In reviewing some of my past posts, I have mentioned the context of our personal dramas playing out against the backdrop of the national and international stages. I will include my personal drama that began two weeks ago and is now very slowly abating. I should be a lot better in another 6 weeks or so. I’lll keep you posted….Judi Bachrach 6/22/22 Room 37
I fell inside of my room using my rollator to cross an area rug, an act that I had accomplished safely many, many times before. I fell backwards as is my wont, always on my left haunch from years of neurological compromise on that whole side. At first, I got back up and even took the time to clean my-handmade-by-Tibetans-in-Dharmsala rug as my container of yogurt and fruit salad had spilled off my rollator and onto its’ red corner. Aghast at the mess, I successfully cleaned it up, and made a new batch of food to bring to my lunch meeting. I sat through that only feeling a little sore as is usual after a fall. Then I sat through a lovely memorial for an hour. And then the pain kicked in. Sharp acute nerve zingers that were not at all usual.
By dinnertime, I suspected I may have a fracture in my lumbar or sacral area. I knew unless I got it checked out, I would fret. Not that anything special is done about it- but I have a need to understand what is happening in my always changing body issues. I asked an IL friend if she would drive me to the local Mercy Alan hospital so I wouldn’t have to pay for an ambulance. We were shown to a private (too hot) ER room to wait. We saw a kind male nurse who took my information and said he would set up a CAT scan for me to verify any damage.
In about two hours I got the scan. It was painful maneuvering into a wheelchair and on and off the exam table and onto the CAT platform. But I did it and the scan is quick and easy and then more waiting until the radiologist read it. Finally, we heard that there was no sign of fracture and the hardware for my fused L4-5 vertebrae was alright as well. Both answers were a relief and four hours after we had arrived, we got back into the car after breathing the soft moist air of the evening. It was only a little cooler than inside the room, but the air was fresher for not being inside of the ER. A brave boy with a broken arm had cried and went home with a cast shortly before we left. Profuse thanks to my friend for hanging with me for such a long wait. And then…
The next day my body was in more pain. The pain medication they gave me at the hospital is only slightly above Ibuprofen levels and I had refused the steroids they also offered me because of a past negative experience. Usually, steroids make you feel that you are up to any challenge and can conquer the world as it benignly reduces inflammation. But I had had three days of IV steroids for an MS exacerbation years ago. I had a historic abreaction- my MS weakness had scooped me out like an empty paper bag. The steroids made me typically talkative, hungry, and red-faced, but also FURIOUS. I was an angry empty paper bag. I wouldn’t let my husband help me over a curb when we went to the high school graduation of a friend’s daughter. I turned and irrationally yelled out, “Don’t you dare touch me,” which was more than slightly embarrassing as we were both known as psychotherapists in this crowd. Oh well. So, I was reluctant to take the steroids again. Even though we produce our own natural steroids, taking it in a concentrated dosage directly reduces inflammation and can be used in conjunction with antibiotics and other drugs very effectively.
The reputation of the local hospital is that it is not that of a tightly run ship. In the morning, as I
was in more pain than the day before, my nurses suggested I get to the hospital in Elyria for an MRI. I have had many MRI’s in my life to see if my MS had produced any new lesions. It hasn’t for many years, but my latest neurologist of course, had me lie in the loud knocking, honking chamber for a whole series from head to pelvis not long ago. This one would be specific to just my lumbar region and wouldn’t take very long at all. An ambulance took me there as I didn’t think I could handle sitting up in a car and anyway I would not want to have anyone wait with me again for another unknown length of time.
Good decision. What a busy place the Elyria ER is. I was shown into a curtained room pretty quickly and nurses, registrars, and attendants came and went for about 2 hours before a doctor appeared. She asked good questions and realized I wasn’t an easy read due to past neurological issues and operations for stenosis both in my neck and lower back. She suggested an MRI to which I said yes, and this is was why I had come. I was then rolled out of the room on the hospital cot and placed in the hallway. For six more hours.
A sea of busy people surrounded me. From doctors to nurses, attendants to janitors, everyone had a job to do rushing back and forth, socializing on the run- planning a party, describing the last patient, and then over the loudspeaker- FULL TRAUMA IN ER, repeated three times right over my head where I had been parked. Faster chatter of “Car vs. motorcycle,” and another said, “Actually it was a motorcycle that ran into a car.” Soon a man was wheeled by me and he was saying,” I was just driving along when this 15-year-old girl on a motorcycle run into me…” He was bleeding around his arms but was clearly coherent. A short calm of activity before the next storm included a question asked of one another by some attendants. “What bottom feeder in the ocean would you be?” “A shrimp, well, not a lobster…,”and more answers of obscure creatures from those that knew their oceanic bottom feeders.
Another trauma announcement. “57-year-old man, some drinking, fell on the kitchen floor and is totally unresponsive.” Ambulance drivers arrive, unload and scoot out of the way. Soon loud garbled angry ranting was heard, so I presumed the man was now very responsive. A nurse running by commenting to her friend, “The wife smelled of alcohol, too.” A son was heard to say- “They wasn’t drinking much, ‘cause I only saw two cans…”
In another curtained area a diabetic elderly father was lovingly visited by his adult children all day. “Well, dad,” the son said, “the truck was only $500.00 a month for four years but he ain’t telling it like it is. Gotta be at least 8 years. Ya know he ain’t good with numbers.” His father agreed and there were many truck comparisons discussed for quite a while until the son had to go back to work. A kiss followed by,” Love you, dad. “Love you, too, son.” An ebullient daughter arrived next. She worked elsewhere in the hospital and described in detail her father’s morning to his doctor, until the time that her dad had called her after she had left for work and said he didn’t have the energy to pick up the remote to the TV. As a loving caretaker she made sure the nurses and docs had the full picture of what he had and hadn’t done to bring on this sudden weak spell.
Later in the afternoon, (I considered him a kind of an invisible friend of mine as the hours ticked
by) I heard a doctor scold him for his sips of soda and two doughnuts that he ate yesterday. Protests and some muttering about his daughter, but my friend was good natured about it all. It was a tight knit family that supported him. I was glad for him.
My legs were so weak that I could not make it to a restroom and use it by myself. I snagged a passing nurse and asked to use a bedpan. Maybe 45 minutes later a really lovely nurse that was appropriately named Summer (it was the first day of summer) came to my rescue. Since I was right out in the hallway, where could she safely roll my wide cot without bumping into all of the other wide carts, laundry bins, ambulance cots, and wheelchairs to give me some privacy? Aha! A plastic sheeted hallway that was under renovation.
We could hear workmen inside the translucent covering, but urgency overrode modesty. Summer was professional, discreet and a really good driver of hospital carts. I made it safely back to my wall space which further demonstrated her parallel parking skills. I was now famished having only had a small salad before I was whooshed away from Kendal at around 2:00. I mentioned to several people rushing by that I needed something, anything, as I had a hunger headache and was feeling faint which is a trick since I had been lying down the whole time. “I’ll get your nurse, I am not your nurse, not just now…”
A nurse did come by to prick my finger to see if I was diabetic. I said, no, I am just very hungry. “Just checking and see, your number is good,” she threw over her shoulder as I held the ball of cotton over my bleeding fingertip. And then another trauma patient was admitted with “brain activity” later spoken of as a stroke. I saw the woman in question wheeled by and she couldn’t answer any questions and could not squeeze a loved one’s hand. OK, a hunger headache will not be the death of me.
All of a sudden a transport woman appeared by my cot announcing, “Hi, I’m Fran. I am to take you to the MRI now.”
“Great”, I said, pushing away a fantasy of eating, well… anything by then. It was around 6:00. Fran told me that my wall space was called room 37. Good to know but it had taken her a while to find it. She actually got me into a wheelchair despite my screeches of pain and told me the MRI guys were great and if I wasn’t wearing any metal I probably wouldn’t have to put on a gown. Good again, as transferring had been painful and undressing and dressing seemed an impossible task.
Down to the bottom of the hospital where all the mysterious radiology arts are performed, Fran deposited me in the bare waiting room. One cheerful chatty man came out after he and his partner had been discussing the merits of the rock music that their current patient had chosen to listen to. They didn’t like it as much as the Hungarian folk music an earlier client had asked for. Ah, the bounty of the internet through earphones. He asked me what music I wanted and from previous MRI experiences I said I’ll just take earplugs. He earnestly suggested, “How about ocean sounds?” I said, “OK, yes, ocean sounds were fine.” He was glad I agreed.
I used the wait for my turn to move my upper body after lying around all day. The guy’s partner
peeked around the corner and said, “Wheelchair Tai Chi. Cool.” I did not disabuse him of my coolness as drained and in pain as I was. They were both indeed nice guys.
Finally, I somehow crawled up onto the MRI bed, got a bolster under my knees, and lovely thick padded headphones. I was handed my call button and slid into an apparently brand new “Siemans Healthineer” MRI machine. It was as spacious as a tube could be and the glide in was ultra smooth. The ocean roared and gurgled in my ears and the powerful magnetic noises were as minimal as this machine could ever be. 25 minutes later I was rolled out, a star patient who did not move, and the pictures were fine. Next up the was the wait for a radiologist to read them. No idea when that would be as I have always been told after this kind of photo shoot.
A different transporter came for me and to return me to room 37. By this time, I was determined to eat something. I had looked longingly at the snack machines as we whizzed by them when we headed up in the elevator. We arrived upstairs in the middle of the shift change. Smells of dinners were just cruel, and someone had baked a cake for the surgical residents for some occasion. “And what do you guys do when you are not on call?” Some flirting, some cake, and then the sea of talking people dispersed and it was quiet again. My time for demanding food had come. Wait, was that my very own nurse still on duty? It was!
I said loudly, “Sorry to bother you, but I have been here for a very long time and I am starving.” The nurse took pity on me. Usually a healthy vegetarian, I immediately devoured the sliced turkey on plain white bread but skipped the can of Sprite and pretzels she had brought me. That sandwich was enough to quell my pounding head. Uh Oh. I needed to use a bedpan again. I saw my nurse rushing away and I said, “Sorry, but now I have to use a bedpan.” She said, “You keep saying sorry, but I’m not feeling it.” She said it with a very slight smirk which was Ok as long as she provided me with the means to relieve myself. She found a privacy screen to surround my cot and that was enough for me, and at this point, who cared? Not me and surely not all of these official body mechanics swarming around room 37.
At about 9:00 a new doc arrived and the privacy screen was long gone. He said, “Good news, the radiologist saw no fractures and your fusion hardware is fine. We will put you on steroids and the previous script of Toradol should help with the pain. I will work on your discharge papers.” I now accepted the steroids gratefully however they may change my personality. I had to have some relief from the inflammatory pain. I had a shot of my painkiller (stronger than taking it orally) and swallowed the steroids.
½ hour later, the papers were deposited at the end of my cot. When my nurse flitted by she saw them and said. “Good, you can go home now.”
“But how? I came by ambulance.”
“Well, we will call you an Uber.”
“I said, look at me. I can’t sit up in a car.”
“Isn’t there someone you can call ‘cause waiting for an ambulance takes a long time.”
“I have a daughter who lives in Lakewood but she is exhausted from her non-sleeping baby. And I can’t get into and sit up in a car.”
Another sigh from the nurse. She came back a minute later saying, “I always feel bad for people
who have to use an ambulance. They said they might be here any time from 11:00pm until midnight.”
I blanched, but what choice did I have? In another quiet moment I looked over at the woman in the nursing station who had been manning the phones all day on her very long shift. I told her that I thought she was a whiz and a wonder to be so organized with fielding doctors, administrators and anxious relatives all day. She thanked me and another man came in and asked for some papers. She indicated they were on the table over there. He said something about that being sloppy. The woman shook her head and pointed at me. “Uh unh. According to her, I am very organized,” and gave me a wink.
Thankfully, the ambulance arrived to load me up on their gurney at 10:30. Goodbye ER room 37. I was so grateful to be on my way home. The SCC (Stephen’s Care Center) night staff welcomed me home and due to steroids, I was able to actually shuffle with my rollator to painfully but successfully to use the bathroom on my own with intense care. Wow! In the morning, still feeling the help of steroids (no anger in sight) I participated in the Olympic event of a shower and got dressed and fixed breakfast verrrrry carefully. (I only scored a 2, but hey, it was the Olympics.) Satisfied with accomplishing a few normal human activities, I went to bed. After 3 hours of lying around I got up to use the john, and…my legs collapsed and down I went, directly on the same haunch. Bad immediate pain. My call button didn’t work! I crawled onto the toilet, relieved myself somehow and pulled the call button cord on the wall above my head.
The sense of strength I had enjoyed was gone again. I now had to have two people lift me on and off a commode. I am not able to get out of my bed on my own. I have to ask for every little thing I need and am so grateful I am attended to by someone who calls me by name and isn’t rushing anywhere. After a day of misery adjusting to the sudden loss of all independence and unabated pain as the steroids wore off, I woke up this morning with a steroid afterglow. This time I called on my nurses to do my morning ablutions as I will not misread the temporary relief of strength to attempt standing on my own until my legs can obey a standing order again.
Last night the head nurse came in and said a new MRI report indicated a possible small fracture in my sacrum was found. I can tell you that from my own Goddess-like senses, that yes, I knew I have a fracture or otherwise I would not have lost the capacity of bearing weight in my legs. And the acute sharp pain? That is a new pain for me, and a fracture is the only thing that makes sense. There is no other treatment except for time to heal it and as sitting and standing depends on a sacrum, I won’t be doing more than short supervised experiments of those actions as bone and muscles heal of their own accord. Isn’t that amazing? The body wants to heal and it shall.
And to end with a small miracle, my older daughter came for a visit outside the ambulance entrance here today with my 6-month-old grandson. He can’t come inside as he cannot wear a facemask. I transferred to a wheelchair with only slight pain in my left knee which had gotten torqued from my second fall. I sat for a full 15 minutes of non-stop talking with my daughter and singing baby songs to his smiling face with two brand new teeth to show me in return.
Slowly but surely my recovery is in sight. And my 2-and-1/2-year-old grandson who was napping at home thought I needed a piece of cheesecake that he told me on the phone that he had liked “very much, very much”. My daughter also brought me a scarf my older grandson had picked out from Spain where they had visited last month. The final healing food was two chocolate chip cookies that I had seen him make last night on FaceTime with his mother. Watching him contain himself from eating chips out of the dough was a hoot. I now will check to see if my cookies still contain any chips. Little rascal.
I am glad to be back in the SCC in room 602.