My First Hospital Visit (nonfiction)

I had a microdiscectomy for a monsterous prolapse (L4/L5 region) a couple of years ago. I had never been under anasthesia or stayed in a hospital before. Here’s a firsthand account of what it’s all about.  I wrote this just after my back surgery and my first ever hospital stay. Although I was hopped up an vicodin and valium at the time, it was remarkably coherent. I have not changed or in any way altered this true story. Enjoy!

—–Original Message—–

From: Red <c>Red Byer. For personal distribution only.

Sent: Thu 3/13/2003 4:10 PM

Subject: Back Surgery Stories/updates
First off, administratively: (1) Sorry for the mass email, but it’s more efficient. (2) Sorry if you get 2, 3 or even 4 copies of this message…i pretty much just spammed my address book.

Anyway, I just had a micro-discectomy, and here’s the story and a status update for you all.

Pre Surgery, Da’ History

For those who don’t know, I went in for lower back surgery last Tuesday the 11th. The operation was a micro-discectomy…..History: I have had on/off severe back pain for about 10 years now. Back then they only took an x-ray and thought I had a fused disc down there somewhere. Well, 2 months ago, it really really went out (sleeping was no longer an option). Finally, in early February, I had an MRI done and it showed a beautiful bulge/prolapse/hernia/rupture between L5 and S1. 15mm bulge to be specific, pinching on the left side spinal cord and basically messing it all up. As a point of reference, a prolapse that size was enough to make my chiropractor take pause and look seriously concerned (and he’s an x-football player who regularly treats NFL players).

Mid February, it was feeling better and I was working out more…and it went out AGAIN…Valerie & Steph got to witness that Valentine’s dinner hands-and-knees-all-of-a-sudden fiasco. In fact they looked worried enough that it became obvious surgery was a necessity.

After quite some waiting and a lot of kneeling at work, I finally had a pre-op and a surgery date scheduled. A second opinion with a more conservative Dr. S in Redwood City confirmed that it was time for surgery. Dr. K at the Stanford Neurosurgery was scheduled to be my surgeon.

OH, and this is most definitely not a “pity me email”. At least 3 of the people getting this have had total knee re-builds, at least 1 of the people has had a kidney transplant, and another had a deviated septum surgery. I think the pain and recovery from my surgery pales in comparison to those just mentioned.

Post Surgery, Quick Summary

So, the quick summary….after a DREADFUL night in the hospital (read more below) I am back at home . . . dosing up on vicadin and valium and steroids. I’m in some pain of course (imagine a sledgehammer hitting your back, or some sucker-kidney-punches) and I walk *really* slowly. I can’t bend or twist yet, but the good news, NO MORE SCIATIC LEG PAIN.

Speaking with the doctor, he said that he was surprised to see that much of the disc bulge seemed be from an older injury (hence the 10 years of back problems). He cleaned it right up, I hope. I’m hoping to get a post-MRI out of the deal if I can…just to see what it looks like now. As for the disc degeneration in L4 & L5…well, just going to have to live with that for the rest of my life. I hope to keep strong enough to be able to lift and toss-around my kids some day.

Since doctors do not give straight answers and love to be ultra conservative, they were saying it would be 2 weeks before I could drive and 4 weeks to return to activity. Yeah, WHATEVER. The driving is limited by the vicadin….(i can always get driven to work)..and the return normal activity varies by individual (2-6 weeks is what I have read).

I feel better today than yesterday, and I am not taking full-dosages of vicadin. I currently hope to be back to work in <10 days.

A Quick Thanks For The Support

THANKS TO EVERYONE FOR THEIR SUPPORT. The cards/balloons/flowers are greatly appreciated. In fact, I left one of the baloons with my roomate, who was having a really bad time and who’s 2 year old son was visiting. The “Get RRRRuufff” dalmation balloon stayed behind for him. Oh, and the “ITs A BOY” balloon courtesy of Manuel M was the source of some confusion for the nursing staff.

Well done!

The Gritty Details Of My Night In The Hospital

AND NOW, the detailed nitty gritty somewhat humorous recap for those who have never been to a hospital, under anesthetic, etc. READ ONLY if you can stand the yummy details….this is for those of you who like the gory, juicy, nasty details…and for me to share the stories for those brave few.

WARNING: Too Much Information [TMI] abounds below.

So….check in time was noon on Tuesday. Of course, I couldn’t eat or drink past midnight, so I was dehydrated with a caffeine headache. After checking in, they promptly made me wait 45 minutes for no particular reason. Then it was back into the changing room, where I got to strip off my dignity and dawn a pair of lycra thigh-high pantyhose to help with circulation. I also got the wonderful open-in-the-back and well-ventilated gown and the little slippers-with-traction.

They let me lie down in a bed and asked lots of questions, poked and prodded for 15 minutes, took vitals. Then came the fun part. I got to watch Stephanie & my mother flinch as they inserted the IV into my left wrist. I swear that they almost fainted. The best part, they loaded me up with some sort of anti-anxiety, relaxant stuff. WHAM….in 5 seconds I felt like I had just had 3 margaritas. My hearing went away and I was flying quite nicely. And then, wheeled to the operating room.

Interesting point….in the pre-op room there were at least 3 different SCRA parents that recognized me. In fact, Dr. Samuels (Coach Emma’s father) was my anastheseologist. Made me glad I was wearing my finest attire and didn’t have any embarrassing tattoos.

The resident that inserted the IV was very kind, and (sorry Steph) cute…so not a bad way to be put under and perhaps be the last thing I would see on the pain-free end of things. There was no countdown, nothing. Just a “We’re going to put this pillow under your head to support your neck better.” Uhh, yeah….I think that’s what they did.

Because the next thing I heard as I woke up…”Breathe deep….take another deep breath. Good. Another deep breath…really deep.” I complied, I don’t know why, but I did…and then my eyes opened…and I felt so very very good. It was only 2 1/2 hours or so after they had put me under. No nausea….a little soreness in my back (promptely relieved with a small hit of morphine).

And the TASTE. Oh my god, it felt like my mouth had had a bunch of nasty melted polyester poured into it. My mouth, my throat…my lips…tasted and smelled HORRIBLE. The nurse heard me complaining, and whipped out some sort of pre-tasting swab (some $50 lemon pledge-pinesol flavored q-tip) and swabbed my lips and let me suck on it for awhile. That was nice….then she was a total goddess and gave me a cup of crushed ice to suck on!!! Wow….anything to get rid of that nasty taste. I kept asking them why they didn’t invent mint flavored anasthesia…..could it be that hard?

And there I sat….bored, but drunk on anasthesia for an hour and a half….then two big nurses came and I got to watch the ceiling tiles of Stanford Hospital fly by as they whizzed me and my 300lb bed around and around and up the elevator.

Then I was in my room…next to a guy who was snoring (and didn’t stop the entire time I was there) really really really loud. They checked vitals (they do that in hospitals…a LOT) and I proceded to convince Steph & my mother to go get some food for themselves (I had to pee really bad, and wanted the privacy) [TMI to follow, don’t read if you’re squeemish.

Well, evidently, that liter of IV fluid they had pumped me with….it wanted out in a BIG way. I filled that urinal to the brim, and could have kept going, but I didn’t feel like asking for more. The nurse who took it away dutifully recorded that I had peed, and how much, ’cause they do that as well as check your vitals.

Oh, by the way, I smelled terrible….my mouth still tasted terrible. Everything like a flowery plastic nasty that exuded from every pore. And the pee? Yuck. For those (like me) who can’t stand morning after asparagus/broccoli piss, try the post-anasthesia pee. Holy stinking nasty!!! And it continued like that all night, too!!!

But I digress…..The time is now about 6:30pm.

So, in order to get off of the IV, I had to keep some fluids down, and I was eager to comply (that taste). They brought me some apple juice, water and soup broth. I began drinking the soup broth. Well, about this time, my roommate decided that the morphine was not agreeable, and I was treated to about 5 minutes of projectile vomiting into his bedpan. I must have been hungry, because I stll drank that soup, the apple juice and the water.

I was rewarded by being unhooked from the IV drip, but the IV tube remained in my wrist. Blech.

Then they brought me dinner. It was HUGE. After witnessing my roommate, I was in no hurry to rush back into eating (puking is tough enough, but with a hurt/weak back, it is tough and completely painful). Well, the dinner they brough was salad, fruit, a huge hunk of chicken, some rice and guess-what: BROCOLLI. Why not add insult to injury and throw in some asparagus, as if my pee didn’t already smell bad enough! Needless to say, I passed on the brocolli….and nibbled on the rest. Quite a feat, given that my roommates heaving kept on going.

About 15 minutes later, steph & my mom return with their dinner, and I promptly shoo them out, because it’s time for my roommate to get an enema. Wonderful. My pee smells like flowery plastic, my roommate is hurling, I’m worried about hurling (that’s what everyone says happens after anasthesia & morphine), and my dinner is getting cold quickly because it smells like enema. This hospital stay was turning out to be a wonderful idea.

Another 15 mintues go by, the smell(s) have subsided…my mom, steph and my housemate return and I’m nibbling. I’m starving…want to eat, but given the circumstances, just can’t.

At about 7:30….mom & housemate leave….Dr K comes in to let me know that all went well…..and then I attempt to stand. In order to stand, they have to remove these cool little pressurized air-bag leg-massagers that they had (keeps blood clots from forming, improves circulation and feels damn cool as they inflate and deflate).

7:30, a mere 4 hours after surgery, I stand….and go take a nice long plastic smelling pee (i hate urinals, and using a toilet was my reward for standing). My back felt weak, but acceptable, and with steph and the nurse for support, it was not a problem. We took a little walk around the unit (about 15 minutes or so)…and that felt really good.

I was able to walk/shuffle around until 8pm…..when I had to get back into bed (yup, still wearing my wonderful pantyhose in case you’d forgotten) and steph got kicked out for the night.

Contrary to popular belief…they kick visitors out early so that the patients go insane with boredom. They have found that boredom and insanity are the biggest aids to healing quickly and demanding shorter hospital stays. SO, at 8pm, I was faced with 14 hours of excruciating boredom with a little bit of pain. I was in prison/hospital….same difference.

On the good news, The Waterboy was playing…and that helped.

So commenced the night of no sleep. I had a little pain, sure…but having an IV in your wrist prevents it from bending. And in case you hadn’t noticed, you usually have to relax your wrists to sleep…..I couldn’t do that. Oh, did I mention that having the IV tube also prevented me from rolling over onto my stomach. You would think that after back surgery they would enable you to roll on your stomach so as to relieve pressure on the cuts/stitches and therefore relieve pain. However, given that (from above) “insanity” leads to shorter hospital stays, on my back I remained.

And did I mention that my roomate snored. Snoring is a euphamism in this case for STRANGLING A BEAR! I was hopeless, bored, and of course insane at this point.

Oh, and just in case you’ve already forgotten, it’s time for a quiz….nurses do what?They check your vitals. And when do they do it? When you have finally managed to fall asleep for 15 minutes. Seriously, every 2-3 hours they would wake me up and check my vitals….ARGH.

Oh, and did I mention the drugs. They had me on some heavy duty antibiotics (via the IV drip hookup) and would push steroids into me a couple of times as well. Turns out that steroids can cause insomnia…..Also turns out that nobody told me this!

Oh, and it also turns out that one of the side effects of anasthesia is increased heart rate.

So, there I am trying to get to sleep with (let me list em) (1) a roomate who was either snoring, ralphing or getting an enema done (2) nurses who just wanted to wake me up in order to push me further into insanity (3) an IV tube in my wrist that hurt to flex (4) cuts in my back that I had little choice but to lie on top of (5) steroids & anesthesia that pumped my *resting* heart rate up in the 80’s and 90’s!!!!!!!!!!

Incidentally…I slept about 2 hours total that night…and spent the rest of the time trying to get to sleep and wondering how to break out of the insanity and boredom asylum.

10:30pm… mom called, so I went to the nurses station and took the call. Also managed to sweet talk a nurse into bringing up the Sharks website….great, they lost again….At this point I proceeded to walk around the hallways for another hour.

2:15am…..bored, can’t sleep. Got up and walked around the hallways for another 45 minutes. Oh, don’t forget, I had my well ventilated outfit and thigh-high pantyhose on, too. And, yeah…I use the term “walking” quite liberally….it took me about 15 minutes to go 200yards….so a couple of laps killed a LOT of time.

5:30am. My roomate wakes up ralphing and dry heaving. Incidentally, snoring and puking and groaning were his main sounds, and it was always one or the other.

5:45am…..who wants an enema? Not me!!! But my roommate got another one. WOW….there is nothing sacred in a hospital.

WHICH BRINGS ME TO ANOTHER SEGWAY: The question I got asked most, throughout the night, after surgery and into the morning……..wait for it…………..the question was: “Have you passed gas?” I kid you not! The nurses are serious about this. It’s a mark of pride……they cheer you on…they wanna hear it…..they almost seem to live for it (second to takin’ vitals of course). “Have you passed gas?”. I was constantly getting asked that question.

Well, here’s why. Turns out that anasthesia totally screws with your GI tract (i.e. it takes it to a complete stop) and so do most of the pain meds, especially vicadin. Also turns out that passing gas (that’s “farting” for us non-nurse laymen) is like the sign that the engines are about to turnover again. This is why they recommend a major fiber-diet post surgery… Speaking from experience [i warned you, Too Much Information] it’s tough to jump start those bowels again…..really tough. Even a juice club with fiber boost, 2 apples, 2 bannanas, prunes and raisin bran isn’t enough. They give you stool softeners on top of it!! [you were WARNED about TMI]

So, let’s get back:

7:00am…i had just gotten to sleep at 6:30 am….and the doctor’s assistants came in, pushed and prodded me a little bit, made sure I felt okay, told me I’d be going home in 4 hours (I was clearly insane and bored, and heceforth ready to be released). Then they left.

So, I got up, urinated some polyester smelling fluid and began to walk (breakfast was supposed to be at 8:00am). I walked for a good hour and a half (that’s about 6 laps around the ward, I think)…got really tired…..and passed gas….loudly and proudly!!! A couple of times….Heck, the way I figured it, I was in a hospital, they were encouraging it, they were asking me about it….so I cut loose. How many times in your life have you actually been encouraged to fart by professionals? For me….that number was 0. So I made the most of it, which incidentally was quite little, because that anasthesia really does stop you up.

8:30am, breakfast FINALLY shows up. Remember, I’m post-op…should be eating high fiber, etc. They give me bacon & eggs and a smallish bran muffin and some coffee. No fruit. I’m starving (hadn’t really eaten for well over 36 hours at this point) and wolf down all that.

8:45….I still have that blood IV in my wrist, it’s swollen and i want it out. They figure that have to load me up with one more bag of antibiotics (I’m taking the steroids orally at this point). They try to push the antibiotics thru and start the drip, but I think the IV is coagulated/swollen…..and they stop. 15 minutes later, they check with the doctor….

9:00. My insanity and boredom is evident. They reward me by removing the IV needle stuck in my wrist. The reward comes with a price….a lot of hair. Oh well.

9:15….I get to shower!!!! The nurse gets to open my well ventilated gown and strap some saran wrap with some hair-pulling tape all around…..wonderment. It took some time (about 10 minutes), but I was able to get the little traction-socks and the white thigh-high nylons off. The rinse off removes a lot of that flowery plastic smell from my poors, and suddenly I feel a lot better. I was starting to feel some dignity, too.

That is, until the nurse pulls off skin & hair removing the wonderful plastic wrapping around the bandages. There is no shame here….it’s a hospital……and the bandages, well, remember that I mentioned it was a LOW back surgery. Men (like me) have hair on their butts. And the surgeons…well, they didn’t shave me down and that quickly became evident as I got a backside ‘waxing’ from the waterproof tape. Yippee.

9:45 – 10:45. I stroll the halls in my street clothes, completely insane and bored. I can finally play my Gameboy (the IV in my left wrist had prevented my thumb from moving). At 10:45, just as I was about to go Postal, Steph shows up to break me out of there. The nurse helps dose me up with a few vicadin prior to the car ride….and then I’m off (like a snail in heat) towards the car….towards the pharmacy….towards home.

And home is where I’m at while I’m writing this. Can’t drive, don’t wanna get in a car, but at least i can sleep…..on my stomach!!! I’m feeling better today than yesterday, and hoping for that fast recovery…..dosing up on fiber like a telecommunications company before the bust. Able to take “walks” (liberal usage of the word…”shuffles” is more like it).

And most importantly….no sciatic pain……

So that’s my story….hope you all had an entertaining read…..any questions? hahahahah

End Of [TMI] Section

Once again, Thanks to everyone for their support.


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