Tag Archives: surgery

What I’ve Learned in the Past Five Months

It’s five months today since I went in for surgery. I was so happy to go, so happy to finally have a chance for relief from the constant pain of the past two years, that I was practically giddy going into the OR. I had important postop contact numbers programmed into my husband’s cell phone, my bag was carefully packed for my overnight hospital stay, my freezer was stocked with meals for the eight weeks I would be off work, and I had left myself a dated to-do list on my desk at work: “June first” with a half-dozen important things I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget on my first day back at work. Ninety minutes later everything changed.

My surgeon, whom my family hadn’t expected to see for at least three hours, walked back into the waiting room with a furrowed brow. There were unexpected complications. “Unexpected” has pretty much been my theme ever since, from that interrupted surgery to a month of IV antibiotics, a completely incompetent home health care nurse, another surgery a month later with – you guessed it – unexpected complications, a very difficult recovery, no relief from the pain whatsoever, and losing my job of nineteen years once my FMLA leave ran out. But I’ve learned a lot.

1.) Buy the best disability insurance you can. If doesn’t cost that much, and it might make the difference between an immediate financial crisis and one just looming on the horizon.

2.) Your family and friends are more important than your employers – treat them that way. If everything falls apart it’s your family and friends who will be there for you, no matter how dedicated and hard-working an employee you may have been.

3.) Have a financial cushion. We had the Dave Ramsey recommended thousand dollar cushion in our checking account, and if we hadn’t we’d have been in big trouble very quickly.

4.) Don’t judge people just because you can’t see their disability at first glance. As a nurse, I admit I did my share of eye-rolling when a young, healthy-looking patient would tell me they were disabled (especially if I was seeing them because they’d had chest pain after hauling a ten-point buck three miles out of the woods) but only those who know me well can tell when my pain is at its worst. Most people assume I am just distracted, tired, or grumpy.

5.) Therapy is of nearly immeasurable value. There’s not a person out there who couldn’t benefit from a few sessions with a good therapist. I was lucky enough to see someone who really understood me and my situation a handful of times, and I’ll be high-tailing it back just as soon as I can afford it.

6.) Not working is hard. I always thought I’d love the opportunity to be off work for a while, at least for longer than the six weeks maternity leave I took with each of my children. But it’s hard. I was surprised to find out how much my self-esteem was tied into my career.

7.) Your spouse and your kids are probably stronger and more resourceful then you give them credit for.  Mine have taken over a majority of the household duties, cheerfully embraced a more frugal lifestyle, and been supportive of me 24/7 – even at my grumpiest.

8.) The world doesn’t end when you say, “No”. I’ve said “No” to people asking for donations, to people asking for volunteers, to events I knew I couldn’t physically tolerate. Most of these I really wanted to say “Yes” to, but in the grand scheme of things saying “No” right now doesn’t make me a bad person.

9.) No one is irreplaceable in today’s marketplace. Be proud of the work you do out in the world, but don’t be so prideful as to think that more than a handful of people will miss you if you leave . . . or even notice that you’re gone.

10.) Living through difficult times makes the good times so much sweeter.  Eating breakfast together Saturday morning, watching a movie curled up on the sofa with the dogs, even running errands together is something fun to share.  Unless, of course, it’s that stupid Inception movie that the kids keep trying to explain to me and I just can’t grasp, or if it’s senior citizen discount day at Kroger. Then all bets are off.


I’m linking this up to Top Ten Tuesdays and to Wordful Wednesday at Parenting by Dummies and Seven Clown Circus.

The Truth About the Pain

“Maura woke to a huge claw squeezing the back of her neck and a knife buried between her shoulder blades.  Unfortunately, that was how she awoke every morning, and multiple times throughout the night.”

These are the first lines of my current work in progress, Out of the Depths.  It’s also an accurate description of the constant pain I’ve been experiencing for the past two-and-a-half years.  A few days ago I had an appointment with my neurosurgeon.  I had myself so worked up over it that when he walked into the exam room and said, “How are you doing?” (or something equally non-threatening) I burst into tears.  I don’t mean I teared up, or sniffled a little.  I’m talking gasping, heaving sobs.  You’d have thought they had the graveside scene from Steel Magnolias playing on a continuous loop in the waiting room.  It took my kind and compassionate doctor only a couple of sentences to ease my fears (Yes, the pain will get better, he just doesn’t know how long it will take) but I’m not one of those people who can just turn off the tears.  Once I get started my eyes stay red, my chin quivers, and my nose runs for at least an hour.  And if anyone talks to me, looks at me, or, God forbid, asks, “Are you OK?” . . . well, the heaving, gasping sobs start right back up.  I managed to calm down enough to call my husband, my mom, and my boss to tell them the good news: There is still reason to believe the pain will decrease; and the bad news: I won’t be returning to work next week as planned.

Since I first herniated a disc in my neck in January 2009 (no car wreck or skydiving accident involved – I just woke up one morning in pain) I have had four neurosurgeries.  I’ve done physical therapy, aquatherapy, special spine-only physical therapy, and massage therapy.  I’ve had cervical traction, two epidural injections, and a half-dozen trigger point injections.  I wore a TENS unit and pain relief patches all day every day for over a year.  I took muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatories, steroids, various neurologic meds, and weird custom-blended medications I had to buy at a pet pharmacy.  In my search for answers I had five or six MRIs, two cervical myelograms (more painful than the surgeries), and Xrays without end.  I saw two neurosurgeons, two pain management doctors, and various therapists in addition to my regular primary care doctor.

I was back at work full-time three weeks after my first surgery, and four weeks after my second.  I showed up on time for work every day, and gave it my all.  Some days I had to excuse myself from patient-related conversations and dash to the nearest restroom to throw up because the pain was so bad.  Some afternoons I closed my office door and lay down on the floor in order to avoid passing out from the pain.  I carried heat packs and cold packs to work and placed them on my neck and back between supervising stress tests.  I hauled a cervical traction setup to the office and lay in it on the floor while I returned pages.  The pain was often so bad I couldn’t think clearly and when co-workers would ask me questions about a patient I couldn’t understand the question, let alone formulate an answer.  I forgot things.  Lots of things.  All the time.  I made mistakes that could have caused patients irreparable harm, but, thankfully, they were all caught and corrected.

I don’t talk much about my pain issues on the blog, because it’s boring as hell.  Yes, it has been the focus of my entire life for over two years, but it even bores me.  However, I felt a need to share the story today, because last Thursday’s doctor’s visit changed my life.  My FMLA is exhausted, you see, and my boss has to post my position – the position I’ve held for nineteen years.  Thankfully, I have good short-term disability insurance, and long-term if it comes to that.   I’m on strong narcotics and muscle relaxers around the clock, and I can’t function at all without them.    But I’ve lain awake night after night, thinking, “I have to go back to work.  I have a family to support, and we can’t go without insurance.  I have two children to put through college!”  And then I’ll think, ” It would be so easy to make a mistake that could get someone killed.  Or even if the worst didn’t happen, I still wouldn’t be doing my job properly.  Sooner or later that would catch up with me, I’d get fired . . . and I’d deserve it.”

Don’t worry, I’m not planning on posting regularly about my neck pain (although I do plan to write a celebratory post when and if it gets better).  I just wanted to share what’s been going on for those friends, family, and co-workers who might be wondering, “Why the hell isn’t Angie back at work yet?  What is she, some kind of slacker?!”  No, I’m not a slacker, I’m not a wimp, and I’m not milking the system.  I’m just trying to get through a pretty horrific situation the best way I know how.

I’m linking this post up to Wordful Wednesday (God knows it’s wordful!) on Parenting by Dummies and Seven Clown Circus  and to Mama Kat’s Writers’ Workshop for the “bad day” prompt (only because there wasn’t a “bad two years” prompt) and Pour Your Heart Out (for obvious reasons).

Mama’s Losin’ It

Fear ~ Saints and Scripture Sunday

The Lord is my light and my salvation – of whom shall I be afraid?  ~Psalm 27:1

Saints and Scripture SundayI hadn’t realized how afraid I had been until the relief washed over me.  I went to my first postop visit with my neurosurgeon this week.  My activity tolerance has been slowly increasing, but I still tire very easily.  My incision is healing beautifully.  But the pain hasn’t changed.  If anything, the pain in my neck and back is slightly worse than before surgery.  I was afraid.  I was afraid that when I told my surgeon this he would be surprised.  Concerned.  Perhaps even frustrated.  But he wasn’t.  He said that he didn’t expect me to have any relief from the pain in just three weeks, but that I should have a significant improvement during the next month.  So here’s to the next month – the next big step in my recovery!

Join Dianna every week for Saints and Scripture Sunday at The Kennedy Adventures.


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