4 Level Fusion and Corpectomy

17 years ago my mom was in a pretty bad car accident where she was hit by a drunk driver and was sent careening into one tree, and coming to a stop about a foot before an oak tree.  Her car was totaled and she walked away with the left side of her face bruised and back and neck pain.  Her seatbelt saved her life.  She worked at a hospital as a R.N. where they told her she would just “have to deal with the pain”.  After 17 years of chiropractors and various doctors the repercussions of this accident began to take it’s toll.  Her arms legs and face started to go numb.  I’ve never heard her mention how much pain she was in for the last 17 years.  My mom is not one to bestow her baggage on other people, she’s a caretaker.  I went to her appointment with her surgeon to schedule the procedure and I saw the MRI’s and X-Rays.  I wish I had brought my camera so I could show how incredibly fucked up her spine was.  Between vertebrae C3 and C7, there was a mess of shit going on.  Her vertebrae and discs were pushing on her spine, which is what was causing the numbness, and in one case one of the vertebrae had dissected.  She had little to no spinal fluid surrounding these vertebrae and it was a wonder that she had gone so long living in this condition.  The doctor, Dr. Abtin, had called for a 4 level cervical fusion and corpectomy.  If she didn’t go through with the procedure she would eventually lose all ability in her lower extremities.  The surgery was originally scheduled for November 23rd, but my mom had a nasty cold and they  couldn’t operate on her in that condition.  My Aunt Karen, my mom’s sister, had scheduled to fly out here on the day after Thanksgiving to help mom recover.  Since mom’s surgery was rescheduled Aunt Karen was here for it, and thank god she was.

Monday, November 30th we brought mom into Tuality Community Hospital, where she is a wound care nurse.  She was admitted at 8 am and was sent to wait til 11.  Why the hell do hospitals make you get there soooo early then make you wait for an ungodly amount of time until you’re actually taken to the “holding area” for surgery?  Anyway, once she was taken in Aunt Karen, Cameron and I grabbed some lunch and tried to keep busy for a while.  After a couple hours we went back to the hospital to the waiting room where we turn on the Saints Patriots game.  After nearly 6 hours, Dr. Abtin came out and told us everything went beautifully.  He said when he removed the dissected vertebrae he could see a rush of blood going up her spinal cord and he said it was “just beautiful”.  We weren’t able to see her til they had her all set up in her room.  She was pretty out of it, but she could move a lot more than I thought she’d be able to.  It was pretty difficult to see her in that situation.  She couldn’t swallow without grabbing the rails of the bed and bracing herself for what looked like something more painful than childbirth.  You see, the doctor went in anteriorly, through the front, which means that all those tubes in front of her spine were yanked to the side for nearly 5 hours.  I waited til she fell asleep to leave for dodgeball.  It was a rough car ride.  I just felt so awful leaving her there like that.  My Aunt Karen stayed the night with her so that gave me peace of mind.  I played pretty horribly at dodgeball, my mind just wasn’t even there.  I did my fare share of crying that night.

Tuesday morning I went straight to the hospital with my bag of knitting and coffee.  When I got there mom was sitting straight up in the recliner and managed to choke down some applesauce with her pain meds in it.  Aunt Karen and I spent the day at her bedside knitting.  Since mom was at the hospital she works at, people were coming into her room all the time to say hi.  Some of her co-workers even decorated her note board.

Mom and Aunt Karen

Dr. Abtin came in to check on mom and I asked him if we could see the X-Rays of after the surgery.  he gladly brought Aunt Karen and I over to a computer and pulled them up.

From the front.

And the side.  You can see the tube they inserted to drain any fluid that accumulated after the surgery.  The doctor said that for about a day she was an inch taller before everything settled into place.  You can also tell what vertebrae he replaced with a cadaver bone, the second to last one with a screw.

I also asked Dr. Abtin if he would take a picture with mom.

She had an ok day, took a walk and managed to continue the applesauce with meds regiment, until the evening.  The mounting emotional stress had taken it’s toll and she broke down.  My brother and I sat on either side of her bed holding her hands while she cried.  It was awful.  Nobody wants to see there parents cry.  I managed to get out of the room and called Katrina and broke down myself.  It was just too much.  I went back in and made sure she got to sleep, Aunt Karen stayed with her again.  Cameron and I walked to the parking garage together and I cried some more to him.  I could just feel the mounting stress about what was to come.  Taking care of mom-not that I didn’t want to, it was just that I felt like I shouldn’t be in this position.  I’m young, I’m still a kid, and I shouldn’t have to take care of my parent.  That’s what was going through my head.  I don’t mean it to sound bad, and like I don’t care, I just felt and still feel like I’ve been sort of forced into this position because my dad isn’t here.  And I know I’m not expected to ‘be my dad’, but some part of me feels like I have to in order to take care of my mom.  I want to be there for her and help her, but I’ve never had to see my parent in such a vulnerable situation.  The last time I saw my mom cry like that was when my dad died.  Violent crying.  I don’t ever want to see it again.  It kills me, cause I can’t do anything, nothing, to help her.  To help her pain, physical and emotional, go away.

Wednesday morning I got back in my car and drove to Hillsboro back to the hospital.  Mom was discharged at noon and after a slow and steady drive home, mom was in her bed resting.  I went and filled the prescriptions and made sure everything was good at the house before I went home.

Aunt Karen called me at about 8 am on Thursday and said we needed to take her back in.  Mom had not been able to take her medication cause she couldn’t swallow.  Whenever she tried to swallow it would go up into and out her nose.  So, she couldn’t get her pain meds down.  And she was throwing up.   When I got to the house and saw my mom, she was in so much pain she couldn’t speak.  She hadn’t had any pain medication that stayed down since midnight.  I kept my cool, and didn’t want to freak out in front of her.  We brought her into the E.R. and they did a CAT scan and saw that her trachea was being constricted.  Mom was shaking and crying.  Dr. Abtin met us in the E.R. and looked at the scan and came back with a look of terror on his face.  The first words out of his mouth after he saw the scan were “I can’t believe you’re even breathing”.  Reassuring, I know.  He said there could be a blood clot or a hematoma causing the trachea to close.  The nurse rolls in the big red crash cart marked EMERGENCY.  My mom, being a nurse, knows all the terms and crap that they’re talking about and begins freaking out.  Understandably so.  Dr. Abtin had the sense to call in an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor to come and look and the CAT scan.  And thank god he did.  Dr. Theringer came in and said “Oh, don’t worry you guys!”  He was the happiest doctor I’ve ever seen.  He said there was no clot or hematoma, but he wanted to get a closer look to be sure.  He wanted to put a camera down her throat through her nose, but insurance wouldn’t cover if he did it in the E.R.  Bullshit, I know, but that’s another rant for another day.  It turns out that the swelling from the surgery was causing her trachea to be constricted.  No clot or heamtoma, thankfully.  She was admitted to ICU, which when she heard that she got pretty upset.  ICU is for really, really sick people.  And mom didn’t want to be one of those.  None of us wanted her to be one of those.  It ended up being a blessing.  When they wheeled her through the ICU all the nurses and doctors mouths dropped.  They all knew her and worked with her all the time and here she was, a patient.

Aunt Karen and I were immediately kicked out of ICU, they have very strict visitation policies there.  We sat in the empty waiting room, which was very dark, and it had books not magazines, and no t.v.  Not that I wanted to watch t.v. but the absence of it and all the books made us realize, that if you’re hear you’re in it for the long haul.  Once we were there, we both broke down and cried together.  My Aunt Karen is my mother.  I grew up with her, at her house, with her kids, and she and my mom are best friends and I’ve never known a tighter bond than them.  After we cried we made the appropriate phone calls to family members letting them know what was happening.  She was moved from ICU that night, and into PCU, a less intense level of care.  Nobody was allowed to stay with her, so we left.  I stayed with Aunt Karen and Cameron at mom’s house.

Friday we got up and headed on in.  Mom was eating cream of wheat when we got there, so we knew she was able to swallow better.  We spent most of the morning with her until we grabbed some lunch.  After lunch we learned she would be staying another night in the hospital, which I felt good about.  I was bummed though knowing that Aunt Karen would be leaving on Saturday.  She tried to change her flight but in the end it would’ve been cheaper to fly home on saturday and buy another roundtrip ticket for monday.  So she was leaving.  She said her goodbye’s to mom, which was so hard to watch.  We went back to the house where I had another crying fit and said my goodbyes to Aunt Karen.

Cameron took her to the airport Saturday morning, and I woke up from a drunken sleep and drove out to the hospital on my 26th birthday to take my mom home.  She was discharged and we got her home and settled into bed.  Her friend Christie came over to spend the night with her so Rob and I could celebrate my birthday.  It was a very bittersweet day, but in the end I was just glad that mom was home and doing well.

It’s been a week, and she’s improving more and more everyday.  It’s been difficult for her cause she’s one who needs to keep moving and working.  And while this has been difficult for us to watch her go through, she’s the one who had to do it.  I’m so proud of her for coming through this as great as she has.  Not that she had any choice.  I’m just proud of her for being my mom.  I think she’s just the greatest, and I’m sooo glad she’s doing well.  I’m lucky to have her as my mom and to just plain have her in my life.

Celebrating mine and Rob’s birthdays.  Mom’s wearing her special bone growth collar.


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