Friday, February 19, 2010

Surgery story, mucus and all

I've been reading all about surgery over here :, she is another young woman who has had jra and recently received two new hips! She seems to be doing really well (you know, aside from recovering from major surgery. That takes the best out of any of us). Her writing has been bringing up memories of my own replacement surgery. As happy as I am now with my bionic elbow, I'm recalling just how crappy a time that actually was in my life.

I'd had ra for about 4/5 years when I was at a long overdue appointment with my rheumatologist and he told me that I would need a total elbow replacement. I had been back living in Labrador for over a year, working and living my life.

It was such a shock! And, I am not entirely sure why. I had spent years suffering in pain, long periods of time struggling to even touch my face, wash my hair, dress myself, sleep like a normal person. It's not that I had never considered surgery a part of my future, I just hadn't considered it so soon! I was only 25. So, a surgery was scheduled (really quickly, I might add. I guess they considered me some kind of emergency case? Most people wait up to two years or more, I waited about 5 months from referral to a surgeon to the consultation appointment to the actual surgery). I would have to go to another province, and my mom was coming with me to help me perform basic daily tasks.

The night before surgery, I started freaking out just a little, oddly enough not about the actual surgery, but of general anaesthesia! I had heard so many terrible stories of hallucinations, it wasn't the thought of pain that scared me, it was the thought of not having control over my mind. An amazing nurse let me cry, told me her survival story and calmed me down immensely. I wish I could remember her name (I'll have to ask my mom), but I am thankful for her. And the nurse that made me laugh about my toes. Laughter really is the best medicine.

So, the surgery went well, and the anaesthesia was actually like having the best sleep of my life. My recovery was pretty good (other than screwing up my meds and experiencing an unbelievably painful afternoon until the dosage was corrected). However, when I went in to have my bandage removed and my incision looked at, blood came flowing out. This is the point where I had to keep it together as my mother was the one about to panic. I'm telling her that it's fine, there's no pain or anything. Meanwhile, I'm thinking, "what the hell?!?!?" So the nurse promptly bandaged me up, good and tight. Now this is where I believe everything went downhill.

My mom and I return to Labrador. En route I set off the alarm at an airport due to the replacement. This, I think, is both cool and disturbing. I have appointments for physio, getting my staples removed, and continued bandage changes. Life seems to be going good. Until I notice some weird stuff leaking out of my arm. A nurse has a look at it, tells me it looks, "a little green" and promptly sends me to emerg. Things progressively get worse from there. I am started on oral and IV antibiotics immediately due to an infected hematoma (remember where I was bleeding and they bandaged me up?), experience vein collapse, and have the most disgusting anything come out of a human body come out of my arm. Now, the number one concern with joint replacements is infection. If the infection gets into the new joint, they have to remove it and put in another one, which is much more difficult than a first replacement. You can see where I start to get worried, right?

But, I perservered. And, the infection didn't go into my joint, it continued draining out in ways that would remind anyone of a horror movie (lets just say the word "mucus" doesn't quite cut it). My infection cleared up and I resumed my physio. I had made it through this nearly month long ordeal. And, I had a shiny new elbow to show for it. No more pain or swelling in this joint, baby!

I can't believe that was nearly 6 years ago. I often don't think about it, but today, all of those fears, and triumphs, are right there. Remembering when I first got my appetite back (with a meal of salmon, naturally), the lovely couple who kept my mom company in the hostel, nurses whose names I cannot remember but who I won't ever forget, and my mom who took care of me. Thanks, mom :)

Hmmm, maybe another day I'll tell the story of my second surgery, in which I was awake, and the surgeon realized that he needed to saw off more bone. With an electric saw. While I was awake. Party time, people!


  1. Wow, definitely tell about the second surgery too! Though I know the reason why it had to be done, I never heard the details. And it's always better for the gross substances to come OUT of your body than to stay in. BTW, I'm loving your blog!

  2. Oh lord! I just went to get blood tests today and was getting a little freaked out beforehand – the thought of my own blood does that to me – but what you went through, well, that puts things in perspective! Good on you for keeping a sense of humour! Can't wait (I think!) to hear about the second surgery!

    :) Laurie

  3. Thanks to both of you!! I will definitely write sometime soon about the second surgery, much smoother, yet much more "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" :)

    Laurie, I was the same way shortly after I was diagnosed. My rheumy used to get so frustrated (in a funny way) about how scared I was of getting my knee aspirated. He'd be all, "I don't understand how you can live everyday with the pain that you have, yet be terrified of this needle! It doesn't make any sense" You just get so used to it. And, you sound like you are doing great! I know there are people that won't do their own shots! They go to the hospital every week (or more, in the case of enbrel, or is it kineret?) to have a nurse do it. Way to go for doing it yourself! I think that's really brave :)

  4. Yeah, it's funny how I'm fine with needles, but not so good with blood. I've been known to feel really faint when I get a nosebleed!

    It all started in high school when I had the brilliant idea to donate blood. A friend decided to come along and as we waited in line she was getting all nervous. I was like, "It'll be fine!" But when we got in, they got about 1/2 pint out of me when I started feeling faint, and they had to stop. Meanwhile my friend was absolutely fine – go figure! Now, every time I see my blood (note I say "mine" not "somebody else's"!) my brain starts screaming, "Emergency, emergency!"

    Actually, blood tests usually aren't that bad; I just look away, but today I was just feeling hard done by...

    :) L

  5. now I know why your blog has the word bionic in it! Sorry your surgery went so horrid. I just recently had a hysterectomy and my recovery was awful.

    So you had an elbow replacement? Hope that its all better and feeling good. I often tell my rheumy I want to cut off my hands above the wrists as they are good for nothing anyways!

    Thanks for stopping by my new blog. I wanted to do a cheerful RA blog (haha, as if that can be done) since this disease is so dark and depressing.

    I think we all have metal somewhere in our bods don't we? My left wrist/arm has had two surgeries.


  6. Hi Judy! Indeed I am becoming the Bionic Woman with my elbow replacement, and my nickname was Pony growing up, so.....

    I'm all for cheerful ra blogs! I'm also all for a good rant now and then, too :) I can honestly say that I am looking forward to more metal in my body! Having a new joint that doesn't hurt sounds like heaven about now :)

    Laurie, I hope you have a better day tomorrow :) One that doesn't involve bloodwork.

  7. Jeez, that sounds like a miserable surgery. I've been very lucky. No replacements, but I did have to have a big lump of arthritic pannus removed from my right wrist a few years ago. There were, thankfully, no complications and the recovery was very easy. All I have left to remind me of the surgery is a six-inch-long, flattened W-shaped scar from my wrist to about halfway up my arm ...

    Looking forward to reading about the other surgery. I think I'd about jump out of my skin if I was awake to see the buzz saw homing in...

    Hope you're feeling well, m'dear.

  8. Man, oh man, Wren that was a ridiculous time in my life! I'm very glad to hear that your surgery went well :) And, I must say, I really like my jagged scar on my arm. It's like my battlewound, lol.

    What's an arthritic pannus? And that sounds like a pretty long scar!