2013 November 13
What's Been Happening, Part 3
As stated at the end of the previous post, when the oral pain meds were given to me, all hell broke loose. I was given oxycodone, which I had never had before. As the dilaudid, from my now removed, personal pain device, wore off, I began to feel intense pain in my neck and shoulders. The oxycodone should have begun to take effect at that point. And in some respects, I guess it did, just not in the way anticipated. I began having visual hallucinations that included seeing vanishing handwriting on the ceiling and circular movement of stationary lights. My pain levels were increasing, but the medication had no analgesic effect. One of the nurses took my pulse and blood pressure. The only thing I remember was that my heart rate was 130. When asked to give my pain a number from one to ten, I choose eleven. And I began to have severe muscle spasms in my shoulders, neck, and up the back of my head.
During all this, Raymond was present, as he had come to visit, expecting my release. I could see how distressed he was by my pain, and that was adding to my own stress. Eventually I asked him if he would leave because I hated for him to be in that position. It is very difficult to be present, watching someone you love have intense pain and know that there is nothing you can do to alleviate it. And, because of the pain, I was going to be staying another day in the hospital.
One of my PCP's associates came to see me and I asked if they couldn't just give me some ibuprofen? He said it was contraindicated because of the risk of bleeding in post op patients.
Eventually, my pain med was changed and a muscle relaxer added, but the better part of Friday morning and afternoon were spent trying to get ahead of pain which was, at that point, winning.
By the time Annelise returned at 7pm for her 12 hour shift, the worst was over. I felt comforted by her presence, and by her refusal to accept my pain levels. She placed a call to my doc to ask about changing dosage. I felt safe and cared for by her. I wish I had thought to ask her about the hard collar which I hadn't yet received.
By Saturday morning, my pain levels had dropped to about a 4 or 5, and I was waiting to be discharged. Truthfully, I wasn't sure I wanted to leave the hospital, but the doc seemed to think that I would relax more in my own environment, which would help with pain relief.
Everything was set, except that I still didn't have the hard cervical collar, which I was supposed to wear at all times, except when sleeping or eating. So, I hung out, waiting. Eventually the tech arrived with the collar and explained to me how to place it and adjust it. Perhaps I am the odd duck, but I loved that collar! The minute the tech placed it on me, I felt an easing of tension in my neck.
My discharge instructions included prescriptions for pain pills and muscle relaxers, my hard and soft collars, and an appointment with my surgeon 17 days away. I was allowed to shower when I got home, but had to maintain a neutral position for my neck, which made washing my hair a challenge.
There were other challenges. Swallowing some things was difficult. When this type of surgery is done, it is necessary to move structures like the esophagus and trachea off to the side, which stretches them. It takes time for them to readjust. Finding a comfortable position for sleep was another challenge. Thanks to Barb's suggestion, I spent several nights sleeping in a recliner in her living room that used to belong to her Mom. It was electric and all I had to do was press a button and I was reclined with my legs elevated. It was some of the best sleep I got immediately post op at home. And I sometimes wore my hard collar to sleep in the recliner because it supported me so well.
I am so blessed to have family and friends who cared for me. I was especially grateful for Barb, who is technically my husband's sister in law, but often feels like an angel to me. The fact that I wasn't permitted to drive was looming large. Our friend Laura once again came to our rescue, as did my brother Vinny. Dear Grace, for whom I used to babysit called and was coming to visit with Nicholas the first Friday that I was at home, but I had to cancel their visit because I was painful and cranky.
The first time I went out for a ride with Laura, she took me to see my Dad. All I did was ride as a passenger for the 25 mile trip there. I visited a very short time, and by the time we drove the 25 miles back, I was wiped out. It continually amazed me that the smallest expenditure of energy caused me to experience extreme exhaustion.
Finally, the day of my appointment with Dr Patrick Smith arrived. An X-ray was taken of my neck, and I got to see my pre op and post op x-rays side by side. The difference was amazing! Dr Smith said that my cervical spine was now anatomically correct. And, that half inch I'd lost in height over the last few years, had been regained! He asked about pain and I told him I had stopped taking pain pills and muscle relaxers six days earlier. I didn't have any pain, but rather an achey feeling across my shoulders at the base of my neck. He assured me this would dissipate, and was caused by holding my head in one position for so long. He said I could use the soft collar, but if I felt the need I could use the hard collar, at my discretion, or no collar at all. He also said that I could start to drive short distances. He thought that eventually, I would find it easier to drive the RV than the car, since the car requires more head turning than driving using the mirrors in the RV. He wanted to see me again in 3 weeks, and said that barring anything unexpected, we could plan on leaving for Florida after that. He would also like to see me in three months for another x-ray, but he is flexible about that. He said whenever I come back to visit my Dad, call and they'll get me in. It was all good! I was so happy to have such good news and great results!
Laura picked me up from the doc and took me to my Dad's. I think I was on an adrenaline high, because by the time I got back to Cranberry, I was crashing! And, once again, exhausted!
I had called Raymond immediately after I left the doc's to share the good news. His reaction was that we should leave for Florida the day after my next appointment, which would put us on the road on the day before Thanksgiving. Poor guy! He's chomping at the bit to get out of Cranberry Township! He really dislikes the suburbs. And the cold. And living in someone else's space.
Now, it is just short of two weeks before I see Dr Smith again, and the plan is as Raymond had hoped. We have added to the plan, that once we are settled in Florida, I will fly back as I feel necessary, to be with my Dad, and to help Vinny who sometimes feels overwhelmed by Daddy's disease and the burden of being the primary care giver.
Next time I'll share more about Daddy and his progressing decline.