Following 48 hours in the Intensive Care Unit, I was moved to a semi-private hospital room. Still reeling from the pain in my arm and hand, extreme lack of sleep, as well as the lack of care, I was hoping that being on the surgical floor of the hospital would be a better experience and that I would learn more about what happened during surgery.
The room where I was assigned already had another patient. Sadly, she was in the hospital due to an obstruction in her intestines. I felt badly for her since she threw up the entire night, which made it difficult for both of us to sleep. The next day they placed a tube into her stomach and hooked her up to a machine to help clear the obstruction. I knew she was relieved; however, the machine was so loud you could hear it down the hall. In the hospital room it sounded as if we were on the tarmac of an airport.
Later that day, a hospital physical therapist stopped by. Holding the IV pole, we both walked slowly to a mini gym where I had to continue walking, climb two stairs and spent about a minute discussing the lack of use in my arm and hand. I was given a stress ball to ‘try and squeeze.’ No matter what questions I asked about my arm — no one would give me a straight answer.
A nurse on the surgical floor told me that ambulating was a priority and was ‘my ticket out of the hospital.’ I had to walk the hospital hallway holding the IV pole if I wanted to be released. I walked with my husband’s assistance while he was there visiting, and, needless to say, I spent the entire night walking the halls holding the IV pole making sure all the nurses saw me each time I passed.
The next day, the neurosurgeon’s assistant came by. I continued to complain about the pain in my arm and hand, but was told that it was only temporary. I asked what it was, why it happened, how long it would last, etc.? Again, my questions were avoided. I was told I would be able to go home that day since it was what I wanted. Those were words I had been waiting to hear for five days. With prescriptions in my left hand and an appointment scheduled in a few days with the neurosurgeon, I left the hospital. Deprived of sleep and in tremendous pain, my husband helped me into the car and drove me home.
Once home, I began taking high doses of Valium (a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety, nervousness, to relax muscles and for the treatment of certain types of seizures) and Neurontin, (an anticonvulsant used to control seizures) and remember not being able to go anywhere alone. Even going to the restroom was a chore since I needed to be escorted. I knew it was difficult for my family since I needed constant help. I felt as if someone had tied my arm down. I couldn’t write, use the telephone, cut up my own food, wash my hair, etc. I also was only able to sleep for 30 minutes at a time and then would wake up from the pain.
On the way to the first appointment with the neurosurgeon following surgery, my husband and I stopped by the hospital for an x-ray that was ordered by the doctor. It was that first (of what would be many) x-ray where the technician showed me the plate and two screws in my neck (it resembled a figure eight with the screws in the open areas). I was taken back a bit since I wasn’t expecting to see something so unusual in my neck.
During the appointment with the doctor, he removed the bandage and checked the incision. I, of course, complained about my ongoing pain — it was all I could focus on. The doctor told me to begin physical therapy and gave me a prescription with the diagnosis listed as ‘cervical discectomy and fusion.’ My husband, who took me to the appointment, asked the doctor about the problem with the nerve monitor during surgery and what exactly it did to my arm. We were told, again, the pain was only temporary. The doctor hugged me as we were leaving. I should have known something was wrong. The hug he gave me wasn’t a get well hug — it was a pity hug.
Two days later I went to physical therapy and learned I had to re-train my arm and hand. Following evaluation and measurements, I began working on a hand ladder (an exercise where you walk your fingers up and down a ladder that is mounted to the wall). It was impossible. My arm didn’t want to lift unless I forced it with my other hand and my fingers would not go up or down. It was at that point the therapist told me my brain wasn’t relaying messages to my arm or hand, or in other words, my spinal cord wasn’t communicating with my brain. I remember having trouble comprehending what that meant — I was so fixated in why I couldn’t do such a simple task like move my fingers? However, I kept focusing and trying, but my arm and hand wouldn’t move. It took all my willpower not to show my frustration and how upset I was. My husband, who had driven me to my appointment, was standing behind me. I heard him walk away and I knew why.
©My Unplanned Life and http://www.shakinguplife.wordpress.com, 2011.