I approached my mid-January check-up at Harborview with enthusiasm, believing it was my final visit. They x-rayed my leg, and while four of the five breaks were healed, the fifth, and worse break, the tibia plateau appeared to have plateaued with the two ends of the bone nowhere close to being mended. Although, there was a possibility it was healing, but it was difficult to see with a 2-dimensional x-ray.
To get a better view of the break, I had a CT scan a few days later, which turned out to be a lovely day. We drove down to Harborview early in the morning on Saturday and were in-and-out of the hospital within an hour. On the way, we stopped at Denny’s and had our favorite breakfast items. I always order hearty 9-grain pancakes, two eggs over easy, two sausages, and a bowl of fresh fruit. Rich had two eggs over easy, rye toast, sausage, and hash browns.
After visiting Harborview, we drove to downtown Seattle, and found a parking spot close to Pike Place Market. Rich was leery about having to partially walk on cobblestone streets and also negotiate through large crowds, and circuitous, often sloped, walkways through the market. I could sense his hesitancy, but reminded him that he needed to get used to walking in crowds.
Nevertheless, it was nerve-wracking thinking someone could brusquely push past Rich and knock him over. And at the same time, I was feeling guilty that I could easily walk with no fear of falling or pain from a hard-prosthetic socket that caused pain with each step. Mixed into these emotions was the horrific realization that negotiating through crowded streets and easily walking for miles from early morning to late at night was something we once did with ease.
Now I was walking a few steps and having to wait for Rich to catch up, the entire time getting more anxious and upset, especially when Rich needed to use the bathroom to adjust his leg. The bathrooms were on lower levels, accessible by walking down steep ramps or narrow steps. Rich wasn’t confident tackling either one. Luckily, we found an elevator.
On our walk back through the market, we stopped at a bakery and bought several day-old yummies to eat later. To avoid the crowds, we walked up the street to the next block, which I assumed would be less crowded. It definitely wasn’t the wisest choice. While Rich skillfully negotiated the cobblestone street, the next block wasn’t any less crowded. The sidewalk was packed with people, waiting for the restaurants to open. Plus, part of the sidewalk consisted of café tables.
But the worse was yet to come.
To get back to our car, we needed to walk down a steep street. Fortunately, there was railing for part of the way down, which Rich grasp with one hand, putting his other hand on my shoulder. The scary part was when the railing ended, and Rich needed to solely depend on my shoulder. While I’m steady on my feet, I’m not sure I have the strength to keep Rich from falling.
Once down the hill, we both breathed a sigh of relief, and ducked into an art gallery to decompress. They had interesting metal and glass sculptures, designed to rotate in the wind. We would have loved to have purchased one, but the starting price was $4,000. Ouch.
Our next stop was Mercer Island to visit Steve, one of Rich’s former managers at IBM. Steve and his girlfriend, Jennifer, have visited us several times on Whidbey Island, but it was the first time we’d been to their house. It was a remodeled older house with a peaked ceiling that stretched across half the house with rows of small windows at the top, which streamed bands of light into the main room, reminding me of a chapel. The leather-covered mission-style furniture added to the ambiance, producing a peaceful milieu. I welcomed the opportunity to sink into the sofa and just relax, my exhausted mind not nudging me to get up and clean, cook, garden, or otherwise occupy my idle hands.
Steve’s son, Damian, who just started high school, joined us. He’s refreshingly polite, smart and interested in the world around him. Later in the afternoon, Steve’s other son Richard visited. While Damien is introspective and measured when he speaks, Steve’s other son is outgoing, funny, and as we later learned, an exceptional cook.
The linchpin of our visit was a brisket Steve was nurturing in his highfalutin barbeque. We thought he was kidding when he said it wouldn’t be done for five hours.
“Nuke it in the microwave,” Rich and I telepathically shared.
Happily, the time passed quickly. Jennifer, who’d been at the gym, came home, and asked if I wanted to visit her tea house. In the backyard was a small building, which had been used as a garden shed. She’d painted the walls and plywood flooring, then added a thick throw rug, along with lamps, pictures, scrolls, numerous bookcases, and several other pieces of furniture. The shelves contained books about tea, Chinese artwork, teapots, and baskets and boxes of tea.
Jennifer wrote “The Way to Tea: Your Adventure Guide to San Francisco Tea Culture,” and traveled extensively throughout Asia learning about all aspects of tea. She’s also knowledgeable in tea etiquette. Along with being a contributor to several tea magazines and blogs, she’s a professional photographer and videographer.
She had me sit on a chair, on one side of a low table with tea trappings, with her sitting on a large bean bag on the other side. For the next few hours, she prepared and served me a variety of teas, explaining how they’re harvested, rolled, dried, toasted, and fermented, and the proper way to brew and drink tea. I learned how the water needs to be brought to a specific temperature. The tea leaves are then allowed sufficient time to brew in a covered gaiwan, and then poured into petite tasting cups. Before taking a sip, she invited me to inhale the essence of the tea and describe what I was smelling. Like wine, tea invokes floral, fruity, citrusy, earthy, and other scents.
Some teas are pressed into blocks, like pu’er tea, and allowed to age for years. Because tea is highly valued in many parts of Asia, bricks of tea were once used as a form of currency.
It was wonderful to drop pretexts and enjoy being pampered by Jennifer in her lovely tea house. Every inch of my body was relaxed when we ventured back into the main house where the “boys” had returned from a shopping excursion to get a selection of cheese and crackers, small kegs of craft beer, and other groceries.
With the brisket leisurely slumbering in a Big Green Egg sauna, we spent the next few hours talking until Jennifer and Richard, migrated to the kitchen to prepare the dinner feast. Richard made a “special” barbeque sauce from scratch, along with sautéed brussels sprouts and bacon.
Jennifer made a fabulous salad with beets, oranges, pecans, and blue cheese, and two homemade, tangy dressings.
Rounding out the scrumptious dinner was a store-bought sponge cake roll with an orange filling.
Driving back home, Rich and I were relaxed and happy, emotionally satiated, and mentally stimulated.
Fast forward three months
Even though my x-rays and CT scan were troubling in January, showing 4 of my 5 fractures had healed, Dr. Nork, my orthopedic surgeon decided to wait three more months to see if my body’s ability to generate bone would kick-in, since it only needed to repair one, not five fractures
In early April, I was due to have another set of x-rays done. With COVID-19 raging, the Harborview Orthopedic Clinic worked with WhidbeyHealth, the only hospital on Whidbey Island, to schedule another set of x-rays. Since it’s a whopping 15-minute drive to WhidbeyHealth versus an all-day schlep to Harborview, I was happy to comply.
The x-ray technician at WhidbeyHealth gave me a CD with my images on it. When I got home, we looked at them, and there was no denying, my fractured tibia plateau still had a big gap. After viewing the x-rays Dr. Nork wanted me to have another CT scan to see if any part of the bone had healed.
Once again, I returned to WhidbeyHealth instead of driving to Harborview. A few days later, Dr. Nork called to say there was only a spot weld where a small area of the bone was connected. With the likelihood of the plate breaking, I opted to have surgery as soon as possible to add another plate and potentially some of my bone. I was tired of worrying whether the plate would break, especially since I’m very active from huffing-and-puffing on my NordicTrack to spending hours in the garden pulling weeds, moving plants, pushing wheelbarrows of sand, and rototilling.
While it might seem like a metal plate is impervious to breaking, because my bone wasn’t healed, the metal plate was slightly flexing as I walked, and could eventually snap, like a paperclip, being bent back-and-forth.
My surgery was scheduled for May 14, which gave me a week to mentally prepared to “go under the knife.” I tend to get extremely agitated before a “major” event, considering the positive and negative outcomes. By the time the event arrives, I’ve usually exhausted myself with little fury and fight remaining.
This was the case the weekend before my surgery. I was tied up in knots, angry at Rich, distracted at work, and of the mindset that death would be a blessing. I was struggling to find a reason to live and was dwelling on everything Rich and I couldn’t do anymore, including biking, kayaking, slipping on hiking boots and grunting up a mountain, and walking along a beach.
I missed carefree days, riding on Gatsby with the wind in my face and the exhilaration and rumble of the hefty Harley Davidson engine whooshing up hills and zipping along on straightaways. Rich looked so handsome in his blue jeans with his black Harley Davidson jacket, boots, and gloves. I would often wear a long silk scarf, made from a kimono, tucked in the snazzy Italian black leather jacket I got from Value Village for a less than $10. And I adored by stylish black Harley Davidson boots, which I’d worn less than a dozen times.
The boots now sit on a shelf in a spare closet, completely useless, having been cut apart by the paramedics to remove them from our feet. Hung beneath them are our jackets, and other motorcycle gear. In the garage, are our helmets, scrapped, but otherwise not damaged.
For days, I ruminated about whether I should fill-out my advanced directives, reasoning it would take the burden off Rich if I happened to have a stroke or other calamity while under surgery. But I was torn. I’d want to be resuscitated if there was a chance I could survive, but then again, what if I was disabled after being revised?
One half of my brain was cheering for life, while the other felt it would be a relief to die. I’m still devastated by the loss of Rich’s leg. It’s hard to see him with his clothes off, and know he needs to use a walker or wheelchair to get around when he’s not wearing his prosthetic. It hurts to see him walk, and to know he can’t easily do various chores, such as climb on the roof to clean out the gutters or effortlessly bend down to pick something off the floor.
Plus, Rich is continuing to get his cognition back. Some days, he’s 100% back to normal, and other days, he’s easily confused and has difficulties remembering what I told him moments earlier. His lack of awareness and reasoning is bothersome. And even though I made a vow to “love in health and sickness,” I’m struggling with the realization my prince now has one leg and isn’t a brilliant, witty engineer anymore who isn’t nonplused by anything.
Making the last weekend count
I approached the weekend before my surgery with anger, disappointment, and the unanswered question whether I was better alive than dead. Saturday, we went grocery shopping, and then did drive-through McDonald’s for Egg McMuffins and iced coffee.
When we got home, I put away the groceries, and plopped a large piece of pork into a crockpot to start a batch of Kahlua pork. We got the meat for free, having completed a grocery store punch card for a free pork roast. The roast was so big, I cut it in thirds, freezing two chunks to use at another time for Chinese char siu or pulled pork.
I then made a picnic lunch for Rich and me, consisting of tuna fish salad on sourdough, baggies of cut-up vegetables and fruit, and Mrs. Field’s chocolate chip cookies.
Meanwhile, Rich changed into shorts and was able to get his Keen sandals onto his artificial foot. It was the first time he’d worn them with his prosthetic. I also donned lighter clothes.
We drove to Anacortes and parked at the Cap Sante Marina, which unearthed memories of riding our bikes along the waterfront with nary a care in the world. Anacortes is one of my favorite places to ride because you can pedal around March’s Point, home to numerous oil refineries along with one of the largest blue heron colonies in Western North America. In 2019, there were 680 heron nests. No matter the time of year, you can always see heron, flying overhead, wading in the shallow water, and standing perfectly still on a rock near the shore, waiting for an unwitting fish to swim by.
The road around March’s Point connects to the Tommy Thompson Parkway, which is 3.3 miles long and runs along the waterfront to downtown Anacortes. It’s a lovely, leisurely ride. But now, we can only walk short distances along the marina. On a good note, Rich expertly walked down the steep ramp to the boat docks, and had no issues, walking back up. Plus, there was no refuting it was enjoyable walking among the boats with a light breeze and clear skies. We passed by quite a few people sitting on the docks, sipping wine, relaxing, and enjoying the splendid weather.
Last August, Stacey drove us to Anacortes for a change of scenery. At the time, we were both in wheelchairs. It wasn’t until September that I was cleared to put weight on my left leg, and Rich got his initial prosthetic.
Eight months later, instead of looking at the “empty glass,” I needed to focus on it being at least half-full. Unfortunately, on that sunny Saturday afternoon, my head was filled with negativity and wrath. I couldn’t get past “what was” to “what is.” So, I spent the afternoon begrudgingly pretending I was having a great time, while fixated with death. I was struggling to find a purpose for living, besides caring for Rich, maintaining the house, and earning money.
In the back of my mind, I knew I was basically back to normal and not impeded by my injury. Rich, on the other hand, had a long road ahead of him until he could easily walk a longer distance, up and down hills and on uneven ground. I recognized the solution was to change the type of activities we do in the future. Instead of long hikes, we could visit museums, historical and cultural sites, and other easily navigable locations. I needed to focus on having a supportive companion who wasn’t more seriously injured or died in the accident.
But, my cluttered brain couldn’t move forward.
After walking around the marina, we bought a box of Magnum ice cream bars from Safeway, which we ate on a bench outside the store. For a few minutes, my mind was calm, watching people go in-and-out of the store (most with masks). As we drove home, my thoughts once again turned to ending my life and the stupidity of agreeing to have surgery in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sunday morning, after a good night’s rest, I felt more peaceful, which was reinforced as I made a frittata for breakfast. I layered sliced potatoes, onions, carrots, multi-colored bell peppers, broccoli, and other slightly dead vegetables in a large ceramic pie pan, and cook them in the microwave until somewhat tender. Then I add a layer of spinach, sliced tomatoes, and shredded cheese, and pour four beaten eggs over the vegetables, and cook until done.
I love working with colorful vegetables and eating, tasty healthy food. While cooking, I looked outside to see a menagerie of birds and rabbits. The latter hop up onto our deck to eat the bird food. I also saw, darting across our lawn, a doe, and her fawn. Unlike the mother, the fawn looked like a small Appaloosa horse. It was mottled with splotches of white, pale gray and taupe. I was aware of several all-white deer in downtown Coupeville, which is several miles away.
I wondered whether the fawn was impregnated by a white stag that had wandered up from downtown Coupeville or the fawn was the result of a recessive gene. In either case, it was revitalizing to see the fawn, and it made me realize, there are wonderful things to see and experience if I push past my angst.
The rest of Sunday, I worked in the garden, trimming, weeding, planting seeds, and delighting in the many plants that are coming up, including ranunculus, irises, English daisies, California poppies, and wallflowers.
I was also thankful for the wonderful house I live in with an amazing view, and room for all my stuff. Every room is special with the walls covered with artwork and furniture that I love.
Hoping everything goes smoothly
Monday and Tuesday went quickly. With each passing hour, I became more accepting of the surgery, realizing it’d be a temporary set-back, but would assure I could fully use my left leg without the fear of the metal breaking or the bone giving out because it wasn’t fused.
To emotionally prepare, I carefully laid out my clothing and the items I wanted to bring. We’d booked a motel room, a 15-minute drive from Harborview, with a kitchenette so we could heat our dinner. I also assembled a bag of disinfectant, rubber gloves and washcloths to “sanitize” the room.
Prior to Wednesday, I’d cleaned the house and made sure there was plenty of birdseed in the feeders along with sugar water for the hummingbirds.
Wednesday morning, I stripped our bed, thinking I had plenty of time to wash and dry the linens, and remake the bed before we left around noon. Of course, it took forever to dry the flannel sheets, which put me on edge. Additionally, I asked Rich whether he’d packed his clothes, and he said yes. Looking in the duffle bag, we were going to take, I saw none of his clothes. Early in the morning, I located his bag of toiletries, which he put in a small computer case he was taking, along with a pair of socks. That was his stuff for two days!
While I was hopeful, I’d be discharged the day of the surgery, there was a probability that I’d need to spend the night, therefore, hearkening the need for Rich to bring an extra set of clothes. Or at least, another pair of boxer shorts!
Adding to my angst was the need to finish up some projects for work, and in-between cut-up vegetables and fruit to take. The night before, I’d put together two containers of Kahlua pork, one with brown rice for me, and one with white rice for Rich. I’d also placed in a small cooler, hard-boiled eggs, granola bars and other goodies for Rich’s breakfast and lunch the day of my operation.
The more frenzied I got, making sure we had everything for the two-day trip, the more Rich spaced-out. By the time, we dashed out the door a little after noon, I was a bundle of nerves. My first appointment was at 3:10 to have a COVID-19 test, but the instruction said not to show up early or late. There was no way to judge how long it would take to get to Harborview. While we knew traffic would be light, an accident could turn a 30-minute drive into an hour or more.
I wanted to catch a 1:30 ferry, which would have given us an hour to get to Harborview, more than enough time with light traffic. Rich was anxious to get on the 1:00 ferry. They were loading the ferry as we approached the toll booth. Instead of being told to wait for the next ferry, we were directed onto the boat, which meant, we got off the ferry at 1:30.
With zero traffic, we were at Harborview by 2:00, an hour ahead of time. We found where the COVID-19 testing was being done, and then drove around until we located a gas station, where Rich was hoping he could use the bathroom. Nope.
We then lucked out and found street parking opposite a construction site. Because we only needed to be there for 45 minutes or so, we didn’t pay for parking, which was okay for 20 minutes until the parking enforcement scooter drove by and slowed, necessitating we immediately vacate our parking spot. With Rich’s bladder desperately screaming for relief, it became more imperative to find an open retail location. As we drove, Rich spotted an alley, which provided some privacy. He parked in a short-term loading area, and dashed across the street to the alley.
Meanwhile, I was fuming in the car, nervous about my upcoming procedures, uncertain whether Rich could accompany me, exasperated with Rich’s perpetual confusion and intermittent short-term memory, and indifference towards my anxiety. I’d shared with him half a dozen times the schedule, but he couldn’t keep it straight.
When he got back to the car, I recommended we simply go to the COVID-19 testing area, and hopefully not be kicked out because we were too early. Happily, there was no one in line to be tested, and we were directed to the first spot. A nurse approached the passenger side of the car where I was sitting and instructed me to tilt my head back and remain as still as possible. She also commented that I might feel like I need to sneeze or cough, and my eyes would probably water.
Unless you’re a little kid and wonder what would happen if you shoved a raisin, playdough or marble up your nose, for the most part you keep foreign objects out of your nose, especially a 6-inch long swab that is eased up nostril to the nasopharynx (in layman terms the back of your nasal cavity) then rotated 15 seconds to collect cooties. It’s a horrific, unpleasant sensation. And just when it ends, they inform you that they need to take a sample from your other nostril.
I clawed the car seat the entire time, trying not to panic. The millisecond it was over, I immediately pulled my mask over my nose, and stated my nose was “off limits” to all medical professionals. For the next few minutes, I frantically massaged the area around my nose to try to ease the misery.
It was like inhaling a bug, which was madly flapping its wings at the back of my throat, and in the process was damaging the tissue. It took several days until my nose felt back to normal. And of course, it didn’t help that I would be chugging oxygen and anesthetic gas the following morning.
During my COVID-19 test, Rich was studying the map for where we needed to park, and even though we’d passed the building just 10 minutes earlier, he was confused and couldn’t figure out what direction to turn. If he’d been paying attention, he would have noticed that you could only turn left out of the test area because the street was blocked off!
After driving just two blocks, we turned into the parking lot, and thankfully found a spot by the elevator, which we rode to the street level. Rich then decided he needed to adjust his leg, so he unzipped his pants, and started fussing with his prosthetic with police officers across the street in front of the emergency department.
“Great,” I bemoaned, “now Rich is going to get a ticket for indecent exposure.” Fortunately, he made the adjustment rapidly, and we were uneventfully back on schedule.
We had no issues checking into the hospital by the emergency department, the only open public entrance. We then made our way up the elevator, across the skybridge, and down to the pre-anesthesia clinic.
By the skybridge was the neurological surgery center, which Rich planned to visit during my surgery to talk with someone face-to-face about having a CT scan of his brain for a July appointment with his neurologist. Because his healthcare coverage is through Kaiser, he needed Harborview to fax the order to Kaiser; however, after a dozen phone calls, he hadn’t succeeded in getting the order sent. And humorously, after weeks of calls with Kaiser, they never mentioned that he can only get the scan done in either their Seattle or Bellevue facilities, not their hospital in Everett where he’d been told to fax the order!
After checking in at the pre-anesthesia clinic, I waited just a few minutes before I was escorted by a nurse into her office to chat about my medical conditions, share the medicines I routinely take — vitamins, baby aspirin and herbal supplements — and have her capture my vitals. The meeting was reassuring, and I got to share that I wanted to go home the same day.
My appointments happily over, it was time to drive to our motel to relax. In my haste, however, I punched in the wrong address, typing in “drive” instead of “avenue,” and neglecting to add “north” at the end of the street address. Instead of getting on the freeway, we were directed through circuitous side streets. As we approached the address, I immediately realized I’d made a mistake, so Rich pulled into a convenience store, saying he should dash in and get a Dr. Pepper.
It was like lighting a match. Really? You need a Dr. Pepper. You’re concerned about getting COVID-19 at the hospital, but you’re willing to walk into a convenience store to buy a Dr. Pepper!
“Okay, I won’t get a Dr. Pepper!”
Even though I’d goofed on the directions, we were only five miles away from the correct location; however, we needed to go through a hilly neighborhood where roadwork was being done. It must have taken 30-minutes to navigate through the congestion with all the traffic detoured onto a narrow, two-lane road. We finally made it to the freeway, and were at the motel within ten minutes.
While I knew there was a gated fence around the motel, I didn’t know it would take 5 minutes for the person in the office to open the gate! The day had heated up, so not only was I emotionally drained, but uncomfortably warm. And it didn’t help that when we checked in, the clerk asked if we needed any dishes.
“What?” The rooms have kitchenettes.
Evidently, they don’t keep plates, utensils, pots or other common kitchenware in the rooms. After getting a couple of plates and glasses, we went back to the car. Rich grabbed his computer case, and I carried in our duffle bag, bag of cleaning supplies, and cooler of food.
“Hey Rich, notice any discrepancies?”
The rest of the afternoon and evening continue to devolve with me running out the door and walking to Seasons Market to buy Rich a Dr. Pepper. Except, when I rounded the corner, I noticed chain link fencing around the store. It was closed! I walked half a mile, in the heat, in an unsavory neighborhood to get Rich a can of soda – all fizzy drinks are soda to him – and the store was closed.
I went storming back to the motel, but my cardkey wouldn’t open the gate. When we first arrived, I had to get new cardkeys because the ones they gave us wouldn’t open the door to our room. To get back into the motel, I had to wait until a car arrived, and press the intercom to arouse the motel clerk out of her stupor, so she could open the gate. I then dash through the gate along with the car.
Meanwhile, Rich had tried to get ice. The clerk said there was no ice machine, but we could use the empty ice cube trays in our freezer to make ice, which if we were lucky would be ready in a couple of hours.
By this time, I was in full rage, screaming at Rich that if I survived the surgery, I wanted a divorce. I couldn’t deal with him any longer. He just sat in a chair and said “okay.” And the more he said “okay,” the more I screamed at him.
What truly blew my mind was Rich insistence that he wait in the car during my surgery, and when I was done, I should call him.
“No, you need to go into the hospital, and wait for them to call you.”
“What’s the big deal? Just ask for your cell phone when you’re done.”
“How about I not only ask for my cell phone, but my clothes. I’ll dress myself, and walk out to the car, and then drive both of us home!”
I definitely needed a “reset” button. I was not only at full crazy, but hungry, having only eaten a package of granola bars for lunch. But, I was too upset to eat much more than some grapes, and I decided to only have a few sips of water so my electrolytes would be completely out-of-whack for surgery.
I finally cooled down after watching a couple of shows on HGTV. I like to see House Hunters, and enthusiastically comment on the houses and apartments being shown. Around 8 o’clock it was time to start my pre-surgery cleansing, which wasn’t as terrible as the last time when it was freezing cold in our Coupeville walk-in shower.
The motel room was warm. After rinsing off, I covered my body with Hibiclens antiseptic, waited two minutes, and then rinsed it off. And Rich came into the bathroom to wash my back, which was nice.
After changing into my Wedgewood nightie, which I only wear for special occasions, I settled into bed for more scintillating house hunting.
Rolling into surgery
Thursday morning, I felt calmer or more likely, Wednesday’s rage exhausted me. And not being a morning person, I’m usually more sedate, especially if it’s 4 a.m. I headed into the bathroom to wash my hair and body, and then apply the HIbiclens, shivering for two minutes until I could rinse it off.
I’d picked out some of my favorite, comfortable clothes to wear, which brighten my mood slightly. I had a long-sleeve fuchsia t-shirt with pink undies and pink socks, and loose-fitting denim overalls, with a pink sweater, which I realized I didn’t need since I was plenty warm with the t-shirt.
I then helped Rich assemble his food for the day. I’d brought containers of cut-up fruits and vegetable that Rich placed in baggies, and then into an insulated lunch bag, along with hard-boiled eggs, granola bars, cookies, and a bottle of water.
I also checked my phone to make sure I had no messages about my surgery being cancelled. The only message was my COVID-19 test was negative. Bravo! If I was negative, Rich was probably also negative, which made me thankful.
While we’ve primarily stay home, we go grocery shopping weekly – with masks and sanitizer wipes – and Rich routinely goes to Home Depot to get stuff to work on the house. Additionally, we’ve gone through the McDonald’s drive-through several times, which could theoretically expose us to COVID-19. Then again, I wipe everything down with a sanitizer wipe.
Packed up and ready to go, we headed out the door around 5 a.m., and were parked and heading to the Harborview surgical center thirty minutes later. I was surprised at the number of people who were having surgery; although, it was less than when I had my second surgery in July. They’d removed at least half the chairs in the waiting area to support social distancing, and everyone wore a mask, a requirement at the hospital.
I’d scarcely completed my registration and sat down to chill-out when a nurse came to get me. Rich followed. I changed into a gown, put on a hair net and socks, and laid down so the nurse could put in an IV. I thought my veins had recovered from the trauma nearly a year ago, but they proved to be flakey.
The first attempt was below the crook of my arm, but the nurse immediately realized she’d struck a valve because the IV wasn’t flowing. The valves in vein walls, which push blood up to the heart, are stronger than vein walls, so when a catheter is advanced through a vein, and it hits a valve, it will push out the sides of the vein, causing it to blow.
The next attempt, in the crook of my arm, seemed to work, but it hurt like crazy and my arm started cramping. The nurse pulled out the IV, and left to get another nurse. By the time she got back, I recognized I was close to passing out, and asked that my head be lowered. The blood pressure cuff on my arm reflected my loopy condition. The nurse kept saying I was “vagaling.” A vasovagal attack is when there’s a rapid drop of the heart rate and blood pressure, which results in a decreased blood flow to the brain and fainting.
After my blood pressure stabilized, the nurse put an IV in a vein in my other arm. Success. When I had a colonoscopy in December, the nurse also made three attempts before he succeeded in stabbing a decent vein. It probably didn’t help that I was dehydrated on both occasions.
The next procedure was less dramatic. They inserted what looked like mini tampons into my nose and rubbed them around to kill the bacteria. I’ve had it done before. It smells like orangesicle or maybe it was my vivid imagination and growling stomach.
Prone on the bed, and still woozy from my IV trauma, it was time for the parade of healthcare professionals. Leading the procession was Dr. Erik Magnusson, a resident who was going to assist Dr. Nork, my surgeon. He had a bubbly personality and explained the surgery would be three hours long, and they’d be making an eight-inch incision.
“Whoa, Dr. Nork said it would be 90 minutes.”
I rolled my eyes, saying I was okay with whatever they needed to do, as long as they didn’t harvest bone from my hip. Of all the incisions and procedures, I’ve had, the most painful was having my hip slit open, to pound four long screws into the neck of my femur. They cut two 4-inch long incisions on the side and front of my hip, which were insanely painful. It took months before I could sleep on my left side.
Dr. Magnusson responded by writing “No,” on the sheet, covering my hip. I then signed the “okay” to have the surgery. The next person to chat with me was the nurse who basically asked the same questions I was asked the afternoon before by the pre-anesthesia nurse.
The two anesthetists were next in line. The conversation centered around my determination to go home as soon as the surgery was over, despite everyone thinking I should spend the night. Rather than making any promises, they said they would wait to see how much pain I was in after the surgery. If I was okay, they would give me a nerve block, which would last up to 16 hours, providing more than enough time for Rich to drive me home.
With paperwork signed, and everything that could be discussed covered, it was time to wheel me into the operating room. Last time I had surgery, I was wheeled into a large room, which didn’t seem to have any surgical equipment, and no one was in gowns.
This time, I was wheeled down the hallway past numerous medical professionals who were suited up for surgery. I was pushed into an operating room with lots of equipment, large lights overhead, and other surgical paraphernalia. They immediately put a mask on my face, and I suspect they may have injected a sedative through my IV. I recall opening and closing my eyes several times and noticing nothing was happening, and then someone said, “Are we about ready.” With that said, the anesthesiologist must have turned up the gas, and I was out for the count.
When I woke, there seemed to be quite a few people in the room, and I was asked to turn over onto my side because they were going to put in the nerve block. I was way too dopey to feel anything, and my leg was wrapped in a heavy ace bandage from my ankle up to mid-thigh.
A nurse remained at my side, quietly talking to me, and checking my vitals. Anesthesia had added another IV on the top of my left hand, probably to inject drugs, while the other IV was used for saline fluid. The nurse removed the IVs, along with the blood pressure cuff, and other items left over from surgery.
I felt like I was getting personalized care because she stayed at my side for quite a long time, talking to me, and trying to get me to sip water. I just wanted to sleep. After a while, they got Rich and asked him to get me dressed.
Rich, who tends to be very patient, did a great job of coaxing me into sitting up so I could put on my shirt, and then move my legs off the bed so he could pull on my coveralls. I have no idea how he got them past my butt and fastened the straps because I was too dopey to assist. He then managed to put socks on my feet and my Converses.
A short time later, the nurse returned to take me to the bathroom, and I heard her comment, “You’re just a big ragdoll.” Nevertheless, I woke up enough to use the bathroom then flop back into the wheelchair so I could be wheeled over to the sink. A short time later, someone pushed me to the car, and Rich followed. Once strapped in, it was time for a snooze.
I remember occasionally opening my eyes but didn’t fully wake up until we reach Taco Bell in Mukilteo, at which time, I ordered a shredded cheese quesadilla, and a bean burrito. Our plan was to eat the food while waiting for the ferry, but as Rich reach the tollbooth, the boat was being loaded, and he was directed to drive on.
I took out the quesadilla and chomped it down in ten minutes then continued my nap. We reached Coupeville around 2:30, which is astonishing since my surgery probably concluded around four hours earlier.
Rich left me in the car while he went into the house to get his wheelchair. I plopped onto it from the car seat, he wheeled me into the bedroom, pulled back the covers on the bed, I stood for a millisecond then flopped onto the bed. Somehow, he pulled off my coveralls, lifted my legs onto the bed, nuzzled a pillow under my left leg, and put the covers over me. I glanced at the clock. It was 2:45. That’s all I remember until Rich came in at 5:30 and aroused me in the hope of waking me up enough to get me to eat and drink something.
Feeling no pain, I complied, but refused to eat anything, but instant mashed potatoes. We then watched a little TV, and I plopped back into bed.
Surveying the damage
The next day, Friday, I was still feeling no pain, but was dopey. Nevertheless, using Rich’s wheelchair, I wheeled into the office, and worked most of the day, taking frequent breaks. By 3:00, however, I was too tired to work, and crawled into bed.
By Sunday, I could use a walker, and was thoroughly enjoying Tramadol, the painkiller they gave me when I said Oxycodone made me hallucinate and did nothing to stop the pain. Tramadol is a lighter weight narcotic-like pain reliever, which not only made me comfortable, but calm. It’s considered a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI) class of medications, which is used to relieve depression symptoms, such as irritability and sadness.
It’s the first time in a year that I’ve felt so mellow. I wouldn’t mind exploring the use of other SNRI drugs to take off the edge.
Saturday and Sunday, I took it easy, mostly zipping around in Rich’s wheelchair and taking frequent naps. By Sunday evening, I was anxious to unwrap my mummy leg to examine the damage. Instead of one 8-inch incision, I have a 6-inch incision where they must have put in a new plate, and a 3-inch incision on the other side, over my existing scar, where they adjusted another plate and/or removed or replaced screws.
While having two incisions is a surprise, I’m thrilled the surgery is behind me. Today, Memorial Day, is the one-year anniversary of our accident. It’s a day I’ve been dreading, but it’s toddled along with me tackling a challenging cooking project, making sticky rice in banana leaves, and Rich going to Home Depot, Safeway and Walgreens to get stuff. Yesterday, and the day before, we spent hours gardening, then celebrated by getting tasty frappuccinos at Starbucks.
Thorton Wilder’s play, “Our Town,” celebrates everyday activities and how we take them for granted. Rich and I will never again, overlook the joy of performing simply tasks, and the magic of life from watching baby bunnies bounce around our garden to settling down at night to see an engaging movie or enjoying dinner as the sun sets over the Puget Sound.
Since my surgery, Rich’s cognition has dramatically improved. I think he was stressed about the surgery and temporarily checked out!