Sunday, June 7, 2015

Week One

That night, I became cognizant of my new reality. I ate very little for dinner as I still wasn't hungry. I began noticing how much I had relied on morphine as a source of pain management. I was sent home with a prescription for 10 mg of Oxycodone every 3 hours. By the time 3 hours rolled around and I was allowed my next dose, every single nerve in my body was on fire, and I had spiked another fever. I was exhausted, so my husband helped me into bed, which proved to be another challenge. Our bed is rather tall, and I required a step stool and Tyler's steady arm to get into bed. Once I was in bed, however, it was a chore to get comfortable. We gathered every spare pillow we could find and piled them behind me so I was almost sitting up, then put pillows on either side of my body so I could rest my arms and keep them away from my incisions. I found it harder to breathe when I was lying down, so I adopted this position for sleeping for the first week. I took a nap, and when I awoke, it was dark. I heard Tyler downstairs watching a movie and felt like joining him, so I took it upon myself to crawl out of bed, shuffle to the stairs, and then very slowly take one step at a time until I reached the bottom. When we went to bed that night, we repeated the process of getting me into bed, getting me comfortable, etc. He said he laid awake that night listening to me trying to breathe -- very shallow, very fast -- and was worried that I would stop breathing. He got up through the night to make sure I kept to my medication schedule. (Its important to keep ahead of the pain!) It was a long night for both of us.

The next day was quiet. I felt miserable. Everything hurt -- Walking hurt. Coughing hurt. Using my left arm hurt. Breathing hurt. Tyler washed my hair while I leaned over the bathtub and that hurt. But I was glad to be home. My kids came home that evening after not having seen me since they went to school Wednesday morning. My 2 year old wanted nothing more than to crawl up onto my lap and she wasn't too happy about the new edict that she sit next to me instead of on my lap. I felt guilty that I couldn't help get them ready for bed, but I was definitely anxious to go to sleep myself. When I was asleep, I didn't notice the hurt.

Monday was the beginning of the last week of school. Tyler was taking another week off work to care for the toddler and me, and neighbors continued to bring the older kids home at the end of the day. Monday was my first shower since Wednesday. I wish I could say it was delightful, but my muscles were so sore, shampooing my hair was a challenge. Neighbors began bringing in dinner, which we so appreciated as Tyler definitely had his hands full.

The pain continued throughout the week. I started getting very impatient with how long it was taking to feel better. In hindsight, I find it amusing that I was so frustrated at week one, considering how many weeks ultimately had to pass in order to start finding relief. I did everything they told me to do, and yet I still felt like an invalid.

I was told to take daily walks as part of my recovery, so I shuffled around the block each day with Tyler at my side. Always in my pajamas, I couldn't make it around the block without stopping to rest. Neighbors would wave from their windows, or come out to chat, which wore me out even more. Tyler was good about making sure my lungs got that much needed exercise and we joked that he was "walking his wife instead of his dog."

 I was also told to use my Incentive Spirometer every hour that I was awake -- 10 puffs. I hated that thing. You blow all the air out of your lungs, create a seal over the mouth piece and then very slowly inhale and hold the top of your breath for a number of seconds. When you're days out of surgery, that's easier said than done. Try as a I might, I couldn't get past 1500 when my husband could hit 5000 without blinking an eye. I still find the name pretty funny, because while the idea of breathing well should be incentive enough to use it hourly as prescribed, it's NOT. You want to incentivize it? Send me home with a box of artisan dark chocolate and the mandate that every time I use the spirometer, I can eat a piece. Think of how quickly my lung function would improve! (I actually suggested this to a doctor friend and the next day she showed up with a sleeve of Dutch dark chocolate!) 

 My best friend had a baby on Wednesday morning, and I was intent on finishing a quilt I had been making for her. I'm not quite sure how I managed it, but I spent a couple hours at the sewing machine that day, and then another couple hours on the couch hand-stitching with the intent to visit her the following day. On Thursday, Tyler took out my stitches as he had been instructed to. He thought it would be a great idea (for my emotional well-being) to get me out of the house, so he took me to the hospital to visit my friend. I wore a mask just to be safe. I was in my pajamas with no makeup, so I'm sure I blended right in. It was my first trip out, but I felt like I did pretty well. The funniest part of the visit was when a lab tech came in for one reason or another and the conversation turned to the difference in food service between the University Hospital where my friend had given birth and St. Mark's where I had my surgery. The guy said his wife was a nurse at St. Marks and that he used to work there as well, and when he heard what unit I had been in, he asked who my nurses had been. I listed them off, and he exclaimed, "Oh, AJ is great! She's the best ever!" I kept my mouth shut but made sure to make eye contact with my girlfriend who had already heard the story. When he left, we broke into laughter...which, of course, hurt.

I was exhausted when I got home, but I needed a refill on my pain meds so I called the office and talked to a nurse practitioner. She asked how things were going and I told her that quite honestly, I was surprised by how painful things had been. The surgeon had told me during the initial consultation that I'd probably be down for a week or two. With the first week coming to a close, I didn't feel anywhere close to resuming my daily tasks. She assured me that it was a rough surgery to recover from, and that being as young as I am, I may have assumed I would bounce back quicker. In reality, I just needed to be patient and it could take many weeks to feel significant improvement. She prescribed Ibuprofen in addition to the Oxycodone to help with inflammation, but wanted me to cut back to 5 mg as soon as I could.

My Facebook status update that week said the following:

6 days post-op.
I'm constantly hunched over.
I shuffle when I walk.
Elastic waistbands are a must--the stretchier, the better.
I drink a glass of Miralax every morning with my breakfast.
My day revolves around my pill and nap schedule.
I can't wear a bra, but I will coordinate my cardigan sweaters with my pajama pants.
If you ask me how I'm doing, I'll tell you all about where I hurt.
I need help getting up off a couch, a chair, out of bed, etc.
"Going for a walk" means I'm going to shuffle to the corner, turn around, and shuffle home.
The most exciting part of my day is getting the mail.

I went in for thoracic surgery. I came out a 95 year old woman.

That pretty much sums it up.

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