No one warns you about the first 48 hours post-surgery. Sure, nurses say that you will feel like s***, but there is nothing that really prepares you for those 48 hours your body is recovering from the anaesthetic. I just couldn’t wake up the next morning. I was groggy. I still had a drip pumping fluids to raise my blood pressure. I was still attached to oxygen. I was conscious that I was only in a surgical gown, no underwear, nothing. I remember thanking God that I had about ten blankets between me and the rest of the world. But I just did not care. My breakfast tray came. I hadn’t eaten for over 24 hours. It was that nauseous sensation of being hungry, yet light-headed even lying down. The nurses wanted to try getting me up for that first breakfast. I very slowly and stiffly bent my legs up, barrel rolled to the side, put my legs over the edge of the bed, and tried to sit up. Trying to sit up was the last thing I remember when I woke up lying in bed, the covers pulled over me. I had passed out. The nurses decided not to try again for breakfast. It wasn’t easy trying to eat porridge lying completely flat with the world still spinning. The physio walked through the door, he took one look at me, and I think he guessed that it would not be the morning I would be getting up to see if I could walk. And I was stuck in this haze of being conscious and yet unconscious as I was washed, a new gown put on, and I was left to fall back to sleep. Lunch came. The nurses tried again to help me sit up and again I passed out. That was the way the rest of the day progressed. By late afternoon, my blood pressure started to stabilise and my mind was starting to clear. The surgeon came to touch base about the surgery; to perform some initial tests and to inspect the wound. He told me that what was compressing the nerve was not just prolapsed discs, but also a piece of bone that that had broken off, dislodged itself two inches, and severely squashed the nerve. The nerve and spinal damage more extensive than what he thought pre-op. The good news though is that there were no other complications. No nerves were damaged in the surgery itself. The surgery was a success. The priority once I was out of the post-op phase was to begin rehab as soon as I was physically able. He gave some instructions that at the time didn’t make sense. He asked for the drain to be taken out. Soon after the surgeon left, my parents skyped. The conversation didn’t last long. I was starting to fade again. I wasn’t feeling anything. Emotionally I was numb. Too much had happened over the past three days to process and my mind just couldn’t. What I didn’t know is that any ounce of positivity was soon going to be ripped out of me.
The nurse who was present when the surgeon visited returned later that night. She was a bit of a sergeant major, but there was something in her manner that commended trusting her. She discovered that what was dropping my blood pressure was the particular pain medication I was being given and she organised for different pain meds. My blood pressure didn’t plummet for the first time. And then, in a very sympathetic manner, she told me that she was going to take the drain out. I had no idea what she meant. I just recalled the surgeon giving instructions that this was to happen. She asked me to roll over on my side, undoing the surgical gown at the back, she started to take off the protective covering from the wound. She said very gently that what she was about to do would be uncomfortable, so I prepared myself mentally for some discomfort. I felt her picking something at the back, it was uncomfortable, but it wasn’t pain. Then I realised that the drain was a tube inserted into wound and I realised too late what was about to happen. I felt a tug and then it felt like my spine was being ripped out of my body, one vertebra at a time and very, very, fast. A scream tried to escape but my breath was violently taken from me. And the only thing I could do was let the tears roll down, burning down my face. The nurse rolled me back carefully. Putting covers back over me. I was speechless. The nurse hurriedly put what I suspect was morphine into my drip and I quietened into a very uncomfortable sleep.
I actually felt awake on the Sunday morning. The horror of the night before not forgotten. That nausea had intensified. Two nurses came in that morning. They asked me how I was and I answered honestly that I still felt nauseous. They were still adamant that I was going to get up that morning because it would be dangerous to be lying flat for too much longer. My breakfast came and they saw their opportunity. I repeated the same manoeuvres. Knees bent up, a barrel roll to the right side, legs go over the edge of the bed, then push upright. The world was spinning out of control and one of the nurses was trying to steady me, but I couldn’t breathe and I started hyperventilating. I couldn’t control it. It wasn’t panic. It wasn’t anxiety. My body felt like it was gasping for oxygen. My lungs felt clogged. And all I could hear were the nurses shouting at me, asking me to speak, and I couldn’t. I was struggling to breathe. And I passed out. These nurses were more persistent than the day before. They were going to get me up and eating breakfast at any cost. We tried again. I won’t write what happened next. It just does not need to be written. But in the midst of such mess, what was amazing was that I did manage to get up that morning. The same physio from the day before came round again. And very gently, not berating me like the two nurses, he got me up and he got me up on two feet; I took my first couple of steps. Sure I was not stable on my feet, my right leg was hardly functioning, and I had so many drips and things coming out of me. With him holding the surgical gown shut, I managed to take my first couple of steps moving forward. I managed to walk (if you can call it walking) out of the room and into the corridor, then back again. The physio had done his job. He was happy; he could report that I could get up. For the first time since Friday, there was a kernel of light. A different nurse was in the room when we returned back and she asked if I would like a shower. I knew visitors were coming that afternoon, I was an absolute disaster, so although I felt the world starting to spin once more, I said ‘yes’. And the shower washed away the cloudiness, the trauma, the aching, the exhaustion. The feeling of being clean was euphoric. Being dressed in pyjamas made me feel a little more human. And I managed to sit up for lunch.
No one warns you about the 48 hours post-op. I wish I had known. I wish I had known what it was really going to be like existing in a state of consciousness that was barely awake. I wish the nurse had been honest about the trauma of the drain being removed. I wish those two nurses had listened and realised that I don’t often and not lightly say ‘no’. I can quite honestly say that this was the lowest point yet. And I will never forget the soothing power of a warm shower, clean clothes, and talking to friends and family whom I love and who I know care for me.