Sunday, January 6, 2013

1989: Part Four


I feel like I have turned in a writing assignment about a week late, as my 25th year in Seattle has already come to a close. But finishing this chapter of my life was a task connected to many emotions some very painful.  To refresh your memory, here is the link to Part Three.

The next morning, I arrived at Swedish Hospital and was given an interesting shave job so they could perform an arteriogram into both of my femoral arteries to see what was blocking one of them. I don't remember all the details leading up to the procedure itself, but the main gist is that they had inserted a catheter into my femoral artery, then filled it with some type of dye and it would show up on the x-ray. I don't think they had given me anything for pain. Before the imaging started, when they told me to lay perfectly flat and not to move; the doctor said I might feel a little pain. Then, the nurse leaned in close and said, "It's gonna burn like hell!". Guess what... the nurse was right. Oh man, I had never felt anything like that or knew that that level of pain was acceptable in a medical procedure in the first world. In spite of the burning sensation, I had to keep my body still, so I couldn't curl up into a little ball, as was my natural reflex. They did the procedure twice, once for each leg for comparison, though it didn't become any less painful, especially since I knew what to expect.

After it was over and they were pondering what to do next, a man came through the door (is it too dramatic to say he burst through the door?) and stated, "I think I can help this woman." Apparently, Swedish has a meeting each week to discuss difficult cases and I was one of those; no one quite knew what the cause was or what exactly to do about it. For my situation, this man was very timely. After the arteriogram had exposed a narrowing in my artery, they didn't know where to proceed from there. There had been restricted blood flow below my right knee for nearly three weeks and they were worried about tissue death and the onset of gangrene. They had been considering amputation of my right leg below the knee.

The guy who had appeared at the last moment was an anesthesiologist who had dabbled in some natural modalities, particularly something called Bonnie Pruden's Pain Erasure Method . It was a way to get muscles to release that were in spasm. The concept is similar to giving Ritalin, an upper, to someone with ADD. The result is that it speeds up processes in the brain so much, that the brain has to relax. In my case, a practitioner would increase stress on a muscle until the point where it relaxed. It was a great premise and would eventually work, but the only problem was that my foot hurt to be touched, even just a little. And all those muscles that were tight all the way up my leg were sore and tender to the touch. I found this out as the anesthesiologist made his way systematically from my foot to my butt, finding every tight spot by how hard I grimaced. Since I was in the hospital, I took advantage of having a nursing staff there with me. They asked if I would like to grip their hands to deal with the pain. That was very kind of them, but I sincerely hope I didn't hurt either of them as I tightened my grip relentlessly while it felt like the doctor was cutting into me with a knife. A couple of times, I raised my head to check out what was going on, sure that he had some type of sharp object in his hand. He held up his empty hands so I could see them, then went back to work.

After he worked my right leg, he continued to the left, just for good measure (and because the body works in strange ways sometimes) and was finally done. My pulse could be felt at the ankle for the first time in 3 weeks. Phew! They moved me to a hospital bed in the outpatient area to recover and I was hooked to a machine that read blood pressure and pulse every 15 minutes. My first visitor, a friend who brought flowers, looked at the latest reading and immediately registered worry on his face. My pulse is normally in the low to mid-forties range when I'm in good physical shape, but that is below the norm for most people. My next visitor, a cousin, brought me chocolate which, when I consumed it, immediately brought my heart-rate up to "normal" levels. I figured it was like my heart was going for a run while I was laying in bed eating chocolate.

The recovery phase followed, which was slow and exhausting. I stayed with a friend (the guy who brought flowers) from the climbing class, who lived on the second floor of his building and, in those first weeks, it was all I could do to make it up the flight of stairs without stopping to rest on the way. Later, I moved into a crazy house as one of six housemates (they made room for me by giving me the "bike room"). I had worked with one of them as a messenger and the others were a whitewater rafting guide (we went on one of his trips – what a blast!), a guitarist in a new band (then called Sage), a cashier at the Grand Illusion, a local independent cinema; and a plant grower at the Indoor Sun Shoppe (where the feds always raided, looking for marijuana).

Slowly, my walking distance increased, I started swimming at the Green Lake pool and got out on my bike for short rides, working on my endurance little by little. It was mentally very draining to go from being a super-fit messenger-triathlete to having to start all over again from the beginning. But I was determined to get better and be able to go on real bike rides again, though maybe not so many miles and not without eating high quality protein and getting lots of rest in between.

Little by little, I regained my strength and my endurance came back agonizingly slowly, yet still came back. By the end of the following year, I was ok to go on a backpack trip to Yellowstone, though when my friends wanted to go on a long dayhike, I stayed behind and swam in the creek with the ducks and fish. It was not to say that I had completely learned my lesson about not doing too much and taking rests, but I was still in my 20s and showing as much restraint as I could manage, given all the adventurous people I had in my current circle.

Over the years, I have had other overuse injuries (the signs of which were a doctor's confusion over the diagnosis), yet none as serious as that first one. I am grateful for the care I received and very appreciative of having both my legs with which to participate in many future adventures.

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