I must be the weirdest mom ever to think that my major spinal surgery seems like a vacation. Trust me, a little fusion surgery was nothing compared to the chaos Mary was experiencing at home. I had some complications, and needed a cat scan. They found one of my vertebrae was actually fractured. I sobbed in pain while they gave me every narcotic pain killer intravenously they could. Finally strong muscle relaxants were administered and I calmed down. I clutch Luke the entire time while he whispered soothing things into my hair and stroked my arm. Vacation, right?
I had trouble breathing so I went to the ICU for a day. I had an oxygen tank sort of plugged into my nose in order to help me continue breathing. Vacation, right?
I am in constant, excruciating pain. However, my meals are brought to me, and my daughter Mary isn’t attacking me here. There is significantly less screaming here than Mary is doing at home. I feel deep pain at the incision sight where the doctors cut so deeply into my spine. It doesn’t matter. I’m safe and safe feels good. Yes, even with the deep and unrelenting pain, this might be a vacation.
Everyone smiles at me and offers to bring me things at the hospital. They help me use my walker (really hard for me to walk right now.) I get to order my meals from a menu. No one yells at me. No one is throwing things. And I haven’t seen one tantrum since I’ve been here. Not even from the patients! This MUST be some form of vacation.
The truth is I’m doing very poorly. The Physical Therapist came to see me and opened with,”I’m not trying to be mean” before helping me to a chair. That is where she wanted me to try and sit for an hour. I couldn’t do it.
The pain was so unbearable that I clutched the chair arm and sobbed for a half an hour straight. I had an ice pack. I tried the PTSD calming strategies we use with Mary. I grounded myself by what I could see and hear. I sipped water and counted my breaths, trying to breathe in and out slowly. I tapped my fingers in a method I learned at a trauma workshop. I tried to picture the happy place I keep in my mind. I counted to 100 and back. I asked for a stress ball, in between giant, hiccuping sobs. There was mucus everywhere. Tears soaked my hospital gown I just couldn’t stop sobbing. .
“Stop crying,” they kept telling me, “You’ll hyperventilate.”
“I’m trying!” I gasped, “I’m using my coping skills!”
Did it work? No. They ended up peeling me out of the chair after 30 hysterical minutes. I even had them close the sliding doors so I couldn’t disturb the other her ICU patients. I wanted to be so strong and finish the full hour sitting in a chair. I wanted to stop my sobbing hyperventilation and soldier through. I wanted to be in charge of my own body! But I was basically locked into an adult form of out-of-control behavior. I didn’t yell or throw things. I was very polite when I could get a word out. “Please,” I’d say, “I’m trying!”
I just couldn’t do it. They put me back in bed and administered strong pain medication and more ice packs. My doctor was baffled. She didn’t know why it hurt so much but she was very concerned that I was adamant to keep going.
My doctor and the PT were concerned with my pain. I wasn’t. Here’s why: my pain is physical. When Mary sobs uncontrollably, tantrums, or panics, her pain is emotional. We can’t administer more pain medication and send her back to bed.
Her trauma is as real as my surgery. Her emotional pain is as real as my physical pain. I’ve made it home now and all I can do is be grateful. That was the absolute worst vacation ever.
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.