How Long? Tell Me, How Long?

(song: Wait For Spring To Come/artist: John Butler Trio)

Jan 21, 2016

On the advice of my surgeon at my 3-week follow-up, today I saw neurologist Dr. Dora Leung at Hospital for Special Surgery. The purpose of the visit was to assess the extent of the nerve damage and (hopefully) get some idea of a time frame for my recovery. 

Ready to be (literally) poked and prodded.
After I got dressed in the all-too-familiar hospital gown, Dr. Leung performed a series of tests ranging from banging on my joints with a rubber mallet to test my reflexes, to poking me with a tiny pin EVERYWHERE. She started around my shoulders and gradually worked her way down. Once she got around the area affected by the saddle paresthesia, okay my butt, the pricking became less and less painful until I finally said, "I have no idea where you are."In addition to my numb lady parts, there's still some numbness in my shins. I'm not going to bleed out if I cut myself shaving so it's not all that worrisome.

She really lost me at S5...
And then we did a series of balance and strength tests in the hallway. My balance sucks, I can't lift my toes off the ground or walk on my heals. I can walk on my toes though, so that's a huge post-surgery victory. I'll take it where I can get it.

After I got dressed, she gave me the straight dope:
  • The saddle paresthesia is sensory nerve damage, most likely sustained during surgery since "hammers and chisels are involved in order to get the bone off the nerve". And while nerves have the ability to regenerate, apparently sensory nerves are not as "hearty" as motor nerves so this may never completely go away. She recommends I see a urologist since my new-found bladder control superpowers are of concern. On the plus side, painless bikini waxes for life. Cup's half full? 
  • The nerves that control my feet are (fortunately) the heartier motor nerves, which can better sustain surgery trauma and are more likely to recover completely. Hooray!
  • She recommends continued use of the cane as an indicator to others that, while I may look normal, speed and balance are not on my side so it will serve as a "FALL RISK" prop. And let me tell you something, when you're using a cane, people get the hell out of your way. I feel like Moses on the subway platform.
Cane coming through!
  • She tells me that PT (which I started the week before) is the way to go and advises lots of stretching so the Achilles doesn't get too tight and cause compromised walking. She tells me that tonic water, quinine specifically, is good for muscle cramps. She didn't say I shouldn't add gin, so I take this an open invitation to develop a raging drinking habit while I recover.
  • She recommends shoes with more ankle support for longer distance walking so I immediately buy these jazzy numbers.
Hip Cripple.
I ask her to ball-park a time-frame, while promising not to sue if she's wrong. She's reluctant to give me what I want so she says things like, "your legs are long and the nerves go all the way down" and "very slow process" and "like watching grass grow". And then she FINALLY says, "You're young and healthy. I think you have potential for a full recovery. Be patient. Give it 12-18 months."

All I heard was "12-18 months"...

This Is Your New Thing Now

(song: New Thing Now/artist: Shawn Colvin)

I had an epiphany of sorts during therapy (psycho, not physical) this week.

In 2011, I got an email from Beachbody®, telling me about an audition two days later for the Brazil Butt Lift® infomercial. Without hesitation, I went, got the job, and one week later I started a three-month intensive that would change my body - and my life - for the better. Had I been able to mull over the decision, knowing how hard it was going to be, I would have been way too scared to do it. Because of the time-sensitivity, I wasn't allowed to let my head talk me out of it.

It was so hard. It hurt a lot. I cried, I cursed, I wanted to quit sometimes. But I didn’t quit. I was focused and determined and disciplined, and I finished. I learned that I’m so much stronger - physically and mentally - than I had ever given myself credit. And I got an unimaginable new lease on life that led to great opportunities and experiences. Being fit became my thing. Five years later, it's still one of my things.

And I've got the Facebook (and Instagram!) page to prove it. 

So as I was chatting with my therapist, I thought out loud, "Perhaps this is a formula that works for someone that overthinks EVERYTHING". Because of the dangers associated with a crushed nerve, I didn’t get to mull over the decision to have back surgery. I just consented and was under the knife 48 hours later. And it sucked. And the work I have to do is so hard. It hurts a lot. I cry. I curse. I want to quit sometimes. But I won’t quit. I’ll stay focused, and determined and disciplined. And just maybe this is the catalyst to another new lease on life, that leads to even greater personal growth and experience. Unlike 2011 me, I already know I'm capable. 

Now recovery is my thing.

Light bulb!

I've Seen This Room And I've Walked This Floor

(song: Hallelujah/ artist: Leonard Cohen)

I started physical therapy on January 14th. Prior to being cleared for PT by my surgeon, my only sanctioned activity was walking for 10 minutes at a time. That usually occurred in and around my apartment while wearing pajamas.

My first photographed PT walk. I was so high on pain meds.

I can go anywhere for PT but because I loved my experience at HSS, I decided it's worth the twice-a-week schlep from Brooklyn to Manhattan's upper east side to stay at the facility "where the world comes to get back in the game". I've been to PT many times before, for back and ankle issues. I knew HSS would have everything and everyone I needed to ensure I come back stronger and better.

See! It's right there on the logo.

When I first started, I couldn't even do a bridge without severe cramping because my poor glutes and hamstrings had been dormant for 6 weeks.  My physical therapist had me do "mini squats" (because there was no way I could press myself up from a real squat) and, oh my god I could not believe how dead my leg muscles were! I was exhausted after one set of 10. (If the Butt Master saw me now, his heart would break. There's no way this ass could pass the pencil test.) I practiced the staircase, and then got sent home with some simple exercises to do between sessions.

Jan 14th, 2015: First day of the rest of  my life.
At home, being the best PT patient ever.
Graduated to Bird Dog by session 5. BOOM!

Because I'm determined to be the best PT patient ever, my 7 sessions of PT have seen me graduate to heavier resistance bands and more advanced leg work. I'm getting stronger. Balance is an issue but that's part of the nerve damage stuff as well as lack of strength. I have to be patient. Which is so damn hard for me.

Pretty much.

I Love The People Of My Village

(song: People of My Village/artist: Rusted Root)

New York City can be a hard place. It's expensive, it's fast, and everyone is busy. I have to schedule my son's play dates weeks in advance to work around the sports/Mandarin/chess lessons of his over scheduled 8-year-old city kid counterparts. When disaster struck without warning and rendered this staffless housewife unable to fulfill her daily duties, there was a slight panic. I don't often find myself wishing I still lived in my hometown, but this was the exception. I needed my pretend-mom, my cousin, my core girls, my people. I needed help.
Pretend-mom and cousin: my go-to girls.

Because I still struggle with the whole self-worth issue, I'm not the kind of person that expects help. In fact, I'm the kind of person that feels weirdly uncomfortable when people do nice things for me. (I know, totally fucked up. Just one of many things I'm working on in therapy.) But then, something incredible happened, people helped. My mother-in-law stayed with my son and husband during the week I spent in the hospital. One sister-in-law took over the pre-Christmas duties; chief among them, taking my son to see Santa. Another sister-in-law took time to come sit with me at the hospital every day, and she advocated for my room change when my first roommate proved to be an epic nightmare. When I came home, friends delivered homemade meals and groceries, parents from my son's school pitched in with pick-up and drop-off, and invited my son for play dates so that the disruption to his life was minimal. Friends and family near and far sent goodies, flowers, books, magazines, DVDs, and loads of supportive and kind messages. I was overwhelmed by the kindness and support.

My Georgia girls know that chocolate covered Oreos advance the healing process.

During my first post-hospital week, my husband worked from home. He was incredible; juggling his busy work schedule while caring for our son and helping me do EVERYTHING - dressing me, helping me use the bathroom, standing guard while I showered so I didn't fall, walking me around the block for my doctor-ordered daily movement, and doing the household chores. (I had to teach a 44-year-old man how to use a washing machine, but I'm willing to overlook that given he listened to me weep endlessly. But honey, feel free to run a load or two anytime the mood strikes you.) 

I didn't ask, people just did. And it means the world to me to know that kindness  and selflessness still exist in our increasingly busy and self-entitled world. It inspired me to reevaluate my own behavior and make more time for friends and family whose presence in my life I often take for granted.
If these are the values Ted Cruz was talking about, then I am proud to call myself a New Yorker.

Thank you to everyone that called, messaged, visited, sent provisions and gifts, helped my family, helped me.  

Food, flowers and laughs. The perfect recovery trifecta.