HOSPITAL LIFE, BONE VS STEEL & WATCHING SURGERY
I was in a semi-private room on the third floor. The wing I was on was dedicated to orthopedic patients, so the nurses were very good at changing bedsheets with you still in the bed, and they even had a special bedpan they used for washing your hair. A person can learn a lot if you pay attention to what’s going on around you and ask a lot of questions, and I did. I had no idea how valuable all of this free education was going to be down the road.
I had several roommates during my stay. They were all seniors with ‘normal’ hip and knee replacements whose stay was less than a week. I was lucky because every one of my roommates was friendly, which helped pass the long days. I didn’t get many visitors and always felt awkward when my roommate did, as the curtains didn’t allow for much privacy. When they had visitors, I would turn my TV on and put my headphones on so they could visit without me eavesdropping. Occasionally, my sister would come for a visit, and once a friend from school came up for a short visit, but mostly, I was on my own save for mom’s visits on the weekend.
Because my surgery took place in the summer, there was no summer vacation at the cottage with my grandma for me! Our neighbor at the beach had a grandson named Barry, who was a year or so older than me. Barry was your typical ‘bad boy,’ and he knew I had a crush on him. We had spent some time together in prior summers and got along well. When he found out I was in the hospital, he decided to come and see me.
While I enjoyed the company of my senior roommates and the nurses, it was great to see someone my own age for a change! The first time he came for a visit, he had a friend with him, so he didn’t stay long. Barry noticed right away how happy I was to see him, and he also noticed that I didn’t have a roommate, so he came back the next day.
I was watching TV when he arrived, so rather than sit in the chair beside the bed, he hopped in bed alongside me, intertwined his fingers with mine, and we watched TV together. I don’t know how long we lay there before a nurse noticed and freaked out.
“What are you doing in that bed?!” she yelled. “Get out this instant!”
I hadn’t ever been in trouble with the nurses, so when Barry got lippy with her, I suggested he go and not cause any trouble. Instead, in intentional defiance, he rolled onto his side and draped his arm over my abdomen.
“I think I’ll stay here for a while,” he said.
The nurse was not putting up with any attitude, so she grabbed his arm and physically removed him from the bed.
That was the last time I saw Barry until the following summer.
One morning, on their daily stop on the way to work, my parents came in with bad news. My dog Candy had quit eating shortly after I went into the hospital and had become quite sick. Dad told me she had passed away the day before. I burst into tears and cried for most of that day. The nurses couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me until my roommate explained that my dog had died. I was consumed with grief for Candy and guilt for not being there when she needed me.
Dr. K rarely came by to check on me, but when he did, and to the complete shock of the entire nursing staff, he would sit on the chair beside my bed and engage in a few minutes of light conversation. Apparently, this was incredibly rare behavior for him, making me feel special.
Finally, after three weeks of laying on my back in traction, it was time for me to get up and move, and I could hardly wait!
The nurses encouraged me to take my time and sit on the side of the bed to allow my blood to get used to gravity again, but I was impatient. I insisted that I was okay and could stand, so the nurses brought in a wheelchair, and a porter came to take me down to the physiotherapy room on the main floor. I was instructed not to put any weight on the operated leg, to stand on my good leg, and pivot into the wheelchair. There were nurses on either side of me to ensure I didn’t fall, and the transfer went as well as expected. I was out of bed and sitting in a wheelchair!
Not too long afterward, a porter came to wheel me down to the physiotherapy room. There, I would practice standing inside two parallel bars.
“Are you ready to try to stand up?” the physiotherapist asked me.
“Yup! How hard could it be?” I replied.
Again, the physiotherapist cautioned me about rushing things, but I insisted. With every ounce of energy I had, I reached up and grabbed hold of the bars and slowly stood up on my right leg, carefully resting my left foot on the floor without putting any weight on it. I was pretty proud of myself!
“See?!” I exclaimed. “I can do this!”
I barely got those words out when suddenly, everything started going black. The next thing I remember, I was back in my room and back in my bed. When I came to, I saw my day nurse. She was getting me all settled in the bed.
“How did I end up back here?” I asked.
“I told you to take it slow!” she said. “Do you remember what happened?”
“I did? Wow.”
That was my first real-life gravity lesson.
The next day, the nurses got me up in the wheelchair for my morning wash and breakfast. It was nice to sit and eat at the table rather than trying to eat while lying down in bed. After breakfast, the porter came again to take me to physio. Each day, I was wheeled up to the end of the parallel bars and would practice hopping on my good leg, using the bars for stability. Eventually, I advanced to crutches. Once I learned how to go up and down stairs using the crutches, I was allowed to go home. I was to stay non-weight-bearing for the next three weeks. A six-week post-op appointment for x-rays was arranged by hospital staff before I left the hospital. We needed to make sure everything had healed before I started putting weight on the leg.
Three weeks later, I had my checkup and got the go-ahead to put weight on my left leg. For the next month, every weekday, I went to a physiotherapy clinic every day a couple of blocks away from our house for physiotherapy. Gradually, I began putting weight on my left leg. Everything felt good and secure, so it didn’t take long before I could walk with full weight on that leg.
When September came, and school started, I was still on crutches, so someone had to carry my books to class for me. It took a long time to get up two flights of stairs, so my books arrived in the classroom long before I did. This drew unwanted attention from students in the hallways and stairways and created animosity among my classmates the teachers chose to carry my books for me.
I didn’t think anyone would be making fun of me while I was on crutches, but I knew it would start again when I put the crutches down because I was still limping.
Three months after surgery, I could finally walk without the aid of crutches, and life, as I knew it, returned to normal.
Several months later, I noticed a bruise forming near the top of my scar on the inside of the iliac crest bone. A small lump protruded a bit, and the entire area was hot and tender to the touch. I ignored it. I had had enough of doctors and hospitals and hoped it would go away on its own. A few days later, I was walking down the hallway at school when suddenly, I felt a sharp, stabbing pain in that area. It hurt so much that it stopped me in my tracks. I couldn’t even breathe without it hurting, and instantly I was scared.
I hobbled to the payphone and called my mom at work. I told her that something was wrong and that I was in a lot of pain. I explained that I couldn’t put any weight on my leg and that I was really scared. She asked me if I could find a ride home, and I told her that Jim, my boyfriend, was coming to the school to pick me up for lunch. Mom told me to head home and to lie down. She would call the doctor to find out what to do and meet me at home.
When my parents got home from work several hours later, they were shocked to see how much pain I was experiencing. I couldn’t move at all. Any movement on the bed caused me excruciating pain. The bruise at the top of my incision was now a golf-ball-sized cyst.
My mom got a hold of Dr. Cawsey, and he suggested we go to the hospital Emergency Room. He was sure that Dr. K would come there once he heard I was there and experiencing a lot of pain, but that is not what happened.
My dad managed to get me into the car, and he, my mom, and I headed for the Pasqua Hospital. Rather than drop me off at the doors, he parked in the lot on the west side of the hospital, about a half-block away, and we made our way to the main doors. Inside the main doors, a flight of stairs led to the long hallway to the ER. Luckily, the rise of the stairs was smaller than a standard stair, but every hop down caused incredible pain. There was no way in hell that I was going to show weakness and cry in front of my dad, so I sucked it up.
My parents went to the admitting desk, and soon after, a nurse took me into one of the rooms. When the orthopedic surgeon on call heard that I was a patient of Dr. K’s, he refused to see me insisting the ER get a hold of Dr. K instead. Dr. K outright refused to come to the hospital, so the attending physician suggested I go home and contact his office. My dad started going berserk, but his screaming at people wasn’t going to make Dr. K come to the hospital, so we left. No one thought to take an x-ray to see what was causing the pain or to prescribe any pain medication. I learned much later that hospital politics took precedence over my well-being.
Now I had to limp my way down the hallway, hop up a flight of stairs and get myself back to the car parked half a block away. Fanfuckingtastic!
When we got home, I went straight to bed. I was exhausted from the pain and the drama. My dad was furious. He got a hold of Dr. Cawsey and told him what had happened at the ER. Dr. Cawsey was stunned and said he would take care of it. The following day Dr. Cawsey contacted Dr. K’s office and insisted he fit me in for an appointment.
I barely slept that night. The pain was unbearable, and the longer it went on, the more terrified I became. The slightest movement felt like something was cutting into me, and the lump on my hip was growing.
My dad had to open and manage the store, so he couldn’t wait to hear back from the doctor, so my mom stayed with me at home. When we finally heard from Dr. Cawsey’s office, we were told that Dr. K would fit me in, and we were warned that it could be a long wait. We didn’t have a second car for my mom to drive, so I called my boyfriend and asked him to pick us up and drive us downtown to Dr. K’s office.
Dr. K’s office was in the middle of a long stretch of businesses on a one-way street downtown. It was never easy to find parking, and this day was no different. The closest parking spot was over half a block away. I leaned on Jim’s arm for support, but every step jolted whatever was causing that lump on the side of my hip, causing incredible pain.
As soon as we checked in at the reception desk, we were given an Rx for an x-ray. The closest radiology department was two blocks down in the Medical and Dental Building!
In those days, you didn’t buy crutches. Instead, the physiotherapy department loaned the crutches out to you, and you were expected to return them as soon as a physiotherapist cleared you. I had returned the crutches I used after my surgery weeks ago, so I had no choice but to soldier on. I couldn’t believe this was happening, and my mom was beside herself. Two blocks feel like two miles when you’re in that kind of pain.
Nearly an hour later, we returned to Dr. K’s office with x-rays in hand. I saw Dr. K not too long after. He took one look at the x-ray, swore out loud, turned around, and threw his pen right past me at the door.
“All the pins have snapped in half!” he yelled. “The whole thing has failed. The bone grafts are gone!”
I sat there in disbelief. Had I seriously gone through all of this for nothing?
My mom, shocked at his outburst, managed to ask: “What do we do now, doctor?”
“My receptionist will schedule a time to take the pins out,” he said.
He didn’t offer pain medication or give any idea of how long we would have to wait. Instead, he showed us to the door.
When we got home, my mom called my dad at the store to tell him what had happened. His shock quickly turned to anger!
“She can’t wait for who knows how long to get those pins out!” he said. “Get on the phone and talk to Dr. Cawsey. He’ll speed things up.”
Dr. Cawsey didn’t know what to say when he heard what had taken place at Dr. K’s office. My mom explained that I couldn’t manage the pain. Dr. Cawsey had my mom ask me if I wanted Morphine, but I told mom to tell him that Talwin worked better for me. He called the pharmacy and had the prescription delivered to the house. Next, he called Dr. K’s office and insisted that I get in to have these pins removed within the week. Dr. K was scheduled for an outpatient clinic at the Pasqua hospital a few days later, so Dr. Cawsey demanded that he fit me in. Then he called my mom and told her I had only had to make it through a few more days.
For the next few days, I took pain meds every four hours and spent most of my time in bed. The pain didn’t feel the same as the pain after the surgery; it was far worse. The broken pins were literally cutting through muscle.
On the day the pins were to come out, we went to the outpatient clinic at the Pasqua hospital, which was in the same wing as Emergency. A nurse showed me to a room and gave me a hospital gown. She instructed me to get undressed and to get on the gurney. She told me the doctor would be in shortly.
As I was lying there wondering how exactly he would get these pins out, suddenly, I heard someone screaming down the hall.
“Holy shit!” I said aloud to myself. I wondered what they were doing to that guy to make him scream like that.
A few minutes later, Dr. K came into the room, filled a syringe with a local anesthetic, and began administering it into the area around the cyst that had grown even bigger over the past few days. He asked me if I heard that guy screaming down the hall. I told him the whole floor could probably hear the guy screaming, and I asked him if he knew what was going on with that guy. Dr. K looked square into my eyes and said, “He was getting his pins out.”
“Really?” I said, my eyes wide.
“Yes. You’re not going to scream like that, are you?” Dr. K asked.
“Nope. Not me,” I replied, shaking my head.
A few minutes later, Dr. K returned to the room to begin the procedure. Over by the counter, he put on a plastic apron and got a tray ready with the tools he would need to take the pins out. He tapped the area with the dull edge of his scalpel and asked, “Can you feel anything?”
“No,” I said, and I leaned up on my elbows so I could watch.
“Are you going to watch?” Dr. K asked
“Yeah. I want to see what you’re doing,” I said.
“Okay. Just don’t scream.” He said jokingly.
As soon as he touched the scalpel to the area, the entire cyst burst open like a pimple. A blotch of pus landed square in the middle of Dr. K’s chest, so it was a good thing he was wearing that plastic apron. He made a small incision, then picked up an instrument that he called a drill. It didn’t look like any drill I had ever seen before. It was a lot smaller than a drill. It had a clasp on the end that tightened on the top of the screw. A lever on the side turned in a circular motion, drawing the pin out.
I couldn’t feel any pain, but I felt my pelvic bone vibrating, and I heard the sound of the pin squeaking as it moved through the bone. I didn’t feel any pain, and I wondered why that guy who had his pins out was screaming.
Dr. K worked quickly, removing the tops of the three pins he had put into my hip. The pins were smooth metal with wing nuts for tightening. The metal sheared in a jagged manner. Now I understood why it felt as though the muscle tissue was being cut on the inside every time I took a breath; because it was. Dr. explained that the bottom portions of the pins were deep in the pelvic bone and would have to stay there. It wasn’t worth digging them out. Then, he carefully stitched me up and told me I could get dressed and go home.
“I can walk on it?” I asked.
“Yes” he said. “You can walk on it” then he promptly left the room.
And just like that, it was over. I hopped off the gurney, got dressed, and walked into the waiting room where my boyfriend and mom were waiting. They were both shocked to see me walk out without limping.
“Let’s go home” I said.
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