04 Feb One Patient’s Experience with Open Spine Surgery (Part 2)
Note: this is the second in a four part series written by a back pain sufferer who underwent open spine surgery. Read part one here.
At some point which I don’t recall, I was wheeled up to the clinical unit I’d be staying on. My surgery was on Thursday, so I likely made it to my room sometime early Friday morning. This was the first time I had ever had an overnight hospital stay. Having worked in healthcare for many years, I felt I knew what I had before me. I had brought my laptop and some writing materials as I had anticipated being in the hospital would be a good time to avoid any distractions; enabling me to work on some business ideas.
The Patient’s Perspective
Despite being in healthcare for many years, I quickly learned how naive I was to what actually occurred in a hospital from the patient’s prospective. The first lesson I learned was being in a hospital is the furthest thing from rest and recuperation. Every 4 hours the medical staff does patient rounds. If you do manage to fall asleep, you’re guaranteed to be woken up at least every 4 hours. Patient units are also busy and noisy. There are medical equipment sounds and alarms throughout the unit, and staff, patients, and visiting family members all conversing at varying volumes.
This particular hospital didn’t have private rooms. My roommate was an older, Spanish speaking man. From what the nurses explained to me, he liked the attention of the young ladies who worked as patient care aides. He would take this can of aerosol body spray, and proceed to soak his entire body in a musky mist. Before he even sat the can down, he would push the nurse call button to summon one of the nursing staff to flirt with. I give him credit. They would come in speaking Spanish to him, only pausing to giggle. He was having a great time. Meanwhile, I’m lying in my bed with a garbage can over my head and the oxygen turned all the way up in an attempt to escape the wafting cloud of cheap body spray while vomiting into a plastic bowl. It goes without saying, the pain of vomiting while your stitches are attempting to hold you together is pure agony. At that moment I wished for nothing more than to be able to speak Spanish.
Despite the inconvenience of being in the hospital, I was making progress.
- On the 2nd day I was standing up.
- The 3rd day I was walking.
- The 4th day I could walk the length of the hallway and even climb some stairs.
I thought I was close to being discharged, but as I soon learned, my timeline for getting out was just that, my timeline.
The morning of the 5th day I recall being worn down with pure mental and physical exhaustion. It is the only way to describe being in the hospital after such major surgery; very limited sleep; and not eating more than a couple jello cups a day. My life over those 5 days was lived and endured in 2 hours segments. That’s how long my patient-controlled pain pump would have me locked out until I could press the pump’s button again; making the pain and my being there almost tolerable. It was Tuesday when the nurse told me that my doctor wanted me in the hospital for another two days. The Spanish speaking ladies’ man I had as a roommate had already been discharged a few days earlier. I wanted to leave too. I wanted to go home.
It was July and it had been raining all morning. My wife, who I had been absolutely miserable to during my entire time in the hospital, had just shown up for that day’s misery of being around me. My laptop and writing materials still sat untouched beside my bed. I asked my wife to get all my things packed and meet me in front of the hospital’s main lobby entrance in 10 minutes. I had exhausted my capacity to cope any further. My mind and body were in protest of staying another two nights. Fueled by pain pump administered confidence, I decided I would go against medical orders. I was going to simply walk out, hop into the getaway car, and go home. And, I did just that. It was a decision that almost killed me.