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How Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan may have felt

April 28, 2017

Photo on 4-28-17 at 11.22 AM

Friday, April 28, 2017

Exactly 10 days ago this morning my wife drove me to Surgery Plus at Saint Vincent’s for knee replacement surgery.  I remember feeling apprehension as we sat in the waiting area.  I had wiped myself down the previous evening with some sort of antibacterial cloths, one for each extremity, one for the front of my person, one for the back.  I was not allowed to bathe after that.

Then we were ushered to three-sided room with a curtain in front.  The nurse (Kathy? Emma?) asked me to remove my clothes and lie down on the gurney.  Oh, put on this backless nightshirt.  I thanked her for the clothing (Kathy? Jenny?)  I lay my head back on the pillow to stare at the ceiling.  Just one of those suspended ceilings like you see in many office buildings.  I overheard the people across the hallway.  Someone asked if they could turn on the television.  A nurse responded that the only rule was they were not allowed to take away the remote.

A voice said, “is this where the exorcism is to happen?” It was my pastor from the church of the fervently religious.  I greeted him enthusiastically and asked him to say a prayer for the idling, lazy, careless surgeon who would be sawing at my femur and patella to replace parts with high-tech high-strength alloy.  My pastor probably thought I was kidding, but I meant it.  He said a prayer for me as well, then departed.

A long time later a second nurse (Julie? Kenna?) came by to start an intravenous line with an antibiotic.  It was cefazolin, she said.  I am familiar with intravenous antibiotics  because I am a pharmacist.  This med is often used prophylactically before surgery.

After another long time the anesthesiologist introduced himself and asked me if a spinal anesthetic was to my liking.  “Sure,” I said.  Then I signed an iPad and tapped “accept.”  He vanished.  I stared at the ceiling.  Someone put up the side rail on my gurney and, after bumping into the wall, got me rolling along to the surgical suite.  I remember feeling surprised that the bumpy ride was so short.  Suddenly there I was, the only one without his face covered.  A nurse who looked pretty, despite the spacesuit and clear plastic helmet, introduced herself.  A voice asked me to sit up and bend over as much as possible to get the spinal anesthetic.  I felt a needle violate the sheath of important wires that connected my back with my legs.

I think a great deal happened, but I don’t remember any of it.  I looked at my toes and tried in vain to wiggle them.  I had no sensation from my waist down.  Another bumpy ride to a recovery room, then to the room where I’d be living the next few days.

Soon as I woke from a nap I tried wiggling my toes with success.  Someone helped me out of bed and I found to my amazement I could walk with the help of a walker and a helpful nurse who kept a hold of me by a belt around my chest.

My walk was brief; basically out the door, over to a nurse’s station, back to my room.  The important feature was a whiteboard that told what time my last pain med (oxycodone 5mg 2 tablets) had been given, then the time four hours later when the dose could be repeated.  When my pain was most intense I remember waiting as the clock crawled the last two hours.  This was most odious during the small hours of the night.

I suffered many humiliations and embarrassments.  Once I tried getting to the toilet without help—I mean, I could bear weight on my bad leg even if I had trouble bending my knee without agony.  I didn’t make it without wetting myself and the floor near the toilet.  I had to pull the call string.  The nurse (Kevin, Joe?) was kind, but he was obviously not thrilled to clean my piss off the floor.  He helped me take a shower and put on dry shorts and shirt.  I told him how grateful I was, but he kind of shrugged it off as if it were nothing at all.

I was in so much pain I didn’t even mind exposing myself nakedly when it came time to shower or use the urinal or visit the toilet.

The second post-op night I had given myself Lovenox heparin shots, but the pain med didn’t seem to work well.  A nurse who shouted at me when she spoke told me I needed a stronger pain pill:  Dilaudid.  So she made me wait an hour and a half after my next dose of pain med was due before getting me an order for one from my doctor.  The next morning my surgeon came in, lightly pinched my operated leg, and told me he was stopping the Lovenox.  What I didn’t know until later, was the heparin caused enough bleeding to swell my leg until it was painfully turgid.

They told me my red cell oxygen saturation percentage was low, so I had to be on supplemental O2.  I was on a continuous monitor and once, when I was struggling through physical therapy exercises, a woman stuck her head into the classroom and shouted, “Daniel, breathe!”

A nurse told me if my pain and O2 saturation percentage couldn’t be adequately treated I’d not be discharged from the hospital.  I’m 68, previously pretty healthy, I thought.  I mean, I ran a 5K last summer.  Yes, took me 34 minutes, but I ran the whole way.

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