Yesterday, Grandpa Pete and I took tiny, tiny Buckwheat to the university’s pool for family swim. Pete and I had not been to family swim so we had no idea what to expect. We also knew that Buckwheat, despite living in Florida, has not spent much time in water because Miss Sasha is not a big fan. No one understands this. Anyway, we suited up and went. The pool has a variable floor, which was set at 2’6″, which came up to an inch or so below Buckwheat’s chin. This was not threatening because the day before, she spent most of a day in a pool with my mother, who taught swim classes for most of my childhood. They blew bubbles, practiced kicking with a kickboard, jumped into the pool and were very brave about putting their feet on the bottom of the pool, so bouncing around with us was a cinch. The moral of the story is that my mother should teach all the children how to swim. I mean, obviously.
Last week, Pete and I mapped out a bicycle route to the new office and I started commuting to work via back roads and bike paths. This morning, Pete checked the new round trip for mileage: 3.88 miles to the office. The ride to the old office was 2.2 miles, so 3.88 driveway to driveway was great news. His round trip measured 8.4 miles, but, he said, it involved a wrong turn and a 100-yard backtracking.
In the new office, my co-workers find my cycling glee at least perplexing and at most dangerous. There’s a whiff of Ladies simply do not do this. Ten minutes before I left work, I called Pete.
Tata: How’s the weather?
Pete: Clear. You should be fine.
Tata: I dunno. It’s pretty dark out.
Pete: I’ll see you at home.
I hung up the phone. The skies opened and a torrential downpour pounded the building’s metal roof. At their desks, dozens of people stood up to figure what that roaring noise was. Everyone looked at me. Annoyed, I shut off my PC, gathered my stuff and made the long walk to the front door, where I discovered the rain had stopped so suddenly the ground wasn’t even completely wet. My ride home along the river, in fresh air and sunshine, was so lovely I forgot to be mad.
It’s a freaking miracle.
About a week ago, I started having very active, busy days. After the first two, I thought I was going to pay for all that activity with a couple of days’ reclining glamorously, icepack to fevered brow, but no. I got up a third day in a row and kicked more ass, mostly my own. It was peculiar, yet encouraging. The orthopedic surgeon, who is always right about everything, says that three months after total hip replacement surgery, patients suddenly feel a lot better. Three months is still a couple of weeks ahead of me, but in the past week, I started having encouraging firsts, like that I could stand up and step sideways without waiting for a stabbing pain to pass. Yay! Less stabbing pain! Yesterday’s first was dragging out my exercise mat and stretching out. Stretching, for me, is the habit of a lifetime. I folded myself in thirds and declared victory. This pose has not been relaxing and comfortable – when it was even possible – for about four years.
I’ve been working in the same PT studio for years, with the same therapists and aids, which is a nice way of saying I have lots of invigorating problems. One of the physical therapists I worked with recently is a woman about my age. Talking with her while she twists me into a pretzel is easy, so I ask all kinds of questions as I gasp for breath. I mentioned that after the first hip surgery, I felt so much better I hardly noticed I never had two good hips at the same time and that it was hard to exercise. She said, “Now you have two hips you can strengthen simultaneously, if you work at it.” You can bet my reconstructed ass I will.
I got a little sidetracked this morning, which is my way of saying I sat down to write, but sitting down is currently very difficult and not advised by my orthopedic surgeon, so I spent a few hours finding synonyms for, “Ow!” This meant I wrote nothing. The page remained blank. Whaddyagonnadoo?
A week ago Friday, I went to the Hospital For Special Surgery to have a meeting about my left hip with the above-mentioned orthopedic surgeon that he likes to call total hip replacement surgery. Twenty-five months ago, we had a similar meeting concerning my right hip that magically transformed me into a middle-aged poster-child; thus, I had every reason to believe the meeting would go well and it did. Hooray! I woke up in the recovery room, my gurney parked next to a teenager whose cousin had run him over, forgotten to put the car in park and ran him over a second time. This was the kid’s third hospital and seventh surgery, and instead of falling back to sleep or drifting in and out of consciousness, I talked with him for a couple of hours, telling him he was in the right place finally and with the right people. The boy’s father came to visit twice while we were in the recovery room: well-dressed, dignified and deeply hurt that his son was so terribly injured. I’ve thought about them both in the last week. I wish them well.
Finally, a tall nurse arrived in recovery to take me to my room. He assured me he would take good care of me. I told him – I told everyone I saw – this was my second hip, I was fine and everything would be okay. The first night was a little rough, with instructions I wouldn’t remember, faces I had trouble remembering and conversations that later seemed like hallucinations. In the recovery room, I now remember, the nurses gave me rehydrating frozen treats and told me the boy wasn’t ready for his and I shouldn’t tell. I didn’t, either. In the night, I threw up into the hospital puke tray like a pro, unlike the last time, when it came as a total surprise that 12 hours after surgery I might hork up something blue. I slept in fits and starts as medication and periodic vitals readings permitted. My TV was tuned to the Food Network and Guy Fierri yelped quietly all night. In the morning, someone brought me a mostly liquid breakfast of Cream of Wheat, peach yogurt, coffee, apple juice and milk. I hadn’t eaten in more than 36 hours, but I am living proof a cup of hospital coffee can save your life.
During the day, my aide brought me warm water and soap, but I really couldn’t figure out how to freshen up much. I have never been so happy to brush my teeth. People constantly came to the doorway or the curtain, calling my name or my roommate’s name. Some came with clipboards, lunch or dinner menus, medications or to just check on me. I was overjoyed when the physical therapist turned up; she was overjoyed that I was ready and anxious to work. I wanted to rest, yes, I was exhausted, but I wanted up and out of bed. Apparently, my attitude was so unusual the physical therapists came to get me for fun.
Two years ago, my surgery had been first thing in the morning and the physical therapist got me out of bed that evening. Even summoning all my strength, I could only take four steps, but it seemed like a miracle. Last week, my surgery was midday and I didn’t get to my room until close to midnight, so getting out of bed was a mid-morning affair. I struggled a little with the walker, but together we walked around. It was my first view of the floor I was on and it was odd. During my second jaunt around the floor, the therapist taught me how to walk up and down the stairs. It was not as difficult as one might think, so I did a few laps of the practice stairs. My third excursion included walking in figure-eights around the nurses’ station and more laps of the stairs. The therapists were invariably students in medical or nursing school, so it was interesting to talk with them.
It was during this time that things started to get a little weird. My roommate, a nurse from Lenox Hill Hospital who’d been in HSS for over a week, needed someone’s attention all the time. She talked to me a bit. I had brushed back my mile-high hair behind a cat ear hairband and regularly applied red lipstick, so about every hour, someone with a clipboard would peek around my bed curtain and ask, “Are you…are you wearing ears?” I was pleasant, positive and nodding off most of the day, but I did notice that when no nurse, aide, administrator, dietary assistant or roommate was talking to her, my roommate would moan in a rather able vibrato and in gradually increasing volume. It would start with, “Nurse…nurse…” which was stupid, because all she had to do to get the nurse’s attention was push a button. It continued with, “Why doesn’t anyone help me?” and when that went nowhere, she’d finally push the button and ask for help. Before dinner, her daughter turned up to visit, dragging along her boyfriend. The daughter seemed to be a nurse, the boyfriend an EMT. My roommate’s voice lost its warble and became firm and purposeful for the length of the visit. Afterward, I was in for it, as she would sometimes call my name and beg me to call the nurse. Twice, I pressed the button and said, “My roommate needs help,” though what I wanted to say was that she needed a good beating.
I had trouble sleeping the second night, which I expected. I didn’t want to be in a hospital bed with inflating pressure boot things anymore; no, I wanted to cuddle up with my cats and my handsome husband. Fortunately, sometimes the boots inflating felt like Sweetpea, my largest cat, throwing herself against my leg. By Saturday afternoon, the medication drip that let me catnap was cut off, so I was worried I wouldn’t sleep. Somewhere between 2:30 and 3:30, my roommate’s complaints about constipation abruptly turned into desperate bleating about diarrhea in bed.
This went on for 12 hours.
For 12 hours, my roommate moaned and made a disgusting mess of herself and her bed and the staff scurried to deal with this over and over and over and over again. I plugged my headphones into my TV and tried not to add to the staff’s woes by puking unprofessionally. No amount of lipstick and no cat ears could fix this. Meanwhile, I tried desperately to figure out a way to ask someone to get me out. My doctor seemed to think I was staying another night. The nurses and therapists were convinced I should be leaving. It took an hour for Pete to come from New Jersey to get me and I knew he was bringing my parents. For perhaps the first time in my life, I knew my mother was going to appear at the door, and that was going to spring me from this revolting situation.
I love this hospital. I love my doctor. I love the staff. I put my lips next to my aide’s ear and whispered, “She’s crazy.” When the therapist took me past my nurse at the nurses’ station, I told my nurse to please find a way to spring me, I couldn’t stay in this disgusting situation. When my mother appeared in the doorway, I was sitting on the edge of my bed, fully dressed and in pain I was too depressed to complain about. I’d had a very quiet talk with my aide, who was cleaning up this Poopsplosion for hours on end, and I told her she deserved a medal. I hope people appreciate her. She is a gem.
A statuesque aide wheeled me to the front door, where I stuffed myself into the back seat of our Honda Element, but I didn’t care at that point if someone had thrown me into the trunk of a Volkswagen.
So things are looking up. The next morning, I woke up in my own bed, with my own cats and my own handsome husband. The visiting nurse and visiting physical therapist turned up and were the same guys I worked with two years ago, which is a total win! We were all happy to see one another! They can trust me to eat well, take care of myself and do my exercises. They get my jokes!
Zomigod, I’m exhausted now. Sweetpea’s pressed against my leg. It’s late, and I could use a catnap.