I've been reading all about surgery over here : http://project-jennifer.blogspot.com/, 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!