Thursday, March 28, 2013

Best This Is What I Have Been Up To

Ok, so. I've had this fake elbow and partial ulna replacement since the end of 2000, and when I say "fake" I don't mean something made out of metal but the bone of a dead man was used to replace my own elbow and ulna because they were full of bone cancer. Got it? Then at about Christmas (2012) I began noticing strange symptoms around my elbow, symptoms that progressed into painful redness and swelling and I stopped being able to straighten out my arm all the way.  It took a few visits to the doctor to determine that I'd developed a bone infection just below my elbow. Who knows if I caught it from something or if it had been living in my fake elbow for twelve years, cooking itself up and getting ready to attack, but this infection was bad news. Basically the #3 worst health news I could have received, given my history. Doctor said the elbow had to come out. I didn't like it, but I couldn't disagree. Once the tire finally hit the road the surgery was scheduled real quick (for February 28th, in other words, a month ago today).

Me illustrating that I cannot straighten out my arm on the morning of my surgery.

Something I want to emphasize and clarify: my doctor wanted to take the elbow out. The plan wasn't to put anything back in. Which sounded crazy to me and goes against everything I ever understood about the skeletal system. But that's how I'm living now (spoiler!): no elbow with most of my forearm gone. And now I can say that I've seen for myself that it seems my exptert doctor was right, you don't need a bone between where your elbow was and your hand is. I'm living in the future, you're all stuck in beta bodies.

Moving on . . .

Because she is good and because she is my mom, Mom flew out to help me out before and after the operation (during the operation she had to stay in the waiting room).  As I said weeks ago, we ate at Parm with the Hanlons her first night in the city. The next morning I had to get up bright and early for my surgery. Just kidding! My operation was in the early afternoon. I didn't have to show up to the hospital until 11 or something. And what hospital was it? Why the one across the street from Carol's old place!

Upon arrival I signed a lot of stuff and waited in a lot of places and met many nurses and doctors. A lot has changed since my last big operation—for example, now there's hospital underwear to go under your hospital gown.

I had a few needles stuck in me but by far the pre-surgery thing that hurt the most was when my surgeon came by and signed my infection with a Sharpee that felt more like a dentist's tool being scraped against the angry bone. Not sure why he signed it...either giving me his autograph or signing off (literally! Ha!) on which elbow was coming out, I guess.

Then the nicest nurse in the world appeared and walked me back to the operating room. As usual with me and my surgeries, I only had one concern: I didn't want to die during the operation. But if that were to happen I surely couldn't have asked for a lovelier grim reaper.

 It's odd to walk into an operating room instead of being wheeled into it. Strangely participatory, too much volition remains. You have to cooperate in the strapping of yourself to the table and the minor adjustments made for the sake of your comfort, a comfort that matters for maybe four minutes, while you watch all these busy people busy themselves with tasks that seem to have nothing to do with you when you know that doing terribly violent things to you in your sleep is their business. The anesthesiologist came in and got me set up and goin, I counted to 20 before the record ends, asking myself in those lasts moments, "I wonder if I'll remember this when I wake up?" Then deciding, "I must remember it if I'm thinking it now." Was it drugs? Or had I become unstuck from time?

I woke up in the recovery room a few seconds later, but the clocks said two hours had passed. My arm was intensely swaddled. Mom came in for a minute and then was told she could come back in an hour. To the post-surgical, an hour is like five minutes for a human. An anesthesiologist put a giant needle in my shoulder (gigantic! I'm so glad I didn't see it until after) for a nerve block to cancel the pain in my arm. It numbed my chest, it numbed my mouth (for a few hours I could not speak except in the "I've lost my voice!" style. I found this exciting) and made my eyelid droop but it did not take away the pain of having half my forearm removed. Much to do was then made of getting me properly infused with a proper painkiller. A very adequate anodyne was found. Eventually I'm taken upstairs.

I don't know why my knees look gigantic.  There's nothing wrong with them.

Upon arrival in my shared room I have two concerns: pain and hunger. I go a good hour without anything for pain and the passing of time has begun to slow down to the measure of men as I return from the land of the post-surgery light speed creatures. It seems like everyone has overlooked this need. It takes a while to get it squared away, but eventually I'm put on a bit of morphine.  It just doesn't muddle my mind like it used to.  Too much opiate experience, I guess. Then I ask if I'm allowed to eat. No one is sure, but an orderly unassociated with the conversation appears with a plate of (holy smokes!) salmon in saffron sauce and sautéed kale. I wolf it down. NYU has the finest hospital food I've ever known.

The story does not get much more interesting from here. (But please, read on!) The main issue is staying comfortable and getting myself properly arranged on the bed. Before going home mom gets me KFC and the new issue of Lucky Peach.

Even in a post about a trip to the hospital this blog is nothing but food photos.

All my Thursday night NBC comedies are repeats. My chicken tenders are DELICIOUS, one of the best things I've eaten so far in 2013. I don't sleep a wink. My roommate is a terrible snorer. My night time nurses are very strange visitors, it isn't clear if they know how to operate my bedside machinery (pumps and such, you know). Once morning comes I'm able to sleep pretty well—this is my hospital style, up all night, asleep all day—but I'm not at the hospital much longer.

From my window I can see a cool rooftop playground and Emily's old place.

Example of me getting ready to leave the hospital.

The hospital was very big on setting goals.  The only goal I was willing to set during my short stay was to have a good lunch.  My nurse invented the other goal.

Lunch #1

Lunch #2

By noon, ish, I'm out (having arranged the delivery of two lunches before going. I couldn't get enough of that NYU hospital food!) I was back in the street. Look at me! Basically the same as when I went in a day before, right?

Mom and I celebrate my escape efficiently with Red Mango while my prescription is filled at the Walgreens next door. Can you tell which yogurt is mine and which belonged to Mom?

 Coming Soon: Exciting Tales of Recovery!


sarah said...

My last hospital stay happened to be when I had Jimmy. The food was crazy delicious.

I'm glad your walk to the OR was on the arm of a beautiful nurse, and I'm VERY glad she did not turn out to be the grim reaper.

Briana said...

I can't believe you don't have an elbow anymore. CRAZY!!! Surgery and those drugs can totally make you time warp, and in my case, profess love for my anesthesiologist... Hope the recovery is going well!

Sally Morrison said...

Glad you could find good food to provide comfort and of course your Mom.

LaurenHoya said...

Brigham, what?! You don't have an elbow?!

I'm sorry to hear of your pain and not fun situation, though I'm glad to hear the tale and that you're doing okay now.

Be warned, I will want to touch your arm next time I see you.

niall said...

Come on! I check in on your blog for the first time in ages and THIS is what happens?! Recovery wishes from Scotland Brig!