The Quiet Before the Storm

I showed up the day of surgery in the early hours of the morning with my mom, my sisters and a check in hand. The hospital was still fairly empty, much like the roads at that hour. You may think that I must have been nervous, but I was surprisingly calm. The admin checked me in and then a nurse escorted me to the preparation room. The room was pretty large, with beds lining both sides all the way down. Each bed was still empty; she took me to the nearest one on my right and gave me instructions to get dressed into the gown and cap on the bed, put my things into the bag provided, and then climb into the bed. Then she left and pulled the curtain around the bed to give me some privacy. I did everything she told me to and then got into the bed. The blankets were really warm, I was pleasantly surprised. I think they do that on purpose, to make you feel cozy and comfortable…relaxed.

After a while my mom and older sister Jessica came in to visit with me. They explained that I am allowed visitors, but only two at a time. We sat for a few minutes and talked, though I cannot remember what about. Because of the anesthesia, I don’t really remember anything that happens roughly 15 minutes before I lost consciousness and 15 minutes after I regained consciousness…or so they tell me.  After we talked my mom gave me a hug and said she would go and let my sister Lauren in. Lauren came in and gave me a hug.  I’m sure we talked about something, but again I can’t remember what about. And after that, I just remember waking up in the ICU.

My bed was next to the window, the blinds were open and it was dark outside. I remember a nurse coming over to check-in on me. She asked me how I was doing, and then ran me though a whole banner of tests. She asked me to smile, blink, squint, raise my eyebrows, stick out my tongue, squeeze her hand; she asked if I could feel her touch my toes, she checked my eyes. This happened every hour for the entire night, and what a night it was. Every time she came to check on me she shined a light right in my eyes, what a way to wake up. I vaguely remember the nursing staff having to give me different IV’s and injections during the night as well; plasma, insulin, and a host of other things that I can’t remember exactly.

Sometime in the morning Dr. B came in to check on me, he ran me through some of the same tests. He smiled really big when he saw that I could smile and had complete control of my facial muscles. Facial paralysis was his greatest concern from the beginning. He told me to relax and rest up, and that he would check back on me the next day. “Hey”, I said. “How long was my surgery?” “13 1/2 hours”, he said. “Wow”, I thought. I was glad that the surgery went well, granted it was a little longer than expected. I wanted to revel in that thought, but honestly all I could think about at that moment was how annoying my IV’s were. I had five total; one in my right hand, three in my left hand and forearm (including one in the artery), and one in my left ankle. I could barely move without tugging on one of them.

My attention turned towards my stomach when I saw what they had brought me for breakfast. Here’s a hint, the Dr. had ordered an all liquid diet for me…oh joy. Hmmm, there was jello, chicken broth, apple juice…this was going to be tough. Everyone always jokes about hospital food, but I had never actually stayed overnight at a hospital before. Things didn’t look very promising so far. After I had finished the “hospital” food, my mom came in to see me. We talked for a bit, mostly about me haha. Basically I broke it down for her like this; I was tired, groggy, in pain…but so glad to be alive!!

After some time one of the nurses came by to check on me. She ran me through all of the usual tests, and then she asked if I wanted to get up…”Uh, ok”, I said. I thought, “She can’t be serious”. But she was. So she got on my right side, and my mom got on my left side, and slowly, I got up. It was a strange feeling really. I couldn’t support my own weight!! I had never felt so weak. Even with them holding me up I was still hunched over like an old man, my legs trembling uncontrollably. My brain was looking for a signal from my right vestibulocochlear nerve, but no one was home. It was at that moment that I fully realized the task set before me. I smiled, almost in tears now. “I got this”, I thought to myself.

So Little Time

I only had three weeks to prepare for my surgery. There was a lot to do. I was renting a room across town from my parents house at the time. My mom insisted that I move home so she could look after me during my recovery. So the following weekend I helped her clear out my old room. Then I boxed up everything that I did not immediately need, called a few friends, and moved everything I had back home. After I had gotten settled in I sat quietly for awhile on my bed. It had been an emotionally draining week. I thought about all of the things I still needed to do, still so much to do…

I wanted to get in the best shape possible so that my recovery went well. Dr. B said I shouldn’t lift weights anymore because there was already too much pressure in my head. So I decided to keep doing my martial arts training, but just taking it easy, no sparing, etc. I also got back into swimming more. I had access to a swim center that I worked at. So I decided to swim 5 days a week, upping the distance I swam every day. Every time I felt like giving up I just thought about how much harder my recovery would be. That thought kept me so motivated.

Seeing how I was uninsured at the time, I had to find a way to pay for all of this. It’s crazy to think that I live in the most powerful nation in the world, yet healthcare is something that I, and every other citizen, needs to worry so much about.  My mom and I took a day off of work to apply to county services. We spent the better part of a day going into different offices, waiting in line, filling out the paperwork, sitting down to wait some more…only to be called up and told I do not “qualify”. Then they would say I might qualify for another service, and give me more paperwork and send me to another office. It was a very frustrating day, being denied again and again and again. We went home and my mom took a nap on the couch, she was exhausted. I was undeterred though, and got on my computer to do more research. All of a sudden I got a call from Stanford. The lady on the other line said I qualified under their assistance program and would receive a discount on services. I thought to myself, “Ok, that’s great. A discount is usually what? 10-20% off”. So I asked her how much the discount was. “You qualify for an 80% discount” she said. “Huh?? Come again”, I said. “80%”, she said. I was floored!! I was so excited I couldn’t contain myself!! I informed my parents and my sisters as soon as I could. Everyone was super happy for me. Looks like I won’t be in debt for the rest of my life after all.

Even with a sizable discount, the surgery was still going to be expensive. To help pay the hospital bills some of my family and friends organized several fundraisers. In the coming weeks, both pre and post-op, we actually held a total of 6; and raised about half of my quoted hospital expenses. I still needed to show up on the day of surgery with the 20% that I owed though. So we had to get a personal loan…again, I am really shaking my head at the US healthcare system.

I was pretty fortunate that my sister Lauren knew a lawyer who was willing to draw me up an advanced care directive and will for free. That really helped as I could not afford it on my own. I wasn’t really thinking I needed either of them, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. I also had to put so many things on hold, including; school, work, training…everything that I wanted to do sort of took a backseat to this thing in my head. I really don’t know how I held it together except that I had a wonderful support system, kept a positive attitude, and exercised as much as possible.

Another incredible thing happened during this time, people came out of the woodworks to help me in my time of need. And I mean A LOT of people. Family, friends, friends of family, friends of friends…even complete strangers. I really was in awe of all of these people coming together to help someone in need. It was especially amazing because you always hear about so many bad things in the news. Having something positive happen, something so close and personal to me, quite honestly restored my faith in people.