On surviving yet again

Miscellaneous experiences and reflections

Three shoulder surgeries in 25 months. If you don’t think that sounds like fun, you really ought to try it sometime. This was my first joint replacement though, and recovery should be easier because less soft tissue was involved, and it’s soft tissue that takes forever to heal.

I remember getting a nerve block just before they rolled me into the O.R. at 7:30 Friday morning, but the O.R. anesthesiologist must have cold-cocked me the minute I arrived because I don’t remember anything after my gurney hit the swinging doors. I don’t even remember waking up in recovery or being rolled upstairs to my room.

Because I’ve lived on narcotics for so long, they no longer work well, so my first night in the hospital was hell. I had a PCA (Patient Controlled Anesthesia) pump that injected a xylocaine-like drug into my neck, but when the main block wore off in the middle of the night, the PCA didn’t touch my pain, so I was given intravenous morphine, Dilaudid, and oxycodone, all within ninety minutes and all without effect. Nurse Jen then called Mark (my surgeon) and he told her to double the Dilaudid, but even that didn’t help.

Jen then said “I don’t mind waking doctors up in the middle of the night, so if you think of something else that might help your pain, you tell me.” It soon hit me that I needed Neurontin along with the Dilaudid, so Nurse Jen woke Mark up a second time and got me a prescription for 900 mgs of Neurontin, and the two drugs together enabled me to sleep three hours for a two night total of seven hours. (Mark hates the drug, and he knows that I know this, so I laughed about him being awakened in the middle of the night to prescribe it.) As you might imagine, Saturday sucked, yet if I hadn’t suggested the Neurontin, no one else would have thought of it, and I wouldn’t have gotten any sleep.

Thirty-six hours after surgery, I could barely walk 200 feet, and I needed Peggy’s assistance to go that far. Twenty hours later, I came home and walked 2,000 feet all by myself. Today—three days post-op, I walked a mile.

I won’t take a medicine unless I know what it’s for, and this meant that I sometimes turned down medicines while I was in the hospital. If I asked a nurse what XXX was for, and she said, “I don’t know, but it’s on your schedule, so you need to take it,” I didn’t take it.

After I was put into a room, I was surrounded by seven machines of one kind or another, and I was hooked up to four of them around the clock. I literally couldn’t stand up to use my urinal without a lot of wires and tubes becoming entangled. Also, some of these machines had alarms that kept going off for no good reason. I finally insisted that the worst offender be disconnected, and after three hours of serious bitching on my part, it was.

My main physical therapist was an Aussie guy who didn't want to talk about anything but his diabetes and his desire to move back to Australia for the government run healthcare. I kept thinking: “I wish you were there now, dude; I wish you were there now.” If I had it to do over I would have asked for another therapist, but all it takes is a moment of weakness, and some selfish bastard will steamroll you every time. I’ll still complain about him, but doing so after the fact will be less satisfying.

I think that most nurses and doctors respect a patient more—and treat him better—when he’s not mindlessly compliant. As for the ones who are bothered by it, I assume they’re on a power trip, or else they’re so lazy that they resent being forced to actually think for a change.

I had my yearly physical just before my surgery, and, just for the hell of it, I called my internist “Doctor Kirk” (Kirk is his first name). I hadn’t called him by his title since I started going to him 21 years ago, and he looked flabbergasted. I interpret an insistence on being addressed by a title as indicative of a need to have people brown-nose you, so I guess it’s just as well that I’ll never meet the queen.

The anesthesiologist who performed my nerve block was so concerned because I’m “not narcotic naïve” (meaning that I take a lot of narcotics) that he came by twice on his days off to check on my pain level. I wanted to leap out of bed and kiss him. Doctors like that are to die for.

I’m pretty sure that a nurse stole some of my Dilaudid, but I believe you should be 99% sure before you formally complain about such a thing, and I was only at 98.5% (although I did mention my suspicions to her).

I’m sure that some of you wonder if I’m ever tempted to pray given that I’m in chronic pain and have had numerous surgeries. No, I’m not. When someone tells me that their oncologist had “given up” on their Aunt Matilda, but that god dropped by and healed her cancer, I think about how much more impressed I would be had god re-grown her missing leg, or eye—or even her missing toenail. Funny how religious people only pray for things that might happen anyway. Why is this, religious people? Why not ask god to raise the dead or at least re-grow teeth? I mean, jeez, how difficult could a bicuspid be?

Finally—and for the hundredth time—allow me to warn you against ever allowing yourself to be intimidated by a lot of diplomas and certificates, or by a bigger than life personality. I promise you, you will occasionally have an idea that is so brilliant yet so seemingly obvious that you will be appalled that the experts overlooked it. Yet, they did because even the most brilliant, caring, and educated people suffer from the all too human tendency of falling into a rut.