Okay, so here’s the story of what happened with Matt’s surgery. I write about this with a bit of hesitation, because I worry that I am tempting fate to wreak more havoc in our lives. Fate, if you’re listening, back off. Just enjoy the story and relish your successful infliction of stress, okay?
Before I regale you with my tale, I have a few disclaimers: We are very fortunate to have good insurance that allows us to have all the free operations we want. We are also very fortunate to have flexible work schedules and unbelievable friends that afford us the luxury of recovering comfortably from a pretty intense surgery and anything else life throws at us, like a surprise Sunday trip to the emergency vet (more on that later). Not everyone is as lucky as us. Well… if we were super lucky, we would have avoided all this in the first place, so I guess some people are definitely more lucky than us, but you get my point.
Matt and I decided to have his ankle reconstruction surgery done by an amazing surgeon at Duke Sports Medicine in Durham, NC. We live a couple of hours away, in Charlotte, so we knew this would pose a few challenges for us, logistically. But a couple hours after Matt had been wheeled back for surgery, I felt like things were going really well so far. Jimmy Johns had delivered a delicious sandwich to comfort me over lunch while I waited, and I had an emergency Xanax in my pocket just in case the sandwich didn’t offer enough support (it did offer enough support). When the surgeon came to the waiting area at last and told me that everything had gone very well, I tried to ignore the giant splatter of (presumably Matt’s) blood on his medical clog while he gestured at his own ankle and cheerfully explained what he’d done to my husband’s insides. (For the record, I feel like having a nurse or someone look you over for signs of gore would be nice, before you mingle with the folks waiting to make sure their loved ones remain living.) The surgeon said proudly, “I think he’ll be really pleased with his ankle” in the same way people say “I think you’ll be really pleased with your new Hyundai” as you sign the paperwork. I was optimistic that the worst part was over. Oh, Past Courtney. You moron.
We were told we should stay the night in Durham, which we were happy to do because Matt was worried about the pain that would be headed his way. We’d been told that the surgery would lead to a painful recovery, so we felt safer knowing that he’d be surrounded by doting nurses armed with good drugs. The next day, we were sent home with something called a peripheral nerve catheter (Matt: “Hold on, did you just say ‘catheter?’) He had gotten a similar nerve block before, with a previous ankle surgery, in the form of a shot given to him to numb his entire leg for 24 hours. When that nerve block wore off suddenly, he was in a lot of pain, so he was a bit gun shy about the whole post-surgery process this time around. This gadget, said our army of nurses, was much better: a small portable container that gradually pumped pain medicine into Matt’s thigh by way of what looked like a little fishing line. They told us that the catheter would keep his ankle 30-90% numb for several days. I’d just like to say to the scientists who created this handy device… 30% and 90% are pretty far apart. We can grow an ear on a mouse’s back these days. I saw photos on the internet. Why not shoot for a 90%-100% success rate with the peripheral nerve catheter? Just saying.
When we got back to Charlotte, Matt was starting to complain that he was uncomfortable, but I was so relieved we were safely at home that I didn’t have room to feel worry or any other emotions. Matt hates being a passenger in a car, preferring to be the driver whenever possible. Unfortunately, driving was not possible immediately following ankle surgery, and he did not take my offer to crouch under the dash and work the pedals for him while he steered very seriously, even though we’d both have been a lot less anxious. So the drive had been stressful. We’d encountered downpours, which really helped the tense passenger/driver relationship, and had needed to stop to fill his prescription for oxycodone at a drugstore along the way because he was in pain. But no matter! Now that we were finally home, the worst part was over. Ah, those were more simple times.
Once Matt was settled, I left to go pick up our dinner. As soon as I left, a home inspector stopped by (we just finished a big renovation on the house) and banged on the door incessantly. She must have had hired help parked at all entrances of the neighborhood with walkie talkies, poised to alert her the very instant my bed-ridden, doped-up husband was alone so that she could make a stressful situation even more stressful. When it was clear that the knocking inspector wasn’t going anywhere, Matt somehow managed to crutch downstairs to let her in. She was sorry… A sorry excuse for a human.
The surprise home inspector made Matt very tired and cranky. Then, the nerve block stopped working. When I got home with our dinner, Matt said he could feel his entire leg, and wiggled his toes for me. This was alarming to us both, since we were assured that he would be 30%-90% numb for at least a couple days. The pamphlet we’d been sent home with, Going Home with a Peripheral Nerve Catheter, mostly consisted of large photos of all of the various catheter parts and detailed instructions for removing the catheter once you’re finished with it, which are quite possibly the least useful pieces of information for a person in major pain. He proceeded to descend into a state of utter agony in a matter of two or three hours. This state of agony continued for a day and a half, and no one would help us.
I’ll say it again: no one would help us. While watching your spouse writhe in sobbing misery can be an interesting change of pace, it also kind of sucks. His pain was so bad, we discussed going to the emergency room more than once, and I even had a bag packed for us. But he wasn’t sure he could make it to the car, much less wait to be seen for hours in a packed ER. I made calls and left several Terms-of-Endearment-style messages that evening and the next morning, begging various answering machines for a new medicine to try. Duke was no help, as they were in another city and getting a new pain medication required a paper prescription. Matt’s primary care doctor didn’t get back to me for the longest time, but she finally did prescribe something… more of the exact same useless medicine we already had. I was so desperate I even tried asking Matt’s former surgeon’s office for help, since they were local and could easily prescribe something new to try, and after explaining the entire harrowing tale of what was going on and why we needed help, the lady replied, “Yeah, we don’t do that. We won’t be able to give you any drugs, ma’am.” Translation: nice try, Nurse Jackie. I wasn’t born yesterday. Clearly this insane story is completely made up because how could this scenario ever happen.
After a total of about 36 hours of what can only be described as utter trauma for both of us, we had a breakthrough and Matt’s pain went from level “Maxed Out” to level “I Guess I Don’t Want to Die Anymore but God This is Still so Terrible I Can Barely Stand It.”
As we were rejoicing in this progress (Matt rejoiced by writhing in agony some more, and I rejoiced with the unused Xanax and a comforting sandwich), our contractor from the renovation stopped by without warning, because apparently those in the home improvement industry really have a knack for showing up at the worst possible times. Unwashed, jumpy, and in my pajamas, I opened the door and let him in, listening cautiously as he asked how Matt was doing. Relieved that he didn’t appear to plan on adding to my stress level, I explained that Matt wouldn’t be able to come downstairs and say hello because he was busy processing how it might have felt to recover from surgery two hundred years ago. The contractor said, “oh wow, that’s too bad! Anyway, I need to get the final payment from you. Could you get me a check?”
We’d been trying to get our contractor to wrap up the work on our house for about two weeks, so that we wouldn’t have to deal with any of this post-surgery, and the contractor had been told he wouldn’t get the final check until all items had been taken care of. So I was immediately uncomfortable about being asked for a check. But then I was pissed. I said, “We’ve been advised that Matt shouldn’t sign anything until he is off of the narcotic pain medication, lest he be taken advantage of. You can come back next week.”
Then one evening after we’d been home a few days, I thought, we did it. We have a routine, and we are tough, and the worst is over. Everyone’s fine. And we lived happily ever after eating soothing sandwiches from Jimmy Johns like we didn’t have a care in the world. Oh, wait, that’s not what happened. What happened was that all of our cats got into a huge bar room brawl out of nowhere. Matt was selfish and did not even offer to get up and help, so I took a bleeding, screaming fur child to the emergency vet (because of course it was a Sunday night, not a weekday during regular business hours) to hand over all my money and the last shred of my sanity in exchange for eight paw stitches and one cone of shame.
A week later, things have settled down and we are hanging in there. Cats and husbands are mending and we have to just laugh at this whole ordeal. I’m frustrated that we fell through the cracks of our healthcare system and Matt had to suffer needlessly that couple of days, but I’m so glad he feels better now, and glad I can see some humor in everything. I’m still eating a lot of soothing sandwiches, but I’m calling doctors and leaving frantic messages less. Which I’m sure they appreciate.