(Literally, I guess!)
January - February 2014
Oh, Sonrisa, Sonrisa. While I disagree that I am a hypochondriac vying for attention, I did have back trouble that started in 2013. It’s also true that Sonrisa and I were both starting to worry about my capability to take to sea. How could I safely act as Captain Andrew’s mate if I couldn’t stand wobbling around in waves? I knew I had to step up and fix this problem any way that I could.
Stuck in the American system of referrals, long waits, run-around, and distractions, by January of 2014 I was fed up. I returned to the orthopedic physician who misdiagnosed the problem as a hip problem to tell him the steroid shot caused me to pace a burn-rut in my living room floor over the course of 72 straight hours and nothing more. I truly did not know what to do next if the orthopedic specialist had no ideas.
After sitting in the waiting room for an hour, they call me back into the doctor’s room and hand me tissue paper gown to wrap around myself. “Get undressed,” the nurse says. “Wait here.” She says, pointing at a paper covered examination table. I climb aboard. Then, I wait.
and I wait….
and wait. It’s starting to get cold, all I’m wearing is a crispy, uncomfortable paper robe with no fastening device whatsoever. I wrap my arms around myself and grumble. I wonder if I should retrieve the laptop I had set across the room on a chair so I can work on a legal brief I’d set aside to don the paper robe. So many hours away from work between my general doctor, physical therapy, acupuncture, XRays, MRI, etc. etc. always to be reinserted into my life at ten o’clock at night or on weekends. Surely, he’s on his way soon, right?
Forty-five minutes into this paper nighty/freezing air conditioning health lolopolooza, I wonder “what would my legal clients do if I left them waiting for forty five minutes!? And I don’t even ask them to get naked and freeze to death.” I am increasingly outraged, and seriously considering throwing my frock on the floor and walking out when he finally arrives - all chipper-like and in a fantastic mood for being so god damn late to this party of ineffectiveness and ill use of time.
“And how are we today?” He asks. “Pain any better from the shot to your hip?”
“No, it didn’t work at all. If anything it made it more uncomfortable and the steroid made me grind my teeth for 72 hours straight.” This is me, trying to be nice.
“Oh.” He says. “Well, what can you do? I’ll send you home with a prescription for pain medicine. Some pain is just chronic. Maybe if you lost a little weight it would improve?”
I begin yoga-fire breathing to off gas the desperation boiling inside me. I want a solution. In the most measured tone I can muster, I say to him, “Are you… telling me….there is nothing that can be done?”
“Well, I don’t know what…”
“Are you telling me the MRI does not show an injury?”
“Can I review my MRI?”
“Well, no, I…”
In a stroke of luck, the orthopedic hip specialist’s partner walks by and peeks his head in the door. Maybe heat waves from my barely contained rage were emanating into the hallway. The hip specialist gets an idea. “Hey, maybe you could look at her MRI.”
This doctor is a orthopedic spine specialist. He takes one glance through my MRI slides and says, “Oh yeah! There’s your problem there. Wow.” The hip specialist leans in for a closer look. They turn the computer my way. At the base of my spine he sees…I see… we all can see that one of my disks has blurped out a blob of whatever jelly it used to contain directly onto my spinal cord. It does not take a genius.
“Well, can it be fixed?”
“Sure, easy! Just a quick microdisectomy will clean that right up.” The spine orthopedist says.
While I’m happy to hear just a “quick little surgical procedure” should have me up and running, I don’t want surgery. Surgery! They are scary, death, death, death! “Is there no other way?” I ask.
“Well, how long has it been like this?” I tell him my story of pain and woe. He nods, but then explains he doubts my situation will improve without surgery.
I say thank you, gather his information, and let him know I will contact him to schedule follow up if I decide to undertake the surgery. I crumple my paper gown and toss it on the table and ask for my MRI disk back.“Wow! Doesn’t take a specialist to see that blop, does it!” Andrew says when I show him. I’m angry with him, too. I want to shake my finger at the MRI and say “see! I’m not a hypochondriac! This proves it.” But, maybe it would be better if I were. I don’t want to be broken. I don’t want to be weak or fragile.
I go back for another round with my general care physician, give her the updates and ask for her recommendation.
“Dr. Tiger Attack” She says without hesitation. “He is unquestionably the best.” Now, his name isn’t really Dr. Tiger Attack, but everyone in the Las Vegas Community knows him as the neurosurgeon who saved Roy Horn’s life when a tiger attacked Horn’s head, neck and face during a live tiger show. I guess if he can put Roy Horn back together in such dire circumstances, his steady hands would do well for my “quick little procedure.” I schedule (another) appointment, this time with Dr. Tiger Attack and get a second opinion.
“I agree, I don’t think you have any option but surgery and this is just going to get worse because it will continue rubbing on the spinal chord, causing more damage over time. But, you are young and fit, your body will heal well from a surgery and I think you will be happy you did it. I’ve had the same procedure done myself. It has a very high chance of being successful.”
“What if it is not?” I ask.
“You will continue to have pain, but maybe not as much. At that point, you might have to consider fusing the two vertebrae together. But that isn’t a very successful procedure, so we would hope to avoid that.” I nod. I ask him to look at his calendar, and we schedule a surgery in six weeks time.
The weekend before, Coffee and Brian join us aboard Sonrisa so we have a good back up crew to help us sail her without my contribution. It is an absolutely perfect day in January. The breeze is cool, the sea calm, and the sun warm. We pour sipping rum over ice and enjoy the cinnamon and vanilla heat as it burns down our throats. I stand on Sonrisa’s foredeck, grasping the front edge of her small sail on its roller furling for balance. My hair is being tossed, and I watch the sun glisten on the water as Sonrisa’s bow makes that lop-lop-lop sound as she cuts through the waves. Andrew and our volunteer crew hoist the spinnaker, Sonrisa’s most beautiful red, white, and blue sail. We watch San Diego’s winter whale migration proceed past us.
As we leave that Sunday, Sonrisa says “Good luck, I know you can do it.” Under her breath I hear her say, “at least I hope so.”
The day before my surgery, my boss dropped by my office three times, to give me three equally awesome pep talks.
Pep Talk No. 1:
The Boss: "You look freaked out. Are you freaked out?"
Boss: "Yes you are. Don't worry about it! Once they have you on the table, you are nothing more than a piece of meat! You won't have any idea what is going on."
Pep Talk No. 2:
The Boss: "You still look freaked out."
Me: "I don't know what you are talking about. I'm not freaked out."
Boss: "Yes you are." (To my assistant in the hallway "She is, she's freaked out. Ever since she was a baby lawyer, any time she gets freaked out her face looks like this." Pointing at me.)
Me: "I'm not. I'm fine."
Boss: "What are you worried about? It's like flying on an airplane. Once they close the door *ssschuoop* (mimicking the swinging of a door with his hand) there is nothing you an do. All you can hope is that the pilot didn't spend the last twelve hours drinking at the airport bar."
Pep Talk No. 3:
This one started with…."You know when women have C-Sections, they are awake…." Then, he proceeded to describe his wife’s entrails being laid on a table. I blacked out when he said the word "yank".
Andrew delivered me to the hospital the morning before Valentines Day (ROMANCE!). The Winter Olympics were on, and in the waiting room i watched with envious eyes, hoping soon to be back in the crowd of healthy, athletic humans who can do what they wish with their bodies. Andrew practiced his breathing exercises while they put the IV in my hand, and he did not pass out. And, we all found Sonrisa to be right about one thing: I did get a lot of attention: in the form of cupcakes and flowers.
What’s really going on here, though, is one big Sonrisa- circumnavigation around the fact that my recent gallbladder surgery in Thailand is the least of the Oddgodfrey Team’s problems right now. That story to be continued next.