Saturday, August 27, 2011

Talking about it

A little over  a week ago I went to the local hospital for a simple surgery. The surgeon was going to adjust the position of the ‘paddle lead’ in my back so that I could use the Spinal Cord Stimulator Implant. The following is how I remember it… Can you believe it? A week has gone by and five of those days were spent in the hospital. I went in for the simple one hour ‘day’ surgery and after four hours of this surgery it was decided that I should spend the night in the hospital. No problem. Until that evening. I was up and walking around without a problem. I spent some time talking to my daughter, Alicia, just before I went to bed. And it was about half an hour later that the pain began. Real pain. Off the charts pain. The pain was around my hips and I was unable to lie down with my legs straightened out. I had to sleep in a fetal position. I was asking for and receiving pain meds constantly. Finally, they gave me a morphine pump and I could then give the meds to myself as I needed them. And I needed them almost constantly. With every push of the button I got .2 mg of morphine every ten minutes if I wanted it, (and I did) and that was on top of the Percocet I was being given every four hours. Plus Valium every four hours. Guess what? I was not drugged in the least. The pain was still there. All I had to do was to move as if I were going to straighten out and I would scream. Okay, my screaming wasn’t very loud. After all, I’m a guy and we’re not supposed to scream. The next day, the doctors wanted to take a CT scan of my back and hips and I was unable to lie down on the gurney they had sent for me. I tried getting on the gurney twice but ended up taking a wheel chair down to the radiology department, but only after the nurse gave me an injection of morphine, a full 2 mg in the hope that this would be enough to enable me to lay flat for the three minutes required for a scan. It wasn’t. As soon as I tried to lay down on the sliding table for the scan, the pain had me scrambling to get off of that flat surface. Finally, the two tech’s were able to hold up both sides of the sheet I had below me and slid me carefully into position. I lowered my legs slowly while wrapping my arms tightly about my chest to hold back the pain. They slid me in to the machine and the process started. I was in pure agony for the next three minutes and I was shaking after it was over. Naturally, the scan revealed nothing amiss and that left the doctors scratching their heads. Finally, it was decided to do nothing and just let it run its course…if there were a ‘course’ and to give me all the meds I needed for pain. Four days later, I had given up the pump and about half of the other pain meds. It was time to go home. What caused the pain? No one knows for certain but it had to be a result of an insult to some? nerve during the spinal surgery.
Ah, yes! The spinal surgery. The plan was to open my back and then wake me up. While questioning me, the surgical site held open with all sorts of retractors and clamps, they would move the ‘paddle’ lead in the hope of finding a position that would enable a signal to reach my right hip. They did just that and I was soon awake and talking to the surgeon, who I could not see. My vision was limited to the floor directly below me and the feet and knees of the anesthesiologist. The surgeon asked questions and I answered. But all to no avail as I felt nothing happening to my right hip. Finally the surgeon said it was time for me to go back to sleep again as he was sure I didn’t want to be awake while he did the next thing in his ‘bag of tricks’. That ‘trick’ was to remove the paddle lead and place it behind the vertebrae directly below. Unfortunately, for both of us, my body had developed scar tissue of ‘biblical proportions’ all around the paddle and he had to chisel it out. Then he had to chisel out a space for a new paddle in the space below. And since it was a new paddle, he had to make another incision at the site of the transmitter so that he could remove the old lead and connect the new one. (My back has to look simply amazing, with scars everywhere!) Then it was time to wake me up again and ask all of the same questions. All very boring and I answered them all to the best of my ability though I really wanted to go back to sleep. I should mention that I had no pain at all during these times when I was awake. Finally, it was decided that I had done my best and once more I was told ‘Good night!’ by the anesthesiologist and I was out, like a light. When I woke up in the recovery room, I was given all sorts of ‘attaboys’ by the surgeon and nurses for my lucid answers during the surgery. And all were amazed that I remembered it at all. Apparently, most patients don’t remember any part of this procedure. I suppose I did because I was very curious about it. I remember asking the anesthesiologist (jokingly) if it were possible for her to give me something that would allow for an out of body experience so that I might stand behind the surgeon and watch. Unfortunately, even the most advanced of anesthetics don’t allow for such a thing. A shame.
My mind is still not drug free and I don’t know when it will be. I can only hope it will be soon. In the meantime, I continue to take my Percocet, Norco, Dilaudid and Valium as needed but in smaller amounts. A good pill cutter was a small expense and well worth it.
Now I wait for Monday morning when I will meet with the St Jude rep who will turn on the Spinal Cord Stimulator (Again!) and try to program it to hit all the pain spots. I wish I were as optimistic about it as I was a few months ago; before the failure. Now, cynic that I am, I am well prepared for it to fail. And if it does, I’m leaving the hardware in place and will not go through another surgery in one more attempt to make it work. I can and will adjust my life plans to include the pain and the narcotics to ease the pain. Maybe I can find a good recipe for marijuana brownies…

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