Thursday, June 21, 2007

I am cyborg, hear me clank.This will be long and will contain the following: profanity (lots), gross stuff, pictures and Itzhak Perlman stories.

[This is the third (edited) e-mail I sent in my spine surgery saga. I left a couple of names intact- Charlie, my friend C.'s brother, because we're the only ones who call him Charlie, anyway, and a couple of other people who are anonymous enough in here that they can't hit me in the head for writing about 'em.]

Hey there, L. the Human Shish Kabob here, sending the third and hopefully final update about my spine surgery. This has actually been sitting in my drafts folder, half-finished, for over a month now. I suck. Sorry.

Be warned, there is probably gonna be a lot of oogie stuff in this e-mail. If you're not ready for it, don't read any further. I might even toss in some pictures. Muwaahaahaaaaa...(Alternately, if you just want instant gross-out, you can read this instead:

Don't worry, no scary pictures.

My surgery is done, and I got the disk replacement rather than the fusion. Yay! I am now officially bionic. The titanium screws in my feet didn't count, 'cause with those I didn't get a nifty little card to carry through airport security to explain why I set off the metal detectors. I'll be putting it to the test in a week or so when I head out to the mothership (BorgCo Redmond); I'm really curious to see if I actually do set off the detectors.

[Editorial update: I didn't set off the metal detectors. Turns out that spine implants only have about a 14% trigger rate. Yes, I dug up the statistics. Knee implants are the most likely to set the detectors off, followed by hip replacements, plates in the head and spinal implants. You can read it for yourself.I find it interesting that since I started getting metal put into my body, I've stopped setting off metal detectors. Whatever; back to the good stuff.]
On Monday, April 23, I had very long needles shoved through my neck, as you know. Or as you should know if you read these e-mails in the proper order. If you don't know, start at the bottom like I told you to above, then come back to this one. Go. Stop reading this one.
By the way, here is a picture of somebody else's DWSSB [see e-mail #2 for DWSSB meaning] doing a discogram. Note the sadistic smile on the DWSSB. I guarantee that the person under that sheet is not smiling.

On Tuesday, I recovered from having very long needles shoved through my neck and finished writing "L.'s Exceedingly Anal-Retentive, Obsessive-Compulsive, Ridiculously Detailed Instructions and Information for Ms. C.L.K. (a.k.a. The Boo Book)". This was the manual I wrote for Boo, my friend who came to take care of my sorry ass after surgery.

Usher may be into girls, but I'm not.

And no, she's not that kind of "boo". I've called her "Boo" for a lot longer than it's been an urban term for one's romantic squeeze. It's just a nickname. I'm not into chicks. She's my Boo, but she's not my boo in the Usher-Alicia Keys sense.

Back to The Boo Book. It had chapters. And maps, directions on how to take the subway, get cabs to go to Brooklyn, unlock my doors, use my remotes, find additional linens and towels, feed the beasts, prepare for the beasts' quirks,

He tries to sleep in Kleenex boxes, too.use the coffee grinder (it's a burr grinder, not a blade grinder; it requires instructions, dammit), locate the light switches (they're weird in my place) and various other informational bits. I wrote The Boo Book because C. wasn't scheduled to arrive at LaGuardia until I was in surgery, so she'd need directions on how to get from the hospital to my house (and back again) and where to find things once she was there. The Boo Book was, I admit, exactly as described in its full title. In the Boo Book I also included all the paperwork for my surgery including my health care proxy and living will as well as the list of vitamin supplements I take and in what quantities in spreadsheet form for my cardiologist, who is also a nutrition specialist. I paperclipped her business card to it and put it in its own tabbed section and it still took a minute for Boo and my cardiologist to find it. I guess I had a lot of sections in the Boo Book. I also included a subway map, housekeys and some hand sanitizer in The Boo Book, along with advice as to how to avoid using one's hands to touch things in or near the subways. I am doing my best make everybody a germophobe like me. If we were all germophobes, I would not have the image of a dude wiping his eye-booger on a subway pole permanently burned into my brain. True story.

S., I know you can relate to the above, because you're the only person I know who's more anal-retentive than I am. And in my family, that's saying a lot. My brother-in-law calls my sister and I "H--eena" whenever we do OCD things that we got from our dad [H--] (like turning off all of the lights except those in the room where we're sitting, or locking houses and cars even in the safest of neighborhoods- while we’re inside know, I don't think those are particularly weird things). Okay, yeah, I'm kinda doing a stream-of-consciousness derailment thing here, aren't I? Back to the surgery goop.

After I finished The Boo Book, I ate my last pre-surgery meal (broccoli. Yes, just broccoli.) and headed to bed early. I'd already checked to see if it was okay for me to take an Ambien the night before surgery as my sleeping patterns are messed up enough without throwing impending surgery inches from my brain into the mix. The Ambien worked for a couple of hours, tops. I woke up around 10:00 or 11:00 and immediately began brewing a nasty headache. I didn't want to take anything for it because of the impending surgery, but finally at 2:00 AM, I took a Vicodin and prayed that that wouldn't screw up my chances for having surgery the next day. I took Vicodin only because it was on the list of drugs I was allowed to take before surgery. Otherwise, I hate Vicodin. It makes me itch (I later found out from my anesthesiologist that this is a common side effect in light-skinned people, and according to him, I am VERRRRY light-skinned. I figured that under all that crappy hospital lighting, everybody looks really white, but apparently my corpse-like pallor still stands out.) and it has nasty digestive side effects. As in, digestion kinda comes to a halt. Kinda like this:Vicodin, too much pasta, same effect.Enough about that.

By 4:00 AM, the headache was at least a bit muffled. At 4:45 AM, I headed off to the hospital. I took the subway because I didn't want to put anybody out and make them drive me to the hospital at that hour, but if I ever have to go through something like this again, I think I'll skip the subway and go with the ride option (that probably means you, R.; let's hope I'm done with my orthopedic reconstructions for a while). The demographics of the subway are totally different at 4:45 AM than they are at 8:00 AM, I must say. A lot more flannel shirts than flannel suits at that hour.

I arrived at the hospital ten minutes late because I took the 6 the wrong way when I transferred at 59th St. in Manhattan and had to wait forever for the train going in the right direction. I felt like such an amateur. I blame the lack of sleep and the fact that I was a walking pharmacological soup.

As an aside, for two days before my surgery I had to scrub from head to toe using some cootie-remover called Hibiclens.Cootie killer. It has the approximate color and texture of cherry Kool-Aid but smells more like a mixture of Betadine and nail polish remover. Hibiclens is apparently magical in that it not only kills cooties on you, but leaves some kind of cootie-killing residue behind that I assume helps deflect some of the filth floating in the air in this city.

I arrived at the hospital with my little suitcase and my de-cootified skin and was almost immediately ushered into the pre-surgical holding pen. It is a very large room with rows of beds sectioned off with those pointless privacy curtains. In my little soft-sided cubicle, I was instructed to disrobe and was given a very unsexy ass-exposing gown to wear, as well as a non-matching robe that would fit a baby rhinoceros and some little socks with stripes of what appeared to be pumice-embedded paint on the bottoms. Remember when you were a little and you loved long stretches of smooth floors because you could do that run-and-slide thing in socks? Well, you can’t do it with pumice socks. I tried.

After I'd changed, all of my clothes were put into a large plastic bag and cataloged. It felt like checking in to prison but without the cavity search. (I don't speak from experience; I’ve seen "Oz".)

I then had to give various fluid samples because no matter how sure you are, hospitals don't take your word that you're not knocked up. I gave them my line about how if I was pregnant, Jesus was on his way back, so really, no pregnancy test was necessary. Christians never seem to find immaculate conception wisecracks as funny as I do, so they took my blood and made me pee in a cup anyway. I was/am not pregnant. I guess Jesus is holding out for a womb that's not attached to a sacrilegist.

The nurses were very impressed with the fact that I’d typed up my own health care proxy and living will documents. I gave them the documents and had them sign as witnesses, then made sure that they knew about the Boo Book and that it was in the outside pocket of my suitcase. I told them that my Person (Grey’s Anatomy watchers will understand that reference) was coming in on a flight while I was having surgery and that somebody would have to find her. I gave them her name, and surprisingly, they actually went on a quest to find Boo once I’d been put into ICU after the surgery. I was impressed. Sadly, there were a lot of unimpressive acts interspersed with the random impressive ones. Lenox Hill’s excellent reputation is a bit overblown at the moment; they’re not only doing construction all over the hospital, but are going through “changes” [read: facing possible closure] right now that make for some disconcerting patient care, as I’ll tell you more about later.

Next, my French doctor’s PA (physician’s assistant) introduced herself to me and gave me the usual pre-surgical rundown, and then another nurse came to wheel me off to the OR. It was a bit like a stock car derby getting me there because of all the crap that’s in the hallways due to the construction, and then as soon as the nurse got me to the OR, she had to turn me back around and take me halfway back to the holding pen because Dr. B. was there and looking for me. Dr. B. did his comforting “I’ve not had one of these surgeries go badly in fifteen years of doing them” pep talk. He showed me where on my neck they would make the incision (the surgery is done from the front) and explained how the rest of the surgery would go if I got the artificial disc and how it would go if I didn’t. I was definitely hoping for the disc.

So, at this point, so far, so good. Wheely Nurse rolled me back to the OR and opened the door to bring me in, at which point the people inside told her that she couldn’t bring me in because the operating room wasn’t ready yet, so they ended up parking my gurney right outside the operating room door while they prepped. I was introduced to Dr. B.'s “surgical assistant” and the surgical nurse. I put “surgical assistant” in quotes because it turns out that this guy was the neurosurgeon who Dr. B. was allowing to participate in the study with him. Note the past tense; there’s a reason for it.

When Wheely Nurse parked me outside the OR, I spent the next hour listening to the aforementioned neurosurgeon having, literally, a screaming fit about the operating room not being ready. He was dropping f-bombs roughly every two seconds, punctuating them by throwing instruments around. I kid you not. I’d hear, “…FUCKING should have been here at FUCKING 6:30 to check this FUCKING OR…I shouldn’t FUCKING have to FUCKING prep this FUCKING OR …” and various other similar ranting. I really didn’t hear much beyond the “FUCK”s and throwing of instruments and banging of carts, but I think the gist of it was that Dr. Anger Management was pissed off that Dr. B. wasn’t in there prepping the OR with him since it hadn’t been ready on time, or something along those lines. All I know is that he was swearing like a sailor and all I could think was that I didn’t want somebody with that much rage going anywhere near my spine.

At one point, the anesthesiologist, who is built remarkably like Wow. Sasquatch has boobs.Sasquatch, came up to my gurney to review my chart and chat before he knocked me out. He was the polar opposite of Dr. Anger Management. He was verrrry methodical and read my chart three times. In a row. I appreciate thorough preparation, so I was cool with the fact that I’m pretty sure he’d memorized every word in it by the time he put it down. Then he went into the operating room to set up all of his gases and tubes and came out of the OR once or twice. Not once did he look even slightly ruffled by Dr. Anger Management’s ranting. I was also cool with that.

About fifteen minutes before they finally wheeled me into the OR, I let out a big yawn that made my eyes water, and not five seconds later a nurse walked by and mistook my watery eyes for crying. She stopped, put her hand on my shoulder and very comfortingly told me that I was going to be fine. This touching compassion, naturally, made me burst into tears. All I could think about was Dr. Anger Management beating the shit out of the OR and how in a short time, he’d have his hands inches from my brain stem. A couple of minutes later, I heard the surgical nurse finally break and go off on Dr. Anger Management about his screaming hairy fit. I wanted to stand up on the damned gurney, press my face to the little window in the door and yell, “You’re my HERO!”

Quite frankly, I did not want Dr. B. in that operating room prepping it. I wanted Dr. B. doing whatever it is that he normally does before surgery. If he normally watches Bugs Bunny while knitting scarves , I didn’t care. If he normally meditates with his thumbs and forefingers making little “O”s on his knees while he chants “Ohhhhmmmm”, I didn’t care. Hell, if he lights up a damned blunt (old farts in the audience, click here) before surgery, I didn’t care, AS LONG AS HE WAS DOING WHATEVER THE HELL HE DOES BEFORE SURGERY that made every single person in the entire hospital who heard who was operating on me say, “oh, he’s the BEST; you couldn’t be in better hands.” I sure as shit didn’t want him in that OR absorbing Dr. Anger Management’s negative energy. (The thing about being okay with him smoking a blunt before surgery might be a little exaggerated…)

After Nurse MyHero got done chewing out Dr. Anger Management for being such an insufferable rageaholic turd for the previous hour, she opened the operating room door and wheeled me in. She introduced me to the people in the room, referring to Dr. Anger Management as “Dr. N.; you’ve heard him for the past hour.” I again wanted to stand up and cheer for her but my eyes were all red and I was sniffly from the oh-my-god-that-prick-is-going-to-operate-on-me realization I’d just had in the hallway. Dr. Anger Management proceeded to fire up his cell phone and call somebody to gloat about what a great guy he is because he’d gotten his wife a spa weekend at some hotel for her birthday. I’m betting she needs a lot of “spa weekends” being married to that bastard. He couldn’t even be bothered to acknowledge the fact that there was a sentient, conscious human being on the gurney. I have never felt more like a piece of meat in my life.

I want to briefly note something before I go on. When I saw Dr. B. at my one-week surgical follow-up, I told him about Dr. Anger Management. Dr. B. is the Chief of Spine Surgery at Lenox Hill. Dr. B. was very upset about Dr. Anger Management’s behavior. Dr. B. fired Dr. Anger Management (at least from the study, and apparently possibly from the hospital, as it turns out). Apparently this was the second time in the past month that Dr. Anger Management had had a screaming hairy fit in the OR, he just hadn’t done it with a patient present the last time. Regardless, Dr. Anger Management has been very thoroughly spanked by Dr. B. I think I love Dr. B., even if he does kind of remind me of an Ewok . I can’t believe I just typed that. I’m so awful. I’m going to hell.

Back to the OR. The anesthesiologist, nurse and various other people in the room had clearly taken note of my red eyes and snotty nose and were very nice to me. Dr. Sasquatch was great. As he was putting my arm on the little board they strap it to and telling me that yes, I would be intubated and that that’s a good thing since it means they would be doing my breathing for me and ensuring that I had a clear airway and whatnot during surgery, he was also gleefully rhapsodizing over my veins. He called them “the Alaska Pipeline of veins”. I have to admit, I do have veins like firehoses. They’re huge, they’re close to the surface, and I can pump out a pint of blood in four minutes, thirty seconds (I’ve timed it when donating blood). A blind person could get an IV in me. In my forehead. I must have looked a little skeptical about his vein-joy, because he said, “you don’t believe me, do you? I’m not kidding; I haven’t seen veins like this in at least two years.” Given that this guy pokes veins on a daily basis, I was quite flattered. I’m not sure it’s normal to be flattered by vein compliments, but I take ‘em where I can get ‘em.

Dr. Sasquatch got me all tubed up and told me that what he was saying was the last thing I’d remember until I woke up in recovery. He was right.

Now, I can’t tell you about the actual surgery from memory as I (fortunately) have none, but I can tell you what they did. First, they cut about a two-inch incision in my neck, horizontally, placing it in one of the existing lines on my neck. I have an extra line in my neck for them to choose from because when I was at this awful summer camp when I was seven, the tennis instructor had us run laps around a tennis court that, oops, had a clothesline strung across it. We discovered the clothesline when I ran full-on into it and nearly decapitated myself. They didn’t call my parents or anything, just put some Neosporin on the wound and sent me back to my pee-smelling cabin. The cabin smelled like pee because the camp didn’t have bathrooms. It had these big outhouses that they didn’t treat with anything to suppress the stench. You could smell them everywhere. People would throw up when they went to the bathroom, myself included. The sinks where we had to brush our teeth were part of the outhouse-hut things, so all the kids in the camp had furry teeth and would hold our bladders until they swelled to the size of basketballs. This meant that some of the girls in my cabin would wet their beds at night. I couldn’t really be mad at them for it; I was just glad I was never one of them. Fortunately, it was only a week-long camp and my parents never made me go there again. I’m kind of surprised I ever willingly went to camp again after that summer.

Okay, so there’s this incision in my neck. What they did next was to stick a shitload of instruments into that tiny incision and start pulling stuff (my trachea, esophagus, carotid artery and various muscles) to the side and holding it there with retractors. Then, as one of my coworkers so eloquently puts it, they popped my head like a Pez dispenser and removed the herniated disc. They jacked my spine (seriously, like you jack up a car), hammered in the three parts of the artificial disc and un-jacked my spine so the disc was wedged between the vertebrae. There are no screws holding the implant in; it’s all just ligaments and tension and eventually, bone growth into the little teeth cut into the vertebral surfaces of the implant. (See picture at the bottom of this page; it’s not the same implant as mine, but it’s the same process.) Then they sewed me up and sent me to recovery.

You can watch my French doctor in action in 2005 here, although it’s a different model of artificial disc and is a lumbar surgery rather than a cervical one. (The really good stuff starts about fifteen minutes in). For anybody in the crowd who thinks that “cervical” means “located anywhere near girly bits”, it doesn’t; it just means the neck portion of the spine. I wouldn’t normally feel the need to mention that were it not for the fact that R.T. [fellow TLA and recent BorgCo hire] was a bit, uh, perplexed by the terminology.

I woke up in recovery with a bitch of a migraine and nurses putting morphine into my IV drip. Morphine is pretty good at knocking out the pain of having your head popped like a Pez dispenser, but it has a nasty side effect- it doesn’t really work on migraines and even exacerbates them in some people (me, for example). Shortly after I reached the point where I could form half-complete, muzzy sentences, I asked the needle nurses about My Person and whether or not anybody had found her. Holy crap, my neck is swollen. And purple and shit.

Shortly thereafter, somebody brought Boo in so she could “ooh” and “ahh” over my Frankensteinian neck wound and hold my hand and say comforting things and let me finally relax because I had somebody there to watch out for me.

She told me about how she’d kicked asses and taken names to find me; I was glowing with pride at her instant development of the appropriate New York Attitude™. Then the ICU staff booted her out so that they could [eventually] roll me up to my room. For a week after my hospital stay, I was convinced that I’d been in room 525, but it turns out I was actually in 828. Or 858. 8 something 8, anyway. Why does this matter? Well, let me just copy and paste Ms. C.’s recollection of the start of her most recent trip to New York…

Good Morning! Just a little update on my trip and how Ms. Borgette is doing.

The flight in was fine - I didn't have to sit next to anyone. I arrived at LaGuardia and caught the bus to Grand Central Station. My brother works right where the stop is so he came out and met me on 42nd Street. He was kind enough to keep my luggage - big and purple that it is (Charlie referred to it as Grimace! I cracked up! And if you don't recall who Grimace is - you probably don't share the same fondness for McDonald's as we do). Charlie helped me catch the subway - even gave me his Metro Card - to the hospital. I arrived shortly after L. was in recovery and proceeded to act like a true New Yorker when information about how she was doing and where she was wasn't readily available. L. was so proud when I finally arrived at her recovery room bedside and told her how I managed to locate her.

If you have never experienced L. drunk or heavily medicated - you are missing out. Apparently she has killer serotonin levels as she is so cute and lovable - you just want to squeeze her until her head pops off. (For those of you who don't know this about me - that is what babies and kittens make me want to do too.) But I digress. She was in pain - and I couldn't keep my eyes off the purple Frankenstein incision on her neck. Thankfully - they were happy to give her more morphine - and shortly afterwards they booted me from recovery. At the time they did not have a room for her - so I was left to wait. They estimated it would take about 2 hours for her to get to a room as they did not yet have a bed. I was informed I wouldn't be able to see her until then - given a notecard with the recovery room number on it - and booted to a waiting room.

Alas - it is NYC - and hospitals suck - so I headed back to the subway and back to 42nd and Grand Central where Charlie was at. He's a busy dude - so the 20 minutes I was supposed to wait for him for lunch turned into an hour. So I stood out on 42nd and people watched. I loved it! I came to the conclusion that everyone has a twin - and they all live in NYC - or are visiting there. Nature also called so I wandered into Grand Central Station to find a restroom. (Later when I told L. this she cringed at the thought - germophobe she is) Grand Central was just as it looks in the movies - except there aren't a bunch of benches with bums sitting on them - in fact there weren't any benches I could see. It reminded me of a mall with a huge food court downstairs and kiosks with vendors selling artsy over priced stuff. Kenneth Cole has a location at the entrance too.

While I stood on 42nd Street I was also witness to an interesting display by NYPD which Charlie later told me was their way of showing how ferocious they are for any potential terrorists. The UN is also on 42nd (I think) - so there could have been a dignitary somewhere in that crowd - but I didn't notice. He said it's really something when that happens and there's also a bunch of limos with men holding machine guns hanging out of them. Sorry I missed it.

Charlie finally emerged for lunch and we went to a restaurant across the street where he is in with the bartender. Ooo - the bartender. It's a well known fact that all of the bartenders in NY are hot - and Josh was no exception. I guess it's okay to drink on your lunch if you are my brother - so we each had a beer and shared some crabcakes. During this time I was calling the hospital every 45 minutes where they were very kind and tolerant of my calls. Each time I called they said she was fine - resting - and they still didn't have a room. At 3:00 I call and they say she is in a room. I slammed my beer (sorry Charlie- not the best pilsner ever - despite your feelings otherwise) and headed back to the subway and to the hospital.

I arrived at Lenox Hill hospital - again - and went to the 8th floor where I assumed L.'s room was (I was told room 828). When I get there - the signs aren't clear so I ask which way to room 828. The twinkie at the desk points me towards a door where there are signs saying you have to buzz in - along with how any items brought in must be opened and viewed in front of staff and violations of any rules could result in penalties for the patients. Hmmm. So I buzz - no one comes. I go back to the desk and question if room 828 is really on the other side of the door - she assures me there is no 828 in that ward - and sends me back. I ask her to look up L.'s room - in case I was wrong about the 828. Despite the computer sitting in front of her - she flips through some papers in front of her and insists L. is not in that area and she must be on the other side of the door. I buzz again. Finally someone dressed in plainclothes - but obviously staff - comes to the door - but stands there so as to block my access and says there is no one named Borgette on that ward. Great! I return to the desk - and now I'm a bit irritated. I find myself having to explain to her that L. had back surgery - and as far as I know - back surgery patients aren't usually in lock down - so could she please look up her room number? At this point - a social worker or someone standing near a copy machine is questioned by the twinkie about whether or not there is a room 828 on this floor. With apparent irritation that the twinkie does not know this and is a worker on this floor (not a nurse) -informs us both room 828 can be found by circling to the other side of the desk and going through the double doors. Finally!!

Despite L.'s insanely good insurance - private rooms are either not a part of it - or Lenox Hill doesn't provide such accommodations. I find her in room 828 in the bed on the far side of the room. She is awake and I apologize for not being there when she was brought in. She said she had only been there for a little bit - and her head is pounding. Further exasperating her headache - her roommate's phone is ringing off the hook along with her IV machine beeping like crazy - and she has a guest who is also making call after call (and receiving them) on his cell phone. Roomie had bariatric surgery -so there is plenty of discussion about poop and pee to overhear. Apparently - her guest was not her man and we heard him totally lie to his woman that he was at some other location and would be home soon when his woman called twice asking where he was. The good news was that roomie only had to pee and she would be released. I yearned to get her lots of water, apple juice, whatever.

Before I came to NY - L. told me she had prepared a book with all of the information I needed to be here and do what I needed to. This book is a 3 ring binder - with a front cover that reads (I shit you not) 'L.'s Exceedingly Anal-Retentive, Obsessive-Compulsive, Ridiculously Detailed Instructions and Information for Ms. C.L.K.* ( a.k.a The Boo Book) [For those of you who do not know - L. has called me Boo long before Usher and Chile made a song about it and coined it as a phrase for lovers. I mean - L. and I are close and all - but not that close. But I'm Boo - and wear it with pride] The * at the end of the title refers to this italicized note at the bottom * Contains words that can't be said on network television, but which make stuff more interesting to read. How very true!

So the Boo book is something. It has a table of contents with information about anything I should need to know about getting to her place and back to the hospital, how to care for her beasties (along with detailed descriptions of their personalities, what they look like, what to expect, how to care for them) - and pretty much anything else I would need to know. Including how to use the coffee pot, what dishes don't go in the dishwasher, how to avoid roaches appearing (I am even freakier about roaches than she is - so this is a very detailed section so I don't run screaming from her house). Needless to say - this is great reading - and very comforting to my non-cosmopolitan ass. She even included power of attorney and living will paperwork. That's our L.!

L.'s cardiologist came in (did I mention L. has insanely good insurance?) and in the Boo book is a detailed list of the vitamins she is on so the cardiologist could see it. The cardiologist is this very attractive woman, mid thirties, great hair, and totally nice. She was impressed by the Boo book too. After a discussion about L.'s LDL, HDL, BMI - etc., she left to order meds for L.'s pounding headache. Unfortunately - it took nearly another 2 hours and the hot orthopedic intern to finally get her some relief. And because her throat was so sore and she couldn't swallow - the poor babe had 3 injections in her arms - including the morphine. (My guess is that by the time I get there this morning if they kept giving her injections in this manner - she will look like a clumsy heroin addict).

The roomie situation was pretty unpleasant because of the noise this one woman generated - given L.'s migraine. Since all she had to do was pee before she could go home - we were extraordinarily concerned with her ability to do so. When she finally did - we were both quite happy. But - when the nurse came in - she denied that she had! What the?? So L. totally ratted on her to the nurse - who then questioned her, she confessed and was preparing to leave shortly thereafter. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. I mean - this place is no Spectrum Health. There was only one nurse (Lester) and an aide to care for like - 8 patients - and L. needed better odds that she would be attended to.

I stayed at the hospital until around 7 when I began to worry about how I was going to get Grimace (my purple suitcase) to her place in Brooklyn from Charlie's office. I headed back to Charlie's office (he was still working) - and met him there. He suggested we go to dinner and called his girlfriend Marion to meet us there. I was pooped - but with his offer to make sure he would get me to Brooklyn safely and feed me - I found new energy.

Let's talk about Marion. She's French and totally sweet. How my brother keeps landing these women escapes me since as his older sister - I am working from a totally different point of reference. We took the subway to Charlies's place on Park Row near City Hall - and bless his heart he hauled Grimace the whole way. There I met his roommate again and his seriously obnoxious and insecure girlfriend. Her reaction when she learned that Craig and I knew each other from high school was amusing. I mean - for real. She's this hot little Vietnamese chick - and I'm this pudgy middle aged chick from the midwest. But anyway...

From Charlie's place we went by cab to Chinatown and this incredible little tapas restaurant. The place was no bigger than my living room - including the bar, kitchen and single restroom stall. The food was AMAZING! Charlie ordered for us and did a great job. I had always wanted to try this dish that is made with sea bass that is cured in lime juice - not actually cooked. I have never been brave enough to make it myself (raw fish cooked in lime juice -what if I poisoned someone?). Turns out it is a favorite of his and a specialty of this place. YUMMY! And they had a complete drink menu that included a habanero and grapefruit infused margarita. Didn't try it - but I did have a dark rum Mojito that was stellar. (Note to self - plant mint in the garden this year).

After dinner we caught a cab back to Charlie's. Charlie - the ever protective brother - wanted to come with me to Brooklyn to make sure I arrived at L.'s okay. Marion and I convinced him it wasn't necessary - so he settled on quizzing the cab driver to see if he knew where I was going - before letting me leave. Fortunately - the Boo Book includes detailed turn by turn directions from Manhattan to [address removed by editor]. I arrived at L.'s around 11:30 (what a long day) - hauled Grimace up the brownstone stairs (no handrail) - only to struggle to get the door open. There was a moment of panic and I even placed a call to L.'s hospital room before I put a little elbow grease into it and managed to get the door open. Had I read the Boo Book more completely - I would have noticed the directions on how to actually open the door as L. had anticipated this.

I finally entered and the best word I can use to describe it is WOW. What a cool place - and L. has a very distinct and modern decorating sense. It is a bit of a contrast to the amazing wood work and layout of this place - but wow. The lower level has her living room, a bath, another sitting room, and her bedroom. The upper level is where her kitchen, office, dining room, guest room and another bath are located. The guest room was all made up with great linens and I slept like a dream. (Save for around 5:00 this morning when Natasha thought I should wake.) It's a really great place and I'm going to enjoy my time here.

I have now had 3 cups of coffee - read the directions on how to get back to the hospital via the subway 6x and should probably get going. I sure hope she gets to come home today. I will call those of you who are blood related and let you know.

See why I had Boo take care of my bionic ass?

Okay, so back to my recollection of events- forgive my likely repetition of some of the stories in C.’s recounting. After the needle nurses booted Boo out of recovery, I had to lie there for a couple of hours while they scrounged up a room for me. Recovery rooms suck because there are a gazillion other moaning zombies in there with you and all you really want to do is to sleep, but it’s nearly impossible because of all the activity and scurrying about. What I remember most about the recovery room is that I REALLY needed to go to the bathroom, but of course, they won’t let you wobble around trying to find a bathroom when you’re coming out of anesthesia and being pumped full of morphine. They offered a bedpan, but my sphincter muscles are overridden by my psychological aversion to peeing while in bed, so that was a big “no”. Yeah, I know, you didn’t need to know that. Moving on…

After a couple of miserable hours lying in recovery with a migraine and a full bladder, they finally took me up to my room. I don’t remember much about the trip up, but I do remember my first sight upon entering my room- a large black woman with short blonde hair sitting on the edge of her bed, viewing me with roughly the same friendliness as one might view dog poop on the sidewalk. I came to view her with the same sentiments within a very short time.

Lester was my first nurse while I was in 828. Lester is a very thin young Asian man. I contemplated asking him if he’d made up the Americanization of his name, but figured since he’d have no context for why I was asking this, he’d probably be offended. So that you all understand the context, it’s this- as you all know, I worked at Gloomborg, a bleak hellhole of an exercise in job frustration and bastard bosses with Napoleon complexes (oops, did I say that out loud?). Gloomborg’s primary product is the Gloomborg terminal, which is this horribly archaic-looking behemoth of mishmash code that somehow manages to do amazing things with number crunching, stock analysis, e-mail, etc. All employees use the Gloomborg terminal for much of their daily work. One of the “functions” in the Gloomborg terminal, to which I fondly refer as the stalker function, allows you to look up other employees, see where they work, what their pictures look like and whether or not they’re currently in the building. That place was worse than kindergarten when it came to tethering people to their desks. Anyway, one of the things that employees can do is to enter “alternate names”, which are essentially either preferred names to their given names, or in the case of many of the Asian employees, translations of their Asian names to American format or aliases. There was a guy in my group named X. Z. His alternate name was “Mike Joe”. First name “Mike”, last name “Joe”. I asked him if that was really what X. Z. translates to and he told me that no, that was just what he’d chosen as his “American” name. There were a lot of people at Gloombeorg with similarly questionable translations, so now whenever I meet an Asian who tells me his or her name is “Joe” or “Sarah” or “Lester”, I always figure that’s just what they call themselves because Americans can’t say their real names without mangling them into words that translate to words like “pigfucker”. As another side note, there’s a guy at Gloomborg named B. B.; he put in his alternate name as “Guillaume Derriere”, which I found a charmingly gauche exercise in bucking the system.

Back to Lenox Hill Lester. Lester helped transfer me from the rolling gurney into my regular bed, then he and the transporter nurses put these puffy things on my legs that are supposed to help prevent the development of DVT (deep vein thrombosis) in your legs. They work by gradually filling themselves with air so as to compress your lower legs, then letting the air out and starting again. They were oddly scary and pleasant at the same time. Nice little pseudo-massagers. Then Lester worked on adjusting the height and angle of my bed. However, when he pressed the little buttons, nothing happened. Lester fiddled with the buttons for a few minutes and then left to put in a note that my bed wasn’t working (and to get a shot of Imitrex ordered- more to come on that). Shortly after he left the room, as I was lying on the bed noting that the morphine was starting to wear off, that I still had a bitch of a migraine and that I still really had to pee, the bed suddenly, horrifyingly DROPPED. Literally, the entire bed just thudded down about 3-6 inches. With me in it. With a freshly jacked spine. Then it made some whirring and grinding sounds as if to emphasize its ability to kill me if I pissed it off again, and fell silent. The bending/lowering/raising functions worked like a charm after that, but of course at this point, I was scared shitless and convinced that my implant had just been dislodged and I was going to die right there with Frenchie The stupid bitch who was my roommate wasn't half as attractive as Frenchie, mind you.(the chick who got booted from American Idol for doing topless shots on a porn website and is now starring in Rent on Broadway: ) in the bed next to mine not missing a beat in fucking with her cell phone and hawking up lugies. Yeah, she was a class act.

Lester returned to the room and I said, “the bed just dropped!”

He looked at me and said, “dropped? What do you mean, dropped?”

“Dropped as in just DROPPED several inches, dropped,” I responded. “As in, fell. With me in it.”

“When?” asked Lester.

“Just NOW!” I replied.

Lester looked at the bed and said, “huh. That’s weird.”

It was at this point that I realized that Lester wasn’t really the brightest bulb in the box.

In any event, at least the damned bed didn’t fall again while I was in it.

So let’s talk about Frenchie in Bed 1. As C. mentioned (C. arrived not long after I’d been brought in), Frenchie’s cell phone rang constantly while I was there, and her damned IV monitor kept emitting these horrific alarms every few minutes because it wasn’t attached to her anymore and the nurses hadn’t turned it off. Frenchie was apparently immune to the noise, because she didn’t ring for the nurses when it would happen; she just let the damned thing keep screaming. Shortly before C. arrived, Frenchie’s boyfriend came into the room. I assume “boyfriend” because of their initial conversation, which went something like this:

Frenchie: “Hi, Poopie!” (Yes, I’m serious.)

Poopie: “Hi, Poopie!” (Apparently they haven’t bothered to come up with differing pet names for one another)

“Give me some sugar, Poopie. C’mon, gimme some sugar. Give Poopie some sugar, Poopie.”

[Sounds of wet, sloppy kissing and creaking hospital bed.]

C. came in right around this time and told me how she’d been directed to the psych ward when she asked for my room. (I’ll bet that ward was quieter, considering they drug the hell out of the people who talk to garbage cans and dust motes.) Then we sat there listening to Frenchie’s cell phone ringing, followed by Poopie’s cell phone ringing, followed by the frigging squawking monitor. This happened over and over and over again. At one point, Poopie’s wife called him and we got to listen to him tell her that he’d stopped by his friend Montel’s house where he was picking something up and he’d be home soon. I was horribly tempted to scream, “No he isn’t! He’s here visiting his skanky girlfriend, Frenchie,” but I figured that not only would Frenchie kick my ass, but Poopie’s wife would show up and kick it some more after she’d finished killing Poopie. So I didn’t say anything.

Now, I’d like to note that one of the first things I told Lester when I got into the room was that I had a migraine and could they please give me something for it. The transporter nurses who’d wheeled me up were still in the room at the time, and one of them asked me if I take Imitrex for my migraines. I said, no, Imitrex doesn’t really work for them and that I take Maxalt and that it comes in these little tabs that you can put in your mouth and let dissolve so you don’t even have to swallow. The nurses all looked at each other blankly and said, “Maxalt? Never heard of it.” I was not comforted by the fact that none of these nurses had ever heard of Maxalt, which is not exactly an obscure migraine medication and has been on the market for ten years. They then told me that they could get me some Imitrex and I asked if it would be the inhaler kind because I couldn’t swallow anything. They said that no, it comes in a shot form, too, and they’d give me that.

Three hours after my being placed in the room, two hours after my cardiologist had already visited and had AGAIN ordered something for my migraine as nobody had shown up with anything after the first request, a tall, attractive Indian orthopedic resident came in and gave me a shot of Imitrex. I believe that I growled something at him about how I’d been lying there for three hours waiting for them to give me something for my damned headache. Those of you who know of my weakness for pretty brown men will know that I had to be feeling really horrible to not even notice that there was a hot Indian man next to my bed. I mean, I’m pretty sure that’s on my list of “Top Ten Ways I’d Like to Wake Up”, and I barely even noticed the guy. Had C. not commented on his hotness after he’d left, I’d probably never have registered anything beyond the fact that he was attached to a syringe full of Imitrex.

Boo sat by my bed reading the Boo Book while I suffered through the migraine, anesthesia hangover and the Frenchie and Poopie Show. At one point, Frenchie went into the bathroom and took a very, very long pee. Boo and I were overjoyed because we knew that this meant that the bitch would finally be leaving (we’d heard the nurses tell her that as soon as she peed, she’d be released). However, whenever the nurse came in later to ask her if she’d peed yet, she denied that she had! I was ready to wrap her damned bleeping IV monitor around her neck by then, so the next time Lester came in to give me a morphine shot, I waved him close to me. He looked at me like he was afraid I was either going to kiss him or punch him, but he leaned in anyway.

“She peed!” I whispered, pointing towards the curtain separating Frenchie’s side of the room from mine.

“Uh, what?” Lester responded.

“She peed! They said she could go home after she peed and she peed an hour ago and she lies to them whenever they ask her if she peed!”

“OHH! Okay, thanks,” replied Lester.

Shortly thereafter, a nurse came in and said to Frenchie, “so, you went to the bathroom?” and then they booted her obnoxious ass. Thank you, god. I promise not to make any more “Jesus is coming back if I’m pregnant” jokes just for that one. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Boo left a little while later and I dozed on and off, thanking the universe for the newfound quiet in my room. At one point the phone rang, but it took me so long to reach it with all my tubes and sore muscles and puffy things on my legs that by the time I answered, nobody was there. Turns out it was C. calling to find out how to work the lock on my front door. I knew that thing would give her trouble, which, of course, meant that I’d provided directions in the Boo Book about how to work it. I was oddly pleased when I found out that the directions had turned out to be valuable, even if she’d not yet read that part when she wrestled with the door.

Then, at midnight, my brief respite was ruined when the transporter nurses brought in a new roommate. At midnight. Who the fuck puts people into new rooms at MIDNIGHT, and why in the hell didn’t I get a private room, dammit?

My new roommate, in the end, turned out to be a nice enough lady, but OH MY GOD, did I want to strangle her by the time I left. I spent eighteen hours in the room with this woman, and I would guess that there were approximately three minutes when she was not doing one of the following things:
1. Belching
2. Passing gas
3. Moaning
4. Whining to the nurse
5. Snoring loudly enough that I could hear her over the headphones they finally gave me around 1:00 AM so I could watch TV.

This woman was a serious crybaby. I could go on for paragraphs about the disgusting sounds she made and the quantity of boo-hooing she did, but you get the idea, right

For most of the night, I watched bad late-night TV and dozed off whenever they’d come in to give me another shot of morphine. I still had a headache and asked the night nurse if there was anything they could give me and she offered me Motrin. I told her that my cardiologist had said that NSAIDS are contraindicated in spine patients, so no, Motrin wouldn’t work. (As it later turned out, my particular surgical protocol actually includes me being on NSAIDs for three months and the reason that they’re not contraindicated is because the surgery doesn’t actually cut through any blood vessels or muscles, so the bleeding risks aren’t there.) Then she offered Tylenol. I said that would be fine, but did they have it in liquid form, because so far all I’d managed to get down was sips of water, lime jello, apple juice, some “flavored ice” thing and the incredibly bland broth that completed the “clear fluids” diet I was on. She informed me that they don’t have Tylenol liquid at the hospital. WTF? How can a hospital not have liquid Tylenol?? Rite Aid has it. Duane Reade has it. How can a HOSPITAL not have it? Well, they don’t. So here’s what she did- she crushed up a little packet of Tylenol and brought it in with a Styrofoam bowl of jello so that I could mix it in and take it that way. Not that I was a big jello-eater before, but after having choked down several doses of Tylenol and later, Motrin, stirred into lime jello, I am not sure I will ever look at gelatin again without gagging.

Night nurse’s average response time to the nurse pager (pressed by me twice and by whiny roommate way too many times) was twenty minutes, which actually put her about five minutes better than Lester. It seems they kept bringing her new patients and she was the only nurse on the floor. Again, I have to question why in the hell they were wheeling bariatric patients (I was in the bariatric wing, which may also explain why I didn’t get a private room- I don’t think I was in the section I was supposed to be in) around the hospital all night. Well, whatever, at least she gave me Tylenol and morphine before the pain got so bad that I started barfing (barely). Barfing would really have sucked given that my esophagus felt like somebody had wrapped barbed wire around it and squeezed until there was a 1mm opening left.

Oh and I had these fascinating pains in my solar plexus for the first week after surgery. Basically, any time I swallowed anything, my esophagus would go into spasms and I’d get horrible crippling pains smack in the middle of my chest and back. At first I was convinced I had a pulmonary embolism or something equally horrific, but the next day the PA told me that it’s normal after these surgeries because of the way they pull all the stuff out of the way and clamp it down during surgery. Neato. You would think I’d have lost weight given the swallowing pain, but no such luck.

All right, this thing has gone on too long already, so I’ll toss in one more hospital horror story and then I’ll send it as is. Y’all will have to wait for another e-mail for the Itzhak Perlman stories (but suffice it to say, it was a seriously cool experience hanging out in his house for half a day and getting to watch him play a half million dollar violin while I was standing three feet away from him).

I mentioned watching crappy TV all night at the hospital. What I didn’t mentioned was what happened at 3:00 AM. I was watching the 3:00 AM re-broadcast of Conan O’Brien when in walked this Russian maintenance guy. He walked up to the foot of my bed, told me, “I here to fix bed,” and then started fiddling with the circuitry in the foot of the bed. At 3:00 AM, he’s doing this. While I’m in the bed. The bed that already dropped my recently operated-on self earlier in the day. I immediately started telling the guy, “no, it’s okay. It’s working now. And I just had spine surgery and this thing already dropped with me in it, so could you please not fix it right now?”

Maintenance guy ignored all of this, so I stupidly repeated it three or four times, as if it would make him stop if I kept repeating myself. He kept right on fiddling with the circuitry at the end of the bed, so finally I said, “okay, if you’re going to insist upon fixing this right NOW, I need to get out of this bed, BECAUSE I JUST HAD SURGERY ON MY SPINE,” and started undoing the airbags attached to my legs. As I leaned forward to do this (which was a painful process, mind you), maintenance guy got a look at my Frankenstein neck and immediately put up his hands like I’d pulled a gun on him. He backed away from the bed, suddenly mindful of the fact that he’s dinking with a bed with a FRIGGING PATIENT LYING IN IT, and said, “oh, so sorry, I come back!” Jeezus, next time I’m just bringing a damned gun.

Great hospital. Oh, and bariatric snoring woman in the next bed never woke up during this whole incident. It was the longest period of time she went without whining, moaning or making gross sounds the entire time I was in the hospital with her.

Even though this isn’t the end of the cyborg story, as I said at the beginning, this thing has been a work in progress for over a month, so I’m sending it out to you all now, and maybe I’ll get my act together after my six-week(ish) follow-up tomorrow and send y’all the rest of the story.

And in case you dig x-rays like I do, here are my one-week shots: I am cyborg. Hear me clank.
I am cyborg. Hear me clankStill cyborg. Duh.

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