Monday, October 3, 2011

Awaiting surgery

I can fall asleep for only a few minutes at a time. Then I hit the mud, slide, hear my bones breaking...and wake up crying out. To try to outrun my repeat fate I have pressed my broken ankle into its stack of pillows, and it is now on fire with pain.

And heat.

The posterior leg splint (right) the orthopedic surgeon made for me in the ER—bent to suit my ankle and strapped onto my broken yet realigned bones with Ace bandages—is curing. It heats up to do so. Every single thing I know about first aid injury treatment says this heat is my enemy. Time's a-wasting; my foot is swelling out of control but no one seems terribly concerned about this. My foot structure (narrow heel, high arch, small bones) never handled well my active life; it turns easily and I have sprained each ankle at least eight times. Experience tells me that the immediate application of ice can be the difference between walking and not.

I ask for ice. My nurse says she'll check my orders. Ice isn't listed, so I can't have it. It amazes me that ice can't be administered unless it's prescribed by a doctor.

What the hell. Guess I'm not walking anywhere soon.

They give me pain meds every four hours but as the interior pressure builds they only take the edge off for three. The last hour is a killer.

It's the middle of the night. I'm in a double but do not yet have a roommate. A hundred cable channels and nothing to watch but zumba routines I won't be able to dance and exercise machines I won't be able to use. I try, again, to sleep. Almost there... I hit the mud. Slip and roll. My bones snap and crunch. I wake mid-stride, ankle searing.

I've been panting. Mouth so dry. No water—can I have ice chips?

"I'll have to check your doctor's orders." I know where that will go.

Although my thirst cannot be slaked I'm hooked to plenty of IV fluids and I can feel them pumping, pumping into my swelling foot—then redistributing to my bladder. I have to get off the bed and onto the commode about every half hour. Lifting my leg from its pile of pillows is so painful as the tissue fluids redistribute, but that's nothing compared to the sensation of the broken bones shifting, and the hot knives that thrust into my ankle once my leg is dangling off the edge of the bed. Thanks to the efficiency of movement conveyed by a previous life as a dancer, I can get from bed to commode in one graceful pirouette (one must take one's small victories).

As I perform this bravura feat my debonaire cavalier (okay, the nurse) holds the commode so it won't kick out from under me. "I'm sorry, you can't have the ice chips, you're scheduled for surgery."

I keep my eye on the prize—that more manageable post-surgery pain, which they promise like offering a horse a carrot, then yank away, time and again. They can't give me water because surgery will be later that morning. Then it won't be until early afternoon, I'm told, so sorry, you can't have breakfast. Looks like the surgery will be later this afternoon, so you can't have lunch. Good news! We've heard from your surgeon, he'll be over after his office hours, so your surgery will be this evening.

I was glad I'd taken the sandwich offered the night before in the ER; I hadn't eaten since noon that day. (Then again, the offered sandwich was ham. I was thirsty.) The night before, when they'd come to the ER to take me up to my room, I'd instinctively wanted to wrap the uneaten half and take it along like some hoarder in a nursing home but they took it away, saying there'd be more of the same up on my floor. No such luck.

Luckily, dawn brought the distraction of my anesthesiologist comedy team—and a roommate who held a small key to happiness. More on that tomorrow.


donna galanti said...

Oh Kathryn, I just cringe reading of your ordeal painted with such colorful, painful images. Plus your wit makes me a laugh a bit - not at you but how you must have sought any sort of comedy to get through such a horrible time.

off kilter said...

Kathryn, I hope some of this gets to the nursing staff at that hospital. Sometimes they have meetings on what NOT to do, and pain management. Your story might help someone else down the road get better treatment. Glad you're home and on the mend!

Kathryn Craft said...

Thanks Donna.

And Linda: I believe the problems I experienced (such as inability to get ice) are a function of our malpractice-happy society, not any nursing issue. They have to follow protocol. Sorry if I gave the wrong impression--I felt blessed the entire time to have absolutely wonderful nurses and doctors, all who cared very much about my comfort. But I do believe there are times when there isn't much comfort to be had, and we must carry on.

I assumed the surgery issue to be a conflict of surgeon schedule, desire, and operating room availability. And when I filled out my feedback form, I gave all my caregivers exceptional marks. But my intent is not to blame, but simply evoke what it was like to be in my position. If you intuit problems to be solved hidden in these lines--I guess that's a good thing!