The Ten Hours That Would Shape the Next Twelve Months

I woke up to the nurse bringing me an early breakfast at 6am. As soon as breakfast finished, the fast from all food and liquids began. The nurses started preparing me; shower, surgical gown on, and weight and height noted. I wished that I had thought to bring a dressing gown with me. An easy lesson to learn with hindsight! The early preparation did confuse me slightly. I still thought that the op would be scheduled for late that afternoon, I had no idea that my surgery was moved to the second on the list. I continued working through my to-do list while I waited. The surgeon arrived. I knew that we had paperwork to complete and sign. They needed my consent for the surgery and written proof that I understood what the surgery entailed. The surgeon, however, did not seem in a hurry to sign any forms. He wanted to repeat the tests undertaken by the nurse team leader the night before. He explained why. After he examined the MRI in more detail, he realised that the way in which the nerves had been compressed meant that he needed to take a different approach, an approach that was higher risk to certain nerves. The damage was also more extensive. He was surprised that I still had function in my left leg. He described how he would need to take out the majority of the disc at the L4 in order to decompress the nerves that were severely squashed. The purpose of the surgery had now changed. It was no longer to recover movement in my right leg; it was now to prevent me losing movement in my left leg and also bowel and bladder function. He needed to repeat the tests himself to be sure that no further nerve function had been lost. After confirming the results from the night before, he was satisfied that second on the operating list was fine; I didn’t need to be first. We both signed the forms and I gave my consent.

It was now a waiting game. I wasn’t anxious, I wasn’t worried. I was strangely at peace with the impending surgery. There wasn’t any point in being anxious. I knew I needed the surgery. I couldn’t control that fact. And I couldn’t control what the outcome would be. In the meantime, the work issue that had increased in priority the day before had become urgent. The arrangements to allow me to be on study leave no longer aligned to the policy of our accrediting institution. With the surgeon’s words still going through my mind about the seriousness of the surgery and knowing that new arrangements would need to be put in place within a short amount of time (it took nine months to put the original arrangements in place), I began to wonder if the best thing I could do both for the organisation I work for and for my own recovery would be to postpone my study leave and continue lecturing the second semester. I knew this would be hard in a myriad of ways. Missing conferences, no rest, a six month delay on finishing my PhD; but I wondered if it was a cost that I needed to bear. My Principal asked if he could call me to discuss what to do with my study leave arrangements. I took the call. I knew that it would be awkward for my Principal if he had to raise the idea of postponing my study leave himself, so I raised the idea. I still needed to find out whether my residency at Tyndale House (Cambridge) could be postponed for six months, but if it could, I said that I would be willing to postpone my study leave until 2016. It wasn’t ideal, but everything about this situation was so far off from the ideal. The nurse listening to my conversation told me that I was not in a position to make major decisions considering that I would be having major lumbar spine surgery within a matter of hours. Surely I wasn’t thinking straight. The only response I had was that the two events of the past 36 hours between work and my paralysis meant that my life had already changed. Given the options before me, and over which I have no control, I was just articulating what needed to be said. The decision was already made for me.

It wasn’t too long before my bed was wheeled to the pre-op waiting area. I was transferred to another bed. Then the questions began. Can you please explain in your own words what the surgery is for? Can you please say in your own words what will happen in the surgery? Once satisfied by my answers, I was wheeled into the op room. The anaesthesiologist inserted the needle into my hand and the last thing I remember was an agonising ache creeping up my left arm.

The second I woke up, my body started to shiver violently. I was asked if I wanted to lie on my back or on my side. Everything in my mind was screaming at me that I wanted to lie on my side. I wasn’t in pain. All I felt was a deep aching cold. They were heaping warmed blankets on top of me. But I still felt the same all-pervading cold. I tried to relax my muscles, but I couldn’t. I lost consciousness. I found out the next day that I was constantly passing out because they couldn’t stabilise my blood pressure that had unexpectedly dropped below a safe level. I was in and out of consciousness for the rest of the night. The only thing that I remember hearing was that the surgery had been successful.

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