Ramblings on healthcare, medical education, and life with a spinal cord injury
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Surgery and Initial Recovery at Lutheran

When I arrived at Lutheran Hospital in Brooklyn, I was very much shaken up.  The reality of the situation was setting in: all my clothes were cut off, my piercings were all removed (not that I had a ton, but a few that I’d had for a while that meant a lot to me), I was sent for a CT scan and other imaging, an arterial line was inserted (in case you’re unfamiliar, they’re pretty painful due to the large size of the needle), and I was told to wait while the images were reviewed.

Then I felt nauseous.  Because of the suspected spinal cord injury they were not about to  roll me, either.  The nurse grabbed a suction catheter: “Go ahead and throw up, I’ll suction it.”  When one realizes somebody has just said to throw up all over your own face and head, the feeling is indescribable.  A mixture of disgust, anxiety and shock.  It’s enough to make you throw up, really.  And I did – all over my face.  I was squeezing my eyes together as much as possible, but I could still feel the acidity creeping through.  Try as she could, the nurse and her suction catheter were no match for the contents of my stomach and small intestine.  I was covered in it.

From the imaging, it was determined that in my fall, I had subluxed C7 over C6 (here’s some more detailed medical information about anterior subluxations in general).  We had arrived at the hospital shortly after midnight (I believe), and at approximately 7am, I was taken into the OR.  The procedure was to last seven hours and my closest friends and family waited together for news.  I hear rumors that somebody was social engineering the hospital staff via in-house phones to obtain more information on my surgical progress than was being provided, but I can neither confirm nor deny the validity of those rumors.

I won’t get too far into details here regarding the injury or surgery.   If you’d like to read more, please read the post entitled Details on My Injury and Surgery.

After seven hours in the OR, I was finally done and moved to the SICU (Surgical ICU).  Seeing as I was still under anaesthesia, I don’t remember any of this.  After being put down for surgery, the next thing I recall was waking up in the SICU in tremendous pain.  Morphine, it turns out, does not work very well for me – save for making me very loopy and disoriented while in searing pain.  My girlfriend indicated that I was yelling and cursing at lots of people around me: her, the staff.. basically anybody who got near me.  That much I don’t remember.  All I do remember is becoming aware post-op and realizing that I was in tremendous pain.  When I asked about pain killers, I was told morphine can only be given every six hours.

Next dosage?  “You had it half-an-hour ago, so five-and-a-half more hours.”

I remember pulling at my gown and the lines that were coming out of me all the while screaming and cursing about how much pain I was in.  The drug-induced logic being, “this is all I can do to demonstrate to them just how badly this hurts.  Maybe they’ll understand.” Then I think I passed out from it all, because I don’t remember anything after that.

When I woke up next, I wasn’t in such agonizing pain.  “We switched you to Dilaudid.”   For those unaware, Dilaudid is about eight to ten times as strong as morphine (which it is derived from) and is only indicated in cases of extreme pain.  Thankfully, it worked for me while simultaneously not leaving me in the loopy state that morphine had.

For those who have not experienced surgical pain with insufficient pain meds, it entirely changes your basis for a one-to-ten pain scale.  My former definition of ten is now more like a four.  I don’t remember what the pain actually felt like, thankfully, but I do remember it was by far the most agonizing pain I had ever felt.

The next several days are all somewhat of a blur.  The first day (perhaps two) I wasn’t allowed to have any liquids or food.  So despite how dry my mouth and lips were, I couldn’t have any ice or water to help.  Then gradually, they allowed people to dip a large cotton swab into some medicated ice chips and moisten my lips.  After a day or two of that, I could drink real fluids.  The first guzzle of ice water I had after those few days felt like I’d been in the Sahara for weeks and had just found a canteen with ice cold water.

I spent time in the SICU joking around with a few medical students who were there, and chatting with people around me.  I don’t recall having a TV there (I’m sure I did, but I never watched it), and usually there were people around.  After several days there, I was moved out of intensive care, and on to a separate wing of the hospital.

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