I was having surgery–the first of at least two operations–on The Leg this morning.
Note the past tense: I WAS having surgery. It’s been postponed and I’m sure that the God of Adventure is ROTFL about the whole thing.
Mom and I flew down to Walnut Creek on Monday, had a delightful dinner with Nancy and Gary Goodenough (very tasty fish place) and they dropped us off at Embassy Suites for a cathartic blowup: They were fresh out of wheelchair-accessible rooms.
That’s been fixed, with a handsome apology from the general manager, who also comped Mom’s room and promised to fix some of the accessibility flaws I mentioned. Nice of him.
On Friday night, Sept. 16, 2016, I fractured my left femur just above Elmo, my replacement knee. I lived in a wheelchair, facing hip-high amputation of my left leg, for about two years while I fought health care bureaucracy, cost-conscious HMOs, and myself to figure out a way to walk again. (Spoiler alert: Elmo won!)
I documented my adventures in remobilization in this blog. They’re awfully self-indulgent, occasionally icky, and probably only of interest to me, but on the off-chance that they help someone else with a catastrophic injury, I’m keeping them together here. If you don’t want to read them, that’s OK; I still love you. If you do, you might want to start from the beginning, on the archive page that lists all posts.
The Leg had been grouchy the entire flight, and only got more painful as we landed. Next day, xrays revealed that his grumps were justified: Screwheads were pulling off the rods holding my bones together, plates were pretty bent, and screw shafts flew nearly free inside my leg.
“It’s deteriorated a surprising amount since your last xrays,” said Dr. Dan, “I’m thinking that, rather than weight-bearing at six weeks, it’ll be more like eight to ten weeks. You may not be able to regain full range of motion in that knee, but with luck you may reach 90 degrees.”
“But we’re still going ahead, right? The goal is to get me walking?”
“Right. No change of plans, just maybe a couple of detours getting there.”
A few more tests and I headed back to the hotel with Mom, intent on taking a nap and babying the last dregs of a cold. I felt pretty good, just drippy and snorty.
After all our tussling, Kaiser had come through handsomely. They finally admitted that maybe their suggested that maybe Kaiser’s NW orthopedic traumatology capabilities weren’t up to fixing The Leg. They paid to shuttle me and Mom down to their much larger trauma department in the Bay area, where I’d spend two to eight weeks getting fixed.
Dr. Dan, my new surgeon, is a great guy with strong recommendations from the traumatology world. I liked him, and his plan. Surgery was planned for Thursday morning; I headed into the hospital with only minor terror.
I’m getting to be an old hand at surgical maneuvers: No jewelry, perfume, deodorant, nail polish, makeup. Bag things neatly so the charge nurse can get them up to your
hotel hospital room. Get into the paper gown with the vacuum cleaner hose that gets so nicely toasty when inflated. Answer question after question about your personal habits.
Check. Check. Check.
The anesthesiologist bustled in as they were starting to prep the IV, and asked more questions. Then… “any recent upper respiratory tract issues?”
“Not unless you count my cold.”
The IV stopped its descent into my vein and everyone stared. “You have a COLD?”
“Uhm, well, yeah. It’s not a secret, I’ve mentioned it before. It’s pretty much finished.”
He shook his head. “We have a big problem. We can’t do this surgery if you’ve got a cold.”
“HAD a cold,” I corrected.
“Doesn’t matter, you need to be at least two weeks past cold symptoms. There are too many things that could go wrong.”
I was probably glaring at him because he took a hasty step back. “Really, I’m not kidding. I’ll get with Dr. Dan and see what he thinks.”
Dr. Dan confirmed. “It’s not just the danger of anesthesia, although that’s bad enough. But our last procedure involves bone grafts, and harvesting those leaves lots of mini-embolisms bursting all over. If you have healthy lungs, you’ll recover.”
“But in people with upper respiratory infections, it’s dangerous. Pulmonary embolism. I agree with Dr. P; we need to wait. Come back October 16.”
He nodded his head decisively. “Yes, October 16. That’s the best, because it gives me more time for the additional operation.”
Additional whaaaat? “Come again?”
“I think the tests are pretty clear that you’ve got some kind of low-grade infection. Could be the cold, but given your past results, I think we’ve got to assume infection in your femur. So we probably need to do TWO cleanout procedures, one right after another. After that, when we know the area is really REALLY sterile, we can go ahead with the repair.”
Elmo. The gift that keeps on giving. “You’re sure there’s nothing ELSE you wanna do while you’re down there, Doc? Carve some netsuke, maybe? Make a xylophone?”
He grinned. “Well, I did want to talk with you about your OTHER leg. How’s it doing? Any knee replacements? Problems?”
“It aches sometimes, it’s carrying all the load while The Leg loafs,” I said cautiously. “Why?”
“That’s a pretty big defect you’ve got there, and we’re thinking we may not be able to get all the bone cells we need from The Leg. I was noticing your other leg is right over there and…”
“Sure, sure,” I said expansively, “Take all you want. Just leave me a leg to stand on…”
“It might be a little sore when you wake up, but nothing like the other leg,” he promised.
Uhm, thanks. I think.
One more test, and I was officially discharged. Plane flights are pretty hard on The Leg, and with the “rapidly deteriorating” news I really didn’t want to go all the way back to Portland.
Finances and work, though, felt differently. So I’m flying back to Portland tomorrow, going back to work on Monday. Disability doesn’t kick in until I actually HAVE an operation.
In another couple of weeks–presumably cold-free–I’ll fly back down to Walnut Creek, hop on a gurney and start the journey.