Tag Archives: surgery

an end to my enslavement with a bird on top

We received a letter and packing slip in the mail, informing us that I have won my freedom from the Iceman. The cords will be forever cut and the demanding cooler will be shipped back to it’s place of origin on Monday. From that day forward, Brni’s shoulder will wear bags of frozen peas and I will allow whatever ice is left to melt in the sun. An offering tinged with a smirk and a freeing shrug.

So, it’s been ten days since Brni’s shoulder surgery and he’s doing phenomenally well. He had his second PT session yesterday and his therapist was practically giddy with his progress. At the same time, Brni’s mood has lifted a great deal, almost as if a switch has been flipped. He’s looking and acting more like himself. Definitely coming out of the anesthesia/drug induced doldrums. I find it almost magical how a body can go through so much and heal so quickly.

It’s an amazing process, but one I hope very few of us need go through. But, if you do, I hope you are surrounded by love and kindness, for that is the true healing salve.

And, as Brni heals, my head turns to look at the lump of clay waiting for me on my work table. This one might be a bird, maybe a heron stretching her neck to the heavens.

busy and crazy and hopeful

I’m so tired. It’s surprising what a toll it takes on a person to care for another who is infirm or disabled or just indisposed. What is strange is that everything I’m doing, I do normally throughout the course of the day. I make coffee, get breakfast, lunch, dinner. I straighten, clean, make the bed, feed the animals, etc. The only additional tasks are emptying and filling the “iceman,” hooking Brni up to the machine, extra errands for things like bandages, thermometers, ice, ginger ale, etc. And watching over (hovering?) Brni to make sure he’s O-K-A-Y.

[That’s the real thing of it. The making sure he’s okay. Making sure he’s taking his meds, comfortable, clean, fed and watered. To all my nurse-friends out there, I bow my head to you.]

In the everyday, no-surgery world, Brni does an amazing amount of work around here. I honestly had not realized how much until the past few days doing both my stuff as well as his stuff. And I’ve begun to realize that his stuff is way more than I thought. I’m coming away from this with a new respect for the usual, every day chores that Brni does just as a matter of course. I guess it takes something like this to open our eyes to the little things that take up time and really do matter.

So, yeah, I’m tired and stressed with the added responsibility, but I’m also happy to do it. It’s a good kind of tired and the stress is worth it if it means Brni can get through his day without constant pain. Tomorrow is his first physical therapy session–the next step on the path of healing.

Wish us luck.

the iceman cometh

pictures of life post brni’s shoulder surgery. here’s the “iceman” which is essentially a small beer cooler with a fish tank pump in it. this is the thing that has enslaved me. i fill it to the brim with ice, fill again with water enough to cover the bottom of the pump, hook up the massive blue hoses to brni’s shoulder pad and then plug it in. it whines frigid water up into the shoulder pad, keeping brni’s shoulder from swelling and reeking havoc. he needs to be hooked up to this 24/7 for 2 weeks. i love fishing ice out of the cooler out on the deck at 4:30 in the morning. it’s what i live for.


this is what happens to a brni when linked to the iceman.


today we removed the dressing for the first time. it looks like the surgeon was unable to save the top of brni’s sun tattoo, but to compensate, added some lovely purple marks of his own.


wow. this is a tiny tiny incision! amazing what they can do laproscopically, isn’t it?


but, no matter how bad things get, you can’t keep a good brni down…well, maybe down, but never offline.


my surgery — unbound

so, the follow up with the surgeon was better than expected.

Actually, I’d expected the x-ray would show that the graft didn’t take and the screws and rods had all broken. Instead, despite my usual worst-luck-this-side-of-the-Mississippi, everything is good. The bone graft is grafting, the screws are screwed in and holding and I’m allowed out of the brace. I can walk as far as I want and I can do hills, so no more pacing the 200 feet of flat walk on our hilly street–it’s around the block from now on. I can even drive (only for short jaunts, but after 6 weeks of confinement, I’ll take it and be happy about it too).

Starting Monday, it’s off to physical therapy 3x a week for the next 7 weeks. I can’t wait to get my muscles back. It’s amazing what slashing the back muscles does to your hamstrings and abdominals. Don’t ask me how, but the hams are tight and the abs are, shall we say, not so tight.


I don’t care. I’m fine. The bones and hardware are fine and the brace is off.

It’s good. It’s all good.

something to look forward to: I’ve ordered copies of the x-rays with the screws and rods…I will be scanning and posting them, and then making art out of them.

no more surgery

so, i’ve decided that i’ve typed enough about my surgery. everything else that happened was covered more than adequately by brni.

a few words about recovery might be forthcoming, but hopefully, as my world gets a bit larger, it’ll get more interesting. right now i’m so limited and essentially confined to pacing the downstairs, reclining in my chair or lying in my bed. heh–not a whole lot of fodder there. plus, my energy levels are at an all time low.

i tried to catch up on all things bloggish, but wow….you all let life go on as usual and i haven’t had the energy to go back in time as far as march 5.

well, thanks to all for caring. this has been a painful but amazing journey so far, and i’ve gained a new level of appreciation for my friends and family.

well, it’s time to get up and pace the floor.

my surgery – a world of pain

“You are about to enter a world of pain.” Walter from The Big Lebowski.

A slow rumble of pain brings me up from nowhere. From nowhere to a world of pain. Only pain. My back (I have a back?) is held in a vice. It is a dark, oily metal thing. Not the beautiful vice I used to play with in my grandfather’s garage. A beautiful curved thing with a rich patina attached to a desk. The crank was a metal cylindrical rod with two large round balls on each end. The balls kept the crank from from sliding all the way through the hole. Despite my grandfather’s warnings, I used to place the index finger of my left hand in the vice and slowly tighten it just until I couldn’t take my finger out but before I crushed it. The vice that held my back has been cranked beyond the crushing point.

My eyes open to a harsh, mustard white glare and deafening noise fills my head. I recognize nothing in this place.

“What happened, what happened?”
“You had surgery.”
“No no.”


There are curved planes thrusting up out of the glare. The planes originate behind me, wrapping around and above, moving in and out of the glare on metal gears. Black noise slashes zaggedly from the right and something brown and square presses in from the left. Above me, my memory is spread out like cards from a rolodex between a magicians hands. One finger flips them in a blur in one direction, the other finger flips them back. Back and forth, hunting for the memory “surgery” but not finding it. Flip flip flip flip flip no surgery flip flip no memory flip flip who am i? flip flip flip is this hell?

Eyes above a mask drift up from behind the brown square on my left.

“Do you need some pain medication?”
yes pain
“This is your button.”
“Press the button for the pain medication.”
“Do you need more pain medicine?”
“You have to tell me now if you need more because I won’t be able to give you more after we leave this room.”
“Yes, more.” I have a voice.


The planes are moving, resolving and softening into what looks like walls and doors and a ceiling. The noise is still cutting through in jagged black streaks. I see eyes coming closer, looking at me. I recognize these eyes and the hair. I see Krys and her eyes see me and they blink wide open with love and worry.

Oh god, I know who I am.

Brni behind and to the left of Krys. I can’t reach him. He’s moving behind me. I can’t see him. They are gone. I am gone.


A woman in a mask is telling me I have a red button for help and blue ones for lights and TV.

i don’t understand what you are saying. i can’t see what you are showing me. i won’t remember. please stop and go away

Krys is standing over me. Brni is here.

I made it back.

my surgery – alien world

They took Brni and I back in a matter of minutes after we checked in with the registration desk. The room was crowded to bursting at 5:30 am, so I thought we’d have a long wait. No such luck. I don’t remember what happened next, except that at some point in time I found myself on a gurney being wheeled away from Brni as my eyes filled with tears. How do you describe the feelings of utter helplessness and impending doom (which you agreed to when you signed all those consent forms)? You don’t. You just sit quietly with big eyes and hope that all the worst things don’t happen.

I don’t know if all hospitals are like this, but orthopeadic surgery occurs in an off-white alien world. They wheeled me into a very large round room, reminiscent of an arena. The overriding feel of the room was one of muted chrome in a filmy white space. Every color was washed out. Even the people seemed desaturated. Patients were inserted into slots that ringed the edges of the room. Our feet all pointed to the place in the circle where teams of doctors, nurses and techs would group and disperse. Teams gathered their equipment at this place and then went to their assigned slots to prep their assigned patients.

“I can’t believe we got you! When we came in to look for our patient and saw you, we were so excited. We’ve got the healthy one! Can you tell me your name and birthdate?” This was the leader of the “nerve team” responsible for monitoring my nervous system throughout the lumbar fusion, lamanectomy and decompression. She began by gathering my hair in her hands and placing it out of the way. “You have beautiful hair.” What a nice thing to say to someone literally scared to death. I could almost pretend I was going to have my hair washed. Then she started sanding down a spot at the top of my hairline. “This is to reduce resistance,” is what I think she said. She sanded just to the point of pain and then applied what felt like a round, gold disk. I don’t know if it was gold or round, but it felt like it was. She then placed more at the base of my skull and other points on my head.

Meanwhile other people started showing up and asking me who I was and what my birthdate was. Then they all told me what they were about to do. The IV guy’s day started out bad. He missed one, got one, then looked at my other arm and ran off. An Asian woman took his place. I had the feeling they were not friends. She missed one and got one. The rest of the nerve team appeared out of nowhere and they began discussing the placement of the needles that would go into my legs and arms to monitor the nerve impulses, talking back and forth about the fusion at L3-4. I finally interrupted and said, “I think it’s L4-5.” They looked at me. They looked at each other over their face masks, then back at me. The head of the team said, “Oh well, it doesn’t matter,” whereupon they proceeded to stick needles into my legs. One of them said, “We usually wait until patients are sedated, but you’re so healthy, we’re going to do it now.”


At some point the surgeon showed up and everyone backed away from me in deference to him. He was smiling, genuinely happy and very very awake. He had me sit up while he wrote stuff on my lower back with a sharp pen. I tried to tell him there’s some confusion with what is being fused, but he said not to worry, I’ll do just fine.


He disappeared as fast as he’d appeared and the others closed in with renewed fervor. By the time they wheeled me into the operating room, I was woozy with the beginnings of shock and I hadn’t had any of the nice pre-op meds that my friends had swooned about.

The operating room was small and cramped, dominated by this huge light fixture on a mechanical arm like thing. The paint had been worn off in great bare metal patches. I said, “I thought operating rooms were supposed to be new and shiny.” “That’s only on TV.” The anesthesiologist walked up behind me, leaned over and said something and the next thing I was aware of was the pain.

my surgery — a cautionary prelude.

I’ve been home from the hospital for 3 days now and Brni has been trying to get me to post, but alas, shock & trauma coupled with the haze of scheduled narcotics makes my brain a bit of mush. But he’s right — I do need to at least try to get the needle in the groove, so to speak.

see, already now, not even a decent paragraph in and i’m in trouble of drifting off…and you wouldn’t believe the typos…

Before I lose it, I need to thank everyone for the kind wishes, vibes, Reiki, thoughts and smoke that were sent up for me. It really meant so much and I’m sure I wouldn’t have survived half as well without all of you. so, h’ok….

I think it’s extremely self indulgent of me to consider posting a blow by blow account of *my surgery* but for some reason I want to. I usually refrain (or try to) from doing the “all me” show, but I think I can manage setting this down and maybe tying in some relevant stuff about modern medicine, the state of health care or some other things of great social import. Or maybe not. It could end up to be a how-to manual…who knows? We’ll see what comes from the haze.

I do know that before I tell you anything, it’s important to let everyone know that there are things you must consider that no one ever tells you before going under the knife. One thing in particular — hair.

Surgery ruins your hair. If you have longish hair, or really any hair at all, unthinkable things are going to happen to it. Consider having a friend do your hair in a nice tight french braid. This won’t save it entirely but it will considerably lessen the damage. Or, this may be the time to start those dread locks you’ve always wanted. You may not be able to keep them afterwards, but at least you’ll appear to have some purpose. Another idea would be to finally get that short short cut…the more butch the better. I wouldn’t go so far as to shave it though. The thought of days of head stubble is not a comfortable one. There was an older black woman on the floor who had the right idea. Wrap it all in a beautiful scarf. Men, don’t fret…if it’s long, go Willie Nelson on it. You won’t regret it.

In my case, I left it hanging just like it always does, figuring they’ll tuck it all up in one of those paper hats and aside from some tangles it’ll do ok.

~ heh ~

By day two or three (I can’t really remember) it was one big matted dread lock. Just one — all of it. Add to that, there was goop in it. Waxy, sticky goop that the nerve team had used to apply the electrodes to my head after they had taken sandpaper and sanded little bits of it down in several places. It took me until day 4 to get the dread undone. Not an easy task when you’re still lying down on it, but it IS possible with the proper motivation. Of course, all this time there’s no mention of washing it. Sponge baths get into all your nooks and crannies (somehow leaving whole pieces of paper tape all over) but never do they deal with your hair. I finally insisted on a real shower with shampoo on day 5. I just couldn’t face the world with my hair all goopy and broken (note: picking at the goop they put on it does not get rid of it, it just spreads it around).

Ok…I think that’s all I can manage for now. Next entry will have more about the actual experience, but I’m at the end of my endurance for the moment.

so h’ok

i’m off to meet a guy who says he’ll fix my back. when i get back, anyone who wants to decorate my brace should feel free to stop by.

4 days…

until my back surgery and i have no idea how i feel, what i think, and time is all bent out of shape. usually, when i have to wait for something, time takes forever, but not this time. i was counting on this time being longer than it is. i dislike it when time messes with me this way. whoever is in charge of time is not very nice and has a lousy sense of humor and one of these days, i will exact my revenge. i just don’t know when.

tomorrow night i begin my betadine showers. i must wash my body from the neck down in betadine for 3 days prior to surgery. i understand why, but i still find this strangely disconcerting. i don’t look good in orange.

i plan on spending sunday trying to do nothing. i’ll pack my little bag on saturday so that sunday can just happen without any input from me. i might go so far as to stop talking. the only things i must do is remember to stop eating at 9 and stop drinking at midnight. i’ll be interested to find out if i’m able to sleep. i hope brni sleeps. one of us should, though i’m not sure why.

i still don’t know what time we have to be at the hospital on monday. they will call me sunday night to let me know. i don’t understand why they can’t figure this out before then. it all seems much too last minute to put my mind at ease. is this a power thing? a way to keep people from freaking out before they have to? or do they just have no clue what they’re doing? how can i trust people who don’t plan well?

well, anyway, 4 days…

my spine

Let’s just say, my day did not go as planned.

We showed up at the Rothman Institute in King of Prussia at 11:40 for my appointment at noon. After filling out a couple dozen forms, and handing the pretty young pregnant woman my insurance card, an hour long discussion with their billing department and our insurance carrier revealed that I’m not covered for all of this. Apparently, spine doctors hate our insurance and refuse to play in their network. It’s long and sordid, but the end result is we had to fork over $265 and will end up paying a few or more thousand when this is all stitched up. heh…stitched up, get it?


After we decided to go ahead with the appointment, it was already one o’clock. A nice young man in blue hospital duds called me back to X-ray. Normally, I refuse X-rays with a righteousnes seen only in fundamentalist christians holding pro-life, pro-death penalty signs, but not anymore. I’ve had so many X-rays and MRIs lately that I’m positively glowing. The nice young man took four X-rays, placing me in different positions with the care a child uses to set her dolls up just so.

After this, I was sent out to the waiting room to sit and wait as all the people who came in after me got taken back to see their doctors. Our long, involved discussion with the money people had used up our appointment time, so I lost my place and had to go to the end of the line. With insult and injury, I read Oprah’s magazine for the first time in my life. They had all the issues on all the tables and every one had a picture of Oprah. No mistaking that very thick magazine for Vogue or Vanity Fair or Cosmo (do they still publish Cosmo?). I didn’t get the appeal, so after a bit, I dug around and found a very slim U.S. News from last month and flipped through that. Finally, a woman called me back.

After disrobing and donning the standard gown with the open back, I waited in the slightly too cold room, staring at the pictures of my spine. Finally, Brni realized I was missing and came back, then the woman came back. She spent a goodly amount of time arranging my spine on the light box on the wall. Apparently, there is a strict protocol for the actual hanging of X-Rays: full frontal (or backal?), side-view, side bent forward and side bent backward, and the sides must all face left.

She had me explain everything I’d already filled out on the 10 page questionaire (why do they make us fill them out if they don’t read them?), examined me, oohed and ahhed as I bent over and placed my hands flat on the floor by my feet, and left to go tell the doctor of my wondrous ability. Finally, the surgeon came in, tall and good looking with an open and friendly face. Okay, now’s my chance to tell him my desire for as minimally invasive a procedure as they can muster. But, this part of the day goes the way you’d expect from the way it began…downhill.

Apparently, I not only have bulging discs and stenosis, I have spondylosis as well. My spine is unstable. My spine is misaligned. My spine is out of whack. The bone labeled L4 is tipping over L5 in a way that is just not right. I saw it on the X-ray when nobody was with me. I saw it and thought, this isn’t going to go well, I wish I’d brought Oprah back with me. I need major surgery. I need a fusion, with bone from my pelvis and titanium rods to hold it all together. I need days in the hospital and weeks in a brace and then more weeks in therapy. No micro-surgery for me.

Before he left, the surgeon asked if I’d please show him my (now famous) forward-bend.

So, then it was more forms and waivers and reams of paper all explaining that with my signature I understood that they had explained all the things that could go wrong and that I would submit to this procedure despite their warnings. And I signed all the pieces of paper, correcting the typos as I went along, holding back the tears.

Later, in an attempt to feel in control, I opened my laptop to research this procedure and the doctor and the hospital and look what I found….a webcast of an operation similar to the one I’m going to get, at the same hospital and the guy talking is my surgeon! I watched the hour long video as they used drills, chisels, mallots, wrenches and other tools to fix a woman who’s back was far worse than mine. It was fascinating! And I can tell my surgeon is competent. So, if you all want to see and hear what is going to happen with my back, go here: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/surgeryvideos.html and select from the list, Lumbar Laminectomy and Transforaminal Lumbar Interbody Fusion (Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, PA, 11/15/2006).

Be warned, it’s graphic. But it also gives me hope. Hope that when I ask them to video tape it for me they will say yes (really!) but more importantly, it gives me hope that I’ll get my life back.

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