The Inevitable

Nov. 13th 2013

When I woke up in a groggy haze from the anesthsia feeling very positive and happy. I remembered from my last surgery that I felt great for the first few hours but then as the anesthesia starts to wear off the pain starts to kick in. After some time I noticed slowly that I was experiencing some pain in my left leg and foot. This seems very odd to me because prior to the surgery the nerve pain was only in my right leg. I mentioned the pain to the nurse and she gave me a dose of morphine. However the pain keeps getting worse. This isn’t just pain, it’s tourture. My entire left leg feels like it’s being electrocuted, stabbed and set on fire. Nothing has ever felt this horrible.

I’ve been crying in pain for what fels like several hours. The nurse keeps giving me morphine and I felt absolutely no relief from the pain. I then remembered from my last surgery that the first dose of morphine didn’t help my pain so they switched me to a painkiller called dilaudid. I hit the call button for the nurse again, still crying and wanting to scream but I was trying my best not to be too loud since I did have a roommate and it was starting to get late into the evening. I ask the nurse if they could try giving me dilaudid, explaining my past experience with that drug versus morphine. She said she would check on that and told me that someone from the neurology team would be in soon to give me and exam.

Clearly what is going on with me was not normal. At no point when I was discussing the possible complications with the doctor did something like this come up. I knew what this could mean but was trying my hardest not to think about it. An attractive blond woman in a white coat entered my room; she asked me about my pain and told me she was going to do a few tests. I knew what was coming. She had me push both feet against her hands, calling it “stepping on the gas”. She then had me flex my feet in the opposite direction and told me to resist her pulling against me. She then did similar strength tests on my legs. It was very obvious that my left side was weaker. And what frightened me even more was the fact that I noticed that my left foot felt slightly numb when she was touching me. It was around 9:30 pm but she told me she was going to call my neurosurgeon to discuss these results.

Surgeons don’t get called at home at night for things that aren’t serious. It’s got to be nerve damage. One of my older screws must have gotten moved out of place. Oh God, I am going to need more surgery. I can’t. I just can’t do this anymore. As all those horrible thoughts were going through my head the nurse came back with that the one thing on this earth that I knew could help me felt at least slightly better, a syringe full of dilaudid.

As she injects it into my IV line the relief is instant. I feel a rush to my head, and then a euphoric feeling and suddenly my leg doesn’t feel so bad. But now it was time for the hard part. The doctor had ordered a CT scan for me. To get a CT scan I had to be moved to a stretcher, then to the CT scan table, and then back to the stretcher and back to my bed. Even with the drugs the movement caused a good deal of pain, but thanks to the drugs I didn’t care as much and was suddenly not so upset about the situation.

As one of the nurses was helping transport me she asked me the question I get all the time, “So what happened to your back; why did you need a fusion?”

“I was born with a fractured vertebra. I had to have my first fusion as a teenager because it had slipped out of place and was hitting my nerves. I’ve pretty much always had back pain.” I’ve said that so many times it felt robotic coming out of me.

“Wow, for someone who has dealt with chronic pain your whole life you are so pleasant.”

I was a little thrown off by this comment. “Well there is no point in being upset over things you can’t change.” I have for a long time now considered myself a Buddhist. Really it seems like the inevitable choice for someone who has dealt with so much suffering. And one of the teachings of the Buddha that has really helped me is the realization that you may not be able to change your external situations but you can control your reactions to them.

Sure I could be miserable and wonder why I wasn’t born “normal”. I could be bitter and jealous of people who can do the things I can’t do. Of course there are times that I get depressed over my health issues but I still have so much and know that things could always be worse. Even if this nerve pain I am having does turn out to be nerve damage I know I will always have someone to take care of me and that is really the best thing I can ask for.

After the CT scan the nurse and medical assistant transport me back to my hospital bed. The nurse notices my cell phone on the table next to me and asks for my number, explaining that the doctor is going to call me to discuss my test results. It’s now 10:30 at night. I am shocked and grateful that the doctor is going to personally discuss the results with me. I have never had a doctor be so available and attentive before.

Soon after that my phone rings showing an unlisted number. I didn’t realize it before but my phone was now just out of reach due to my bed having been moved. I didn’t think to ask for help, I instead pull myself up a bit over the side railing, twisting and causing myself more pain but I am determined to know what is wrong with me. “Hello?” At this point I am so exhausted and spaced out from the drugs that it takes all my concentration to pay attention to what’s going on.

“I just got your CT scan results and everything looks good. The hardware is in the right place and it doesn’t look like anything is impinging on the nerve root which was my main concern based on your symptoms. What has likely happened is there has been some traction on your nerves from moving your vertebrae during the surgery. While this is not a side effect that we anticipated I do believe it’s temporary and should get better in four to six weeks. I am going to put you on some medication specifically for nerve pain which should help.”

“Oh thank you, that’s great to hear it’s just a temporary issue.” This was the best news I could expect. I would have been ecstatic expect for the fact that I was exhausted from all the pain and crying and still barely aware of reality due to all the drugs. But now I could finally get some rest and hopefully things will get better from here on out.

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