Daily Archives: October 22, 2003

Sleep? What’s that? Redux

I call the nurse to turn out a light (one my button doesn’t control)
and flatten out my bed a little, so I’ve a better chance of sleeping.
I settle for the night, and then another nurse arrives for the last
obs of the day. She removes the blood pressure armbands and turns off
the machine, so I won’t have that annoying me all night.

Even so, I’ve still got the line in my hand (not plugged in to anything),
and can’t turn onto my side (how I normally get to sleep), and it’s as
hot as a furnace, and the man next door can’t sleep so he’s wibbling away
to the nurses at full volume. Sleep doesn’t come easily.

I go to the toilet at about 3am, all by myself, and decide to throw
off most of the covers on my bed to cool down a bit. It’s slightly more
comfortable now, but I sleep only a couple of hours.

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Painkiller

Teachers is just finishing on the TV when the overnight nurse pops in.
She does her obs and tells me I need to take a painkiller. I don’t really
want to, but she insists. I should eat something with the pill to avoid
an upset stomach, so I ask for tea and biscuits. I forget that the tea
will be caffeinated, and I normally avoid all caffeine.

Still, the biscuits are nice.

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Routine

Read, watch TV, watch arm being inflated by a machine, talk to nurse,
listen to the man in the room next door talk very loudly.

Repeat.

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Family and friends

Mum and Dad visit for a couple of hours. I ask them to extract my
book, phone and Palm Pilot from my bag and turn on the TV, so I have
something to do other than get de-dozed every so often by the
blood-pressure machine.

I text Chris and get him to spread the word. Turns out I was too
subtle on my email yesterday, and many people reply to Chris along
the lines of “What surgery?”. Proof, if proof were needed,
that nobody reads my blog :-)

Chris turns up in person at about 5:30, for a quick visit.

Not long after 6pm my brother visits, and my dinner arrives. I’m a
bit grumpy, as I’m still plugged into various machines, can’t sit up
properly, and my starter is soup (pretty tricky to eat right
now). Eventually I give up and call the nurse, and persuade her to
extract me from the drip as it’s nearly finished anyway and the
anaesthetist said I didn’t need it.

While she’s unplugging me (leaving the line in), my phone rings.

“Can’t talk now, I’m having an operation,” I say to Rob, slightly
exaggerating. I don’t think the nurse approves. I tell Rob I’ll ring
him back later.

Feeling a bit less constrained, I manage to eat about half my
dinner. My brother eats the other half.

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Back on the ward

I’m now deemed to have recovered sufficiently to return to my
room. There’s not a lot I can do, or in fact want to do, right now.
The TV’s off so the remote doesn’t work. My books are in my bag, in
the wardrobe. I doze.

Every fifteen minutes a machine inflates the armband and takes a
blood pressure reading. Then a nurse pops in, copies things from the
machine onto my chart, and leaves again.

Time passes.

I feel the urge to pee. A nurse gives me a bottle, but I’m unable
to perform flat on my back. Eventually they decide I’m well enough to
try walking to the toilet.

They teach me how to get out of bed. Lie on your side by the edge
of the bed, then push up with your arms and bring your feed to the floor
at the same time: in other words, pivot around your bum keeping your
spine straight.

I’m a bit woozy when I rotate to the vertical for the first
time. The wooziness is more a spine thing than an anaesthetic
thing. When my head clears I stand up. Ooh, no sciatic pain! Oh,
surgery pain! I shuffle carefully into the bathroom, two nurses
waiting for me to fall, one of them carrying my drip which she hangs
on the coathook on the bathroom door. Aah, that’s better.

Clearly the drip’s going straight through me, as I’m eating nothing
and drinking very little but have to pee again soon afterwards.

The postman arrives with a Get Well Soon card from Chris and Melanie.

I overhear a nurse telling another patient that mobile phones are
allowed on the ward. Good, I can let people know how I got on. When
I can get to my phone.

I get a quick visit from the surgeon again, who tickles my feet to
make sure I still have feeling down there. He tells me they did
everything they planned to in surgery, and that it was quite hard to
scrape out the innards of the disc – due to the length of time I’ve
had the problem. (I’ve got a small bottle containing the bits he cut
out.)

The anaesthetist also pops in for a minute. He tells me I don’t need
the drip any more. Good. I just have to persuade a nurse to remove it.

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Some time later

Two nurses are gossiping by my bedside. I’m a bit cold. I can feel
the wound. There’s a drip plugged into my line, a blood-pressure armband,
and the heart-rate clothes peg.

My mouth is very dry. The nurses ask how I feel, and I croak a reply.
I’m not nauseous at all. I take a sip of water, which feels good.

I start shivering. This is common after anaesthetic. There’s a tin-foil
space blanket over me as well as the normal sheets and blankets.

I’m in Recovery. I’ll stay here until I’ve settled down enough –
stopped shivering in my case – to return to my room on the ward.

Sip, shiver. Shiver, sip. Croak. Gossip. Shiver.

The surgeon and anaesthetist pop in to check on me for a few moments.

I’m feeling pretty well, considering I’ve just had spinal surgery.
Must be the drugs.

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Trundle

Lorraine tells me to get into bed. A few moments later someone
dressed for the operating theatre walks in and, with Lorraine and
another student nurse who’s observing things, starts to wheel me along
the corridors to surgery.

On the way I ask whether it’s anything like Scrubs. They laugh.

We pass through a set of automatic double-doors, on which is stuck
a hand-written sign: “Warning: hesitating doors”. Then we go through
another set of doors, and come to a halt.

It’s the anaesthetist’s lair. He’s not here yet, presumably out
back with a fag and a bottle of whisky or something. His two
assistants ask a few questions: am I left-handed or right-handed (it
determines which hand they use to insert the line through which
they’ll pump all the drugs), exactly what types of plaster am I
allergic to (the thick pinkish elastoplast for sure; they’ll use
something else to stick the various things to my body).

The index finger on my left hand is hooked up to the heart-rate
monitor (it’s like a clothes peg on your finger, but not as tight; it
shines strong red light through your finger and a sensor on the other
side picks up your pulse). I’m hovering at around 100.

“You’re a bit nervous, aren’t you,” says Lorraine. I can only agree.
Not as bad as I thought I’d be right now.

The Winston-alike anaesthetist joins us. For the student nurse’s
benefit, and for mine too, he explains what he’s doing. Although I’m
the recipient of all this attention, I feel a bit like another
observer. So much so he has to ask me twice to clench and unclench my
right fist so he can zero in on the vein he wants to invade.

“Slight scratch coming… now.” I decide I don’t need to look.

“I can tell you’re a bit nervous, so first I’ll give you something
to calm you down.” He tells the student nurse the drug’s name, then
introduces it down the line. I feel a warmth, a bit of pressure, around
my wrist. Then there’s another drug. And another.

“Whoooah,” I say as I’m washed in light-headedness. “That feels
better.”

Another drug goes in. “I’m feeling a bit drowsy now.” My eyelids start
to droop…

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Pre-prep prep

A nurse, Lorraine, arrives to talk to me, and Mike decides to take
his leave. He looks guilty for leaving me.

Lorraine’s job is to reassure me and to find out all those little
things they’d rather know in advance, like the fact that I’m allergic
to elastoplast, I’m vegetarian, etc.

She tells me I’ll get a visit from the anaesthetist and the
surgeon, and just before 8am they’ll take me to get prepped for
surgery. Then she leaves me to undress and get into the highly
fashionable and sought-after standard-issue velcro-fastened hospital
smock.

I spend the time before the anaesthetist arrives pacing again. It
seems an age before he turns up.

“You look anxious,” he diagnoses correctly. He looks like a
prototype Lord Dr Robert Winston, TV’s favourite medic, the one who
presented that televisual atrocity Walking With Cavemen.

He disappears, and a few minutes later the surgeon arrives. He takes me
through the procedure: discectomy, laminectomy, feraminectomy. Clear away
the disc leakage, cut away a bit more of the disc, and cut away a bit of
bone to allow the nerve root a bit more room to move.

The risks: there’s a 1% chance of “foot drop”: where you can’t
control the foot properly. Like Inspector Morse, he says, I might end
up with a splint. And of course there’s the catch-all: a
one-in-a-thousand chance of a “spinal catastrophe”. He freely admits
that this is a generic term that means “something really bad might
happen”.

He scribbles this down on the consent form, and I sign. He leaves
me alone again.

I have no idea what time it is; I’ve taken off my watch, and
there’s no clock in the room. But it must be 8am by now.

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My new home

There’s a bed with the usual hospital accoutrements: buttons to make
things go up and down, turn on lights and summon nurses, and even one to
call someone from the kitchen. “HP Sauce roll! Stat!”

I’m told not to touch one particular button marked Emergency. It’s the
one the nurses press when they want world+wife to descend upon you.

Other than that I’ve got a TV, a phone, and an en-suite bathroom
with shower.

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Sleep? What’s that?

I’ve woken on the hour every hour since I dropped off at about 1am.
My alarm wakes me at 6am. I’m ready to go by 6.15, pacing the room.
Walking hurts but sitting makes it hurt more when I get up again.

My brother Mike arrives just before 6.30 to drive me to the
hospital. He carries my bag.

We arrive at the Cambridge Lea at around 6:45, before Reception has
opened. We follow signs to the ward, but a nurse there turns us round
and returns us to Reception where a well-coiffed lady is just opening
up and complaining about her computer.

“I’m here to check in, if that’s what it’s called.” They’re expecting
me. I fill in a medical questionnaire. She swipes my credit card and asks
me whether I want a morning newspaper. It’s a hotel with scalpels.

She leads me and Mike down Doctor Who-style identikit corridors to
my room. My inner geek smiles that I’m in room 128. Ooh, a power of two.

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