“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”
That’s one of my favorite quotes. Always has been. You never know how true it is though until it happens to you.
A week ago Saturday, my husband was in hog heaven. He had finally satisfied his adult-boy dream. We picked up a brand new Jaguar F-Type convertable. Dark Sapphire Blue Metallic with red leather interior. Smokin’ hot. We were talking about where we would take our first ride with the top down. He was excited about me driving it. We laughed about him getting a driving cap and gloves. I hadn’t seen him smile like that since the day we got married. We even had our vanity plates picked out – STLCRZY.
By Friday, he was paralyzed.
The husband has had back problems for years so he wasn’t overly concerned when it started to bother him a week or so ago. He’ s always been able to get through it with a good dose of anit-inflamatories. On Sunday, it was more painful than usual, so I made breakfast. It means a lot for him to give up breakfast making. That’s his weekend thing. So I knew it had to be bothering him quite a bit. But after breakfast, he was feeling better, so he did his regular chores around the house. Around 4:00, he went upstairs to take a shower before dinner. I heard a yell and the sound of a body falling and ran to the hall to find him lying at the foot of the stairs on his back.
“Oh my God! What happened?”
“I don’t know. My left leg just gave out and I feel backwards.”
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I guess so. Just help me get up.”
So I got him up and he took his shower and seemed OK. Just a freaky thing we thought.
In the morning, we got ready for work and as we were leaving, he went to get his jacket from the closet and “bam”, same thing. He got up and once again seemed fine, so we both went to work. He works quite a distance from home and stays near his job a few days a week. When I spoke to him that night, he told me had called the doctor and made an appointment for that Thursday. I wasn’t happy that he had to wait that long but glad that a least he was seeing the doctor.
Now let me step back here a minute and talk about men, women and doctors. I’m not a hypocondriac, but I when something is not right with my body, something more than the usual aches and pains, I know I need to see the doctor. My husband, who has an extremely high tolerance for pain, will keep going until his body drops him. By Tuesday afternoon, his body had dropped him. He called me at work and said he was in horrible pain and was taking car service home and going to our local ER. I said I would leave work and meet him there.
When I got to the ER, they were getting ready to release him. I asked what the doctor had said. He told me he had been seen by the PA. They were sending him home with steroids and pain killers and orders to follow up with the orthopedist on Thursday. They helped me get him in the car and we went home. I couldn’t get him out of the car. His legs wouldn’t support him. I got a step stool and we used that as a makeshift walker.
By now the bells should have been going off. But like the girl in the slasher movies who sees the open window and thinks nothing of it, we didn’t know what was coming. From Tuesday night to Thursday morning, he went from being able to stand and move with help to dragging himself across the floor. He was Superman with Kryptonite, the strength drained from his legs.
Thursday morning, we went to the orthopedist. We used the car creeper to get him to the car and our landscaper lifted him into the seat. The doctor’s office is at the hospital. I commandeered a wheelchair and another visitor helped me get him into it. When the doctor examined him, he was stumped. He sent us down for an MRI. They were unable to do it because my husband could not lay flat because of the excruciating pain. The doctor said he would have to have a special MRI under full sedation. Our local hospital was not equipped. We would have to go to Danbury Hospital. We should go home and his office would make the appointment.
The rest of that day was a nightmare. The fear was building in both of us. Controlled fear, but fear nonetheless. Like Jeff Goldblum in the back of the Jeep trying to outrun the T-Rex. Like Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet holding onto the rail of a perpendicular Titanic, watching the ocean rush toward them. Like Sigorney Weaver watching the Alien uncurl itself in her space capsule.
Friday morning, the doctor’s office called. Danbury only did sedated MRIs on Wednesday, so we were scheduled for next Wednesday. What??? Are you freaking crazy??? He needs to be seen NOW. He can’t walk. He is paralyzed.
Change of plans. Go to the Danbury ER. We’ll call ahead. He can be admitted through there and they will do an emergency sedated MRI. Again, help from the landscaper and we are in the car and heading to Danbury. At Danbury ER, they got him into a wheelchair and we registered. That was at 1:00 pm. ER protocol requires tauma victims, chest pain, shortness of breath and bleeding be seen first. We were listed as a 3 on a 1 to 5 scale. So we waited. At 6:00 pm, they took us in. The ER doctor examined my husband and said he needed to have an MRI as soon as possible. We told him the orthopedist should have called ahead. He checked the computer and told us the call was never made.
“I’ll be honest with you. It’s 6:00 on a Friday. It’s going to be tough to get the team together. It’s a specialized procedure and requires an anesthesiologist as well as a radiologist and a tech. You need this done. This has been going on since Tuesday. You can’t afford to stay like this. There could be serious damage. Let me go make some calls.”
When he left, we sat in silence. I can only imagine what was going through my husband’s head. I know I couldn’t think. I felt like a bug incased in amber, suspended in time. I have no idea how long we were like that. Then the ER doc came back.
“Well, you must have someone looking out for you. I was able to get everyone on board. You are scheduled for the MRI at 8:30. It’s very unusual for this to happen but everyone agreed that it was absolutely necessary to find out what was going on ASAP. The nurse will be in to get some information and get you ready and then they’ll take you up after 8:00.”
They took my husband a little after 8:00. I knew he would be up there for awhile because he would be going into recovery afterward. I sat in the curtained cubicle and listened to all the sounds around me and tried not to think. Bits of conversation, the squeak of rubber soles on linoleum, the chime of an alarm, a child crying. A nurse brought me a cup of coffee. Everything faded into the background and I just sat, waiting. Then I heard my husband’s name. ” Yes, He came in unable to walk . Since Tuesday.” I went to the opening in the curtain. The ER doctor was on his cell with someone. He was pacing so the conversation faded in and out. Words and phrases floated to me over the rest of the noise – severe compression, serious, OR right away. I went and sat back down. Maybe I didn’t hear right. Maybe he was talking about someone else.
About 10:30, they brought my husband back. He was still a little groggy from the anesthesia. The doctor came in. The MRI showed something pressing on the spinal cord causing severe compression. He consulted with the head of spinal surgery and they agreed that surgery was needed right away to relieve the pressure. They had a room for us and would be admitting my husband. Emergency surgery would be scheduled for first thing in the morning.
By 12:30 am we were in a room on the twelfth floor. For the umpteenth time that day we went through the whole story with the admitting nurse. They made up a cot for me. The CNA took my husband’s vitals. The nurse gave him his meds and then we tried to get some sleep. At 2:30 am, they woke us up to move us. My husband is a cardiac patient and the cardiac team wanted him on a floor with telemetry equipment. So we packed up and moved down to the tenth floor where we went through the whole process again with a different nurse. They had no cots, so I settled in on the recliner. I doubt either of us got more than a hour’s sleep, not that it mattered. At 4:30 am, they came in to give my husband platelets. As a cardiac patient, he takes blood thinners. Normally, they won’t due surgery until you have been off thinners for a week. But in this case, delaying the surgery posed a greater risk than bleeding. The platelets were to aid in clotting. The nurse told us surgery was scheduled for 8:30. At 8:00, they took us down to surgery. Once again, we went through the story with the OR nurse. And the anestheisologist. We met the surgeon who told us what he could possibly find when he opened my husband’s back. He explained what he would do to repair the spine. He went over the possible complications. Then he shook our hands and said he was confident in a positive outcome. I kissed my husband and told him I love him and went to wait in the Family Waiting area. Watching someone you love being pushed through the big double doors to the operating suite …… my heart flew after him and slammed into those doors as they closed behind him.
About two hours later, the surgeon came to me in the waiting area. A disk had herniated and extruded into the spinal cord, like someone stepping on a tube of toothpaste. There was quite a bit of pressure but when the disk was cleared away, the cord popped back into shape and that was a good sign. It would take time but he was optimistic.
It’s been four days since the surgery. My husband has responded well. He has been moved into the rehab unit. He’s moving his legs again. He will be in rehab for an unspecified period of time. When he comes home, we will have to make adjustments. He will most likely not be able to climb stairs at first so we will set up a bed on the first floor in the back room. Our lives will change. How much we don’t know yet.
I’m not sure how to feel about all of this. I am so grateful that he will not be paralyzed. But I am angry that our lives have been turned upside down. Change happens whether or not we want. The challenge is to find the good in the change. And I know there will be good. There always is.