A Jug of Milk

I recently had ACDF surgery, which you can read more about here, and during my recovery I’m not supposed to lift anything heavier than a jug of milk.  For weeks.

Go to your fridge and pick up a full gallon of milk.  Heft it a few times.  It’s got some weight to it, but not too much.  Now look around your house and think about everything that might weigh the same or more.  This is incredibly irritating.

Laundry basket? Not if it’s full of clothes.

Garbage cans? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  No.

A baking sheet covered in bbq sauce slathered chicken wings? Oh, you sweet summer child.

The sliding glass door to the backyard that sticks a little?  I’m doing it, but I think I might be pushing my luck.  Side note: I bumped into the door while going through it yesterday and it gave me a not-entirely-gentle reminder that caution is still warranted.

The metal patio chair around my table in the backyard?  This is another one where I feel like I’m pushing my luck.  Doing it anyway.  So far so good?

Walk my dog?  That’s kind of how I got into this whole mess to begin with.  I’ll need to heal up first.

That package the UPS man left on your front step?  Ah.  This is where it starts to get tricky.  Is it too heavy?  Nearly impossible to tell without trying to lift it.  Which could be bad.  This is the intersection of natural curiosity and natural selection.  You see, I could just open it to determine what’s inside, and then make a more educated guess as to its weight.  But if I CAN’T carry it, now I have an open package on my doorstep.  I COULD just try to carry it inside, and force through the pain.  But, I have this terrible image of two screws ripping out of my vertebrae whilst I lay screaming on the ground.  Yeah, get THAT image out of your head.  I actually kicked a box yesterday to see if hat would help.  It did, but do I really want to go kicking all my stuff to estimate weight?  What if it’s fragile?  No, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.

So… a jug of milk is my limit.  Something in the 5-10 lb range according to the brochure my surgeon gave me.  Fortunately, all is not lost.  I can lift Jello, and so I can survive.

As always, thanks for reading, and you’re welcome.

Living the Dream,
Humble Dave

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An Open Letter To The Sharp Memorial Hospital Team

Dear Sharp Memorial Crew,

First off, let me say Thank You to everyone with whom I came into contact at your facility.  You were all smiles.  You cared, and it showed.  I was a 41 year old surgery virgin, and you were all gentle and sweet.  And also HILARIOUS!  I love you all.  Thank you.

It’s funny, but I thought this was going to be easy to write, but I find I’m having trouble finding the right words.  I guess I’ll defer to my usual style, which is organized chaos.

sharpexperience I thought I understood “The Sharp Experience.”  I was wrong.  You all completely blew my expectations out of the water, and made what could have been the most stressful experience of my life into an absolute pleasure.  No joke.  I spent about 29 hours with you all between Friday morning and Saturday afternoon, and you exceeded ALL of my expectations.  Everyone I met was friendly, smiling, and willing to help.  All completely professional, of course, but still willing to crack a joke and laugh with me.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember everyone’s name that I met.  I wish I could.  They all deserve individual credit, so feel free to contact me and we’ll track them down.  I can tell you that everyone was great.  Literally EVERYONE.  I don’t know anyone’s last name, so you’ll have to figure that out.  Here are a few standouts:

Cara in the SPA was SUPER friendly.  What a delight.  She really helped make the waiting bearable.

phlebotomistBlood-taker girl with tattoos who was also in the SPA – Only saw her twice I think, but both times she was great.  Memorably so.  Made me smile both times.  If she needs any more of my blood she knows where to find me.  With how gentle she was both times, she could be taking it right now and I wouldn’t even know.

MJ – Wow.  What can I say about MJ.  She was my RN the first night in the hospital.  Incredibly patient with me.  Was there every time I needed her.  We walked around the floor.  She got me jello after jello.  Helped me with all my meds.  Took me off the IV as soon as it was feasible (FREEDOM!).  Adjusting the bed.  MJ is awesome.  Special thanks to her.  I was so out of it during much of my time with her that I can’t remember a lot of the details.  What I do remember is an overwhelming sense that I was completely safe and cared for during this time. (EDIT:  So I was originally done and going to publish this letter, but upon re-reading it I wanted to write more nice things about MJ.  I know she was a former traveler who just recently started at Sharp Memorial full-time.  Sharp, you scored BIG TIME with this one.  MJ, just keep doing what you’re doing.  You’re awesome.  HOORAY FOR MJ!)

Dawit, my man.  Thanks for the stroll around the floor.  And for collecting and measuring my pee.  It smelled terrible, but you were a champ.

feast-2JUANITA!  OH JUANITA! Let me tell you a story.  It starts with a hungry boy, post throat and spine surgery.  It ends with custom meals handcrafted with love to ensure I could actually eat it.  Chicken cut up into tiny pieces.  SHE LITERALLY CUT UP A PIECE OF FRIED CHICKEN INTO TINY LITTLE SLIVERS OF AWESOMENESS so that my recently intubated and slit open throat could eat them.  Was that all?  OF COURSE NOT!  She then gave me a bowl of warm chicken broth so I could dip these chicken pieces and get them soggy enough to swallow.

She is freaking incredible.  Extra applesauce.  Apple juice.  Scrambled eggs cut up into tiny bite sized pieces.  Lactose free milk.  Hot cocoa.  Juanita went so far out of her way to make sure I was happy that I don’t even have the words to describe how big of a difference she made.  Thank you, Juanita.  I ate food besides jello solely because of you. (EDIT:  I am STILL telling people about Juanita 5 days after I left the hospital.  Woot!)

Renea.  My dear Renea.  Who wandered the halls and storage areas hunting for ever more jello for me (and finding it!).  I was already starting to feel better when we met, but you ensured my spirits remained high and I’d be ready to check out as soon as possible.  I say “check out” instead of discharged because I felt more like I was in a fancy hotel instead of a hospital. Renea, who never ONCE corrected me when I called her Renee.  I still think your shoes are cool.

anesthesiaObviously I’d like to thanks my anesthesiologist Dr. Fowler (I think I spelled that correctly?) who did an awesome job and didn’t leave me in that half-life you see in the movies where you can’t move during surgery but you’re still totally awake and able to see and feel everything that’s going on.  That would have been awful.  Instead I drifted gently off to sleep and woke up with no problems.  I have no memory of the recovery room following surgery.  Keep kicking butt, Doc!

nmc-logo-printDr. Ostrup.  My neurosurgeon.  The man who ripped out pieces of my spine with his bare hands, power tools, and force of will, then replaced it with robot parts.  BEEP BOOP THANK YOU FELLOW HUMAN.  Seriously though, Thanks for everything.  You took the time to answer all of my questions using small, simple words I could understand.  Like “Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion” and “Coffee.”  Your calm demeanor and nonchalant attitude really helped me relax in the days leading up to the procedure.  I hope you carved your initials into one of my vertebrae.  You deserve it.

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Day after surgery – still in hospital

There were so many others who deserve mention and I’ll blame a naturally poor memory mixed with a variety of pain medications on my forgetfulness, but we should be able to identify them here:  My three “shower girls” who came in and changed my sheets and towels, set up the bathroom for a hot shower, gave me instructions on how to do it without re-injuring myself, and were all smiles and happiness.  You all were great and had me constantly laughing and smiling.  My Occupational Therapist (Nancy?) who made sure I knew how to dress myself without falling on my face, and who shared some personal stories of success that made me feel better about my own situation.  My Physical Therapist who walked with me around the floor and was stunned by my mobility.  HAH!  Jokes on you.  MJ and I were walking around the floor all night long.  I couldn’t sleep anyway, might as well check some boxes off the board!  The two Charge Nurses (night and day) who stopped to chat and ask how I was doing during my walks around the floor.  Thanks for your concern!  All the nurses at the desks who smiled when I walked by.  Every smile is a bit of happiness you can share.  Carlos, thanks for the smooth wheelchair ride to the door when I was dischargedIf I forgot anyone, I’m sorry.  Your contribution was significant, and you too are appreciated.  And I suppose a special Thank You to someone I’ve never met but who had an equally important role to play: The Jello Stocker.  Thank you.  You brought more happiness to me during this experience than I can possibly express in words.  Jello is life.  Jello is love.

And what can I say about The Hotel Del Sharp Memorial.  They did everything right. Comfortable single rooms.  Comfortable beds.  Incredible food.  Super friendly everybody.  Awesome views.  This was a luxury experience.

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I have to keep coming back to the staff here.  Sharp clearly has incredible hiring practices.  This one deserves another mention.  Whoever is in charge of hiring the people with whom I interacted should be invited to the pizza party you’re going to throw for everyone on my floor.  I’m not joking.  Pizza Party.  Or, you know, whatever kind of awesomely catered food and party these people want.  Do it.  They deserve it.  Also, big raises, their own ponies, some kind of monogrammed scrubs that say BEST TEAM EVER, probably a tiara of some kind, and a series of crisp high-fives.

OH!  You know what? I thought of one critique.  One tiny space for improvement.  In the private bathroom in my private room, with my private view of the sunrise, the toilet paper rolls were a little low.  A bit hard to reach.  There.  That’s it.  Could you raise them up about a foot?  That would be awesome.  Thanks!

But the most important thing, to me, while in the hospital for what was my very first surgery (nearly 42 years old!) was this:  I never once felt afraid.  Nervous before the surgery, sure!  But I always felt safe, and surrounded by confident, knowledgeable people who could handle anything my broken down body could throw at them.  Except my jokes, which were apparently too painful to take. 🙂

Thank you all.

Kind Regards,
Humble Dave

Just Another Pain In The Neck

Welp, it’s finally happening. I made it nearly 42 years before I reached this point, but I’m here. Surgery. Doctors are going to take me apart and put me back together again. Huh. I assume they’re going to put me back together again. How would I know? What if they open me up, take me apart, and are like, “Okay, who brought the replacement part? We’re ready for it.” And then they’ll all kinda look at each other, shrug, and just… wander off. It could happen! Look around you, people. This is a weird timeline we’re living in right now. Anything’s possible.

Granted, it more likely they’ll finish the surgery smoothly and that’ll be that, but I’m just saying… weird timeline.

Anyway, if you know me at all, you know I’ve been having a bit of neck pain over the the past 9 months. I say “a bit of neck pain” in the same way one might say the pacific ocean has a bit of water in it. It actually has a lot, in case… ummmm… that’s something you didn’t know for some reason. Which would be weird. I’m not judging. It would be a lot less weird than some of the other stuff I’ve been reading lately.

So back to my pain in the neck.. Surgery is the solution. Hopefully. Already tried medication, rest, physical therapy, and begging for it to go away. No luck. So, surgery! Specifically Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF) surgery. Basically what they do is open up my throat, shove all the junk in there off to the side (esophagus, trachea, arteries, etc), rip out one of the discs in my spine (specifically between C5 & C6), grind out some extra bone, screw in a metal spacer, put the rest of my throat back and stitch me up. Done and done.

I wonder if I can keep the disc they’re removing? My wife doesn’t think so. That seems unfair. It IS mine, after all. Really, it’s more mine than almost anything else. Literally a part of me. Had it my whole life. I’m kinda sad to see it go. We’ve had some good times, that disc and I. Ah well.

I also wonder if I should record it? Set up a camera in the corner? It might be interesting to see what the inside of my neck and spine look like, right? Probably gross, but still… a learning experience.

It’s late and I’m tired, so I’m not entirely positive any of this rambling makes sense. There’s a good chance it doesn’t. I was watching Flight of the Conchords while typing, so… distracted. However, if you’ve made it this far I guess it’s good enough.

To sum up: First surgery – slit throat and spine removal. Pretty standard really. Souvenir unlikely.

As always, thanks for reading, and you’re welcome.

-Humble Dave

What an Enormous Pain in the Neck

As my wife will attest, I have a habit, nay, a gift, for injuring myself in stupid ways.  Blew out my knee paddle-boating, 2nd degree burns on my hand from steam coming out of a lobster pot, minor neck injury from staying in the same position too long playing video games, etc.  I mean, come on.  I’m the guy who can hurt himself sleeping (not joking, keep reading).

Normally these are minor, relatively quickly healed injuries (the knee’s been an issue, but that’s a topic for another post.  This is obviously about a NECK.  Pay attention).  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

In July of 2017 we took our strong and excitable puppy to Petco Park for a big dog event.  We got to march on the ballfield; it was awesome!  At one point I’m talking to someone and pupper sees a dog he wants to go play with and BAM, he’s off like a shot.  I’m holding the leash firmly so he gets to the end of 6′ and snaps to a halt.  But, not before all 60 lbs of his momentum rebounds right into my neck.  I thought nothing of it at the time…

Next day, neck and arm hurt a bit.  No big deal.  Go to July 4th party.

Day after that, neck and arm hurt a bit more.  No big deal.  Go on long mountainous hike.

Ouch Day.  Excruciating pain in my neck, radiating down my left arm into my fingertips. Yup, I think I’m broken.

Have you ever had neck pain?  It’s remarkable how many things you do in your normal course of life which rely on your neck muscles in some way.  Even just sitting in the car while someone else drives, your neck is constantly working to stabilize your head.  Incredible.

I went to a few doctors, had x-rays and an MRI.  I don’t rembulging-disk-treatmentember all the technical terms,but the cervical disc between C5 and C6 in my neck is compressed and bulging out the sides of my spine.  This bulge has caused a narrowing of the tunnels my nerves use to leave the spine and visit the rest of my body, hence the pain my in shoulder, arm, and hand.  You know how Doctors always ask your pain level on a scale of 1-10*?  I was spending most of my time at a 6, and tapped a 9 once or twice.

Per the Doctor, I have three options:

  1. Medications, rest, and physical therapy.  Based on what they saw in the scans this was considered the best, and least invasive option.  The downside is that it would take the longest.
  2. Cortisone shot in my neck which would hopefully reduce the swelling and fix the disc (I guess?).  The downside is that if my blood didn’t clot fast enough and it bled into my spinal column, paralysis from the neck down.  That didn’t sound like fun.
  3. Surgery!  They can take out the bad disc and put in an artificial one.  Downside: Surgery.  I really didn’t even consider this as an option at the time, and didn’t pursue any of the details.

So anyway, July, August, and September involved me sitting on the couch unable to do much of anything.  I went to a painful PT (physical therapy) session 1-2 times/week.  Periodic doctors appointments.  That’s it.  It was just awful.  Missed an incredible family vacation.  Missed months of dog walks and good training with my new pup.  I took pills, slept, watched movies, read, PT, slept, and took more pills.  Ad nauseum.

Started to feel a bit better around October, and by November I was able to walk him again, albeit carefully.  I was being weaned off the many medications I was taking.  There was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Sometime in January while on a walk he saw some crows that were talking smack and decided to give chase.  Caught me off guard and boom, gave the old neck a shock.  It hurt, and had clearly done some damage, but not terrible.  If I was careful, it would be okay.

We focused on “heel” and loose leash training from here out.  Keeping my by our side on walks instead of letting him have the full leash to roam.  It was working great!

One quiet night I’m sound asleep when I hear Cody’s ALERT BARKBARKBARKBARK!  I jerk awake, sitting up quickly, and promptly wrench my neck completely out of wack.  I knew immediately this was going to be trouble.  Yup, hurt myself safe and sound in my own bed.  Woke up the next morning with the neck hurting worse, some pain in arm.  Got even worse over the next few days.

So here I am, nearly right back where I started.  I’m sitting on the couch in light pain (it’s usually better in the mornings) while the wife walks the dog.  I have a doctor appointment and PT scheduled.  And of course loads of meds.  I don’t have the patience to go through another 3 months of slow healing only to re-injure myself again, so I’m going to explore the other options in more detail and see what I can do.

So, I guess the only advice I’ll pass along here is when you’re going to the gym, don’t skip neck day.

Living the Dream?

Humble Dave

*The Doctor’s 1-10 Pain Scale, level details by Dave:
10 – Pain so bad I passed out
9 – I’m fetal on the ground crying and helpless
8 – Pain is all-encompassing.  Only thoughts in head are how to make it stop
5-7 – OMG this hurts in varying degrees.  Doctor visit mandatory if doesn’t stop
3-4 – Pain bad enough that I’ll probably see a doctor if it doesn’t go away in a few days
1-2 – That’s annoying.  Rub some dirt on it and walk it off.