Nearly two weeks ago, I woke up on a Sunday morning and was unable to get out of bed. I could not make my legs, especially my right one, function. I couldn’t walk. I kept trying, but my body kept screaming NO. I was in the most horrific pain I’ve ever experienced. It was worse than labor. Well, let me modify that, it was like labor but without the breaks between contractions. Finally, at his wits end from coaxing and my screams, my husband, Andy, called an ambulance before one of our neighbors called the police. Embarrassing, right?
But there I am wheeled out my front door and loaded into an ambulance. When flat on my back and not moving, I felt fine. So I decided I should take advantage of this opportunity to do research and study the ambulance. I asked the ENT dozens of questions. What was his job like? Did he enjoy it? Tell me about your typical day. I asked about the purpose of everything in the rig. A writer never knows when she'll need to describe the inside of an ambulance. I paid close attention to what I (the patient) could actually see out the back window. I had a great view of the tops of tall pines and conifer trees, the bright sky and when we had enough distance between us, my husband in hot pursuit in our white Prius.
The hospital emergency room was a bit of a nightmare. They did not know what to do with me after the very efficient ENT’s used a sheet to transfer me from the gurney into an ER bed. Grants Pass has no neurosurgeon on call, so they became intent on getting me to stand up and walk, determined to succeed no matter what it took. It took 2 intravenous morphine drips, 1 intravenous steroid injection, and two oral oxycodone before I could stumble off the bed and into a wheel chair. I was discharged and whisked out to the car--feeling drunker than I've ever been in my life (and I’ve been known to enjoy a little wine now and then)
The ER folks emphasized how serious this could be, encouraged me to follow up with my primary (who turned out to be in Africa--but that's in the next part of the saga.) So Andy drove me back home, both of us shaking our heads at the futility of what we’d just done—the expense would hit us later. We struggled to get me out of the car and into bed. Once the drugs wore off, I was right back where I started, flat on my back and unable to get up.
On Monday, we called a Medford neurosurgeon with a very good reputation, but were told we needed a referral from my primary care physician. As you already know, he is vacationing in Africa. Making a trip there for the referral was out of the question.
On Tuesday, I was referred to another internal medicine physician at the Grants Pass Clinic. The logistics of getting me to the clinic was a feat my husband pulled off by renting a walker and utilizing one of the clinic wheelchairs for the remainder of the journey. By the time I arrived, I looked like a homeless person and probably smelled worse. No way I could get in the shower or wash my hair--and no way I cared. But I did learn something new: If you are in a wheelchair, you don't have to get on the friggin’ scale and be weighed. See, there are gifts in everything. I'm looking on the bright side now--searching out the rainbows. Thinking I might want a wheelchair for Christmas.
This doctor was sympathetic, knew what I was dealing with. He wrote the neurosurgeon referral, scheduled an MRI and gave me a prescription for Hydromorphone—a morphine derivative. I endured three more days of pain, but it was a bit more manageable with the morphine--not that I could walk around--but I could zone out in front of decade-old episodes of Law and Order and forget. I slept a lot during those days, moaned and got very constipated from the Morphine. So, now my main diet is a cocktail of prune juice and morphine. It’s a lot darker than scotch, but you can close your eyes and pretend.
By Friday, I'd developed some strange neurological things, (SNT’s) like muscles that would suddenly twitch--move around under my skin an ADHD infant ready to escape the womb. These SNT’s came out of nowhere at any time, day or night. I also had a severe, sunburn-like pain on the skin of my back—as if all the nerve endings were on fire. It was so intense I couldn't stand for the fabric of my pajamas to touch the skin. One night, around one a.m., I ripped off my pajama top (who cares about buttons) because I couldn't take the pain. Andy sat up in bed, wiped his eyes with his fists and wondered if I was in the mood. I asked him if he had a gun. He didn’t even make a joke. He knew what I meant.
On Friday at noon, I had the MRI—a wonderful experience when all your nerves are already ignited. I was listening to classical music in the white tunnel while the jackhammers pounded and my skin crawled—a surreal experience, inviting the SNT’s to return. And, of course, they did. "Don't move," the technician kept warning. I wasn't moving. I was being moved by SNT's. I feared I'd be wheeled to the psych ward if I spoke of this. So I remained silent.
After it was over, we asked them to make sure the results got sent to our Medford neurosurgeon. Apparently that did happen because on Monday an appointment was set up for me on Tuesday. It turned out I have a ruptured disk that is spilling its nucleus onto the sciatic nerve at L4 causing terrible pain and weakness in my right leg. (I could have told them that pain part) Apparently, it's a bad one, and I'm at risk for permanent nerve damage. Bottom line I need urgent surgery.
"Great," I said. "Schedule it. Can you do it now? Cut off the damn leg. I don't care what you do, kill me, but please...please...make this pain go away." The Physician’s Assistant smiled sympathetically. "Nerve pain," he said. "Does not go away. I could give you morphine and break your ankle and you’d say it’s not so bad. I could give you morphine for nerve pain and you’d give me the finger." At least the guy had a sense of humor.
He poked me with needles that I couldn't feel and tried to electrocute me (exaggeration, but it seemed like it) My right leg is pretty useless now--just drags along behind me and my walker like an obedient but lazy puppy. The neurosurgeon is hopeful the surgery will bring most of the feeling back.
The office staff tried to get the procedure scheduled for the following day, Wednesday, but Medicare requires it be done in a hospital operating room, not the surgical suite ordinarily used by this neurosurgeon and his associates--which is much less expensive and actually safer for the patient. Apparently Medicare has other bureaucratic ideas of efficiency and financial responsibility. So we must wait until insurance is approved and a hospital OR is available. It will possibly be tomorrow (Friday) but more likely Tuesday. (with Monday being a holiday) The physician gave me a prescription for a steroid pack that starts with 6 tablets first day, down to 5 second day, 4 third day, etc and you are down to zero. He said it might relieve some of the inflammation and lesson the pain until we get the surgery scheduled. Now I am on the Prune juice, morphine, and steroid cocktail, waiting for the phone to ring and surgery to be scheduled. Remarkably, I am in less pain and could actually concentrate on writing this blog about what we writers do on their days off. I hope I don’t have any more vacations in my future. Just keep the SNT’s away from me and let me write.