It’s my first full winter back on the east coast, and at first I wasn’t minding it… probably because it was 70 degrees on Christmas! But the past couple weeks have been pretty cold. Some days have even gotten down into the low 20’s (I know that’s not the coldest, but keep in mind I lived in Los Angeles for 5 1/2 years… cut me some slack here). So yeah. But today was a nice break from those temperatures with a high of 45 (again, temperature check- never thought I would be getting excited about a “high of 45” again, but it is what it is). Anyways, I took advantage of the nice weather and sunshine and went for one of my long walks through the rolling hills in my neighborhood. I didn’t realize how much I missed those walks! There’s just something so invigorating about a long walk, by yourself, surrounded by trees and Justin Bieber singing in your ear.
I know, I know. I didn’t catch the fever either until this album. And now I’m HOOKED!! I’m usually more of a country music fan, but over the past year, I’ve gone back to expanding my listening to all types of genres- anything that really just touches my soul. And his lyrics do just that. (Seriously. At least listen to his song “Purpose” if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) Artists use hard times in their lives as opportunities to create… Bieber had a rough couple of years, and chose to make the best of it. So thank you Justin Bieber for sharing your story! Anyways, enough Bieber talk, back to me… So while on my walk, I started thinking about where I was five months ago…
I know the last time I posted about my scoliosis journey left off with me anxiously waiting behind a curtain for my “hot nurse” to bring me in for surgery. Well, speaking of hot, I was on a date last week, with a surgeon actually, and he asked me how I dealt with that anxiety of “waiting”. He told me that he usually tries to make his patients laugh to calm them down when they seem nervous or in many cases, terrified. I laughed and remembered my nurse telling me that “the cranberry sauce isn’t quite ready yet” when he brought me into the surgery room and had to bring me right back out again. He asked me how I handled waiting for an entire hour, anxiously, after already being in and seeing that room. So I was honest and told him that the jokes didn’t help. At ALL. (Maybe it does for some people, so I encourage nurses to continue doing whatever they can to help.)
I appreciated the nurse’s efforts but what really helped me was prayer. I told him that after the nurse brought me back to my little waiting area, I started the rosary my Mom had given me. And I prayed it slowly, and just talked with God the whole time. I had fallen away from God for a while… In college, I nursed hangovers on Sundays, and then after college I was “too busy” either attending “boozy brunches” or concentrating on my career. I turned back to him when I got sick. You’d think he would’ve been mad that I came back when I “needed him”, but nope. He was there and continues to be unconditionally… although I tend to forget this.
Anyways, when I finally finished praying, I felt a sense of ease, protection and relief. I felt at peace because I, then knew, that everything was going to be okay 0:) And then literally a minute after sitting in that “ease”, the nurse came back for me. (Literally. No lie.) But I had forgotten all about this little miracle. I believe everyone is put in your life for a purpose. Sometimes a person shows up for something small- like to remind you of that little miracle you experienced before you had the biggest surgery of your life (thus far) and that feeling of ease and support… and sometimes, they may stay a while… Whatever his purpose was, it was nice to just talk and connect with another person that deals with health and surgery and trauma every day. And it was a nice reminder of what a pivotal role God has played in my life and recovery over the past year.
When you’re so far “in” something, it’s hard to share your experiences. It’s best to share them after you’ve learned and grown from them… but sometimes life gets the best of us and we go back to our lives of “running around”, paying bills, applying for jobs, stalking social media, comparing ourselves to others (because EVERYONE puts their best foot forward on social media), trying out the latest dating apps (have you “Bumbled” yet? Kinda over it now, but still check it out if you haven’t) and etc… (Sidenote, I will say I just joined Snapchat and I looooove! Probably because it’s so candid and goofy and nobody takes anything too seriously. So yeah, check that one out too. And snapchat me!: carolineheinle )
Anyways… (Sorry, I know I get side-tracked a lot so bare with me through this post, it’s been a while since my last one and I have so much to tell y’all!! 😛 ) Back to my scoliosis… It was nice to be reminded of all the things I had forgotten about my scoliosis journey… like how that first night in the hospital was excruciating (not trying to scare you if you’re thinking of doing it, but I have to be honest), how awesome some of the nurses were, how amazing my doctor is and continues to be!, how blessed I am to have a mother that sat by my bedside every day, and how great it was to have family and friends that came to visit me… Sheesh, I’m getting a bit emotional now just writing this- ha! And it was nice to be reminded of how very blessed I am 0:)
SO… now that these memories are flooding back, I’m going to advise anyone that is having scoliosis surgery to make sure they have visitors. My friend who had her surgery with Dr. Errico years before I did, advised me to do that and it helped immensely! It helps take your mind off of the pain. And also remember that time heals all wounds. So take a deep breath and know that “this too shall pass”.
And now for more details… When I first woke up, it was hard for me to breathe (remember from my last post how my lungs needed to get used to being in a new place…) I think I, then, went back to sleep. I stayed in the Intensive Care Unit that night because my blood pressure was really low. (Wow, I had forgotten that too. I AM a rock star! Hahaha! 😛 ) My blood pressure runs low normally, which my mother and I explained to the doctors and nurses, but even with that being so, it was still too low for me to be moved to a bed on another floor. It’s a pretty intense surgery that lasted seven hours so I lost a lot of blood. When I asked if I would need a transfusion (because I was warned that that was rare, but could be a possibility), the nurse said she didn’t think so, but that I needed to remain in ICU for a bit longer so they could rule it out entirely. (I also am anemic so that could have been a slight factor.)
Which also reminds me… to those of you having the surgery, if you are anemic, do your best to get your iron levels up. You will have to donate blood for your surgery (in case a transfusion needs to be made), a few weeks before your surgery. I wasn’t able to donate blood for myself because my levels were too low, so my loving father did this for me instead- which I am very grateful for 0:) I also started taking an iron supplement that my girlfriend who had the surgery before me recommended called Floravital (she is also anemic… which is a little ironic. Or isn’t it?) This, along with consciously adding more iron-rich foods into my diet such as red meats, spinach, kale, sweet potatoes, beans, turkey and more, helped my iron levels immensely. I think it even helped with bringing my menstruation back… Sorry if that’s TMI, but that’s a whole other can of worms anyways, so guys who are reading this, you’re safe. For now. WahhhHAHahHa! (Satirical, wicked-witch laugh.) Hehe 😛
Like I said, my Mom was by my bedside every minute. (God, I love that woman.) I kept telling her that I couldn’t see right and that my vision was blurry, if I kept both of my eyes open. (I could only see straight if I kept one eye open, and one eye closed.) My mom seemed a little concerned, but still calmly said, “Well your face is ‘a bit swollen’ so let’s just bring it up to the nurse.” My Mom was so concerned for me throughout all of it, but never showed any of her fears. I’ve thought about this lately- how key this is with children when they are sick or injured. Parents are always seen as invincible through their child’s eyes, so the second you show worry or concern, that’s when the child starts to panic… I’m thirty years old and I still can relate to this.
My best friend since I was thirteen, who is an extremely smart nurse, came to visit me the same day as my surgery, which I also SO appreciated! She sat with me, braided my hair to keep my curly mop out of my face (haha, I have a lot of hair so that was definitely helpful) and talked with me to keep my mind off of the pain while my parents took a break for dinner. SO… I didn’t realize how swollen my face was until my Dad came to see me and said “Oh wow! You’re face is really swollen!” (He’s very blunt. That’s my Dad for ya. Ha!) This made me freak out… especially when my girlfriend showed me a picture of myself. I asked the nurse later, “Is this going to go down?? Will I ever be able to see out of both of my eyes again?? Why did this happen?!?” (I was trying not to, but I was panicking.)
The nurse calmly told me my face was swollen because I was lying down on it for seven hours and probably also because I lost a lot of blood. She cautiously told me I would regain my vision. I’m very observant to people and their mannerisms so that’s why I say “cautiously”. (She probably didn’t want to be held accountable for telling me that I would, just in case I ended up not seeing clearly again or regaining my cheekbone definition- haha!)
I kept dozing off because of all the medication I was on, plus my body just went through a pretty drastic surgery, so eventually my girlfriend left, my Dad went home and my Mom went to her hotel room. And then.., I was left alone in ICU for probably one of the worst nights of my life. Now I always encourage people with scoliosis to have the surgery, and still will say that it is one of the best decisions I have ever made, HOWEVER, it was by no means a cake walk. (I’m just a champ and make it look like one- haha! ;P Sorry toot, toot on my own horn here.)
Anyways, I was hooked up to a “patient controlled anesthesia” wire which is a device that attaches to the intravenous line in your arm and allows you to push a button to give yourself pain medication. This sounds great, but I didn’t like it. I’m very cautious when it comes to giving myself medication, so of course I was cautious with my self-medicating… at first. You see, the thing is, the medication also makes you sleepy, so I kept falling asleep and the pain would wake me up. I eventually started giving myself more, but I still ended up waking up in pain and just feeling all around uncomfortable.
I remember that I kept asking my poor nurse what time it was. And every time I asked, it was only an hour later than the last time I had asked. (Poor girl.) I remember starting to cry when she told me it was only midnight and I thought it was 6 o’clock in the morning. She finally asked me, “Why do you keep asking me what time it is?” I cried, “Because I’m so uncomfortable and I just want it to be morningggggg!” I felt like if I could just make it through the night, once it was morning, I could do more things and see more people to help keep my mind off of the pain. But at 2 o’clock in the morning in ICU, there’s not much you can do to keep your mind off of the pain. So I spent the remainder of the night dozing in and out of sleep and continuously pushing that button.
When the clock finally struck 8 A.M. (or was it 7 A.M. ?), I asked the nurse to use the phone and I called my Mom’s cell phone. “How are you calling me?” she asked. (She had taken my cell phone since we were “rule followers” in the beginning and didn’t leave anything valuable in the room… Well that got nixed after that night. Ha!) “From the hospital phone,” I explained. “Can you come here ASAP?!” My mom laughed and brought her cheerful face to my bedside in no time.
I know we all think our mothers are fabulous but my Mom really is fabulous. She’s always positive and uplifting and always knows the right things to say… selfless and loving and just a truly remarkable woman. She’s so strong, in such a quiet, easy and humble way. I love her dearly and hope to be half the woman she is one day.
Dr. Errico came to see me bright and early that morning, and every morning I was in the hospital after that, except for the day I left. (He is another remarkable man.) The doctor he was working with (shoot I forget his name! Ugh, my apologies to you if you ever read this!) also came every single day, and so did the anesthesiologist team. They were all great and always asked how I was feeling. Dr. Errico noticed I was still swollen, but told me it would go down. He might’ve been a little surprised by it… not really concerned, but yes, surprised. (Or maybe that was my anxiety reading him?) But regardless, he told me it would go down. He’s such a simple man- as in, he knows how to say or explain something to you in just the right way, with the least amount of words. It always made, and still makes, me feel better. So yeah… His visits always made me feel better. And it did go down, by the way (the swelling).
Later that afternoon my nurse came to tell me that they would be taking my catheter out. I was a little thrown by this because I didn’t understand how I would go to the bathroom. (Most people would be excited to hear that their catheter would be coming out. I don’t really understand why because I didn’t even know it was in! I never felt an urge to go to the bathroom and never had to get up… sounds pretty good to me…)
“Well you’ll be meeting your physical therapist shortly and she will help you with that.” My heart started pounding. (Go to the bathroom?!? On my own?? Are you mad?!) My physical therapist arrived and seemed very nice, but a bit too “jolly” and fast-paced for my liking. I guess my body sensed her next move, because the next thing I know, she’s telling me that she’s going to help me stand up. STAND UP?! But I just had BACK SURGERY!! Did they forget to tell you that?? Maybe you should re-read my chart! Panic-stricken, I tried sitting up and instantly was flooded by nausea. “I’m feeling sick,” I told her. “That’s okay. It’s probably just the medication. Can you try to stand?” And then I just heard her way too loud and overly-aggressive voice asking me to stand up over and over again. The room started spinning. “I’m going to throw up!!” I could hear my mom coming to my aid and I remember them bringing me a bucket and having to lie back down. (SAFE! TG! For now…)
I can’t remember if I ended up throwing up or not. I don’t think so because I don’t think I ate much that day. (I remember not being hungry, like, AT ALL, when I was in the hospital.) Now in her defense, they had just switched my medication from hydromorphone to oxycodone because I complained about how uncomfortable I had been the night before. (During your first couple of days in the hospital, they might have to try a few different medications to see which one is right for YOU. My girlfriend warned me about this so I was prepared. Plus I have a pretty good understanding now of how everyone’s bodies are different and you just need to see what works for you… Oxcodone does by NO MEANS agree with me. I tried it again when I was home from the hospital and had the same reaction… but I’ll explain that more in later posts.)
So, my physical therapist ended up leaving and telling me that we would try again tomorrow. UGH! “Please don’t come back, please don’t come back,” I uttered over and over to myself . Later that day, I was moved out of ICU and switched back to the other pain medication, hydromorphone, that was originally working. (I remember telling my girlfriend that had informed me of the “medication experimentation”, that Oxycodone was my worst enemy and she was shocked. She said that oxycodone worked better for her and that the one I was on didn’t work at all… funny story of hers she shared with me to come later! 😛 So, AGAIN, everyone is different. All bodies are different. Don’t panic and just be open to trying and seeing what works for you.)
I was switched to a room where I was by the window. I remember the woman on the other side of the curtain being older and I remember she snored. I also remember she needed more care than me. Her daughter came to visit her, but otherwise she didn’t have any other visitors and slept most of the day. I remember feeling sorry for her… and also guilty. I was getting super annoyed by her snoring :/ But hey, don’t judge, I’m only human and all humans need sleep… Right?
My high school bestie/professional, smart nurse came to see me again and brought me a funny card about hot doctors. (It’s the card with the half-naked man pictured below- haha! 😛 ) I remember the doctor that was working with Dr. Errico (dammit I wish I knew your naaaame!) laughing and saying “Nice card” and pointing to it. Gosh, I remember being so embarrassed. Especially because it was about a half naked doctor coming to check my “vitals”- LOL!! But whatever, I laughed it off. Oh Monica… leave it to you.
My physical therapist of course came back. Yippee!! (Cough. Sarcasm.) Ugh, I remember that moment. I was SO terrified of standing! (Insert whimper here. Cuz I really remember that feeling and it deserves a whimper.) And I remember it being frickin’ hard. BUT!!.. I did it. I stood (drumroll please…) the second day after surgery. They put a portable potty/chair next to my bed side so that I could start using it. (Side note, remember that water drinking problem I used to have… well it definitely had been quelled, but I still drank a good amount of water. And I didn’t have a catheter anymore… so yeah. You could say this helped me with that water monitoring again.) I remember the first time I used that chair… great arm workout! Haha, not really, but I bet you thought I was going to say something else 😉
The third and fourth days are kind of a blur. A few more friends came to see me… One of them, my good friend from college, accidentally went to the wrong hospital and had to reschedule for the following morning. Hahaha! Oh how we laughed about it, after the fact. But I remember being sad that she wasn’t coming anymore, that day. It was probably a combination of the medication and pain playing with my emotions, plus the fact that I just went through a very intense surgery… but also because I was bored and wanted people there with me. But she brought me a muffin and magazines the next morning and we had a great catch-up sesh! Which I don’t really remember because of all the meds I was on (haha), but I remember it bringing a smile to my face 🙂 I remember looking over at my Mom after my girlfriend left, sitting in the chair and taking this pic… She dove into my magazine while I, once again, dozed off into medication sleepiness. Isn’t she purrrrty? 🙂
Later that afternoon my physical therapist came back. (Oh boy.) And she made me walk. She brought me a walker and made me get up out of bed and walk around the hallway. I remember it being hard to get up out of bed, but once I was up, it wasn’t really hard to walk, per se. It actually was quite easy. It kind of felt like I was floating… like when you’re in a dream, but yet you know you are there. Hard to explain… I wasn’t necessarily unsteady on my feet, I just felt weird. This was, once again, was probably due to my medication, but at least I was walking!
(And see how my swelling has gone down!) I made it up and down the aisles of the hospital floor, and even made it up and down these little special stairs that the hospital had specifically set aside in a small room for physical therapy. Everyone was so proud of me 🙂 I remember being proud of myself too… but also feeling like I was in this weird “in between place” of feeling like “this isn’t so hard” and “Ugh! Can we lay back down now?!” I had my Mom video me taking my first steps for others to see and be inspired by… I mean, I was walking up and down steps just three days post-surgery! If I had seen this video before I was about to have this surgery, I’d definitely be inspired.
But I can see now why I felt the way I felt… with all of those mixed emotions. I had been through a lot, and I was on a bunch of pain medications and muscle relaxers that were playing into an already emotional time. I wanted to move forward and get well, but I also wanted to heal and rest and was extremely tired. So for those of you who are having this surgery, or already have, know that all of these mixed feelings are perfectly normal. You’re not crazy and you’ll decipher them all as time goes on. But also know that the staff knows all of this and they are there for you throughout all of it (more on this to come).
Most of the nurses were awesome and encouraging and my physical therapist ended up being SUCH a great gal! (I think I just thought she was aggressive the first day because she was coming at me, trying to get me to walk THE DAY. AFTER. SURGERY. HA!) But she really was great, encouraging and was so proud of me when I took my first steps… and pleasantly surprised, at the end of my stay, with how far I had come.
It’s nice to look back at all of this and see how strong I am/was… I hope this encourages and helps others who might be scared. It took me four months to mentally prepare for this surgery and I STILL was anxious about it. So just, again, know that this is all normal and your doctors and the rest of the staff understand all of this. And also know that you will get through it! I haven’t sugar-coated anything and will continue to tell my story from the most honest, truth, so I won’t say that it wasn’t a rough week in the hospital. But I am SO happy I did it! I think it even made me a stronger person and helped me get to know and understand myself and my body more. So if I can do it, I have faith that anyone else can too 0:)
I think it also helped that I was prepped into knowing that it was going to be the best and worst thing I had ever done for myself… By mentally preparing for this, you’re expectations aren’t too high and you brace yourself for the worst, which made me actually end up thinking it really wasn’t that bad after all! I got through it with flying colors … and of course, with a lot of support from my fam and friends 0;) Keep that all in mind, and you will make it through it all too! I have faith in you.
Exes and Oh’s, Your Little Fighter <3
“You give me purpose… You can’t be hard on yourself for these are the cards that you were given… You know you’re trying to be the best you can be but that’s all you can do… Give it all you got, but if it ends up happening it ends up happening… God, I’m giving it all I got. Sometimes I’m weak and I’m gonna do it… I’m not giving myself grace, I’m just like, understanding that’s just how it is.”
(Just a few words of encouragement from Justin Bieber for ya 😉 #BOOM!)