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The Operation October 21, 2010

Posted by KG in Etc., Family, fitness, Technology.

I took a taxi Wednesday morning to GW Hospital, driven by a nice 80 year-old Punjabi gentleman.  I’d developed the habit of stretching out/lying down on the back seat of cabs to alleviate some of the pain, and drivers had been more than willing to accommodate.  It’s amazing the sympathy and questions you get when you’re a taxi passenger going back and forth to a hospital, with an envelope full of MRI scans in your hand.  This particular taxi driver told me all about his wife, who had a much more extreme procedure on her back and didn’t recover well.  “Not the doctor’s fault though!” the driver said.  “She’s lazy and refused to walk after surgery for weeks.  She got blood clots!”

At GW, I walked to the surgical check-in desk, which was up a flight of stairs.  The walk from the doors to the desk was short but torturous, and I couldn’t breathe by the time I got there.  Of course there were no seats or benches at the check in, and I still had a batch of forms to fill out. I begged the woman behind the desk to bring me the forms at “that sofa– the empty one, right over there!,” gesticulating wildly towards an empty sofa where I planned on lying down. “But you still need to fill these forms out,” she said.  I explained, near hyperventilating from pain, that both sitting and standing were extremely painful and could she take pity because I’m getting surgery on my spine.  Nada.  It was one of the worst moments of this ordeal — a completely clueless hospital staff member so stuck on procedure that she couldn’t think of context.  Having done my own time on bureaucratic procedure (visas in India for two years!), I knew the psychology behind what was going on, and how easy a fix could be, which frustrated me all the more.  Luckily, a nurse saw me sweating and cursing sotto voce, and took me out of the situation before I actually fell down.  I got the forms done on the sofa, and was swiftly taken in back to a gurney to get prepped for surgery.

And there my waiting began.  I was told my surgery would be at 1:30, but that I was an add-on, which I guess is the surgical equivalent of stand-by.  It made sense; my need had come up suddenly, and they just had to squeeze me in.  Waiting was irritating, but I had diversions.  I finished reading “No God but God,” eavesdroppped on fellow patients, and took up playing an awful lot of Angry Birds. (so addictive!!)  A good 4-5 hours later than planned, the doctors started coming by to brief and prep me.  Sounds like a long delay, but given that I was on surgical stand by, I was lucky to even get in.  The surgeon was clear that it was either yesterday or ten days from now, and things could only get worse inbetween.

The doctors told me all about the procedure — a microdiscectomy/laminotomy on my L5 S1 disc, which had actually extruded around my nerve column.  “That thing is huge!” my surgeon said (giggle.)  The extrusion was so large that the doctor was speechless when I saw him Tuesday.  He explained why before operating: “I’ve only seen extrusions like this twice before, and we went in to surgery immediately because the patients couldn’t walk.  You’re lucky you’ve been moving.”  Lucky or stubborn, I guess.

They wheeled me back to surgery around 5:30 or 6, right after I took off my wedding ring and glasses and turned them in to be locked up. They had music playing in the OR, though I don’t remember exactly what it was.  The surgical intern was on her second-to-last day, and the anesthesiologist mentioned that the tunes of choice for my surgery were likely to be Lady Gaga, but that I wouldn’t exactly be singing along.  He hooked something up to an IV, put a mask on my nose and…

… the next thing I remember was coughing like crazy and begging for something to spit in.  I was also incredibly cold, shaking like a leaf.  I was in an unfamiliar place in the hospital.  The nurses got me swaddled in hospital-best quality sheets, and I spit profuse amounts of phlegm from my still-irritated throat.  It was two hours after my surgery.  I had no recollection of anything.  (Up until yesterday, I had never gone under general anesthesia, so this was totally new.)  For the next hour or so, I slowly rose out of a fog. I put my wedding ring back on and thought of the wife, so far away.  I put my glasses back on and decided to talk to the nurse, a really nice Filipina lady who told me (hah!) about the endless wait she was going through trying to get green cards for her adult kids.  I drank a ton of water and was pumped full of pain killers.  At one point, I was allowed to get up and go to the bathroom (I refused a bedpan), and found much to my surprise that the standing pain was gone.

I got in to a private room around 9 PM. They fed me a gross, dry turkey sandwich and told me to get comfortable for the night.  Through a percocet haze, I watched the Giants pull a sweet victory against the Phillies, and I watched a dancing Golden Retriever on Letterman.  More Angry Birds was played.  Every few hours, I had my vitals taken, and got a few more pain pills, antiinflammatories, and antibiotics.  I couldn’t sleep, so I sent emails all around.  The room was warm, but that’s probably because my legs were swaddled in super-attractive LeBron style compression socks, as well as machines to prevent blood clotting.

This morning I got full readouts from the doctors and anesthesiologists (I had received partial reports the night before.)  Everything had gone as planned.  There was a ton of disc bumping on my nerve, which was rubbed raw but not damaged.  The incision was exactly the size they expected, an inch long and an inch deep.  The procedure took an hour.  I forgot to ask if they really listened to Lady Gaga.  After those doctors, I saw a set of other people — physical therapists, who told me about the recovery timeline; various nurses and techs to tend to my wounds; the attending orthopedist on the floor who was younger than me and impressed by my injury.  The experience the morning after surgery was long and boring; though all my paperwork was done and I was ready to discharge at 10:30, I didn’t manage to leave the hospital until after noon.  I filled the dead time with phone calls and highly detailed emails to loved ones, friends, bosses, and random well wishers.  I tweeted like crazy.

Speaking of random well-wishers: thank you.  Seriously.  The supportive thought meant a great deal, and I’ve learned to not hesitate when I have the opportunity to pay the kindness I’ve been shown forward.  Also, a major thanks is owed to the HTC corporation, who made my smartphone (seriously).  My phone has been my lifeline through this whole ordeal, helping me fill the time, pass and receive messages, and move/share vital information.  I think I would have gone mad without it, and am making it a mission to get my wife one when she gets back (on Tuesday!).

I was wheeled out of the hospital and hailed a taxi home.  I sat up straight in the back seat, with no pain, and am doing the same now as I type this blog entry from a love seat in my living room. Earlier, I walked to the grocery store and bought a sandwich.  I took some trash (the light stuff!) out.  Recovery is going to be a long road and is going to require patience, but I’ve been through some terrible experiences dealing with this injury already and am prepared.  I am many things, but I am not a lazy man. Bring. It. On.



1. connie - October 22, 2010

Wonderful news!! So happy that your surgery went so well, and you were home so fast. I’ve had to deal with people like that receptionist. Passed out, 8+ months pregnant, on a blood tech who didn’t help me provide a safe place to sit when I felt faint… not a good experience, but I could see on her face that she would never do THAT again! ;D May your recovery go fast, and easy!!

2. Daniela Swider - October 22, 2010

Glad to hear that the surgery went well! Back injuries are so painful and tricky. We tend to think of them as something that will go away on its own and end up making them worse in the process. And yes they do take a long time to heal, so best of luck and speedy recovery!

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