Chapter 3 picks up right where Chapter 2 left off- I have been discharged from the hospital after my spinal fusion surgery and we are heading home.
Chapter 3: A Spinal Fusion and a Love Story
- In Sickness and In Health-A Spinal fusion and a Love Story: My mom was at our house waiting for us to arrive and had already meal-prepped for our week, cleaned the house up, and tucked our sweet puppies away right as we arrived so they could get me in the house without having them jumping for joy all over their mommy! Unfortunately, our house has TWO flights of stairs (I know…”seriously, Emily?”..but it was all that was available to rent when we were looking!) so, now came the task of getting me SAFELY up two flights of stairs and settled into bed. Once we arrived, we quickly realized that there was absolutely no way on God’s green earth that I was going to be able to make it by walking up. So, Aaron put me in a wheelchair and went to grab two neighbors (strong men!) and these sweet guys each grabbed a section of my wheelchair and hoisted me up ever-so-carefully and gently CARRIED ME in the chair ALL the way up to my bedroom!! And yes, while I felt like a princess, I was absolutely TERRIFIED and literally closed my eyes and prayed the entire time they were carrying me up all those stairs! Once they sat the chair down in my bedroom, it was now time to get me settled into the four walls that would be my fortress of recovery and prison that locked me away from the world all rolled-into one. My wonderful mom had bought a huge body-pillow to act as a divider between mine and Aaron’s sides of the bed…with her personal spinal-fusion experience, she knew it would be a life-saver! Using that and about five other pillows to support my head/neck, arms/upper body, and legs, she and Aaron gently tucked me into bed. Why all the pillows, you ask? In the days immediately following my fusion, the pain and surgical trauma to my spine made it so I could not even lift my arms. All of these different regions of my body HAD to be supported at ALL times…which meant that Aaron and my mom had to do EVERYTHING for me in both the hospital and during the first week at home. I could not feed myself. I could not use the bathroom alone. I could not even THINK about showering alone. Heck, I could not even lift my head and shoulders up from my pillows! So, this gives you some idea of the state of dependence I had to learn to accept. You see, I am a woman with a FIERCELY independent spirit….and if there was one thing that I did not EVER want it was to be dependent and/or be a burden to someone; especially Aaron. But that is exactly what I became for a time: dependent. Whether I liked it or not, I needed him as much as I needed air to breathe…and my love came through with his patient, even-keel, SELFLESS spirit that has never changed since the day I met him. This man-the one I get to spend the rest of my life with-is absolutely one of the best men I have ever known in my life. I simply do not know where I would be in my journey if I had not had Aaron to take care of me…he was then and remains to this day-the picture of selfless, true love. During the early weeks of my recovery, after my mom had to return home to go back to work, he took as much vacation time off from work as was possible so he could be with me during this most vital time. He literally waited on me “hand-and-foot” all day AND night. Our days consisted of bed-rest for me and nursing duties for him for a solid two weeks. During the night, he had to set alarms so he could wake me up to take my medications so we could “stay ahead of the pain”. Also during the night, any time I needed the bathroom I had to wake him up. He would gently help me out of bed and into the bathroom, wait for me to finish, and then put me back to bed where he always took the time to re-adjust my princess pillow fort until I was comfortable enough to fall asleep. Through this time in our life together, our love gained a whole new depth…one that prepared us for the storm that was still coming in the not-too-distant future. Aaron has been a living example of the type of love God wants for all of us-which is detailed in the book of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. LOVE NEVER FAILS.”
Chapter 4: “The Calm Before the Storm”
- “Recovery Days”:I spent time reading my journal entries from the initial recovery time frame in preparation for writing this part and it is truly amazing how much Aaron sacrificed and did for me. With him by my side, we traversed the following few months of recovery one day-and sometimes one moment-at a time. Another huge comfort during my recovery was my two fur-babies! We have two dogs who never left my side during the long days I was holed-up in my recovery room, (aka prison from the world) and the comfort and unconditional love they provide helped me tremendously then and continues to bring me so much joy every day. A lot of the people I know who suffer from chronic illness/pain have pets…it is amazing how much they become such an integral part of our fight against depression during the hard times!
- As each day and week passed, God was healing my body slowly. If you remember, we have two flights of stairs in our house…so, I was literally confined to my bedroom for approximately two and a half weeks. When I finally started feeling well enough to go VERY carefully up and down the stairs that led from the bedroom area to the living room and kitchen, it was an accomplishment for me to make it between the two floors only two times per day! When I go back and read what the “milestones/accomplishments” were during my recovery, I am reminded of just how far I have come. Going through such a massive surgery truly gives you a new appreciation of the things that we take for granted, such as: being able to eat unassisted, sitting up in bed, showering/self care activities, walking outdoors, and even doing the dreaded laundry!
- “How much can one girl take?”: My recovery progressed without many hiccups until week 6. Friends, as I type this, I still can’t quite believe something so ridiculous happened while I was recovering from massive spinal surgery. Aaron had of course been taking on the full load of all household chores including cooking ALL the time…so one night, he decided to pick up some dinner from a little bistro restaurant near our house. He got a flat-bread pizza and I got a roast-beef, provolone, and pesto sandwich on ciabatta bread…sounds yummy, right? I thought so too! Well, later that night I starting having severe stomach issues and after many, many hours of gastrointestinal torture at the apparent hands of my roast beef sandwich, Aaron had to take me to the ER! Unfortunately, by that time, I had been awake ALL night with pain in my abdomen that was only second in intensity to my memory of the immediate post-op fusion pain. Also, since I was unable to keep anything down, I had not had ANY food or medication for going on 11 hours by the time we made it to the hospital. So, by the time they got me on a hospital bed and tried to start an IV for both fluids and much needed pain medication, my body was so dehydrated that they could not find a vein and they ended up having to call their best “vein finder” on the floor at the time! Well, after painful needle-stick number 3….I completely lost it. I started sobbing uncontrollably because this fiasco had pushed me over the limit and I simply could not handle it anymore. Poor Aaron was trying to figure out where the pain was coming from that was making me cry, but the nurse knew and told him that I was beyond being able to emotionally handle everything that was happening. Thankfully, the hospital staff was extremely compassionate and seriously concerned about my condition, so they were very attentive to me! After hours of being poked, prodded, and CT scanned, they suspected that I had a severe case of food poisoning and made the decision to admit me over-night to monitor my symptoms and make sure they started to improve with fluids and strong antibiotics.When the gastroenterologist came to evaluate me for discharge the next morning, he said that it was absolutely one of the worst cases of E.Coli food poisoning that he had seen, and that if a child or elderly person had contracted it, they could have DIED. The poisoning was so bad that when he reviewed the CT scan images, they showed visible changes and severe inflammation in my stomach and intestinal tissues! Thankfully, I showed enough improvement to be discharged home with multiple medications, strict instructions on what I could eat and drink, and an order of bed-rest for one week.
- So, here we are, only 6 weeks post-op from a massive spinal surgery and I had to be hospitalized again, my already-frail body was completely drained and pain level out of control, AND I was supposed to be starting my physical therapy program that following week and return to work in only about one month! I was SO FRUSTRATED!! My journal entries from the days before the poisoning were so positive and hopeful as I was about to start physical therapy and I was accomplishing new and exciting things such as driving for the first time. This event caused a major set-back in my recovery from surgery…and yes, I absolutely reported the restaurant to the Department of Health! They conducted an investigation by sending an agent to the restaurant, and when the agent tested the temperature of the roast beef, it was too warm-which would potentially allow E. Coli to grow! YUCK! Needless to say, we never ate from that place again!
- “Rehabilitation”: It took a full TWO WEEKS for my body to recover from the poisoning. Once I bounced back, I was able to start physical therapy and slowly rehabilitated my spine which had been in a state of chronic pain and resultant weakness for 5 years by that time. This meant that not only did I have to strengthen and help heal the areas affected by my L5/S1 fusion, but also my entire core musculature, my legs…everything. It wasn’t easy and a lot of sweat, pain, and tears ensued for the following 8 weeks. Those 8 weeks of physical therapy meant that I did NOT return to work at the standard “12 week” mark due in part to the massive nature of a fusion surgery, and partly due to the food poisoning set-back.
- “Back to work”: Ah, work. I am a certified practitioner of Orthotics and Prosthetics. I could fill a book telling you about career and life’s passion! I found my field of medicine while still just a kid in high-school! I LOVE my field and dedicated every fiber of my being for every moment of 6 years in college, 2 years of residency, and after residency-national board certification exams.
- Because I was unable to return at the 12 week mark, I lost my position in the office that I worked in prior to going on leave for surgery. However, a position opened up in another office that provided me with an amazing opportunity! I was SO EXCITED to be in a new office as the only prosthetics practitioner. Excited, but also apprehensive because I would need to hit the ground running in order to take on a very large patient load, and frankly, my physical therapist, surgeon, and I were all VERY concerned about me returning to work when I did. But I had no choice. If I did not return at the 16 week mark to accept this position-I would lose my job completely. So, I accepted the offer for the new office and went back to work at the tender stage of 4 months post-op from a massive spinal surgery. I was SO HAPPY to be back taking care of my sweet patients! And they all needed me so very much because I not only evaluated and cared for them clinically, but physically- my hands literally fabricated the legs that allowed them to WALK. I learned and grew tremendously as a prosthetist during the time I had in that office. My patients THRIVED with the legs I made for them and I was filled with joy to be back doing what I love and helping so many people!
Although I was excited to be back doing what I love, I was increasingly feeling the weakness in my body and dealing with intense pain from the surgery. Unfortunately, after only a short time back at work, everything started to unravel into a horrible reality we never could have imagined. In Chapter 5, I will recount the story of the darkest time in my life as everything fell apart.