It’s Time to Get on with Life

Being back in hospital didn’t exactly thrill me. I was unsure how much work I would be missing and even if I was in hospital for a day or two, missing the beginning of a lecture week would put me on the back foot going into the next. I knew though that I needed to accept being back in hospital again, which meant not doing work. I also didn’t realise how important my Sunday routine after church had become. I missed my weekly shop at Burnside Village, a coffee with my PhD, and a walk. Instead, I was back in the confines of a hospital room. Taken out of normal life again.

Being back at Wakefield Hospital, I knew the drill. First day of admission, all preparation happens for the next day. Blood collected, particular medications taken, the amount I was eating and drinking being monitored, and all night procedures done after 8pm. Then the challenge of trying to sleep with an ever present light and nurses coming in and out. The next morning, I was up and about by the time breakfast arrived. The specialist looking after my case came while I was trying to psych myself up to eat. He talked me through the issues and the treatment plan for that day. He made a point of looking at my uneaten breakfast and told me very bluntly that I had to eat. But before the treatment plan started, the specialist asked for another MRI to be done. Waiting for the MRI, the nurse team leader also came to have a chat. This nurse happened to be the one who had made the statement to me, while I was pre-op, that I shouldn’t have been making major decisions within hours of major back surgery. She was right. This time though, the nurse team leader wanted to talk through all the symptoms from before the surgery to this point.

The thought of going through another MRI terrified me slightly. I still couldn’t lie straight, that hadn’t changed, so I wondered how I was going to lie still again for the whole 25 minutes, especially after the last failed attempt. The staff this time were more helpful. They made sure that I wasn’t lying in a position that would make it impossible for me to lie still. They assisted me getting up, something I still can’t do easily after not having moved for half an hour. I made it through the MRI this time without any involuntary movement and without the staff having to pause and restart. Just another sign of how much progress had been made since the surgery. But going back to the ward afterwards, I came face to face with my surgeon, and I wished that the ground could have split open then and there and swallowed me up. I just couldn’t face him. The problems were related to the information that I had withheld leading up to the surgery; but then again, he didn’t ask either. It’s the type of information that I wasn’t going to offer up on a silver platter to anyone, let alone a man I hadn’t met before, irrespective of his reputation as a surgeon. Passing by, I politely smiled and hurriedly went back to my room.

The inevitable meeting though happened during a respite in the treatment plan. All I knew from the nurse team leader was that the surgeon was “concerned”. That never translates well in my head. So when the surgeon entered the room, I was readying myself for what was going to come next. I realised though, when he sat down in a chair opposite my bed, that he must have been taking this time between surgeries. This is something extra that he was adding without much notice. After sitting down, he handed me a print out. The way he gave it to me, I paused before turning it the right way because seeing the couple of images from a different angle, a momentary thought went through my head that the image looked like raw pork belly. I didn’t articulate this thought aloud, but there must have been a glimpse of a smirk on my face. The surgeon though quickly corrected the angle I was holding the paper. He was certainly in a no nonsense frame of mind. I knew what I was looking at. Images of my lumbar-sacral spine. The surgeon confirmed this to be true and explained that the two images on the left were from the MRI that day, while the two images on the right were from the MRI pre-op. He was very kind to do this for me, but he was showing me for a reason. He wanted me to know that he thought I was doing well, but he also wanted me to see how vastly different the two sets of images were. There was rapid recovery of the nerve damage. This was the soft way into what he was just about to say to me. I won’t bore you with the details of the conversation and the tests that took place over the next fifteen minutes. But his first line will give the gist, “We’ll get this problem sorted out today and then it’s time for you to get on with your life.” I know I’m a straight talker and I can be blunt, but this was a little bit too straight even for me. His words and their meaning took a couple of hours to absorb, actually a couple of days. I knew he thought that the problem was caused by the medication early post-surgery and our conversation confirmed what I already knew. I really did want to believe him. Initially, I did feel more positive. This problem will be resolved and I won’t need to do life everyday feeling awful. The prospect of that reality was a nice thought. I didn’t correct him, even though I wanted to, by saying that everything I have done so far is to get back into life. Of all my faults, I don’t think anyway would say not trying to get back into life was one of them. I didn’t want to be in hospital and I didn’t ask to be readmitted. Quite unlike me, I was wordless. I tried to speak and all my sentences ended trailing away. That whole conversation, I felt like a child being put back in their place. A nuisance. A parent talking to an errant teenager. One thing I knew for sure, if the surgeon was wrong, and the problem didn’t resolve that day, I wouldn’t be coming back to my medical team for help. I will do as he said. I’ll get on with my life, however difficult that might now be from day to day. I even considered cancelling all my appointments. What was the point of doing rehab? I don’t think the surgeon realised it, but what he said caused my stubbornness to switch back on. My usual stubbornness had obviously been absent the previous week. Now I was determined to do what he said, even if there were consequences.

That day, the problem was half resolved. By the next morning, my specialist thought that the problem was being managed enough to be released back ‘home’ at some point during the Tuesday. I wish I could say that I was discharged with a management plan in place. But I wasn’t. The only plan in place was to get back on with my life. I didn’t bother asking when I could return to work. Neither did I bother to ask whether I should attend my outpatient rehab that day. That afternoon, I completed my rehab session, and I was back at work at 7:45am the next morning.