Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Ten on Tuesday

Putting a name on my feelings was another turning point for me. I suddenly crawled out of my pity pit, so, here are 10 things I'm looking forward to:

1. Washing my own hair and taking a shower without it being a big production of changing the pads on my brace.

2. Looking down without feeling like the back of my head is stuck on with pins and needles.

3. Increasing my range of motion

4. Cooking (hard when you can't look down)....how do you cut onions?

5. Being strong enough to walk the Lions's Den trails at Grafton with my hubby and daughter.

6. Take a trip to the Dells.

7. Visit old friends in Indiana

8. See my older daughter and her hubby again soon

9. See my younger daughter build her new life

10. Get rid of this neck brace forever!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Post Surgical Depression

I googled "why do I cry all the time after having surgery" and apparently it is very common. Some people become truly depressed. Others not so much but they cry often and become very reflective on their lives, which is what I've been doing.

I'm no stranger to surgery. In 1994 I had a total hysterectomy, then in 1996, bi-lateral breast cancer. These surgeries came with their own set of emotional challenges. The first made me feel the loss of womanhood, the second left me hoping for life, which I have, because I am a 20 year survivor. I once told one of my doctors that everything that makes me a woman was trying to kill me. She told me, no, being a woman, including sexual feelings, are in your mind. Best advice I was ever given.

And here I am, in my surgically altered body, loved and cared for by a younger man, and blessed to have my daughters near me, one in Indiana and one right here to care for me.

Knowing I'm not alone helps. The long recovery process makes it hard to move ahead, but I have progress.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Chin Up

I almost titled it "No Pain No Gain". The neck brace keeps my chin up, but also this has been an emotional trial for me. It's a helluva journey back. There have been tears and, at first, lots of number 10 pain. One day, before entering Rehab, before my pain was under better control, they had me sitting in a chair and they were trying to get me to stand up and walk. I was having an increasingly severe pain event and I was crying that it hurt too much and I couldn't get up. My daughter walked into this calamity and she started crying. Behind her walked my husband and he started crying. OMG my husband was weeping. I finally mustered the strength to get up and thankfully most of the worst pain subsided in the standing position (because my hands on the walker took the weight of my arms off my shoulders), so I walked! I walked with my daughter in tow behind me with a chair in case I needed to sit and my husband in front encouraging me on.

I've experienced reflection and moodiness. I cry easily. I just want to be me again, pain-free and able to do things again. Independence is a long process after this surgery. In order to reach the spine they must cut and pull aside the shoulder muscles. There's the pain. No reaching over my head, no lifting over 3 to 5 pounds. I need help getting anything higher than the 1st shelf in the cupboard. My hubby fills a small water bottle with milk so I can make my coffee and cereal. At this point, reaching into the frig and pulling out an 8 pound gallon of milk is not advised and would likely put my neck and shoulders into a night-long throbbing pain event.

At least my neck has healed enough for me to put on my shoes. I can sit at the computer for longer periods of time. I can dress myself. If anything must go over my head I lie down to do it. I can't wash or comb my hair. My daughter must attend to those things. No driving, no turning my head other than very slowly side to side as an exercise. The neck brace is hot. Sometimes I lie in bed with it off, so my neck can breath.

Surprising physical changes...

When we were still in Crescent City (see Stories from the Mist) I suspected something serious was beginning to happen but I didn't know what. Some of these symptoms began a few years ago and worsened progressively. My stomach was taking a long time to empty and it was getting worse. My bowels weren't moving, well, not more than once a week. Probiotics encouraged things slightly, but they were becoming less effective. I had trouble emptying my bladder. My right hand was turning numb along my little and ring finger. My left toes were numb. My legs cramped every night. It was increasingly severe on the left, with only the slightest movement throwing my leg into terrible cramps. Other parts were not working right. I didn't mention this before because I was focused on a healthier location for my husband, but deep down inside I knew somehow that I was going to be needing a specialist for my own health. The race to move for both of us was increasingly important.

I had no idea all those problems were related. Sometime after my surgery my stomach woke up, and so did my bowels. The sudden restoration caused gas pains, slight nausea and cramps, but after time they settled down to a normal routine. The numbness gradually went away. Everything else because working properly. My legs have not cramped at all. My blood pressure went to normal, a perfect normal! No more blood pressure meds!! Another possible resolution is the pain I had shooting across my left hip when I walked no longer seems to be present.

The thing with spinal stenosis, when it's that severe it can cause permanent damage if left alone. One doc said I was one bad fall or accident away from being in a wheel chair for the rest of my life.

June 15 I go back to Milwaukee to get an X-ray and see my surgeon. I hope to be able to remove the collar at that time, or at least begin removing it for periods of time. I read that the bone graft will need about three months to heal and continue to strengthen over the next year. Neck and shoulder muscles will continue to heal and strengthen.

Turning Point...

On May 26th I felt well enough to handle the short drive to Pike Lake. We had asked my therapist and she said I should be ok for that, just don't overdo. I had been taking short walks to the corner with my therapist and she could see marked improvement. I nearly cried I was so happy to finally get out to do something besides seeing a doctor. It was a beautiful day, breezy, sunny, puffy clouds.

In the meantime...

There have been family changes. My daughter and her husband had mutually decided to divorce, so her move here from California is permanent. She needs a car and an apartment, and to begin working (she put in for a transfer and medical leave). I am finally becoming independent enough to be left at home while she works, so I'm sure she will be going back to work soon. All of this mess has stressed our budget severely. My husband missed a lot of work and now work is slow. Well, we are all hopeful for things to normalize soon.

End note....

The air is so fresh here! The breeze is rustling the leaves. It's mostly cloudy but it's not hot. I love Wisconsin!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Side x-ray

before staple removal They start at my hairline but they gave me a buzz cut.

Glad daughter is here to help. Many things I can't do yet but I'm getting better. Hurts to sit at the computer for very long, so this will be short. Surgery was the 5th, on lots of pain meds, extreme pain when trying to get up. Pain level 10 when standing. Can you say crying and screaming. Transferred to Rehab on day 4. They discovered my pain level and said they would get that under control first. Finally up and starting therapy after a couple days. After 8 days I was doing well enough to come home. Discharge on the 17th, back to Milwaukee to have staples removed on the 18th....crazy, but they couldn't keep me an extra day. Trip in car was a pain setback but I have recovered. Two therapists come twice a week on alternating days for two weeks.

Wearing a cervical collar until next appointment the second week in June. Hard to eat, hard to chew because of swelling, collar, neck and shoulder pain, but I voluntarily stopped the pain meds. Just using Tylenol. Weak, lost the 10 pounds I wanted to loose but not the way I would recommend. Many issues I had before the surgery have been resolved. Ok, tired now.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


Arrive at hospital 5:30 am

Surgery - 7:30 am

Daughter arrives in Milwaukee - 7:30 pm

Distance from airport to hospital - 6 miles

See you on the flip side.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

From 48 to 80 in 60 seconds

Well, no, I'm not 48, but the number sounded good. Actually I'm 65, but am often mistaken for someone in their 50's. My hubby is a fast walker, and I keep up with him. It's easy for us to walk a couple miles or more, as long as the ground is fairly level, because uneven ground can make my back hurt.

Last Sunday was a good day for me. My blood sugar was better. I had lots of energy. Hubby left for work about 6 pm, and since it was still light out I took my walk, down the street, up a small hill, down, across and back again, for a total of 0.79 mile in 14 minutes. I had some tenderness in my lower back but I wasn't really thinking about it. I got back to the apartment, cooked myself some dinner, washed dishes....bla bla bla all the normal stuff, computer, piddle around, things like that.

About 11:30 pm I was sitting at the computer when my eyes got blurry. I figured my eyes must be really tired so I went to bed. I need new glasses badly, so looking at the computer screen is a bit out of sorts, it just became more so. I should have thought that it was weird, but instead I got up to go to bed. I promptly walked into the wall, well, with my hip, not straight on. I thought I must be really, really tired, so I went to bed ASAP.

The next morning my alarm rang at 7, because I like to get up and let hubby in when he gets home from work. I stood up and my legs were rubber. I had to sit down and collect myself. I did get up, and made my way into the living room. My lower back was burning (my typical reaction from statins). Hubby came home and I let him in.

"What's wrong?!?!?!" was the first thing he said when he saw me. I must have looked concerned. I told him what happened and immediately he wanted to drive me to the ER, or call 911. Typical of myself, I told him, "Let me call my 24 hour nurse line first."

The nurse couldn't pin down actual stroke symptoms, but made me promise to call my doc as soon as I hung up, which I did. She wasn't in, so we did a "walk in". As soon as I told them why I was there they rushed me back for a stroke evaluation. Nothing unusual was going on with my face or arms but I had marked leg weakness. They sent me to the ER in Hartford.

Again, I was evaluated without delay. Lying on the bed in the emergency room, we discovered that I could not lift my legs more than 2 inches off the bed, and that was with great difficulty. Normally I can kick myself in the head, so to speak. So they sent me for a CAT scan of my brain.

CAT scan came back clear. I had been checked and stroke reassessed over and over. They wanted to send me to a bigger hospital in Grafton where I could have an MRI. They transported me by ambulance. Hubby was pass-out exhausted so I made him go home to sleep and come later.

The MRI (my first ever...talk about a trippy test) was of my neck, not brain. I don't know what prompted the choice, but it showed extensive or severe cervical stenosis. (Watch video here) The neurologist said I am one bad fall or car accident away from permanent loss of the use of my legs. That was the bad news. The good news, there is a top surgeon at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee. So there I went. I was scheduled for surgery on Tuesday. They would have sent me home but I was a fall risk. I was still walking like a drunk, even though the strength in my legs was returning.

The morning for the surgery came....and went.....I had a slight bladder infection, which was enough to send the surgeon running to cancel. Can't have any infection when they are opening the spine. They gave me an infusion of antibiotics and were debating on sending me home with orders to return. But I had questions. What caused the "event", the blurred vision, the weakness, the staggered walk, and why was I slurring some of my words?

They sent another specialist to assess me. He ordered an MRI of my brain. A CAT scan will show a stroke, but it can't show other, smaller problems, such as a TIA, which my mom used to have.

The MRI showed some signs of normal aging, but no TIA evidence. His conclusion, since by this time I had continued to improve, was that it was medication.

"Have you started any new medications?" he asked.

"Yes, my doctor started me on Januvia two weeks ago and Liptor three days before everything happened on Sunday, but I told my doc I had problems with statins, so she said take half a tablet, which was only 5 mg."

He scrunched his face. "Two new medicines at once. We can't tell which one is the problem. Stop them both."

In the meantime I asked more questions about cervical stenosis. I learned that this is not something that can be treated with medicine. It cannot be corrected with exercise. It gets worse, and in time, the damage to the nerves can become permanent. Note...I have significant stenosis. Maybe that explains the numbness in my left toes, and why I get leg cramps so easily. The pressure on the spine causes reflexes to be exaggerated. That was evident to the doctors when they checked me. I kick like a mule with the reflex test. They said that exaggeration shows how stressed my spine is right now.

Finally, on Saturday I got to come home. At least I was walking normally and talking without the slur. I'm on Cipro with orders for a urine culture at the clinic here in Hartford. If all is clear then I go back to Milwaukee for surgery on Thursday.

All this mess is rough on hubby. He just started a new job not even a month ago and he is now needing to take days off. He worries about leaving me alone. My daughter's plans to move here are bumped up. She is looking for not only a transfer but also a leave of absence to help care for me. I won't be able to drive for at least 6 weeks. I will need physical therapy and follow-up appointments. I will probably be fine, but since I won't be able to use my arms a lot, or reach certain ways, or turn certain ways, or vacuum or sweep, all the chores are going to fall onto someone else. I will need to walk. Hubby would feel better if daughter were here to walk with me. There are a million reasons.

When I was in the hospital I told the physical therapist that before this happened I could walk just as fast as anyone. I felt like I was 48 one day and 80 the next.