Part 1: My History, Pre-Surgery
Part 2: Surgery and the Hospital
I decided to have the procedure done with the same surgeon I had seen years before: Dr. Mark Abel at the UVA Medical Center in Charlottesville, VA.
The night before the surgery (since I had to be at the hospital at some ungodly early hour…like 6am) my sister Elissa and I drove to Charlottesville to spend the night with a friend. She dropped me off at the hospital the next morning and then drove back to Richmond to go to work. She didn’t like leaving me, knowing what was about to happen, but both of my parents were meeting me there and I didn’t need a crowd.
My parents were more scared than I was. To be honest, I wasn’t nervous until I arrived in pre-op and they asked me to put my hair up in a plastic cap. They gave me an identification bracelet. Somebody else came by and checked to make sure that I knew why I was there. (I have since seen the reason for this on TV; it’s because of medical malpractice suits and body parts being operated-on or removed in error.) The anesthesiologist arrived to insert the IV which would render me unconscious for the next 4-5 hours.
Yes, it is a long surgery. Short story: my spine was fused to steel rods. These rods will never need to be removed unless I experience a problem with them, which is very rare.
After the surgery, before the drugs wore off and “reality” set in, they transported me from the operating table to a bed in the ICU. I had to spend the first night there for observational purposes, and then I would be transferred to a regular room for the remainder of my hospital stay. I woke up when they moved me from the operating room to my bed in the ICU; there were people I didn’t know standing around me and above me. I remember thinking, “Wow, I feel fine. That was a piece of cake.” (Thank you, strong drugs.)
My next distinct memory was the day after the surgery, when I was being moved from the ICU to a regular room. That experience stands out in my head as one of the most excruciatingly painful things I have ever gone through. Two male nurses picked me up from one bed — using the sheet I was laying on — and switched me to another bed. To their credit, they tried to do it as quickly as they possibly could. However, in my condition, having just had my spine rearranged, and the good drugs having worn off…I do remember that I yelled out in pain. (I was going to say that I “screamed,” but that sounds so much more dramatic and scary. I may very well have screamed, though.) I had never felt pain like that in my life.
Since my surgeon specializes in pediatric orthopedics, he wanted me on the same floor as his other patients (I was originally referred to him when I was 13). Needless to say, having turned 21 the month before, I was the oldest patient on the ward (I shared a room with a 10-year-old girl). I was in the hospital for five nights, and left on the sixth day, so I was there for a while. The first few days, I was hooked-up to a morphine drip that I could control with the click of a button. It was regulated so I couldn’t give myself more than a designated amount in a certain period of time. As long as I didn’t move around too much, the drugs worked. After a few days, I was told to get up and sit in a chair for a while, then I could walk around until I got tired — which, in the beginning, meant I could walk to the end of the hallway and back before I needed to lay down again.
The hard part was just getting out of bed. It hurt to keep my back anything other than absolutely straight, so trying to raise myself up from a flat position was difficult. Usually I would stay sitting up as high as the bed would allow because it was easier to get up that way. When I slept, however, having scooted down in the bed, it wasn’t very fun trying to get up from that position. It helped to have someone else help me sit up, which is why I mention this: except for the last night before I left the hospital, I had someone there with me every night — either my dad, my mom, or my sister Elissa.
I would wake up every night (sometimes more than once), and have to go to the bathroom. I didn’t look forward to waking up because I knew I would be in pain, and I would have to raise myself out of bed, shuffle across the floor to the bathroom, all while dragging my IV pole along with me. I was hardly eating anything, but with the constant IV-drip I gained five pounds in water weight. And the mirror! When I looked in the mirror all I saw a makeup-less, greasy-haired, bloated girl, complete with glasses and dark circles under her eyes. Not a good time.
Part 3: After the Surgery