Today I went back to the hospital for the first time since discharge to have the 32 staples removed from the very long wound that runs from halfway up my thigh up and around into my right buttock. It stung a bit, but not terribly. My wife held my hand and promised me a lollipop if I was good whilst the nurse picked the staples out with a vicious-looking metal implement.
The good news is that I am on my feet and walking around, although with the aid of a pair of sturdy walking sticks. Every day I see a little bit of improvement in mobility and feel like I'm moving towards my goals. It is frustrating at times, and I do feel down at times, but am trying to think positively. Like I said before, this is a chance to start afresh and make up for lost time and lost quality of life.
The operation itself and the stay in hospital was an experience that will live with me for a long time. I've had ops on my leg before, but when I was 10 years old, and the memories of that have faded a lot.
I was admitted the day before the operation. My wife drove me up to Middlesbrough and made sure I got safely chekced in, then I spent the whole day sat next to or on my bed reading. I took two new books to read and finished one of them in one sitting, only taking the odd break to complete admission questionnaires, speak to my visiting family or have meals. One of the registrars came and drew a large black arrow on the lower part of my right leg with permanent marker. I made sure to have a biscuit and cup of tea from the late trolley round. It was likely to be the last food I would have for a while.
I didn't sleep much that night. Hospitals aren't the most conducive of environments as it is, with the groans, shouts and snoring coming from the other beds, on top of which I had a brain full of hopes and fears sloshing around like clothes in a washing machine. I went through a few cycles of spin that night.
On the morning of the op I was told I was second on the list to go in theatre so had to get up early, get showered and don the hospital gown and paper underpants. The chap in the next bed to me was called down at 8.00am, so I tried to relax and started reading the second book I'd brought. I couldn't get into it, and to be fair I shouldn't have chosen a philosophy book to read.
Finally, at 10am on Friday 18th ,2009, the porters arrived to take me to theatre. After they checked I was the right body, I laid on my bed and the wheeled me down a maze of narrow corridors, through dozens of doors, into a lift, and along some more corridors. As we moved along I watched the ceiling tiles and flourescent lights pass over me. Finally we arrived in the theatre preparation area where I was again ID checked before being deposited in a small ward area, where I was transferred to an operating gurney and where a jovial male nurse went through yet more checklists. The anaesthetist nurse came to see me, telling me I was going to have some of the stuff that killed Michael Jackson (very sensitive, mate) on top of a spinal injection and would probably sleep through the whole thing. Then the surgeon, resplendent in his dark green scrubs, made an appearance and asked if I had any last requests. I croaked out a rather pathetic: "just make me better" and watched him disappear back into the theatre with a smile on his face. The jovial nurse assured me I was in good hands, and that this chap was "one of the boys".
Before long I was wheeled into the anaesthetic room where the nurse I had seen before was joined by the senior chap and they set about prepping me for the op. I had a canular put into my hand and some antibiotics and sedative were pumped in. Then came the fun part. I sat up on the edge of the bed and had a stingy little injection in my back to numb the area. Then the big needle came. I didn't see it, but bloody well felt it. Even with the local I could feel the pushing and some significant pain as they tried to find the gap in my spine they needed to get the needle into. After what seemed like an absolute eternity and some more discomfort they announced that it was done and I laid flat on my back again, waiting for the feeling in my legs to start going.
Gradually my legs started to feel really strange. There was a lot of tingling and pins and needles, and a general feeling of heaviness. A catheter was then pushed into my bladder, which I didn't feel thankfully. After a few minutes, the aneasthetist took a can of spray and applied some to my belly to show me how cold it felt, before applying some to my right leg. I felt the first freezing blast, but not a thing of the second, until they moved it up to level with my navel. I was officially paralysed from the waist down, and was ready to be operated on.
A few moments later I was in the theatre, surrounded by the bright lights and dark green of sheets and clothing on the surgery team that busied themselves around me. I was rolled onto my left side and a screen was placed at my chest level so I wouldn't be able to see anything. The anaesthetist then told me I was getting another sedative pumped into me, and the next thing I knew I was waking up from a quite bizarre dream to a loud wooshing sound, like a hair dryer. It took me a second or two to realise I was on my back this time. Initially I thought I had woken in the middle of the operation and was hearing a drill or saw, but someone whispered to me that it was all over, and a moment later I was whisked out of the operating theatre and into the recovery room where a nurse took some observations and checked I was OK.
So that was that, I thought. The old hip was gone. The horrible, mis-shapen ball joint had been cut out and I had a new metal and ceramic prosthesis inside me. I still couldn't feel a thing, other than a feeling of slight wooziness after the sedatives. I drifted in and out of consciousness for maybe half an hour before I took the journey back up to the ward, along the many corridors and through the many doors once again.
In the ward I was wheeled back to my space and hooked up to the oxygen line. I was hooked up to a lot of things, as it happened. I had a drain taking excess blood from the wound, a catheter from my bladder, a drip with a patient-controlled morphine machine, a blood pressure cuff on my arm and an oxygen saturation device on my finger. Even if I'd been able to get up, I doubt I would have got very far. I thought about watching Derren Brown's "glue you to the sofa" experiment on TV that night, but didn't see the point.
My wife visited me in the late afternoon and looked relieved that I was OK. I wasn't much company, but it was good to see her. I ate very little that day, managing just a couple of sandwiches at around tea time. My appetite was conspicuous by its absence. Sensation was gradually returning to my legs, with pins and needles heralding the resumption of nerve function. Sensation meant pain, so I was glad to have the morphine button to hand. I could only have 1mg every 5 minutes, so there was no chance of OD.
The surgeon came and talked to me for a few moments in the early evening and told me it had gone very well. It had only taken 90 minutes, which was pretty fast for a case like mine.
That night I didn't sleep a wink. The old man opposite was obviously in a lot of distress with a bladder infection or something and shouted out delerious ramblings every few minutes. I laid there and watched the hours creep slowly by, wishing I could get enough morphine in me to at least knock me out. The old man got more and more desperate as the hours passed, fighting old battles from the war and even pleading for death at one point.
The first day following surgery was the most painful. Sensation was fully back in place now, and even the morphine just took the edge of the pain. As well as the pain from my stretched and carved-open leg, I had a lot of pain in my lower back from the angle and position I was laid in. I was in for a nasty shock, though, when the nurses came and told me I had to get up. They don't mess about or indulge you these days: they get you up and moving as soon as they can.
Just sitting upright was agony. Moving my legs round was blindingly painful. When I finally managed to stand up and grasp the zimmer frame I felt somewhat light-headed, and as the nurses helped me shuffle round to the chair beside my bed, I was suddenly dreaming again. I woke up a second later wondering where the hell I was, with a glass of water at my mouth and the voices of worried nurses calling my name. I had fainted - luckily just as I was taking my seat, or I could have ended up back in theatre having the hip fixed again.
They got me back into bed and left me alone for the rest of the day. It was decided that I wouldn't undergo any physio that day. My only other movement was to the X-ray department, which involved a painful slide across to another trolley. My parents visited me in the evening, faces unable to hide their concern. Again, I wasn't very talkative. I ate lightly, still unable to stomach much more than a few mouthfuls of any food.
The next day I felt better. The old fella had been moved out of the ward to a side room so I managed to get some sleep. The physio team appeared in the middle of the morning and managed to get me up and about without me falling over on them. I was able to shuffle towards the door of the ward and back to the bed, my cathter bag and blood-filled drain bottle hanging from the frame, and was pleased with my progress.
That night I found myself crying like a girl whilst watching the X-Factor on TV. Something about one of the contestants (an autistic man from Stockton) touched me, and in my heightened emotional state it just broke the dam and opened the floodgates. I think I cried for a lot of things that night. I cried in joy and in pain and regret and hope. I cried for all the crap that has happened over the last few years. I cried for my Gran who died only 2 months ago. It was a watershed, if you will.
I got home on the Wednesday evening - five days after the op. Bit by bit I gained my independence, having the catheter and drain removed and being able to go to tbe bathroom by myself were big steps. I was discharged with the doctors' blessings when I was walking by myself with the aid of the two thick walking sticks supplied by the physio team and could manage to ascend and descend the stairs, which hadn't been as problematic as I anticipated. It was just a case of taking them one at a time with the good leg on the way up and the bad leg on the way down.
Progress is slow but sure...I can't wait to get to the magic 6 week mark when I should be pretty much able to function normally. I see the surgeon again in early December, and then should be able to get back to working and earning money. Until then, I have to stay disciplined: keep up the exercises and try not to eat too much rubbish when I feel down or bored. Most importantly, I can't let frustration take over and try to do too much at once. The last thing I need is an unscheduled trip to hospital and a return to square one.
I'll keep this updated with my progress.