Let’s just say that this has been one of the worst months of my life. I felt as though I was riding a freight train, ever increasing its speed until 11:29 AM on Monday, March 20th when it slammed into a brick wall, with me catapulting head first into the coral colored brick and mortar. Everything that sat in the “worry box” section my brain, collected over the past four months, ceased to matter in that moment because in that second, all of it became about me. I guess that is what mindfulness is all about when you’re not a real meditator.
I have come to realize, this late in life, that nothing is ever about me. It’s a character defect that leans towards others, readily offering my service, love and dutifulness. Rarely, for me, is there the gift of that moment in time where I get to sit in silence to form my thoughts. So in essence, this break can be compared to a wealthy person who checks into the Hotel BelAir for a weekend respite. They have the view of a glorious garden and streams of pinks and whites and yellows, birds singing and swans swimming. Not to mention the aroma of heavenly lemons and oranges ripening on the tree. My view is a cutting edge, green and beige autumn leaf setting, clean and bright, with the smell of bland antiseptic and the flurry of a hundred beeps, telling the Gods at bay that the patients are still breathing. On this day, my friends, this is my personal BelAir, with all the joy, anticipation and excitement of a six week vacation!
Well, things began as smoothly as my last knee replacement. My surgeon, who is an ortho-God, came and rubbed my shoulder. He is a sweet, soft spoken man, who works in sports medicine and exudes true kindness. First he checked to see if I was all right with my sharpie marker note written on my legs and arms. I told him I was a bit nervous but who wouldn’t be? He said, “In six weeks, you will absolutely grateful you did this. Knee replacements are a miracle of modern medicine.” He grabbed my hand with both of his, gave me a nod of confidence and said, “See you soon.” A lovely smile, a brush against the curtain, and away he went.
As I wheeled into the OR, I shimmied onto the bright silver table. Jesus, so cold. I looked ahead and noticed an enormous x-ray of my knees on a flat screen TV. One straight with glorious hardware, the other, bowed and crooked, waiting for it’s new, shiny, titanium hardware. There were several nurses greeting me and lots of silver instruments everywhere. Hammers. EEKS. Clean. Clean. Clean. And so shiny.
I noticed on the board up front the names of my doctor and anesthesiologist. Dr. David Mu…. Oh dear. Not him. Not the boy next door. I froze. Should I tell him who I am? Well, never being one to keep a good secret, I asked, “Did you live in Kenilworth when you grew up?” He responded, “Yes, I did.” I replied, “Well, I was your neighbor then. We lived two doors down from you.” To which he said, “Shari?” I said, “No. I’m Wendy, the older sister.” Honestly, I don’t remember what he said after that. I just noticed he did not look remotely like he did when we were kids. His mother was insufferable – he was forced to wear horrible big brown galoshes with silver magnetic clips and a brown wool coat with an adult’s briefcase and round metal lunchbox. His grownup self – well – he looked like an unshowered, unkept student, studying endlessly for finals. His hair was long and straggly. Almost like he was in full rebellion! I was then taken back to being a child, remembering that I, my sister, Trish, Tamara and Tonya, had decided he had something he didn’t need and we were going to pull it off. So on his front lawn, while running through the sprinkler, we pulled his trunks down and tried to pull his penis off. He didn’t scream or anything. And we believed we were helping him become more like us. But his mother sure didn’t think so we got sent home pretty quickly.
At that moment of remembrance, I was praying that he had forgotten we were such evil girls and that this wouldn’t affect my afternoon surgical nap. Believe you me, I was more than a bit worried.
At some point during my hour and a half surgery, I awoke to the sound of what my brain processed as a chainsaw. My mind couldn’t make sense of it and immediately, I was out once again. The second time, I looked up and ahead, only to see this yellow and blue sheet that was suspended in front of my face. I was sitting up, to my amazement, so I turned my head to speak and then I was gone once again. It was quite surreal in so many ways and the light anesthetic likely explained why I was almost immediately awake as I was being portered to my room. Maybe he did remember, I wondered.
The Hip and Knee Center at the Alex is a beautiful facility, recently built, to serve only those individuals that are registered for work on either of these joints. Short of two rooms, everything else is private and impressively comfortable. I had signed for a private room but noticed my bed was moving closer and closer to the one of two shared occupancy rooms in the building. Now what was the luck? Oh well, maybe a nice roommate perhaps?
From the moment the front wheel of my bed crossed the threshold, the occupant of the window seat bed was talking. It reminded me of the time I pulled the cord on my Chatty Cathy doll so I could write down everything she said. BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH. In retrospect, it became like the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons. None of it registered to me. I came to know my roommate as Francesca (not her real name because she doesn’t like her real name and Jesus gave her this name, so that’s her real name), a 77- year old woman from South Korea. Holy, what a pistol.
The infusion of high test drugs began – an anticoagulant, an anti inflammatory and 10 mg shots of morphine every three hours. And beyond the drugs, the constant chatter of bed number 2 as I tried to steady myself and determine whether I was nauseous or just feeling a bit of vertigo. No, it was the nattering. And I was just going to ride on the wave of confusion.
I will admit, I am a friendly sort who loves to converse and consider myself well read. So meeting people from other cultures is very interesting to me. Especially elderly people that are friendly, not cranky. I can only say, without repeating myself unendingly, that from the moment my bed reached it’s destination, until the physiotherapist signed my release papers two days later, that for 24 hours a day, this woman never, ever, quit talking or asking to borrow my phone to talk to her husband, who couldn’t talk because he’d had a stroke. Whatever, it was entirely comedic in so many ways. In fact, the entire experience was.
I had learned when diagnosed with breast cancer, that when you find an excellent doctor, you do exactly what they say. To the letter. And I told myself, I would become my own advocate, standing up for every need and never being afraid to question their education and authority.
So began my two day trip with morphine.
I announced to my nurses that as per the instructions of my surgeon, I was to receive 10 mg morphine every three hours and that I would set my phone alarm and call to remind them (this is what you are told to do as it is protocol). And gosh darn it, that’s exactly what I did. Somewhere towards 8:00 PM that evening, my nurse came and sat in a chair next to my bed and said, “We must discuss your morphine.”
“What’s wrong with my morphine?” I asked. “It feels like it’s working because I am not in pain.”
“Well, Ms. Wil- We-Wil Norbern (no one can pronounce my name), you have pinprick pupils. We believe you are overdosing and can’t understand whether you are actually in pain, or whether this 3 hour protocol is something you need to be following for some reason we are not aware of. We might have to move you to the other building!”
“Other building? What for?” I exclaimed.
“Where people have overdosed!!”
Remember everyone, I am stoned. Totally stoned. At that moment, I don’t feel stoned. But I know that I can’t read my cell phone, I certainly am having problems texting, and I can’t stay awake for more than a few minutes. “Listen carefully. This is important.” I make sure I look into her eyes – pretty funny really because I want to be taken seriously. “I have learned in my medical experiences over the past three years that I am to obey my doctor’s order. This is his order and I will be requesting it just as I am supposed to be. It is not up for discussion.”
“Well, it is not what we are used to dosing. (Or something like that.) And we would encourage you to only call us when you are around the four hour mark as you…..”
“You can say what you wish,” as I gesture her to leave like I know what I am doing, “but I will be following my doctor’s protocol.” Stupid enough to stand up for myself and just dumb enough to not remember what my actual dosage amount really was.
She blathered more words and over the next day, other nurses came to visit me to speak of their own issues with my dosage, but I stood my ground. Then on the night prior to my release, they switched my from shots to pill form. I looked at the pills and they didn’t look right. So I call my GP physician on my cell and asked her about morphine. She told me I was to receive 10 mg every 4 hours. NOT THREE. Oh sweet Jesus. The nurses were right.
Instead of telling them, I decided to remain on the 3 hour protocol until I left. Certainly, I don’t remember much about any of the three days of my time there. But I will say, that I walked the halls at three in the morning with my walker (and it felt like I was out in the forest, so peaceful – and nuts) and I send a number of texts to friends that made no sense at all, (“When are we going to go mall walking? Am I to return your bed sheets? Jeannie is on on Thursday nights.” or the famous, I’m…. with nothing to follow.) The responses were hilarious, like, “Are you stoned?” “Boy you must be medicated.” “I didn’t think you exercised?” “Mall walking?” “You must be confused.” The best part is that the morphine took the edge off the nattering Korean woman – even though the nurses knew she was keeping me up all night, they never told her to hush. So I guess I was able to get some of the rest I needed despite having no earplugs.
My discharge nurse, Faye, was lovely. She said I was a model patient even though I stuck to my morphine guns to their dismay. My knee was already moving very well considering, but everything moves well when you don’t feel anything. As I came out of the drug fog at home (my nurse Karen diligently worked on that for a couple of days), I remembered that my friend Bob, with end stage cancer, was receiving less morphine than I was dosing myself and I thought, gosh, that wasn’t enough to handle his pain. So I learned a lot from that experience.
I am four weeks out now and able to negotiate a lot. My knee is bending over 100 degrees and I look forward to my 6 week check with my surgeon. Everything went so smoothly and I am incredibly grateful. Hopefully, I will be up and dancing in no time and this will become another bump in the road of my life. You learn a little bit from every challenge you face and my take away is that being stubborn can kill you. So I am going to compromise a bit more.