When I woke up from my surgery, I was being moved to intensive care. My vision was blurry and I had an overwhelming desire to vomit. I didn’t know what was happening, I forgot I had surgery. The next thing I remember was waking up in a fairly large room with my bed in an upright position facing a glass wall, on the other side of which was a nurse’s station. I did it! I survived surgery! Go me! I was completely drugged up, the only thing I felt was mild discomfort in my stomach. I spent about 2 days in intensive care and I loved it. Nurse’s came in to give me ginger ale and to make sure that the sounds they heard coming from my room were indeed sounds of laughter from me watching Golden Girls and not me screaming in pain. This paradise was short lived, as after about 2 days, I was moved out of intensive care and into a regular room.
They lowered my pain killing medication and I immediately became aware of my back. Before, I couldn’t feel anything and now I couldn’t feel everything, but what I got was enough. My back felt like it was asleep, you know like when your leg is asleep. It felt like giant stone tablet, inflexible and heavy. While in intensive care, I never moved an inch. NOT ONE INCH. And now, the nurse wanted me to stand up. Insert blank stare. I understand it was a necessary step in recovery, but I couldn’t move. I was legitimately frightened. I couldn’t sit up without the support of my bed and this woman wanted me to stand. When I tried to move, it felt like my back might snap in half. I remember being afraid of ripping my back open, the nurse of course reassured me that was not going to happen.
First, the nurse and I positioned my body so I was sitting upright on the edge of the bed, with my feet on the floor. My back was dead weight, it wasn’t assisting the rest of my body in moving and all my other parts were trying to make up for it. I never realized how crucial your back was in almost every move you make. The nurse held my hands in front of me so I wouldn’t fall backwards. She was very gentle and in this moment, I imagined “this must be what it’s like to be a baby in your mother’s arms.” I was completely dependent on this woman, she was doing most of the work, I was just enduring the pain. And if she, for any reason, let me go, I would have died. I held on to this woman for life. I have never felt so physically helpless in my life. It took about 15 or 20 minutes to stand and I could only stand for about 10 seconds. My legs felt like twigs and with my back out of service I had trouble balancing myself. But, with the help of my nurse, I stood up.
I think she was more excited than I was, I was ready to get back in bed and watch Golden Girls. Twice a day a nurse would come and help me move. After about 2 days or so of this, we were ready to try walking. At this point, the nurses had my confidence up. They would celebrate my victories by bringing me an extra supply of crushed ice (I couldn’t eat food). I could hear them talking to each other,
“how’d it go?”
“Great! He stood up and only had to hold on to one of my hands this time.”
“how long did he stand?”
“almost a minute!”
I could endure the pain of standing up for a while, I had done it like 5 times at this point. So I figured, hey, what’s a few steps gonna do? EVERYTHING. The nurse got me in a wheelchair and took me out in the hallway and said,
“we’re going to go as far as you can go, I’m right next to you and there are 5 nurses right there (she points) so if anything happens , they will run over and grab you. You just have to let us know before you think you can’t walk anymore. The wheelchair is behind you, we can easily get you back in there, okay?”
I felt like I had the mind of a 14 year old and the body of a toddler trying to walk for the first time. I knew how it was done, I had done it before, many times. But, it was so difficult. It took about 20 seconds for me to take the first step and I almost fell over. So, a second nurse came over. Now, I have one nurse on my left and one on my right. They started talking to me about my favorite TV shows to distract me from the pain of trying to walk… and it surprisingly worked. They would laugh and tell me about the shows their children would watch and I felt a little safer. I started to reach the point the nurse was talking about, the point where I think I couldn’t walk anymore.
I didn’t realize how far we had gotten. I was at the other end of the hall. One of the nurses went back to get the wheelchair and without her support I was about ready to hit the floor.
“I think I’m gonna fall”
“I got you”
A tear came down and I felt this overwhelming sense of embarrassment for both crying and needing help and that’s when a male nurse came out of nowhere and picked me up and carried me to my room. Who was this guy? Superman? I was so embarrassed. But, those lovely nurses made me feel so much better.
“Don’t cry, you were so good.”
“I thought we were only gonna get a few steps in.”
“Yeah, you did better than expected. I’m so proud of you.”
“You should be proud too. You just had major surgery. I tell you what, how about I get you an extra ginger ale and you don’t have to do anything else until tomorrow?”
The nurses were more than nurses; they were like fairy god mothers. They lifted my spirits and filled a hole in my heart. Speaking of mothers, I hadn’t spoken to my mother at all. Whenever adult-strangers were nice to me as a child, I felt this sense of sadness that my parents were rarely as nice or sweet to me. Like an orphan. Like everyone knew that no one ever told me nice things about myself all the time or that everyone knew that my mom wasn’t coming to see me and she wasn’t going to try to call me and I would wish whoever I was talking to was my mother.
I stayed in the hospital for a couple more days and then it was time to go home. I was given a walking cane and strict rules not to carry anything heavier than a phonebook for a year. Yes, you read that correctly. I was just staring to eat solid food for the first time in a week or so and I hadn’t had a bowl movement in the same amount of time. As a matter of fact, I just started peeing on my own. Being at home after surgery was the worst experience of my entire existence on this planet Earth. Getting out of bed was the most impossible thing. It was hard before, but I had nurses to help me. Now, there was no one. My parents treated me like I went in to have my tonsils removed, it’s like they didn’t understand that I had TROUBLE WITH EVERY MOVEMENT. It took me 30 minutes to get out of bed my first morning waking up at home. I slowly rolled myself to the edge of the bed, which hurt like hell. What do I mean, “hurt like hell?” It felt like my body was being repeatedly dipped into the burning river of hell, while Satan laughed and threatened to face –fuck me if I didn’t cry more. That’s what it felt like. I rolled to the edge of the bed and slowly got my lower half onto the floor and stood up. After that, I only wanted to sleep on the couch. The arm rests and back of the couch made getting up so much easier.
Coming home after my surgery cemented that fact that not everyone should be allowed to “care” for children. I remember having been home for maybe 10 days. I was walking a little better and still with my cane and my step mother wanted to go to the mall, The mall; land of walking. I was doing the absolute best I could. I was faster than I was in the hospital, but compared to the pace of normal Americans, I was slow. And this adult woman had the nerve to turn to me and say, with attitude,
“If you’re going to walk that slow just sit down somewhere.”
And walked ahead of me and went about her shopping adventure. Yes, I was 14 years old, walking with a cane in the mall, during the day, cell phone –less (this was like the year 2000) and my adult care-taker left me. I sat on a bench and just waited. I had no idea what store this woman went to or how long she would be gone and I most certainly was not going to try to find her. I sat. I waited. I cried. She eventually came back.
My doctor said not to carry anything heavier than a phonebook for one year. Do you think anyone listened to that? Hell no. About 1 month or so after my surgery, we were moving to Florida and while we hired movers to put most things in a giant truck, who do you think did all the heavy lifting in the house? – and by heavy I mean anything over 7 pounds (That was extremely heavy for me). Packing boxes, moving them to the foyer. Every second of it hurt like hell and I just didn’t understand why my parents didn’t take this seriously. It’s like they decided for themselves that I wasn’t experiencing any real pain and that I could just deal with it. I honestly hated my parents during this time. My doctor also said I would need to go to rehabilitation once we moved. Do you think anyone set that up? I had 4 adults; a mother, a father, step-mother, step-father and I felt like I fell through the cracks. This is what truly made me feel like I didn’t matter to anyone. No one cared. My dad made me teach my brother how to ride his bike, because his knees were bad, but what he neglected to consider was that it hurt like hell every time I had to bend over to help him keep his balance, to push him on his bike. To put this in perspective, my teachers were instructed to let me out of class 5 minutes early so I could get to my next class on time. That’s how slow I walked…. months after my surgery. At this point, I was a Sophomore in high school and the countdown had started. I was ready to get the hell out of there.