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July 5, 2006

Blogging on...
Carolyn's great adventure with ankle fusion.

Surgery went okay, considering my sole contribution was to sleep through it and I can’t even take credit for that.

I am always so emotional pre-surgery that I’d asked for “something” to calm me. The Ativan made it worse. I was trembley and weepy and hallucinating as they wheeled me into the OR. A strange little man with wild white eyebrows was bustling around me, whistling bird calls through clenched teeth.

I was much too awake for this.

Why don’t they drug you up like they used to? Before you ever got in here?” I asked.

Don’t you like this better?” he replied, letting rip with a speckled warbler.

No, I don’t. It’s cold and ugly and this looks like a storage room for surplus hospital equipment. Is this the bargain basement?

He wiggled his bushy white eyebrows, responded with the shriek of stellar jay, then mumbled, “This is going to bite,” as he sank home the IV.

Truly, you think I lie. It was surreal. The anaesthesiologist was making bird calls while he worked on me. It seems like it is something they should warn you about.

Your surgery will be at 1:30 pm and by the way, the anaesthesiologist will be making birdcalls.”

Interesting species these anaesthesiologists. A friend, whose husband is one, told me that when he was in med school he came home complaining bitterly one day. “People ...all day, nothing but people ...whining, whining, whining. I’ve made a big mistake.”

What did you think being a doctor was going to be like?”

“I didn’t. When I was growing up all the dads in the neighbourhood drove station wagons except this one guy at the end of the street who drove a Porsche. He was a doctor, so I thought: okay, that’s what I will be.”

Over the next weeks he wrestled with the conundrum he’d gotten himself into.

Until, one day, he danced in the door, “I’ve got it! I’ll be an anaesthesiologist. They only have to put up with a few minutes of whining, then bingo, the patient’s out cold.”

So, now we know how the gods of medicine get their calling.

Waking up from anaesthesia isn’t much fun ...never is, although they do seem to have gotten the wretching and vomiting thing resolved. For me anyway.

All I do is come to slowly ...with much confusion and too much pain. I’m in a peach-curtained cubicle with a nice nurse pushing morphine into my IV every time I groan. Knowing I’ll be sent home shortly, I groan a lot, stocking up on the good stuff.

By the time hubby returns to fetch me home I’m flying high.

The biggest challenge is really HIS ...getting his inebriated wife out of the backseat of a Honda Accord and into the wheelchair. Fortunately he finished up the ramp yesterday so he doesn’t have to carry me up the backstairs. I read about a fellow who came home from the hospital with an ankle fusion and sat out on the sidewalk crying until some firefighters were called to carry him into the house.

What was he thinking? I practiced everything from taking a shower to taking a dump ...on one leg. How did he figure he was going to get into the house?

I spend the first evening dozing in my comfy big recliner ...ankle perched high atop a mountain of pillows. I doze ...which is normal for me. Steve is watching the evening staples ...Law and Order SUV, CSI Crime Scene, Law and Order, CSI Miami. Television stations wonder why they are losing their audiences. It’s simple stupid. There is NOTHING to watch anymore.

So I doze in and out. Wakening to take calls from well wishers who expect they’ll be talking to Steve but get the invalid herself, chirping away like she’d been off to the spa for a pedicure.

Some pedicure.

A pre-emptive strike with the little white pills ensures a peaceful night ...but my back hurts something fierce. I don’t think we are meant to lie for hours in the same position like this, one leg suspended in the air.

I make it to my big chair for breakfast ...and the nausea hits ...no matter. Now I’m shaking and trembling. Some peppermint tea and dry toast set things right over the next hour.

Exhaustion ...back to bed. Where I discover that Larry next door is having his tree trimmed by the noisy Newfies. These are a couple of itinerant Newfoundlanders who show up every summer to do yard work and the such. Right now they are up in the big plum tree that borders our properties, going at the branches with chain saws. They are gone for 360 days of the year and then show up. Today.

It all feels a tad surreal, duelling chainsaws and when they aren’t ...someone singing Deck the Halls. I’m thinking that parallel universe thing is kicking in again ...but then I hear Steve out in the yard asking them why they are singing Christmas carols. The answer is unintelligible ....but at least I know that I am still in this world and in my right mind.

They may not be.

Thus passes the first day.

The night was terrible ....horrible pain that kept me awake. Kept taking more and more pills ...but would just wake up with nightmares ..in one I was jamming my foot down on the brake of a runaway car ...in another I was trying to run across a mud-sucking field on my bad ankle ...with polar bears chasing me. But always pain ...just endless pain.

Took far too many pain killers which only dulled the pain ..and left me with a narcotic hangover. The whole day passed with me drifting in and out, in and out.

Next night was better. No pain now but I’ve taken so many pills I am overwhelmed by nausea. Just breathing in and out through my mouth is enough to cause wretching.

My sis in Australia calls and tells me the reason I’m nauseous is because I haven’t had a dump in 4 days ...my system has backed up. All those narcotics. Great. Now I am REALLY nauseous, imagining the sewage system backing up into my mouth.

I call my son the paramedic and he says that can happen. “Get Dad to smell your breath.”

Dad declines but runs out for prune juice which he urges on me all evening. I think he’s scared there will be some kind of eruption and he’s the only one here to clean it up.

Fortunately the prune juice works and everyone’s dignity remains intact.

It’s a good day ...nausea has passed and the weather is lovely ...even hot by late afternoon. I decide it’s time to take on the challenge of hosing myself down.

I will never ever take the simple, everyday, in-and-out, shower for granted again.

Manoeuvre the shower bench into the shower stall. Push the heavy wooden chair with arms next to the shower. Crawl over and get some clean towels out. Where are my clean clothes? How am I going to reach the soap. Where is the shampoo? Fix a thick towel over the bandages, tape a big black garbage bag over the towel. Hop onto the chair ...back to the toilet ...back to the chair. Into the shower, leg up on the chair, close the doors as tightly as possible. Keep the shower head from swinging all over the room. Soap, rinse, keep the shampoo out of the eyes, drop the soap ...I don’t have enough hands for this and my arms are way too short..

After four days husband is starting to show the effects of too much personal service ...so I am determined to do this by myself. I cannot begin to imagine how people without full use of hands and arms and one good leg do their personal care. I appreciate how it can take them a couple hours just to get out the door in the morning.

But there is something very important about doing it for oneself. Survival of the species type stuff. Never mind maintaining the mystery of marriage.

We made it to week two and the first big milestone ...removal of the surgical staples and into the boot. The ankle looks GREAT ...well, other people may not think so and Vogue isn't likely to approach me anytime soon (make that EVER) to be a foot model ...but there is very little swelling and there is more movement than I would have thought.

We had celebrated the big day by starting with the Grand Slam breakfast at Denny’s. I was a bit worried about managing restroom visits because driving this wheelchair is a bit like driving a semi in reverse. My left leg is suspended out directly in front of me ...BIGFOOT leads the way. YOU try driving this vehicle through a crowded restaurant never mind angling into a toilet stall. Disabled facilities were designed for wheelchairs where people keep their feet down in front of them ...this is challenging.

But I managed and people are invariably kind and helpful. Since that first foray into civilization we’ve been out numerous times and I’ve learned that I can manage anything. Not always with perfect dignity ...but I manage.

So ...people wonder what you do all day when you are confined to a chair with your foot in the air. Well ...the day passes VERY fast.

I once read that Queen Elizabeth scans a dozen newspapers while she breakfasts in bed each morning. If it’s good enough for Liz ....after the houseboy delivers my coffee and toast each morning, I read the Vancouver Sun, paper version. Then I switch to my laptop where I monitor electronic news sites from London to New York to Sydney.

I have some single friends that I am trying to match up so I check out the internet dating sites in their respective cities for fresh prospects. Kind of like the brokers people hire to find them a good used car. I’m thinking there could be money in this.

Then there is the e-mail. That’s always interesting. I’ve always been, shall we say “articulate” ...so I answer at full and great length, giving all comers the benefit of my experience and hard-won wisdom.

By now it is lunch and the houseboy returns from wherever he’s been beavering away to make a sandwich and entertain me with a little light chatter. I think he’d prefer to hole up in the kitchen with his Suduko but I’m having none of that. Nothing elitist about me. The houseboy and the queen lunch together, sharing a little light repartee with their turkey sarnie. He’s getting better at it.

The afternoons are given over to writing projects ...the products of which I am dreaming will make me rich someday. Or at least pay for the next trip to somewhere. Seattle?

The houseboy returns to make dinner and it occurs to me that my life resembles nothing quite so much as a VERY long plane ride.

I spend all day and evening in the same chair. First class seating for certain ...but still the same damn chair.

I beaver away at whatever I can do to pass the time in a chair – just like I do on a long trip.

I only get up to go to the toilet.

While the food is only okay ...I really look forward to meal service because it breaks up the trip.

When the movie comes on, it’s invariably something I’ve already seen or something I don’t want to see.

But you know ...when I leave on a trip with an exceedingly long transit, I always ask myself, “How I will ever manage to pass the time?” Then the day comes. I get on that plane and the time passes quickly enough. I get off the plane and we’re off on our next adventure.

Frankly, it's now 28 days post-fusion and this ride is passing VERY quickly. I’m enjoying the ride.

The houseboy? Maybe not so much.

Carolyn Usher