Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Getting kicked out of your life...Part One

The last post was written seven months ago. A lot has happened since then. Among other things, it is interesting how little the world has changed in the intervening time. Many people, including me, were predicting economic implosion and yet here we are seven months later still chugging along. Yet, while the society at large has remained essentially unchanged, my little segment has changed dramatically.

On December 18th I left Poway with CJ and the dog to travel to Chicago, via our truck, for an extended Christmas vacation. I also wasn't feeling well that day. Twenty six days later we arrived home having traveled over 5,600 miles. I was somewhat more sick. A week later, despite believing I would get better at home, I was worse. I went to the Emergency Room. They did very little for my coughing and difficulty breathing, but they did find a fractured vertebra in my back. Surgery, orthascopically, to reenforce the bone with bone cement, was done and I was discharged a day later. That was Jan 22.

On February 5th, I went to an appointment with my general practitioner doctor that was a follow-up to my hospital stay in January. We covered the hospital stay and my persistent cough and difficulty breathing. (I was supposed to leave the hospital with a medicine prescription for my lungs. The prescription was written incorrectly by the discharging doctor at the hospital and I have never been able to get it fixed despite 10 days of trying.) As almost an aside, I mentioned that I had developed a numbness in my left leg that left me with a tingling sensation that had enlarged to include both legs and my abdomen to a point just below my breasts. The doctor, Dr. Tasher of Escondido, checked a few things, seeking to determine the extent of the numbness. What he did next surprised me.

He turned and picked up the phone and called the Emergency Room at the hospital in Escondido. (My January hospitalization had been in Poway.) Next, he asked to be connected to the on-call neurologist. After a brief time on hold, he retold the doctor of my symptoms. He acknowledged something and then hung up. He asked if I had been driven to our appointment or if I had drove myself. He said he was unsure which was better, getting an ambulance or letting me drive to save time getting to the ER. In the end he told me to drive directly to the ER. He said he was concerned with potential damage to my spinal cord.

I drove to the hospital and walked into the ER. Despite a very large reception area, the room was full of people waiting to be seen. For most of the two weeks since the January hospital stay I had been using Victoria's old walker. My back and ribs were so sore from coughing that I found it painful to walk upright. The walker helped. When I approached the nurses at the 'reception desk', they asked if I was Ms Coyle. When I said yes, a wheelchair was brought immediately for me to sit in. In less than 10 minutes I was wheeled to an exam room. A doctor and nurse arrived shortly and covered my general condition and asked some questions about the numbness and tingling. They said another doctor was on his way. About thirty minutes later the other doctor arrived. Dr. Andrew Nyugen was the on-call neuro-surgeon. He redid much of the same exam Dt. Tasher did and explained that the numbness and tingling were signs of neurological damage to the spinal cord. He said I was being admitted as soon as they could get a bed ready. That took almost 10 hours but they brought a bed down to the ER room. I asked if I could stay in the wheelchair as it had been the most comfortable seat I had sat in recently. Dr Nyugen said no, that he wanted as much pressure on my spine as possible removed as soon as possible.

I had entered the ER at 1:15pm. At 11:30pm, Dr Nyugen came into my hospital room and said that he was concerned that one or more bones of my spine had collapsed onto my spinal cord. Before he went into surgery, he wanted an MRI to see what he would be facing. Due to my weight, I needed to be taken to an Open MRI away from the hospital. There were issues with payment (I had no insurance). It would take until February 8th to get the MRI done. Each night between 11pm and Midnight, Dr, Nyugen would stop in to discuss tests that had been done and what was going to happen next.

He said he believed that an infection had settled into my spinal column and that bones were collapsing. Other bones were likely to be severely compromised making any repair difficult. He said that the odds of walking after the surgery were no better than 50/50 based on his best guess of the situation. He said that recovery was going to be long and difficult. But he was optimistic about me. He said he couldn't believe that I had walked into the ER in the first place. I decided not to tell him or anyone else that I had not driven directly from Dr Tasher's office but instead had driven 30 miles round-trip to friends (the Longs) to ask them to take care of our dog while I was in the hospital. I'm sure Dr Nyugen would have been upset, I knew that the 8 or 9 speed bumps I had to drive over were each potentially life threatening at the worst, at best likely to cost me my legs. Hindsight was cheap at that point.

In the hospital, I was started on massive doses of antibiotics and pain meds. Every bedpan, every movement grew increasingly painful. By Feb 8th I was finally scheduled for the MRI. I was to be transported to the facility, put into the MRI and returned to the hospital. Every bump, every action added to my discomfort. I had spent almost 2.5 hours on the gurney in an office building lobby while the MRI facility demanded immediate payment and the hospital demurred. Finally, something changed and I was positioned for my 80 minutes in the machine. Note that 'open MRI' only means you can see daylight if you can see out of your ears. I fell asleep at least twice.

Four and a half hours after being loaded onto a gurney I was returned to my hospital bed and a large dose of pain med. When I woke up next it was March 2nd or 3rd.