I started physical therapy this week for a neck injury sustained ten years ago. This got me thinking about how I ended up there and all of the delights along the way. My sister and I were Christmas shopping in late 2000, when some kid on a cellphone ran a stop sign (more on that here), causing the crash that injured me. Flash forward ten months and I'm getting surgery on my neck.
For months I had been complaining to my doctor that I couldn't feel my left hand. My fingers "played piano" of their own accord. And I was repeatedly assured it was "just muscle spasms." I was only 25. Finally I was able to convince him that it wasn't just a muscle spasm, so he sent me for an MRI. If you've never had one, let me tell you, it's a special kind of hell. I was "secured" to a sliding table, my head locked down in this weird cage thing. Then they slide you into the MRI, which is what I imagine being locked in a dryer might be like. It's not for the faint of heart. Or the claustrophobic.
One look at the MRI and my doctor almost threw up. I have never seen someone with a worse poker face than me. "This is not good. I'm going to get you into see my friend who is a neurosurgeon. Tomorrow." Nothing like a doctor telling you "it's not good" to instill confidence in your care -- especially after having ignored my complaints for the better part of a year. I must admit, there was a tiny part of me that enjoyed being right, but before I could even muster an "I told you so," the larger part of me had a conniption fit about having to have surgery.
When I saw the neurosurgeon the next day (the last appointment on a Friday -- he had stayed late that day because of the urgent call from my other idiot doctor), my fears were confirmed. Surgery was a must . . . if I wanted to remain able to walk, write, and feed myself. In fact, the surgeon wanted to admit me to the hospital that night for surgery in the morning. I had made his top ten worst list, and he performed that surgery several times a week. But even with that knowledge, vanity was my biggest fear. He was going to have to slice into my neck, go in past my voicebox and fix my neck that way. I was going to have a scar. It was at that point that I burst into tears. Not when he said, "If you don't have this surgery now, you may not walk in the future." Can you say, drama queen?
I scheduled the surgery for ten days later, a Tuesday. I assured my friends at work that I'd be ready for happy hour that Friday, neck brace be damned (because I didn't want to impinge on my social life, hello!). Oh yeah, did I mention that I had to wear a neck brace for 12 weeks after the surgery? It was hot. We went to the hospital early that morning and my parents checked me in. I don't really remember much after that becuase they knocked me out and cut me open. I woke up in some room with my parents there and these things on my legs that were supposed to keep me from getting a blood clot. They were so hot, and all I wanted was to take them off. Then I fell back asleep.
I woke up next in my room. I was sharing it with some old lady who had had a hip replaced. I snoozed in and out, waking long enough to throw up from the anesthesia. My friend the Policy Lawyer showed up with flowers and sat there while I dozed and barfed. (It's friends like that who you know you can count on forever--thanks, friend!) Sometime after she left, the old lady in the bed next to me turned on the TV. She must've been half deaf, because it was cranked! I was so miserable, and all I could hear was Judge Judy squawking at someone. Then she started to moan (the old lady, not Judge Judy). "Aaah! Oooh!" And on she went. Finally I pushed the nurse call button. They came in to see me and I begged them to get her to shut up. Or at least to turn down the TV. There's nothing worse than being in the hospital . . . unless it's being in the hospital in a "semi-private" room. I can still remember the nurse going over to tell the old lady, "There's a very sick woman in the next bed. You have to be more quiet." "Well, what's wrong with her? Is she sicker than me?" the old lady argued.
I think I must've fallen asleep shortly after that, because the next thing I knew, it was morning. Breakfast had arrived (styrofoam eggs) and my neighbor was moaning again. She hollared through the curtain, "I hear you're sick over there. Can I have your breakfast?" I said she could and a nurse came in to give it to her. Then she asked me why I was in. "Neck surgery, " I told her. Ray of light that she was, she informed me, "Oh, that's too bad. You know, once they get their hands on you, you'll never be the same again. I'm having my third hip replacement." I pretended I was aleep after that because I really didn't need her sourpuss. I never did move that curtain to see what she looked like, and thank god for that.
While I was waiting to be discharged (laying there as uncomfortable as can be with an IV and a hard plastic neck brace), the old lady called for the nurse. And then it happened. "I can't go," she said, "You're going to have to give me an enema." I prayed I was hearing wrong. The nurse tried to get her to wait, but she was insistent, "If I don't go soon, I'm going to get really cranky." Nobody wanted to see her crankier than she already was, so the nurse went to get the supplies. On her way out the door, she gave me an apologetic look.
What happened next was like something out of a bad comedy. As I lay there suffering, the nurse administered what had to be the world's loudest enema. I heard every gurgle and hiss of the tube. And then there was the smell. It was the grossest thing that's ever happened to me. But at least I wasn't the nurse. The old lady felt the need to narrate the entire process, which I will refrain from doing here, because even I have my standards. Let's just say, it was without a doubt the most disturbing part of the whole hospital experience.
At long last, my parents arrived and the doctor discharged me. Once I was at my parents' house (where I had to stay for six weeks until I swapped out the hard brace for a soft one), I was happily ensconced in my own private room and my real recovery began. I never did make it to that happy hour, but lots of friends came by to visit during my confinement. I'll never forget all of the support I got from everyone, but I have to say, to this day, I can't hear Judge Judy without having flashbacks.