On Thursday, September 20, 2012 I entered a major medical center in New York City to have my fifth spinal surgery. I really don’t want to go into all the details of why it was my fifth. Let’s just say there was an “accident” at a gym in November 2001, and I’ve been paying for it ever since. My third and fourth spinal surgeries (both fusions) were done back-to-back (ha, nice pun) in 2005. I recovered, and I can walk. However, gradually, over the past seven years, I began to lose feeling in first my right foot and then my left foot. I didn’t lose all feeling, because the numbness would alternate with excruciating, acute and sharp pain. It was the type of pain one might experience when, say, sticking a fork into an electrical outlet. I saw a neurologist, had two days of tests, and was referred back to my orthopedic surgeon. He told me that I had some screws loose (big news to those of you know me) from my last fusion which needed to be removed. The surgeon also informed me I needed a laminectomy, a procedure which would relieve the pressure on my nerve roots and, ultimately, bring back the feeling in both of my feet.
Well, the surgery went well, but, after it was completed, I awoke in the operating room and could not breathe. I was drowning in my own lung fluids. The anesthesiologist gave me a steroid, intubated me and placed me on a ventilator. I spent the next eighteen hours in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit. Sometimes the ventilator would go off, “Bing! Bing! Bing!” I realized that meant the machine wasn’t working so I wasn’t breathing. Oh dear. I made it through this horror because I had two wonderful nurses, and a very good resident. Also, they gave me as much paper as I wanted and I scribbled frantically. I was writing for my life because I could not speak.
Amazingly, I remember this in vivid detail. Why would this be a feat? I have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). My mind has repressed many of the horrible events which have so deeply wounded my psyche. I'm relieved, and yet, because I have a superb memory, I find it annoying. Yet, who am I to question the wisdom of my subconscious?
Although I consider myself as someone who is “in recovery,” and have faith that someday I won’t be plagued by the attendant anxiety, panic, nightmares and depression, I presently can only be who I am. Am I strong and resilient? You betcha! Yet, this post is about how I have been coping with my close-death experience. I am terrified of sleeping, and my body needs rest so very much. There have been complications, and sleep is a key to the body healing. Insomnia is my arch nemesis. The longer I lay awake, the more vulnerable and terrified I feel. I feel as though I’m a “bad patient,” one who is not fully compliant and cooperative in the act of restoring my body to good health. What to do, what to do…? I know! I needed to be out among other people, AND I happen to live in “The City That Never Sleeps.” So I have been going out on the town for the past 3 weeks in the wee small hours of the morning.
Now, after living here for decades, I have a few things going for me. I have street smarts, oh, yes I do. I know how to use public transportation; a skill which I believe is greatly undervalued. Finally, I have a little money in my wallet. But since most of my friends who live locally actually do sleep between midnight and six o’clock in the morning, where should I go? Where do people gather, and speak, and listen to music, and build a temporary community? Bars! Or, since I’m Irish-American, I prefer the term pub. I have been visiting a lot of taverns, alehouses, watering holes, drinking establishments, and even after-hours joints. Naturally sociable, I can sit down at the bar, make friends with the bartender, mind my own business, or chat with other people. I can read a book, or use my smart phone to go on Facebook or Twitter. I simply can sit, sip a beer, or some other type of beverage, and relax. I do not really have to explain myself to anyone. I’m having a few drinks over the course of five to six hours. There have been no arrests for public intoxication or other criminal behavior. Sometimes I go and sit in a McDonald’s and drink coffee. Also, going through a Duane Reader at night is like an archaeological excavation of in advance of our civilization’s decline.
But, friends, I don’t want you to worry about those check-in’s on Facebook at The Hibernian, McElroy’s, The Auld Dubliner, The Irish Rover or The Rose of Tralee. I’m safe, I’m sound, I’m sober, and when I get home, after some good craic, I can sleep snug.