Wednesday, July 20, 2011

TWO brain surgeries...and I'm still here! (Part 1)

That's right. Two. Not one. Two. In my last post, I told you about how I had been diagnosed with a chiari malformation and was going to need brain surgery to remove a piece of my skull and C1 vertebra and insert an artificial dura graft into the covering of the back of my brain. Much has happened since then, my friends, and let me tell you - it has not been all rainbows and lollipops. It sucked. Major.

I'm going to break this down into two parts for you - the first surgery and what happened when I got home, and then pick the second part up with the dr. visit that initiatied he second surgery.

June 30 was my last day of work. My partner-in-crime Mal and our amazing intern Ansley got into a great place - a place where I felt comfortable turning everything over to them. They are rockstars, and my to-do list had died a painful death thanks to my perserverance. The saddest moment of the day (and one of the highlights) was when they gave me two cards that were filled on the inside and back with messages from my coworkers. It reminded me why I love the people I work with so much. The other highlight of the day was flowers from my hubby - it was also our 4-year wedding anniversary. We have been together for 10 years, and I have to say right now, I never would have made it through this without him.

That brings me to another confession. I have gotten so many amazing comments from so many people commenting my positive attitude and insight. Some even called me inspirational. I've tried to be honest throughout my entire blog, and that's why I feel like it's necessary to tell you the truth. I'm not inspirational or special. I didn't handle this situation better than anyone else would have. To be completely honest - I have never been so scared in my entire life. Have you ever had to pray to God to just let you live, so that you could watch your daughter grow up and be a mother to her, to be a wife to an amazing man, to be around when your sister has her first child (she's not pregnant, by the way), to see your sister-in-law walk down the aisle (even if she says it's not happening until she's 30), to not make your parents go through the pain of losing their daughter? I have. I did. Many, many times. When I was home alone, I used to sit in Ella's room and just cry. I cried in the shower so many times, I lost count. I cried on the way home from work constantly. I even listened to country music. I hate country music. And you know what - The Band Perry can suck it. The rest of the truth is - I wanted so badly to believe everything that I said to everyone else. If I acted like it wasn't a big deal, then maybe it wouldn't be a big deal. The way that I was trying to handle it on the outside, the attitude that everyone else saw, I thought that if I put it out there enough, it would eventually happen - that I would eventually feel that way. The other reason is that I didn't want my family and dear friends to know how truly scared I was. I didn't want this to be any harder on them than it already was. My goal was for it to be as drama-free as possible, and for the most part, I think I achieved it. Until now, at least, since I'm spilling the beans. But it's ok, because I'm here. So no worries.

On to July 5- Surgery Day. I had to be at Emory hospital at 5:30 a.m., and I was my doctor's first patient of the day. I got up at 3:30 a.m.and washed and blew dry my hair because I knew it would be the last time for a while. Mom, Dad and Kyle went to the hospital with me, and Kyle's mom stayed at the house to be with Ella. When they called me back, Kyle went with me and helped me change into my gown. Then the anesthesiologists came in, one on each side, and began to explain everything that was going to happen. I was going to have a huge IV in each hand, plus an arterial line in my left hand. Once I was asleep, they would insert a breathing tube and shave my hair. They injected medicine into each hand to deaden it, and it hurt like a mo-fo.They then spent several minutes trying to find veins. Thanks to my mom's genes, I've got tiny veins. So they talked to me so that I would pay attention. The anethesiologist was able to get my A-line in pretty quickly, but they both had to dig in my hands for several minutes before they were able to get the IVs in. So long so that they had to inject more numbing medication.

I got to see my family one more time, and then the anesthesiologist resident wheeled me back into the OR. She asked if I had any questions. I told her that I just wanted to make it back to my baby. She said she would make sure of it. Next thing I knew, I was waking up to the same resident telling me where I was and that it was all over.

Me trying to inject a little humor into the Pippi Longstocking situation.

The first scar. The nurse said they were very generous with shaving my hair.

The surgery went as planned. They removed the bottom piece of bone from my skull and a piece of bone from my C1 vertebra. They then sliced open the dura, or the covering of my brain, and they sewed in an artificial graft that allowed it to stretch. This gave my super smart brain more room to grow and prosper. After surgery, they let Kyle come see me in recovery. The first 2 things I said to him: "I love you. I didn't die." Then they moved me to ICU, where my family was able to come in and visit me. My cousin Teresa even surprised me. It took me a few minutes for me to figure out who she was, but I remembered it brought a big smile to my face. I don't remember a whole lot, except that it was really hard to talk and I was dying to go to the bathroom. With the use of medical technology, the nurses were able to relieve me (I have a mental block when it comes to bedpans), and with the use of good drugs, there wasn't much time to talk - just sleep. Kyle spent the night with me in ICU (he had to stay in a family room connected to my room and wasn't allowed to sleep right in my room), and the next day my family returned.

The next day was harder. I was more alert, so I was in a LOT more pain. I couldn't lift my head, let alone turn it. I had to call the nurses every time I had to roll over. And the pain medicine immediately made me throw up. Do you know how bad it sucks to throw up when your head and neck are held together by stiches? I do.  I was also alert enough to know that I really had to use the restroom. The nurses decided to torture me and refused to give me a catheter. Sounds gross, I know, but with all the IV fluids going in me, my bladder was literally about to burst. Since bedpans and I don't mix, I knew the only choice was to get up. The other hurdle, though, is that with all the narcotics, I was hallucinating. I thought I was carrying on conversations and calling nurses, and I never was. Each time I called a nurse, it took me a while to figure out how to actually do it. I finally called a nurse and she helped me to the restroom. I've never been in so much pain.  My childbirth was nothing compared to feeling like my head was literally going to rip off my neck.  After I was able to do that, they decided to move me out of ICU and into NCCI.

Once there, my whole family was able to come in and stay with me. It also meant that physical therapy was able to come torture me for a while. I was only able to walk to the door and back to the bed before I needed to lay down. And just like with pregnancy, I was only able to lay on my side due to the nasty incision down the back of my head and neck. So my hips were in constant pain. The upside to the room was that people could stay in the room with me overnight. I am so fortunate that I was never alone. I always had at least two people with me at all times. Kyle and my mom stayed with me a few nights, and my mom and Brittney stayed with me a few nights so that Kyle could go home and see the baby. His mom and Allie stayed at our house with Ella the whole time so that we could keep her schedule in tact as much as possible. That was probably the hardest part about the entire experience. I hadn't been away from my baby girl for one night since she was born. And all of a sudden, I went days without seeing her. It was the lowest point I ever felt. I knew she was in good hands, and that helped, but I still missed her desperately. I just kept reminding myself that I had to get better for her.

It was hard to get a good night's sleep. I was calling for pain and nausea medication throughout the night, and nurses and techs were constantly coming in to take my blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, prick my finger to get my blood sugar and to take my blood for blood work. By the time I left, I looked like a bruised pin cusion.

The other problem was my appetite. I didn't eat or drink anything for more than 2 days, thus the IV fluids. Eventually, Kyle, Britt and Mom took turns feeding me bits of grapes, melon and bread. They also kept the lemon lime gatorade coming. It was about all I could handle. The upside - I lost 8 pounds:) Then as I got stronger, I was able to do more with PT - I even walked all the way down the hall and up and down a few steps. I even managed to take a bath. I know, sounds simple, but it wasn't. Not in the least. Once I was able to accomplish all these tasks, and my pain meds could be taken orally, they decided to release me.

My surgery was on Tuesday, and I was released on Saturday.

My stitches after a few days

That brings about Part 2. Coming up...

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