I've learned over the past decade that my health problems are not something that I can just erase. I've tried, believe me. First, I would delete or destroy any pictures of me that looked terrible if they highlighted me looking unwell. My family thoughtfully and delicately took lots of pictures of me during the various serious surgeries I've had and I'd just DELETE any pictures that I found personally disturbing. Soon, I realized that I was deleting everything because I hated the reminder of what I went through.
Over the years, this has left me with very few photos of the challenges I've endured; I now wish that I had not been so eager to hit the button to erase those captured moments. I now wish I had not torn up photos and discarded negatives of moments that were too painful to see again. However, I now realize that I should have honored this part of my life instead of trying to pretend it didn't happen. After learning that patients who have gone through serious illness, injuries and surgeries can suffer post-traumatic stress episodes, I FINALLY better understood the "why" behind my attempts to rid myself of evidence of my battles.
And, there is no escaping the scars on my body. My body has taken a beating. It's been close to hell and back, but I'm still here. During one hospital stay, I had a doctor come to my hospital room with my huge chart in hand and he was flipping through it as he walked in. I was sitting up, in my short set outfit, reading a book. As usual, even in the hospital, I did my hair and put on a bit of makeup. He glanced up at me, back down at the chart and said, "Excuse Me," and he walked back out. A moment later, he came back and basically told me that he couldn't believe that I could possibly be the patient who had gone through all those serious surgeries because I looked completely opposite of what he expected.
He confided that he had to walk back out of my hospital room to confirm that the chart matched the patient, me. He was in disbelief and he said that I shattered any mental images he'd readied himself to see as he entered my room. For the first time in his career, I made him question his pre-conceived, chart-induced notions. Since he was making late night rounds and had been on duty for over twelve hours, he was exhausted. I told him to take a load off and he settled in on the sofa while saying, "I've got my pager on; they'll catch me if needed," and he even laid his head back and caught a catnap. He'd been brutally honest with me and I appreciated it, so we had instant respect for one another and he got to relax while I continued to read my book.
I'm paraphrasing, but his parting words had a continued impact on my life. Before he left my room, he said, "Don't ever let anyone say you are weak because most people would not be able to endure or even survive all of the surgeries you have, especially with your adrenal condition. Obviously, you are extremely strong and mentally warrior-minded...your appearance does NOT mirror what your chart says you've been through."
|A few months after my spine reconstruction, getting to finally wear the SOFT brace! Ya!|
I'm with my dad as he gets ready to leave for the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.
Even if I did not look my best and even if these photos make me cringe, I should've respected my own journey and not shied away from facing the truth in photographic form. If someone doesn't like seeing my journey, they have been warned and can go visit someplace that has flower, beaches and creme puffs. For me, that's not always been my direction.
|My Stefie is staying with me until they roll me away for the spine surgery.|
|My husband, Deputy Dave, kissing me before I am taken away |
in the hopes that my collapsed neck can be stabilized. The spinal
cord has an area where only a pin-hole size
of spinal fluid can pass through.
I've had two cardio-thoracic surgeries. The first in 2005, the second in 2006. Each one left me gasping for air for almost nine months from a collapsed lung and other horrible side effects. But, I didn't have a choice...the surgery decompressed main arteries to my upper body. This condition had put me in grave danger of the compressed arteries creating blocked blood flow which would create blood clots and that means a possible pulmonary embolism among other lovely dangers.
These surgeries were horrendous. Each surgery meant that my first rib had to be cut out, the muscles in my neck had to be cut out and I have clips running along the arteries because there was uncontrollable bleeding that required clipping. Still, after the first surgery I had major internal bleeding. Not fun.
Weeks after my surgery, I saw the pictures that my family had taken of me lying in bed at the hospital with the huge bloody bandage going across my neck/thoracic area along with the bulbs for draining excess blood from inside my body. Not a glamour shot.
I've been looking for these photos. We'll see if I can find them and post at a later date.
Then, I had cervical spine reconstruction...fusion, plating, bolts with screws, rebuilding with cadaver bone. So awesome! Really, it is. I was very close to being either dead or completely paralyzed. My legs were already dragging and the feeling in my extremities was no longer without constant numbness and tingling. After the surgery and long recovery, I got back more use in my legs and hands than they ever thought possible.
|My cervical spine reconstruction --- very challenging time in my life, but|
I made the commitment to do my best to recover and do as many
"normal" things as I could.
|Dr. Ghosh removing his perfectly placed stables|
|I really am a tough gal. The hospital mistakenly sent me home while |
there was still a staple in my skull, near my temple, that had helped
hold the halo in place during my surgery. I am brave...
got the stapler remover from my office to try to remove it
myself and it wouldn't budge. So, here is Dr. Ghosh
removing the staple. With this Photo you can also better see
the incision across the front of my neck.
|Here is the back of my neck, before staples are|
removed. My neck was very swollen.
A few years after my cardio-thoracic surgery on the right side, I had my minor pectoral muscle removed because the jagged edges of what was left of my rib removal had literally shredded this muscle, so it had to be removed completely. Great, more scars and more muscle removal.
|Here I am --- three years ago ---- I made it to age 40!|
Little did I know, patience would not be enough. Three months later, I was back in surgery because the internal incision had not closed. I don't think this surgeon did a superb job; I believe he was too concerned with setting record time with his surgeries instead of taking his time to do a worthwhile job.
|My abdomen is very swollen because it's been pummeled.|
This is after the removal of my 10th rib, a large mass and the
staple job is horrible. Did it hurt? Yes.
So, back into the hospital I went after a team had reviewed my file, ordered multiple tests and consulted each other. It was determined that I would need one of the largest tissue transplants they'd ever done, but the main problem was the the area of abdominal tissue separation went up so high on the rib cage that they couldn't figure out how to attach the tissue transplant to my body without having to attach it to my ribs. This would have created terrible pain every time I breathed.
On my end, I could not conceive that my painful, bruised abdominal incision would need to be re-cut. I had not even healed from the last surgery and they needed to butcher me again so that I could indeed heal. It was mentally disturbing.
The high-tech surgeons at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston, Texas decided that this open surgical wound could not be patched with plastic mesh that is normally used for run-of-the-mill hernias. This was a surgically created, massive hernia...also possibly caused by my body's inability to heal as fast due to steroid treatment for my Addison's disease. Let's see...die or take the steroids daily...I kind of like breathing, so there's not a choice.
|During this time of multiple surgeries, our house was destroyed by|
Hurricane Ike. The interior was ruined and had to be gutted.
|Here are the lovebirds. Again, this me being strong enough to take|
a trip within four months of getting the tissue transplant.
I am 41 years old.
To close my abdominal gaping wound, the surgeons decided to use swine tissue that the hospital developed in their own labs. This option is not even available to so many people...those people end up with plastic mesh. Swine tissue is less likely to be rejected and my own tissue was supposed to weave itself through the transplanted tissue to create my own abdominal wall again.
To be honest, I was initially disgusted. For real? Swine tissue? Then, I learned that the military is making great strides in their attempts to repair horribly damaged tissue in our injured soldiers and swine tissue is the stuff that has helped many soldiers recover from injuries that would otherwise have killed them. So, I gained a fresh perspective...made a few jokes about being thankful that I didn't have a pug nose, but I might have a slight bacon flavor. Since I love Emeril, this is A-Okay with me.
In all seriousness, I was told that this tissue transplant saved my life. My abdominal wall was missing and with the 10th rib removed --- which ribs normally offer protection for your organs, my organs were shifting and without a strong abdominal wall in place, one wrong bump or push could have caused organ trauma and a fast death. So, I was thankful to be among the ranks of our soldiers and thankful to the swine for their contribution to my life as I know cardiac patients are thankful for pig heart parts, valves, etc. Our hero, the pig.
I'm glad that I didn't get a chance to erase everything and that I have several photos still around that document those surgeries with such a personal touch.
But, the REAL question is...Does this mean that I am a cannibal if I eat a BLT?
|Four months after my 3rd abdominal surgery I'm snorkeling|
in Cozumel, Mexico --- in deep waters --- no fear - enjoying the
chance to forget my constant pain.