Five days after I fell out of the hayloft and broke three vertebrae, I am actually doing okay. Much better than I would have guessed, if anyone had asked me, as I lay moaning and weeping on a gurney in the emergency room thursday night, to make a prediction.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
As I told the ER nurse, I am not a pain weenie. Yes, those were in fact my actual words: "Just so you know," I said, "I had my babies at home without drugs. I am not a pain weenie. If I'm crying, it's because it hurts worse than labor."
"I believe you," said the nurse. "Thanks for telling me."
Then they loaded me up with Dilaudid and Atavan. As they warned me would be the case, these medications did very little to reduce the pain I felt when I moved, but they did reduce my "at rest" pain to something close to zero. After looking at my X-rays, the doctor told me I had broken three spinous processes, and that there was nothing they could do for me surgically. Somewhat like broken ribs, they would heal on their own (or they wouldn't, was the unspoken subtext). He said that whether I went home or stayed in the hospital overnight was a matter of my pain level; if I could move around well enough to go to the bathroom then I could go home, but if my pain were so severe that I was immobile, they would keep me overnight just so that they could continue to give me intravenous pain meds.
With the maximum dose of Dilaudid on board, I made it down the hall and peed, so they sent me home. There are a lot of questions that I wish I had asked (Which three vertebrae are broken? Are the spinous processes broken all the way OFF or are they just lightly cracked? How long can I expect my recovery to be? What activities are safe and what should I avoid?) but under the influence of the drugs all I could remember to ask was "how much is the Dilaudid helping right now? Am I going to be in a lot more pain later tonight?" The answer to those questions was "A lot" and "Yes."
The next couple of days was pretty bad. They sent me home with 15 Percocet, but I avoided taking them, thinking that that was a fairly small number of pills and I'd better save them for serious pain situations. I made do with Ibuprofen. I started taking one Percocet at bedtime because I found that my back ached terribly in the middle of the night, waking me up. It still does, but if I take a Percocet I can at least get four hours of sleep before the pain wakes me. I have limited my activity to the minimum a farmwife can get away with, which means I DO
1) stand at the sink and do dishes
3) go shopping
4) milk goats
but I do NOT:
1) pick up a 50 pound sack of dog food while I am shopping
2) cook a 20 pound turkey
3) wrestle goats
4) muck out the barn.
I would say that I am - now, five days out - running at about 60% capacity. I can sweep the floor. I can vacuum. I can get in the van (it ain't fun) and take the kids to school and pick them up. I haven't tried, but I bet I can lead the horses around to the smaller pasture. I haven't tried, but I am about to see if I can let the goats out to browse and run herd on them. I can do laundry, although it hurts pretty bad.
A few years ago, we took my Dad (who is hemiplegic post-stroke) to Oaxaca to attend our daughter's baptism. At the party, he got drunk and fell down, whacking the back of his head hard enough to crack his skull and wrenching his back badly. He spent a few days in the hospital. I remember asking the neurologist if he could still go on expeditions - could we take him to Monte Alban? Was it safe for him to ride the bus to the coast? This might be, I told the doctor, his very last trip abroad - could we still take him out to see the sights? It might be his last chance.
In true Mexican fatalistic fashion, the doctor seemed a little confused by the question. If he wants to go, let him go, he said. Take him, if you want to take him. Who am I, he seemed to be asking, to tell your father that he should or shouldn't go see Monte Alban? That's not a medical decision - that's a personal decision.
That's kind of the feeling I get from my injury. What I decide to do or not to do is up to me: it's all a matter of how much pain I am willing to endure. I will go and see a regular doctor to follow up, and I will ask the questions I was too doped to ask at the ER. But I don't doubt that the answer will be some variation of: Do what you feel is right. It's your back. It's your pain. It's your farm. It's your work. It's your kids. It's your life.