No More Turning Away From The Weak And The Weary

(song: On The Turning Away/artist: Pink Floyd)

A couple of weeks ago I took my son to Whole Foods here in Brooklyn to get a cake for my husband's birthday. It was my first time in a public errand-running setting since the surgery. Naturally I chose one of the busiest times - the after school/pre-dinner rush - to go to the grocery store for the first time. What my son didn't (and shouldn't) know is that I had been feeling extremely anxious about public outings, so going in I was a silent mess. I'm feeling so vulnerable and exposed with this newfound handicap. 

Before we got out of the car we discussed our plan of attack: Go straight to the bakery, pick out a cake, get the hell out of there. My son got a small rolling cart, while his crippled mama hobbled behind him on her hospital-issued cane. We go straight to the bakery, pick out a cake, put it in the rolling cart and...oh yeah, we need milk too. We head over to dairy, get the milk. Oh yeah, we need eggs too. I grab those. Oh yeah, a few yogurts too. And this package of cheese. I instruct my son as I hand him the items one-by-one to add to the cart. Take out cake, put in eggs and milk and yogurt and cheese, put cake back. 

We head to the check-out line. As we pass the hot food bar, the cart topples over. Out comes the cake, eggs, yogurt, cheese and milk. My sweet little boy says, as he falls to his knees and scrambles to collect the runaway groceries, "I'm sorry, mommy, I'll pick it up. The eggs are broken, will we get in trouble?" I'm not mad at him, but I'm so anxious and visibly agitated and I can't bend down and help him. And no one, I mean NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON, stopped to help an almost-crying child and his cane-using mother. 

No eggs were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

Now that I'm a full-time cane user, I've noticed that people who walk past me don't make eye contact for very long, if at all. And I've come to realize that's exactly how I looked at the disabled before this happened to me. We are taught not to gawk: however inadvertent, we treat the disabled as invisible because it makes us uncomfortable to imagine ourselves in a similarly compromised position. 

Perhaps the assumption that handicapped people don't want special treatment is what drove every person that walked past my son and me not to stop and offer help. What I know is that I will no longer assume that help is not needed if I find myself in a similar situation. My awkwardness at coming face-to-face with someone that has a handicap is no match for what it feels like to need help and not be offered it. We as humans can do better. I'll go first.

Or at the very least, by lifting others' groceries. 

Condition: Grounded, But Determined To Try

(song: Learning to Fly/artist: Pink Floyd)

Jan. 5, 2016

Today was my 3-week follow-up with Dr. Rawlins, my surgeon from Hospital for Special Surgery.  You might recall that we didn't have a lot of time to get to know each other as I only met him 48 hours before he sliced into my back, so it was nice to see him under slightly better circumstances. We reminisced about the day we met. He said, "You were essentially paralyzed when you came in." And we laughed and laughed...

A hell of a lot happier and ready to make recovery my bitch.

I update him on my post-surgery progress. Three weeks after surgery:
  • I am now able to slide my feet into my shoes all by myself! (Seriously, I couldn't do that for the three weeks prior to surgery.) My toes have feeling and they can mostly grip again. I still can't use my toes to ease my shoes off the back of my foot, but I'll get there. 
  • The tops of my feet are no longer numb! Hopefully this is a positive sign that means I didn't sustain permanent nerve damage. Cautiously optimistic. 
  • My shins are still numb.
  • My lady business is still numb. (If you're a medical professional, this is called saddle paresthesia. If you've ever sat on a bike seat or had a Brazilian bikini wax, it's that whole area...)
  • I still have footdrop. Though it's not as pronounced as it was before surgery, it's still there, and that sucks big time. 
Now that I'm used to being asked about my bathroom functions, when that subject comes up, I tell him that while I get the sensation of needing to go to the bathroom, I am now able to sleep through the night without getting up to pee. If you've ever given birth vaginally and/or you're over 40-years-old, you know that's not normal. (In 2008, I was diagnosed with stress incontinence after I peed through my Spanx while dancing to Jump Around at a wedding, so yeah, my newfound ability to go for more than eight hours without peeing raises a flag.) For this and the other remaining numbness, he refers me to a neurologist for further testing of the nerve damage.

He was happy with my progress but warned that "some of the numbness may never go away". And while I do not find this remotely comforting, if it only means a lifetime of pain-free bikini waxes, that's pretty much like gaining a superpower so I can totally live with that outcome.

Then he cleared me for physical therapy! He says, "Getting the strength back in your legs is completely up to you now." No shit. It's going to be so fucking hard and tedious and frustrating and I just wish I could blink myself one year into the future a la "I Dream of Jeannie", but I can't, so I'm going to work my ass off because I hate being like this more than I hate hard work. I go!

Is it 2017 yet?!

I'm Only Sad In A Natural Way

(song: The Paris Match/artist: The Style Council)

I think the most difficult part of this  temporarily (hopefully) life-altering injury and surgery are the extreme emotional swings I'm experiencing.* I'm the first to admit that I skew more dramatic than others; I feel every emotion with my whole self. And man, was my whole self feeling super sad when this nightmare started in November. It was as if my flame had been snuffed out. The 17 days I was in-waiting before my first appointment at Hospital For Special Surgery, were dark days. I simply could not find any joy. I appeared emotionless. I was so scared. I didn't know what was happening to my body and I sunk to an emotional low I hadn't experienced since postpartum depression punched me in the gut after the birth of my son. After the surgery, that sadness persisted but it was different. Whereas the sadness prior to surgery was fear-based, after surgery, I felt like I was grieving a loss. And well, I was. I am. I lost the use of my legs. I lost my ability to run. Though it's better, I still have foot-drop so I walk like a duck. I can't play with my son. I can't walk him to school. I can't hold him on my lap. I couldn't take him to see Santa. I couldn't decorate my house for Christmas, or wrap my son's presents. I couldn't go to the bathroom on my own. I couldn't shower or dress myself without assistance. I am walking with a fucking cane! I'm angry and I'm sad. I'm scared I'll never be the same. 

Chair in the shower. Because I'm a fall risk now.

The first two weeks after surgery were by far the worst. The physical pain and the emotional pain were pretty much equal. I sobbed every day. Multiple times a day. (Never in front of my son.) When I woke up every morning and realized I still couldn't walk, I cried. When my husband had to help me onto the toilet - that feeling of utter helplessness and dependence was crushing to me - I cried. When my friends or family called or came to visit, I cried. I cried a lot.  

Here's the thing, y'all, I've only been fit for the last 5 of my 40 years on this earth. I just got into running in 2013. To go from running my best 5K race to needing a wheelchair in just 10 days, was devastating. And I was just coming out of the fog of my whole mid-life crisis thing. Good things were starting to happen; Work opportunities, exciting projects, and involvement at my son's school. I could see a path. It just felt like everything that makes me happy - outside of my family - was swiftly and violently, taken away. Then the path got foggy again.

November 15. My last race. (For awhile.)
 Listen, I haven't lost perspective. I know I'm not the only person in the world going through a shitty experience. Last year a good friend suffered an unimaginable loss when her husband died tragically, another lost her son,  a fellow neighborhood mom is fighting cancer like a champ (and she came over - with a homemade meal - to comfort me in my hour of need), two of my friends are in horrible custody battles, and my very own dad is battling COPD. So yeah, I get it, IT COULD BE WORSE. But just because I'm not dying doesn't devalue my feelings or my experience. And this is not the worst thing that's ever happened to me. It's the worst thing that's happening to me now and it just sucks. It sucks a lot. And even though this loss may be temporary, it needs to be grieved all-the-same. It doesn't mean I'm not going to work my ass off to get well, it just means I'm going to allow myself to feel what I feel when it comes up. 

My light will come back. I don't just believe that, I know that. Oh great, now I'm crying again.

Oh, sidewalks of Brooklyn, how I miss you.


 *For the record, I started writing this two weeks ago but sitting up too long is uncomfortable so my time at the computer is limited. I'm feeling MUCH better now, and I'm happy to report that I use the bathroom and shower all by myself now! And I only cry every other day...

I'm Much Obliged For Such a Pleasant Stay

(song: Ramble On/artist: Led Zeppelin)

If you're just joining us, my last post was all about the events that led to my emergency back surgery. Welcome.

My adventures at Hospital For Special Surgery: December 14 - 19

All smiles before surgery.
On oxy(gen) and Oxy(codone) after surgery.

Continuous leg massage. Heaven.


The Bad:
A not uncommon but potentially dangerous complication during surgery meant I was on strict bed rest for 4 days. The first two days, I was on a liquid diet. My husband put a napkin under my face and literally spoon-fed me. Often while singing the Yankee Bean song from that  episode of Seinfeld. He's good that way. 

There was a lot of spit-taking.
I also had to be sponge-bathed (Hey Lidia!), and I sported a catheter all week, so I was totally Porky Pigging it the whole dang time.  And I was hopped up on Oxycodone which made me sweat profusely which then left me freezing while trapped in my saturated linens. 

And, the pain. Good lord, the pain.  Turns out, getting your back muscles sliced open hurts like a bitch. When I was lying on my back it felt like there was a lacrosse ball embedded in my tailbone. Two people had to help turn me because it was excruciating to turn myself.

And then...Marlene moved in. Marlene Rabinowitz* sounded like Harvey Firestein and was practically deaf so her cell phone conversations were always at an 11 and she talked exclusively on speakerphone. The night they wheeled the old bag in, she proceeded to call her pal Tony... at 12:30 in the damn morning, y'all. That was the moment I knew I had died and gone to hell. She screamed at her daughter for not coming to visit her, but the conversation would later reveal that her daughter HAS CANCER and was wildly sick from her chemo treatment. Anyone, I mean any one - she told a flower delivery guy how miserable she was - that passed her bed, got an earful of Marlene. I asked to be moved and was immediately accommodated. On my way out of the room, I heard Marlene say, "Where is she going? She was such a good roommate. So quiet. I hope I don't get a crazy one." Oh, Marlene. Bless your heart.

Ear buds, white noise app and a sleep mask still could not drown Marlene.

My next room had a way better view but the roommate was only slightly better. Andrea Friedman* spoke at a softer volume but her whiny nasally voice made her equal to Marlene on the annoying scale. She sounded like Estelle Costanza  and endlessly complained of pain. From the constant rotation of people she summoned to her bedside, I was able to glean that Andrea was a seasoned pill-popper and not satisfied with the measly strength of the hospital-administered pain meds. Luckily she brought a Ziplock freezer bag full of narcotics from her private collection. "Methadone, Oxy, Xanax", were among some of the names being bandied about. Mercifully, Andrea was moved to another floor and my last night was spent enjoying the silence and soaking in this view.

If you gotta be in the hospital, this doesn't suck.

The good: 
It turns out what the radiologist and the surgeon thought was a cyst was in fact just a part of the ruptured disc. My surgeon said it was one of the worst herniations he had ever seen. But hey, no cyst.

Hospital For Special Surgery was incredible from check-in to discharge. And even though it sucked not being able to lift my head, or pee in a toilet, the staff was wonderful! I had the best nurses and care aids. At the end of every shift, I felt like I had a new friend -- Hey Janet! My girl, Amy! Helga and Carol, I see you. 'Sup, Kryshnann. Lidia gave the most gentle sponge baths and preserved the sliver of dignity I had left as she somehow simultaneously bathed me and changed my sweat-soaked linens. The care I got far outweighed two shitty roommates. If I had to do it again, I'd go right back to HSS.

And I got so much love from family and friends. My sister-in-law, who lives near the hospital, visited every day and she made me stand up for myself when Marlene was driving me to the brink. I had hospital visitors and got flowers and goodies and messages, and all of it made me feel so loved. 

Feeling the love.

Honestly, for a housewife, it was like an all-inclusive vacation. I had a room with river view in a facility where people catered to my needs 24-hours-a-day. And they gave me drugs every three hours. Why would I ever want to go home?

On day 4, I finally got to raise my head. First 30 degrees for a few hours, then 45 degrees! I didn't get a splitting headache so I was cleared to take my first post-surgery steps. 

45 degrees!
A physical therapist guided me on my first walk. With the aid of a walker, I took my first steps toward recovery. As I walked out of my door and towards the nurses station, I began to sob. I felt so small and vulnerable and fragile. Broken. A massive wave of grief struck me when I didn't jump right out of bed and sprint down the hallway. I just kept thinking, "This is going to be so hard."

Cleared for take-off.

And, she's up!

On my last day, I was an emotional wreck. I sobbed intermittently all day. At noon, my friend Marisa walked into my room and it was if an angel had appeared. Marisa is a dancer, fitness model (we met when we did QVC spots for Brazil Butt Lift) AND she's a nurse. If she weren't so nice I would hate her for being so accomplished and so hot. She is also a back surgery survivor and completely understood how devastated I felt. She listened and nodded while I wept, and assured me that what I was feeling was normal and that it would get better. She was exactly who I needed to see on my last day. After she left, I had my last sponge bath - This time sitting up in a chair in the bathroom! - got myself dressed and reentered the real world.

High as a kite, homeward bound and scared shitless.

*Names changed to protect the annoying.