A Hospital is No Place to be Sick
I was lucky I survived since they tried their best to kill me.
I just had back surgery, which may the scariest surgery because it’s a crapshoot. With a hip replacement you know you’re coming out with a new hip. When I had shoulder surgery I emerged with a new shoulder. But there are no back replacements. With spinal surgery—you may have a new, or at least much improved—back. Or you may have lifelong, agonizing pain. It can go either way.
Another—maybe irrational—reason back surgery is scary is that you can’t see the incision. There’s something about being able to see where you’ve been flayed open and sewn back up that’s reassuring. I had no idea what was going on back there.
The back surgery most people have today is positively medieval. They fuse your vertebrae together and then hold the whole thing together with bars and screws. It looks like you’re being put on the rack – but the rack is inside your body. It can take many hours, in some cases days.
One friend in her 80s had it done over two days because she wasn’t strong enough to tolerate being under anesthesia for enough hours. She took months to recover. Her back finally stopped hurting but she wound up in severe pain again because her hip is shot. She now needs a hip replacement. Another friend couldn’t walk and had a hip replacement. She was elated to not have to park in handicapped spots anymore. But then her back went. She’s now in pain and barely moving.
Where are bionic bodies now that we need them? Maybe dementia is incurable (at least so far) but there are a lot of us who are still totally compos mentis, but stuck in stalled vehicles. Forget Teslas and commercial trips to the moon, Elon Musk. How about investing in bionic body research? Or at least a spine replacement.
Luckily, or maybe not so luckily, I had the simple kind of back surgery with no fusions or screws. My orthopedist who is tall and handsome with a British accent (I call him Dr. McDreamy after the Gray’s Anatomy heartthrob) said I really needed lots of fusions and screws and bars but my spine--which resembles swiss cheese from osteoporosis--wouldn’t support it. So, I had a minimally invasive “decompression” which involved removing a disc and a piece of bone to give my spine some breathing room. McDreamy said it had a 60% chance of success and wouldn’t last that long, but it’s unlikely that I will last that long either. At least now my back has a shot at outliving the rest of me.
I was lucky I survived my hospitalization, which was only overnight, since they tried their best to kill me.
I didn’t get the usual orange juice and crackers after surgery despite fasting for close to 24 hours. My blood sugar had undoubtedly dropped through the floor. I didn’t get dinner either. The rooms on either side of me got dinner, but I must have inadvertently put the blood of a surgeon—oops lamb-- on my door because they passed right over me.
Meanwhile, the nurse forced me to surrender my own meds that were in little plastic baggies with the promise that the hospital would replace them with approved versions.
But not only did food never arrive, but neither did meds. When I asked the night nurse—who had a beard and was wearing a weird blue plastic mask which made him look like a character from The Purge—where they were, he mumbled something about the doctor not wanting me to take them. I couldn’t imagine McDreamy going through my med list and deciding to deny me my anxiety and diabetes meds.
My own Nurse Ratched was obsessed with my heart monitor and yelled at me every time I got up to go to the bathroom by myself because it set the heart monitor off. Luckily there was no heart medication in that list or I might have survived the surgery only to have a heart attack.
By 10 pm I was getting hysterical. My kind helper, Christie, had gone out earlier for a Stouffer’s Swedish Meatball dinner for me which she microwaved at the nurse’s station so at least I wasn’t starving. But then she’d gone home and I was alone in a strange, unfriendly environment with a large male nurse from a horror movie who refused to give me my meds.
I was in desperate need of my Klonopin to survive the night without a panic attack.
“What did my doctor prescribe for anxiety?” I asked him. “I usually take Klonopin.” (I had a secret stash in my purse)
“Oh no,” he replied. “He doesn’t want you to take that. You’re on pain meds.”
“No, I’m not, I told him. I never got any pain meds.” He had no explanation for that oversight.
“Does my doctor want me to have a panic attack?” I asked him.
His eyes—the only part of his face I could see-- widened. He was probably imagining what would happen when my heart monitor went into alarm mode and a crash cart arrived to resuscitate me.
“Ok, take them,” he said grudgingly, as if he were doing me a favor.
I felt better after that, but not a whole lot better, especially when I was woken up twice in the middle of the night by aides who wanted to take my blood pressure. I yelled “go away,” and they left, making unhappy harrumphing sounds.
In the morning I was told I “might” get out that day. When the physical therapist came, I walked around the entire hall even though I was in excruciating pain because I wanted out. I still hadn’t gotten any pain meds and the day nurse didn’t want me to take my own Tylenol. I was supposed to wait for Percocet to arrive. Fuck that!
I was discharged later that day with a walker. Christy drove me home. I was extremely happy to be sprung.
I keep telling people don’t get old but they don’t listen. They always say, “it’s better than the alternative.” I’m not at all sure of that.