When I woke up from surgery, I couldn’t actually wake up. I remained in an in-between state, neither awake nor asleep. The sense of paralysis despite my lucidity of mind frustrated me more than anything else.
I could hear people talking. I knew my mother was there, and a couple nurses. In order to prevent blood from dripping down into my lungs or stomach, a tube ran from my nose down my throat, but blood clots still collected in my nasal cavities and made breathing difficult. I had an IV in my right hand and another needle in my left arm. A mask over my mouth sprayed mist at my face, I still don’t entirely understand why.
One of the nurses gave me a “pain button” — a hand-held device with a small button on the top. Nobody ever told me what it did, but I think pressing it caused a liquid painkiller to be injected into my left arm. I wasn’t in much pain, I don’t think. I don’t remember being in pain, anyways. Actually, I remember trying to give the pain button back to the nurse. I didn’t even want it.
The following morning, I was taken out of recovery into a separate room elsewhere in the hospital. They removed the mask, tube, and wires going into my left arm (but kept the needle there). I still had the IV in my right hand.
I tried telling one of the nurses how much I was struggling to breathe, though I had to write it down. The nurse responded, “Well your blood oxygen level is fine” and walked away. Leaving me wheezing, terrified I was going suffocate.
To everyone reading this who has asthma, apnea, or another breathing-related disorder — I have a new respect for you for dealing with that kind of fear more often than anyone should.
I was wheeled off to a large room I shared with another person. I was supposed to get a hot compress to ease the swelling in my face, but it seemed they forgot and I certainly couldn’t ask.
The needle they left in my arm was for the anti-swelling medication. Which, by the way, was terrible. As soon as they injected it, my entire body tingled and burned and I felt incredibly nauseous. It lasted only a minute or so, but imagine being nauseous knowing you can’t actually vomit because your mouth is wired shut. Unpleasant.
I can’t remember how long I stayed there, if it was two or three days. My concept of time was completely off. I spent most of the day sleeping as best I could, but being swollen, in an uncomfortable hospital bed, strung up with needles, and barely able to breathe were not the best sleeping conditions. On top of that, a nurse came in every few hours to “check my vitals.”
Even if it was the middle of the night and I was asleep. They woke me up to check my blood pressure and pulse. Every. Few. Hours. So basically, as soon as I was finally able to get to sleep, a nurse woke me up.
None of the nurses knew what surgery I had. They were surprised to see my face blown up like a balloon. They didn’t understand I couldn’t talk, that I couldn’t eat. My mother had to ask them three times for a hot compress. In the end, all she could get was a cloth, which she ran under hot water in the bathroom. She later used that same cloth to clean off the dried blood on my face and neck. Things the nurses didn’t feel were necessary, I guess.
My mother came to visit me every day, even if I slept through half her stay. It was a huge comfort to have her there, someone familiar and sympathetic in the mess of things.
She told me what Dr. Kelly said when he was done my surgery and came to see her in the waiting room. It was a full two hours after my surgery was supposed to have ended. He started by telling her how one of the saws he needed to use didn’t work, and how the backup saw wouldn’t work well, either. He went on about this until my mother interrupted him to ask how her daughter was.
She had to ASK.
I couldn’t have been happier to leave that hospital. Being back at my mother’s house, the home I grew up in, was a huge relief. The first couple weeks were marked by restlessness as I continued to have breathing problems. I tried finding ways around it, but mostly it was a matter of changing positions and waiting for things to clear out on their own.
Those five weeks of being wired shut with a splint were probably the worst five weeks of my life. That may sound dramatic, but if you read my previous post on recovering, I think you’ll understand why. This entire process has been an experience I never want to repeat, and has been several times worse than I expected it to be.
There were times I just wanted to scream. I had dreams of being able to talk and laugh, to dance and run, to eat and enjoy my days. Then I would wake up and be unable to open my jaw. I would yawn and feel the pain in my bones, in my muscles, all wired in place.
I wonder if that’s how it feels to be paralyzed. To dream at night about climbing a mountain or a tree, of enjoying freedom of mobility, just to wake up to numb and dead legs, dreams only a fleeting memory.
I can’t say I know, but I can say it’s something I never want to experience, and in terms of my jaw, never wanted to experience again. Unfortunately, I have to, and I am right now. For the second time, my mouth is wired shut. Two weeks after the splint was removed, the wires are back on.
Check back tomorrow to hear why, as well as the wonderful story of how my surgeon lost any respect I still had for him.