care of me once I was home). Now, I must have really looked like shit, because we’ve been together for 7 years, and in that time I’ve seen her cry maybe twice, both times it was about 11 tears tops, but she broke down and SOBBED like a damn baby. I mean, she pulled some full on Scarlett O’Hara shit and threw herself across the bed (ouch!) and bawled. It broke my heart. I could not believe she had held it together all damn day, then lost it when she was leaving. After a few minutes, she straightened up, wiped her eyes, kissed me goodbye, and put on her sunglasses before disappearing down that bright corridor. Such a beautiful, tragic mess.
The rest of that first night was pretty awful. I didn’t sleep at all. My nurse brought me ice packs constantly. I cried A LOT. My pain was, without question, a 10/10. Unfortunately there was nothing that the nurse could do about increasing my meds until the doctors came in around 7 am to do their rounds, so my nurse sat with me all night and held my hand while I sobbed. (I had a Dilaudid pump and I could push the button every 10 minutes, but it turns out they were under dosing me for the first 24 hours or so. This is another story for another post, but suffice it to say when I found out I was pissed and relieved at the same time. Pissed because I had been so miserable and my pain COULD have been alleviated, but relieved because it meant that my pain wasn’t abnormal and I wasn’t just being a big baby who needed to suck it up.)
So there you have it. Surgery. Without a doubt, more painful than 21 hours of hard labor with no epidural and a Pitocin drip (been there). But, at the same time, once it was over and I was in recovery, I knew that I would be able to move on to the next phase: healing.