By Al Coon
Written the evening of the surgery of June 13.
This is an update on Dotti and her hip replacement surgery. I thought I would start with a picture of Dotti taken a couple of weeks ago, out in the yard enjoying her flowers. You can't see the flowers but you can see the lovely smile Dotti shared because she was enjoying the sunny day and being outside.
Dotti has been trying her best to keep a positive outlook throughout, but the pain has been so bad, this has not always been easy. Getting up from a lying or sitting position has been an ordeal of great pain. She moved slow, and she had to stop part way up, hunched over, for several seconds waiting for the stabbing pain to subside enough to continue moving to a full upright position. She looked light-headed and I worried about her getting dizzy and perhaps falling, on her worst days. Getting out of the car has been a set routine, where I lift her legs for her to rotate them out, or listening to her cry out when she tried to lift them herself. Again, standing up was a two step process of her reaching a 3/4 upright position and stopping to wait for the pain to pass enough to continue, and then moving to grabbing her walker or cane in order to proceed. Despite having to take pain meds and suffering every single time she had to get up, Dotti did her best to keep a positive attitude, and that smile you see in the picture above was more common than I could have ever hoped for. Dotti has been tortured by pain, but she has refused to give in, and refused to let it drain her happiness from her life.
The evening of June 12th, neither Dotti nor I got very much sleep. I did go to bed and I slept for a couple of hours before Dotti came to bed to try and get some sleep. We had the alarm set for 4 am, because we were to be at the hospital by 5:30 am June 13, and didn't want to be late. For the past 5 days, Dotti could not take aspirin or ibuprofen, and her other pain meds were doing no good at all. She tossed and turned crying out, and neither of us could sleep the rest of the night, but we did hug and I tried to comfort her as best I could. It was a sad time, but we shared it together, and that helped.
At the hospital we didn't have to wait long, before they called Dotti back into the prep room. Our son LeRoy showed up just as we did, meeting us in the parking lot, and our dear friends Jim and Tammy arrived shortly thereafter. We all got to come back to the prep room and talk with Dotti for a few minutes, and then the others left so Dotti and I could have a few minutes together as the staff went through the final preparations before they wheeled her away to the operating room.
Shortly after 7:30am I watched them wheel Dotti away again. I have watched her go like that more than a half a dozen times over the years, and I hate it more each time it happens. Dotti and I watched a movie the night before called Twelve O'clock High and in that movie the commanding officer went into a dazed state at the end, where he was disconnected from the world until the mission was over and the planes returned. I felt a lot like that for the next hour and a half or so as the surgery went on. I am sure I wasn't much company for the others as my mind kept returning to my Dotti.
No sleep had left me tired and I drank a lot of coffee while I was waiting. My reserves were low anyway after all these months of watching Dotti suffer. I knew I was tense, but I didn't realize how tense I was until I was called back into the conference room to get the report from the doctor on how things went. The assistant showed me back into the little room and left. It was the very same little room where Dotti and I had sat when Mom had fallen and broken her hip and was being operated on, and we waited for this same doctor to come and tell us how that had gone.
That was running through my mind as I sat there all alone, and my head was in my hands and I found my imagination running wild with what I might hear. Not knowing if all would be well, or some complication might have been encountered, or even worse, I felt at the mercy of the universe, the same universe that decided it didn't need dinosaurs any longer, etc. I flashed back to the time a doctor came out and said that he couldn't finish a procedure on Dotti because there was too much scar tissue and he had to leave things as they were. And another time that they could not finished up a gallbladder surgery for her, because there was a stone blocking things that they couldn't clear, and a tube was left sticking out of her abdomen for 3 months before things could be set right. Things go wrong sometimes.
So, when the good doctor came in a few minutes later and told me there were no complications and everything went smoothly, I was nearly overwhelmed with relief. It flowed over me like a wave, warm and refreshing, but strong enough to nearly take me off my feet.
I went back and shared the news with the others. And things sort of ran together for me after that. The lack of sleep, the relief from incredible stress, simply closed things down for my mind. The next thing I remember clearly was our going upstairs to the room that was listed on a little post-it note to find Dotti. The room was empty and we all stood around for a bit waiting. A nurse came by and I asked her about it and she checked the name, and Dotti was in the room next door to the one on the post-in note. I hurried in and checked, and sure enough there was Dotti lying there fast asleep. I jumped back to the other room and told the others, and then was at Dotti's side immediately.
Sound asleep, she was sweating and cold to the touch at the same time. Her heart rate was good and her oxygen count was in the high 90's. Blood pressure was low but not dangerously so. She was okay!
The last thing she had told me before she was wheeled away from the prep room was that all she wanted was to wake up and see my face looking down at her when it was all over. And so I was standing right there so she could get her wish when she woke up. I got my wish as well as she came around soon and her old happy spirit exerted itself quickly. In only a few minutes she was smiling and joking, and talking on the cell phone. I dialed the numbers and she took the phone and talked.
About 2:30pm the physical therapist showed up and said it was time to get Dotti up on her hip. The idea was scary at first, but then Dotti, never one to dodge a challenge, was going after the project with gusto. She slowly worked her way around from the lying position to a sitting position, and then she slowly stood up, grabbing onto her walker. No screams of pain! It didn't hurt to stand up. For the first time in months, it didn't hurt to stand up!
Next came some instruction on how to take some steps and then Dotti was on her way. Her bed is the window seat for the room so first she needed to walk from her bed, past the second bed, and on to the door. Once she was at the door, they let her choose which way to turn, and she picked the left. The therapist suggested stopping at the door of the next room a ways down the hall. Dotti did it and she was smiling all the way!
The physical therapist had to call a halt to the walk, because he didn't want her to overdo it, because Dotti would have kept going. It was the happiest I have seen her walking in a long time. There is a long way to go on the recovery trail, but what a huge step she took in one day. She wasn't hurting. It was flat amazing!
Every hour they have Dotti breathing in this device, to make sure she doesn't develop pneumonia. One of my jobs is to remind her to do it. She is eager to do all the right things so she can recover quickly and seeing her smile brightens everything.
When all the visitors had gone and it was Dotti and I alone, I finally was able to relax and, I found I was exhausted. Dotti badgered me to go home and get some sleep, and she was right, as badly as I didn't want to leave. On my drive home I could tell my reflexes were way down and I had to be very careful to remain awake at the wheel. I grabbed a bowl of cereal for dinner and was in bed shortly thereafter.
There is a long ways to go yet, but the first step has been a wonderful improvement already. If the rest of the trip is as successful as this beginning, we will be standing at the top of one of those mountains in the Cascade range by next summer. That is our goal, and I believe it will happen. Mount St. Helens anyone in 2012? I hope so!