Progress!

I’m feeling positive about the progress I am making.

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Now that I am making more progress in my recovery from my spinal surgery and I am moving a little more freely, I’ve decided to be more deliberate and purposeful about starting to retrain my muscles and building up some stamina for both my body and my mind.

Today I got out some pencils and a book, and started colouring, which is always something that makes me happy and peaceful. It’s also something I can do standing at the kitchen bench. I don’t have to do it all at once – it’s something I can do, and leave, and go back to through the day.

Like me, it’s neither perfect nor finished, but it’s on the way.

It may not seem like much, but getting this much done is a big achievement for me. I have been largely horizontal and only walking fairly short distances -although frequently – since the surgery on my spine on October 19.

Since my last update on my recovery, the first lot of bruising has faded to a dull shadow and the deeper bruising has begun to come to the surface now, so I am still all the colours of the rainbow, but the pain is less intense and more manageable now. I’ve ventured out of the house and walked around the yard, and begun to do light things around the house like folding laundry and doing dishes. Things that exhausted me at first are easier now, which is really encouraging. I have, however, learned the hard way that I am not ready for cutting pumpkin (it was just a little bit of butternut) or bending to get things out of low places. You don’t know until you try, right? Suffice to say that dinner on Monday was delicious, but I paid for it on Monday night and yesterday. The aggravation has settled now, though, much to my relief.

Sitting for any length of time is still an issue: I’m currently managing about ten minutes at a time before I have had enough. That means I will have to be ready to stand up most of the day when I go back to work in a couple of weeks. I will have exams to mark and papers to grade, so this seems like a good way to begin to prepare for that sort of thing. I can gradually build up to standing for longer periods of time without feeling any pressure to “perform”.

I also plan to start walking a bit further than I have been, especially now that I am a bit more confident and steady on my feet.

I fully understand that healing and recovery can’t be rushed, but I think that small progress in these ways will only help me to get stronger. And when I have had enough each time, my bed or my recliner will still be here waiting for me.

Today I am feeling positive and encouraged, which is also helpful to my healing and easier to live with all round.

Current Status: Not Ready For Adulting

Today, I ventured beyond home for the first time since coming home after surgery.

I had to go out today. There was sunshine. There were people. It was traumatic.

My driver’s license expires on Thursday, so my husband agreed to take me to the next town where I could get the photo taken, sign the form, and give a chunk of my cash to the government for a new one.

I did my hair, put on real clothes instead of pyjamas, and put on some makeup.
I thought I was doing okay for someone recovering from surgery, so I sent a snap to my best friend.

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Naturally, she was both encouraging and completely understanding of why I made the extra effort. She is consistently awesome like that.

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Let’s face it, you don’t want to be thinking “Oh yeah, that was that month where I spent two weeks nearly dying from a mystery chest infection and then ended up having spinal surgery after screaming non-stop for four days!” every time you look at your license photo for the next ten years, do you?

The drive to Camperdown wasn’t too bad. I had the seat reclined a fair way because I still can’t sit comfortably for more than about eight minutes, and my husband was pretty good at missing the worst of the bumps.

I walked from the car to the shire offices without too much trouble. I didn’t have to wait long, thankfully, and everything went smoothly so that the license renewal was taken care of in just a few minutes.

Then my husband suggested we call at the supermarket to pick up something for dinner. My approach to grocery shopping is quite pragmatic: get in, get what you need, and get out. I thought I could handle that, even at this stage of my recovery.

Of course, it’s never that simple when you really need it to be. I wasn’t two meters through the door of the store when an acquaintance stopped me for a chat. I had the cart to hold onto – what a clever disguise for an disability support walker that was! – and it was a very good thing, because just standing there, I could feel myself fading and the sweat breaking out on my skin as I tried to pretend there was nothing wrong. In the end, I told her I had to go and staggered off to find my husband, who had been gathering the things we needed and had his arms full of stuff. We went to find the last couple of things, and that was when he pointed out the Harry Potter Quidditch Match LEGO set.

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That may not seem significant to you, but Harry Potter and LEGO are both big-ticket items in my world. I didn’t have to rationalise anything. It was coming home with me. I left the set with Aragog behind, though, because while Hagrid may love giant spiders, I do not.

We got through the checkout and back to the car, and my lower back where I had the surgery last week was really starting to hurt.

The road seemed longer and much bumpier on the way home than it had on the way there. I was really thankful that I wasn’t sitting upright, and tried not to complain but couldn’t help making those awkward little little grunty noise that you make when something hurts and you try to just grit your teeth but the sound gets out anyway.

When we got home I had to take some ibuprofen and lie down. I didn’t even take a moment first to look at my new LEGO set. And once again, I am writing a blog post on my iPad while lying flat on my back.

The good thing is that my driver’s license is good for another ten years.
The not-so-good thing is that I know I am nowhere near ready to use it.

Realigning My Priorities.

My recovery from spinal surgery demands that my priorities change.

There were so many things I had planned to be doing this week.

As a horror author, promoting my books leading up to Halloween was always going to be a major focus. I had a major promotion and giveaway planned. I had a well crafted social media campaign organised. October was going to be my time.

As a teacher, my classes are continuing even though I am not there. Lessons need to be developed and delivered, and my students have exams coming up.

There are things I need to read and other things I need to write.

None of that is happening.

I am now home from hospital. I am moving and thinking very slowly, and trying to heal after spinal surgery. The local anaesthetic that was embedded in the site of my surgery and in the incision has worn off and I am feeling the reality of what my body has been through. My Fibromyalgia has also joined the pain train today, so while I am trying to wean myself off the fancy pain killers, the motivation to do so is less today than it was yesterday. My eyes don’t want to focus any more than my brain does.

I know this will not last. And I know I must be kind to myself while it does.
The writing, the work and the social media hamster wheel will all be there when things improve.

Yet I can’t help feeling frustrated by my slowness or inability to focus on anything. I am not accustomed to inactivity and my mindset is certainly not one that surrenders to pain. Yet that is exactly where I find myself.

The challenge for me is to accept where I am and be willing to rest instead of letting my frustration push me and ending up with sub-standard results.

The priority for today and the immediate future has to be self-care and self-preservation. My spine demands it. Everything else will just have to wait.

If you would like to encourage or support me, you could

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Post-Surgery Post

My life took a very painful turn this week – but I survived!

Well, what a week this has turned out to be.

After writing last week about the terrible infection I picked up while at the ER with my dad, I finally made it back to work on Tuesday.

It was during the lesson before lunch that things came unstuck again.

I had been struggling all morning with weakness and feeling as though i hadn’t really been ready to return to work. Toward the end of the lesson I emailed my boss no told her how terrible I was feeling, and we decided together that I should stay home on Wednesday and try to get stronger. Then, in one seemingly innocent moment of acting so as to not infect my students with any evil germs I might still be carrying, I turned away from them to cough.

That cough was violent, and I was gasping for air and hacking up a lung and the same time.

That was when I felt my back go.

I remember thinking “that’s not good” as the fireworks went off in my lower back. I have had a similar thing happen previously and it has always sorted itself after that initial flash of pain.

Not this time.

It was all I could do to maintain my composure. I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t stand properly. The pain was immense. And for some reason, I kept thinking it would be okay on a few moments.

“Walking will help,” I said to myself as I dismissed the students and headed for my car.
It didn’t.
“It will settle as I relax,” I told myself as I started the car.
It didn’t.

By the time I was halfway home, I was in agony and had no choice but to keep going.
“Maybe I need to stretch it,” I thought. So I stopped each time the pain got too bad, stretched and walked a little, and kept going.

When I got home, I gave thanks that the trip was over and went to lie down for a while, reminding myself that quietness and rest had always brought relief in the past.

I don’t know whether I slept or if I passed out while lying there, but it was 5pm when my best friend woke me. I knew I was in trouble: I could t feel my right foot at all, but I could definitely feel the lightning-hot pain that extended from my pelvis to my right ankle.

My bestie took me to the ER, where the medical staff showed amazing patience and sympathy while I spent the next six hours screaming and moaning incoherently.

By midnight, I had been given the maximum dose of every pain-killer I could have, and I was still screaming, so they added Valium to the mix to try to relax my muscles.

“Why didn’t you go to the emergency room in Warrnambool right after work?” the doctor asked me. I had no answer, except that I really did think it was a spasm and it would settle down. I believe now that the pain had already been messing with my grip on reality by the time I got out of the classroom, and I know how incredibly lucky I was to have made it home without killing or injuring myself or anyone else.

I had never experienced anything like this level of pain before. That’s a big statement for someone who has at different times endured bulging lower lumbar disjcs, a torn Achilles’ tendon, and the physical process of more than one miscarriage.

This was a stabbing pain in my back accompanied by what felt like the worst cramp imaginable stretching from my butt to my right heel, only set on fire at the same time.

Medical staff at Camperdown sent me to Warrnambool via ambulance for an MRI. By morning, the doctors had organised to transfer me to one of the “clever hospitals” in Melbourne where one of the “clever doctors” wanted to operate as soon as possible.

Holy Toledo. They were using words like “significant impairment” and “danger of permanent disability” as they talked.

As it turned out, my L5/S1 disc had not simply bulged a little more than before. That sucker had ruptured and became an “ex-disc”. A piece of disc debris was pressing on my nerve, and both of them were sandwiched firmly between two vertebrae that were locked in far too intimate an embrace.

By Thursday afternoon I was being transferred to a city hospital, scheduled for surgery by one of the top “clever doctors”, and on my way to Melbourne with my best friend as my carer/escort/chaperone/cheer squad.

I can’t really explain how I was feeling. I was terrified, but my brain was so jangled by pain and sleep deprivation that I couldn’t really feel the full impact of my fear. Whatever my fears, I didn’t have much of a choice. So, I just tried to focus on the blessings of being transferred and seen so quickly without wondering what danger I was in that had precipitated such haste.

Another sleepless night followed. The pain was such that I hadn’t slept the previous two nights, either. I cried a fair bit instead, which I think is fair enough, really.

Today I met the surgeon, the anaesthetist, had an ECG and bloods taken ahead of being wheeled down to the theatre for my surgery.

When I came out of the anaesthetic, I was, by all acccounts completely hilarious. The nurses told me a few of the things I said, but these were voted the favourites of the Recovery Room nurses::

Nurse: “You were asleep for a very long time!”
Me: *with only one eye open* “Yeah, I was polishing my tiara.”

Me: “Oh, that feels nice.”
Nurse: “Whar does?”
Me: “My legs.”
Nurse: “Oh, the massagers.”
Me: “They are caressing my calves like the sensuous fingers of an adoring lover.”
Nurse: “Wow!”
Me: “I write poetry.”
Another nurse: “Can you say it again? I want to write that down.”
Me: “Nope. It’s copyrighted.”

The best part of the whole thing, though, is that the pain in my right leg is gone. The incision in my back has anaesthetic in it, so I can’t feel it yet unless I move.

My surgeon came to see me tonight after my surgery, and I cried as I thanked him. What an amazing person to take enough of an interest in someone from hundreds of miles away and make such healing and restoration happen overnight.

So after a highly traumatic couple of weeks, I can lie here in my hospital bed, looking out the window at the city lights as the fancy machine continues to pleasure my lower legs, and give thanks for my blessings.

I am thankful that my agony has ended.
I am so thankful for both the talents and the kindness of my surgeon.
I am thankful for my best friend and my husband, both of whom dropped everything and everyone else to take care of me.
I am thankful for those close to me who have consistently encouraged and cheered me, especially when I was feeling very low.
I am thankful for every message of love, aencouragement, support, care, concern and prayers from friends in the hundreds of texts, Facebook messages, voice mails and emails.

I am thankful for so, so much else, too. How blessed I am to have such amazing people in my life.

My Near-Death Experience

When I say I have been deathly ill, I’m not exaggerating.

After following the ambulance to Camperdown and then to Warrnambool, I spent last Thursday night at the ER with my dad. Over the course of the night, his pain lessened and his condition improved. At 4am, I was allowed to take him home. We both slept all day, and I didn’t go anywhere else.

By Saturday morning, I had a bad throat. As these things go, I figured it would be a croaky day or two, took some paracetamol, and tried not to think about it.

By the wee hours of Sunday morning I had no voice, a fever, cold sweats and a wracking cough. I was so dizzy that when I had to get out of bed, I had to hold onto the furniture to keep myself from falling over. I stayed in bed, made sure I drank plenty of water, and told my dad not to come near me.

By Monday, my lungs were rattling and squeaking. I could no longer lie flat, and sleep was out of the question. There were moments where I would have gladly accepted my fate if the Reaper had shown up.

I have been out of action ever since, and am still in quarantine. My doctors have me on two different antibiotics, cough syrup, Ventolin and pain meds. I haven’t felt so awful since I had Ross River Fever in 2011.

Today is the first day on which there has been any improvement. My cough is less frequent, although not less violent, and the rattle in my lungs sounds more like rice crispies than a chatty raccoon.

If I were you, I still wouldn’t come near me for a while yet.

It’s fair to say that I know why the person I got this disease from was at the hospital.