And How Was Your Week?

Finally.

So last Tuesday, the 10th of December, I went in for my surgery.

We reported in at just after 7 a.m.; actually, I was standing just inside the building near the reception door waiting for Mr. Stuck to take care of the parking fare when the check-in desk called to ask where I was.  I had been standing there a few minutes already, watching him through the window, but I hadn’t checked in because I was pocket-less and he held my ID and insurance card.  Eventually man bested machine, and then he was standing next to me, handing her my driver’s license.  We finished our paperwork and had just found a seat in the waiting area when they called me to prep.

At prep, all of the normal things happened: I was fitted with my bracelets, I changed into my hospital gown and non-skid, unisex tube socks, I settled into the gurney with a blanket (a heated-air blanket, even!) an IV was started, and my surgeon stopped in.  In between, I met several nurses, a nurse-anesthetist, my anesthesiologist, a patient care technician or two, and the assisting doctors.  I also said and spelled my whole name several times and confirmed my birth date to anyone who asked; in the fray I was also answering questions, the same questions I had been asked and had answered before: who is your doctor?  what is he going to do?

I remember being rolled out of there into an elevator and then into the operating room.  The last thing I remember is a nurse talking to me after emptying a syringe into my IV port and putting a mask on me, but even that’s a bit fuzzy in my mind.

Not me. photo credit Zdenko Zivkovic.

I guess it took me awhile to wake up; I was two hours in recovery before I was brought to my room and Mr. Stuck was allowed to visit.  Sure seemed warm in the room; I kept kicking off blankets and requesting ice chips and cold washcloths for my forehead.  No fever, but I was just too warm.  Besides my pain control IV, I was hooked up to a couple of monitors as well as oxygen, because my O2 level kept dipping.  My respiratory rate is slow and always has been, and the monitor didn’t like that at all.  Periodically, the respiration monitor (whatever it’s called) would go off because I wasn’t breathing fast enough and it apparently thought I had stopped.  No, I was still breathing, just at my own, slow, pace.

Each time I hit the button to get more hits of Dilaudid, a cycle began:  the narcotic entered my bloodstream; I would relax and drift off; the alarms would sound as my respiration slowed and my oxygen dipped; I would wake with a start and sharp inhale;  the monitor, assured I was again breathing, would go silent (most of the time), and with my muscles tense and heart pounding I would again feel the pain and need the Dilaudid.  Over and over and over this played out. The oximeter’s alarm was about four times louder than the respiratory alarm and sometimes the alarms wouldn’t cancel once my stats came back into their ‘normal’ zone, and I would have to wait for a nurse to silence them.  This went on from the time I came back to my room until after 2 a.m. — about twelve hours!  It was awful and it just wouldn’t stop.  If the nurses were getting tired of the routine, and they were, you can imagine how I felt.  When they called him, the doctor told the nurses that I was exactly the type of patient who needed those monitors on.  I’m sure he’s right, but it was a long, sleepless night.

Around 2 a.m., the doctor allowed the alarm to be turned off on the respiration monitor as long as they got me a better cannula (the nasal oxygen tube) so my oxygen saturation would rise.  Thank the Lord.  I was able to get a few hours of shuteye until the resident doctors made their rounds some time around 6 a.m..  But at least I finally — finally! — got some sleep.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
It’s me, but the pic’s a few years old.

It took a long time the next day to get discharged, but we finally did, and we made it home after stopping to pick up my prescriptions.  I suddenly took very cold and started to shake; even my teeth chattered.  I had been so overheated in the hospital, but now I was freezing!  This was the anesthesia talking.  Mr. Stuck tucked me into bed with extra blankets and got me my medication.  My belly was bloated and sore; I just wanted some rest.  After a few hours, I awoke to rejoin the family.

I’m glad everything went so smoothly for my surgeon; apparently, chaos reigned (rained, too) at home. Bo, the Epileptic Chihuahua had suffered a couple of seizures. Number One Son ran his car out of oil. Number Young Son’s car has to quickly be rendered safe and drivable to give NOS a way to work. Mr. Stuck’s truck has been inoperable for several days, waiting for a special tool, because it is leaking fuel.  But these are not things for me to worry and kvetch on; my job is to rest and get better.

Today, four days after surgery, here’s what I know:

  • Although at first disappointed that I didn’t get a heated-air gown, I found that the heated-air blanket is just as good.
  • I have five neat incisions from an inch to an inch and a half long on my belly, which is still a little sore inside.  No tape, because I’m allergic, but all 5 healing nicely.
  • I am still burping from a lot of trapped air (‘scuse me), but I am not so bloated now, and I am sleeping well.
  • I’m not hungry, but I am thirsty, so I am constantly sipping small amounts of fluids.
  • Last night I didn’t need to get up and take pain medicine at all during the night.  Yay!
  • I am tolerating strained soup, protein shakes, tea, jello, and water just fine.
  • Mixing ground-up prescription pills into your food and drink is worse than nasty, and I will stop doing it the very moment I can.  Bad memories of marshmallow creme and crushed aspirin came flooding back.  Mr. Stuck says Actigall is worse than anything I’m taking.  I’ll take his word for it.
  • Omeprazole is my new best friend.  After the couch and the heating pad, I mean.

And now, if you’ll excuse me…

liquids
a few of the things on my nutrition pyramid these days.

 

 

Part III – Lend Me a Hand.

new glasses
My new specs. Stylin’!

My eyesight is poor; I have one myopic (near-sighted) and one hyperopic (far-sighted) eye.  I’ve been wearing glasses since I was 7 years old, and bifocals since age 35.  Nobody makes fun of me for wearing glasses, nor should they; it is nothing to be embarrassed about.  Before I had my hips replaced, I used a cane to get around.  Nobody made fun of me for that, either; they recognized that I had a need for it, and that was that.  No shame necessary.

Yes, that's me.  That zipper is on my jeans.  ;-)
yes, that’s me.

But because of the stigma attached to hearing loss, people won’t admit they need help.  Often the perception is that wearing a hearing aid makes you appear less intelligent.  Hearing aids are assumed to be for old or disabled people, and that stigma is a very real reason that a lot of hearing loss goes undiagnosed and untreated.  It didn’t help that older hearing devices were large and bulky; people did not want to wear them because they were ugly and awkward. 

The irony is, though, that untreated hearing loss is far more noticeable than today’s hearing devices.  Chances are good that you have chatted with a person wearing hearing instruments and never noticed them.  On the other hand, constantly asking someone to repeat what they said, turning the volume up on the radio and TV, and speaking loudly are tell-tale signs of hearing loss. 

Sufferers struggle on a daily basis to hear and understand their environment; it can be exhausting and socially isolating.  The hearing-impaired person feels frustrated, angry, defeated, embarrassed and ridiculed.  Eventually, many drop out of life, in a way.  They stop trying and withdraw, because that is easier.  As for me, I resigned myself to a lifetime of permanent hearing loss.

A dear friend of mine has a rare gene mutation that causes, among other things, eventual deafness.  She also attends a lot of concerts and shows, and had worked for many years in an industrial environment.  She had been having difficulty when more than one person was talking or where background noise like television would mask the softer sounds of conversation, just like me. She got hearing aids, and she told me she loved them. 

Even after she told me that, I rationalized that her case was different, and my hearing loss was untreatable, because that’s what I had been told as a child.  It wasn’t until Mr. Stuck talked candidly to me about my hearing – telling me that even my sons and my friends were noticing that it was getting worse – that I agreed to go see an audiologist again.  I warned the Mr. that it would probably be a waste of time, but I would go.

Continued in Part IV...

photo credit Ephemeral Scraps

Part I – Listen Up!

The phenomenal Helen Keller in 1948.

Blindness separates us from things, but deafness separates us from people.
Helen Keller

My life changed last week, in a big way.   I’ll tell you how, shortly.

First off, some background: as a child, I suffered from frequent ear infections.  It seemed that every cough, wheeze, or sneeze heralded a virus that ended up lodged deeply and aching in my middle ear, where my only relief was couch time with glycerin drops and a heating pad.  I spent a lot of time on that couch.  During that time, I realized that I always had a ringing or buzzing in my ears that nobody could hear but me.  My father had it, too, and he taught me the name for it: tinnitus.  When my elementary school administered hearing tests to the students, I was sent home with a note to my parents, encouraging them to take me to a doctor for further examination.

I remember having the hearing test with the booth and the headphones and the tones of varying range and volume.  When I came out, the doctor showed me what he called my ‘cookie-bite’ hearing loss: normal hearing at the low and high ends of the spectrum, but a deep U-shape curve in the middle, demonstrating mid-range hearing problems.  The mid-range is where conversation takes place.  He explained to me and my parents that I had ‘nerve damage’ hearing loss, and he said there was nothing that could be done about it.

Over time, I got used to not hearing what others heard, and I tried to become a better listener to compensate.  I would sit at the front of class in school and take copious notes.  I tried to focus closely on what people said, and it helped a lot if I could see their faces.  I often asked people to repeat what they had said, or I would ask a person beside me to relay the information.  Before long, it was second nature to me to compensate for my bad ears.

Fast forward to a little more than ten years ago.  I was sitting at my desk at home when suddenly it felt like someone had come up behind me and tipped my chair backward.  I called out to my husband and clung to my desk for dear life before realizing I wasn’t tipping over and there wasn’t anyone behind me. 

Mr. Stuck came to help me out of my chair, and I soon realized that my balance was gone, my vision was distorted, and the room felt like it had gone sideways.  Any movement of my head caused a swell of nausea; I told him to take me to the bathroom in case I had to throw up.  Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but I sat on the bathroom floor against the wall for half an hour, trying to figure out what had just happened to me.  Mr. Stuck put me to bed, where the vertigo eventually calmed down. 

I went to the doctor and after several different tests was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease (MD).  Meniere’s is a disorder of the inner ear, characterized by vertigo, ringing in the ears, a feeling of ‘fullness’ in the ear, and progressive, intermittent hearing loss.  It can be treatable, but is not curable.  I noticed that when I had a vertigo episode, it seemed as though my ears were stuffed with cotton.  I read everything about MD that I could get my hands on; all of it said the same thing: most sufferers will experience intermittent temporary hearing loss, but for some, the loss would be permanent.  Great — just great.

To be continued in Part II

photo credit uppityrib