Well, Hell’s bells and dog toenails, it sure didn’t take long for my back to school adventures to get derailed in a big way. And since I can’t seem to ever do anything half way, my return to school is delayed by back surgery – a massive, 6+ hour long 360 lumbar fusion. Here’s what happened:
Last summer, I was on campus for my daughter’s freshman orientation. It was almost a year since my last back surgery and I was doing well. There I was, climbing the stairs like a rock star with my sunglasses perched on the top of my head, a hot venti vanilla latte in one hand and my purse in the other. Now, I could tell you guys that I was paying perfect attention to everything around me… I could, but that would be lying. I must confess that I have been known to be a little distractible – especially if multiple venti vanilla lattes are involved. Wind me up, put me in a group of chatty, over-caffeinated moms and hijinks will ensue in short order.
So there I am: laughing, joking, have three simultaneous conversations… I’m a multi-tasking fool and I’m doing anything and everything except paying attention. Then my perception shifted. Seriously. The world seemed to tip on its side and everything started moving in slow motion. All I could hear was the thud of my own heart. People sounded like they were trying to have conversations through vast layers of clear Jello. Yep, just like in the movies. Sounds hokey but hey, who am I to argue with observable facts?
All I remember is twisting myself protectively around my Styrofoam cup of Columbian goodness as I cried out: “No! Not my coffee!”
Some people are extremely quick witted and spew out quips and one liners so fast… I’m envious. I wish I’d had some witty thought or jovial comment but all I wanted was whatever it took so I didn’t spend the rest of the day tromping around campus in coffee stained clothes because, in case you’ve never tried, you just can’t go to the restroom and rinse coffee out of your clothes. All that gives you is wet, coffee stained clothes. Been there, done that. Multiple times.
The last thing I remember was a sea of horrified faces and outstretched hands, fingertips grasping in a futile effort to prevent the careening train wreck happening before their eyes. All my friends know that I’ve had two back surgeries and a neck surgery. The absolute last thing I needed to be doing was falling.
Have you ever noticed how long it takes to fall? To the casual observer, everything happens in a split second flash. But to the unsuspecting victim of life’s vagaries and affinity for practical jokes, falling takes forever. Time moves like cold paste. I swear it felt like I had time to walk out to the car, get some spare change and go get another cup of coffee.
By the way, you gotta watch those Barristas at the coffee shop in the student union. The coffee is excellent and the shop is always busy, cranking out latte after cappuccino after frappuccino. They’d probably fall over if someone ordered (gasp) a coffee, black. But, because they were so swamped that morning, I ended up with fully leaded coffee instead of my usual decaf. I’ve been almost 100% decaf for years and this one, tiny, miniscule error was the beginning of my demise. So, if you are a decaffer or a half caffer, be sure that’s what you’re getting, otherwise, mayhem may follow your footsteps.
Now, back to the story. After spending an eternity in eerie, airborne silence, I hit the stairs on my back – and bounced. I kid you not, I actually bounced. Everyone froze for a split second (which felt like at least an hour) waiting to see if I was hurt. Then, the spell broke.
I was swarmed with people trying to help me up. One of my mom friends took the latte, still clutched in my hand like the flame of victory, while another friend took my purse. I climbed to my feet with all of the grace and agility of a giraffe on roller skates, snagged my cuppa Joe and raised it high, showing everyone that I had spilled nary a single drop. I took my seat to the sound of applause colored with both relief and awe. I had wrestled Ricky, the demon of certain public embarrassment, and emerged victorious.
The next morning, I could barely move. That hoary old cliché about “an ocean of ______” where in my case, I filled in the blank with an appropriate expletive and the word bruises, not only made perfect sense but was also 100% accurate. [Stupidity Alert: Now, did I pick up the phone and call the doctor?]
I honestly kept telling myself things were going to get better. Three months later, the pain was still bad. You know how they always ask you to give them a number between 0-10 with 0 being no pain and 10 being the kind of pain you get from being a guest at a sadomasochistic torture chamber in some alternate universe? I was at a 7 consistently. I was starting to think that maybe, just maybe, my back wasn’t going to get better on its own. So did I grab my phone and call the doctor?
Weeks passed until I ended up falling again. The pain in my back was so [insert your favorite dramatic adjective, expletive or colorful metaphor here] bad, I stood up and passed out. This time, I went to the doctor. Diagnosis: concussion. I kept waiting for the back pain to subside but when it continued to get worse, I called my neurosurgeon. (What? Doesn’t everyone have a neurosurgeon in their speed dial?)
At first, the neurosurgeon thought we were just dealing with arthritic stenosis. Surgery would fix it and there wasn’t any rush, unlike the first back surgery. After a flurry of MRIs, x-rays and myelograms, the plan changed. Evidently, when I fell the first time, I fractured a vertebra and shattered one of the bone grafts in my spine. The broken bone graft had dissolved, causing the broken vertebra to slip and push into the spinal cord as well as ruin the disc above it. The only thing holding everything together was a metal plate from the first back surgery and it was loose. Surgery couldn’t be delayed; in fact, it needed to happen sooner rather than later. Once again, the subject of paralysis was on the table and it was a serious consideration.
Next: I can’t have back surgery! I’m already enrolled in classes!