Surgery (again…)

(This post is a continuance of the post Rebuilding and Making Progress, published last week.  You can click here to read it.)

Tonia and I drove to UNC Chapel Hill on Monday, October 17th.  I was at the hospital a little before 11 AM on the 18th for surgery.  The plan was to put 3 to 4 stents into my vein through my groin and then keep me overnight to start me on blood thinners.  The 3 hour surgery went as planned.  Dr Marston put in 3 stents (about 4″) into my femoral vein.  He told us that it went very well and that I should begin to see immediate improvement. I was sore and tired but happy.  Tonia looked very, VERY happy. It was a rough night.  Between failing IV’s, (I have had so many that they fail in hours instead of days.) nurses and aides coming in to take vitals and a noisy neighbor (I thought the guy was going to die during the night.), I got very little sleep.  After spending the morning taking in a few more IV bags of Heparin and starting Coumadin and Lovenox shots, Tonia took me back to the hotel where I slept for the afternoon.  That evening Tonia and I went to a restaurant down the street from the hotel with friends who lived in the area.  I didn’t eat the hospital food, so a nice meal was welcomed. We arrived back in Carlisle on Thursday night.  I was still pretty sore and was bruising a lot more than I might have normally from all the blood thinner, but my leg felt pretty good. (At least the parts of my leg that have feeling.)

While we were at UNC, the October issue of Central PA Magazine hit the news stands with a featured story about my family and our recovery.  This story was written by Carolyn Kimmel, the same women who wrote the article about us for the Patriot News a few months back.  She was asked to write a story for Central PA Magazine and she wanted to do it more from Tonia and the kid’s perspectives. She has spent a lot of hours talking to us over the past year and I truly feel like she “gets it”.  I also like that some of the attention is off me and more on our family’s recovery. The link to the article is here.

Tonia and I got back in time to be at a special event that I was really looking forward to attending.  We had been invited to be guests at the 25th Anniversary Celebration for LifeLion held under a big tent by the hanger at Hershey Medical Saturday night. This was going to be my chance to thank all the people involved with LifeLion and to meet members of the crew who saved my life.  A State Police officer, shot in the line of duty, and I were there to represent patients saved by LifeLion.  We spoke to TV and newspaper reporters and met with doctors, nurses, pilots and administrators.  I was glad that I was feeling well enough that Tonia and I could attend and proud to be able to share the important role that LifeLion plays in saving lives.  It was a special night and one I won’t forget. You can read the Patriot News article here and watch the WGAL 8 coverage and my interview here.

Sunday morning I found myself back at Hershey Medical Center.

I was about to go out the door around 9:00 AM for Katie’s soccer game when I got a severe pain in the left side of my back.  I couldn’t breath deeply. The first thought was blood clot. Tonia called my doctors and then put me in the car and drove me to the emergency room at Hershey.  The doctors thought that I might have a clot in my kidney or lung.  After x-rays and CT scans, they didn’t find anything, but the pain was just as bad as it had been at my house.  Actually, they said my CT scan showed all kinds of problems but that they were all from the accident.  hernias, calcium build-up, scarring, fractures and torn cartilage and muscle, just to name a few of the issues. I was refusing to take narcotics for the pain. I had a physical addiction to them for a year and a half after the accident. When they gave me them at UNC in my IV right after surgery, I realized my leg, pelvis and abdominal muscles didn’t hurt and I kind of liked not having the pain.  I know taking narcotics would really help my chronic pain, but I also know that long-term, they didn’t help my mood or my memory.  The thought of taking them when my pain is at its worse, like it was a that moment, has crossed my mind many times.  But, I am afraid to open that Pandora’s Box.  The “tricks” I leaned to manage pain would have to work for this new pain as well.

After some more tests and scans, the only thing the doctors could come up with was that I have shingles.  “However, because none of your nerves run to where they should anymore, you could be feeling severe pain in you back and the problem could be in your big toe.” the doctor informed me.  They sent me home with the peace of mind that I didn’t have a blood clot in my lung or kidney and told me to watch for a rash to begin on my back over the next two days.

Over the next two days, my pain remained about the same.  Tonia would check twice a day for a rash to appear on my body, but nothing real obvious appeared.  I was getting plenty of black and blue marks from the IV’s, needles, and shots to my stomach, but no rash. I saw by family doctor Tuesday to see how my blood thinners were working and to follow-up about my shingles.  Since all other “things” seem to have been checked, he felt it was probably shingles, but had some concern since with shingles, that the pain normally builds up, and doesn’t just instantly start.  I would have preferred a more definitive diagnosis, but I would have to wait and see if I got a rash or if something else happened, that would give the doctors a better clue.  I also found out that I would be doubling me blood thinner and continuing shots for another week.  I guess I was going to get a lot more black and blue…

It seems I am starting to be known as much for my many setbacks as I am for my recoveries.  I was really looking forward to getting back to the gym this past week after two long weeks off, to continue to work on said recovery.  I will be there tomorrow.  My back pain hasn’t gone away completely, but it is a lot better than last Sunday.  I have three more days of shots to my stomach.  The good news is that my left leg is not swelling near as much as it had been for the past year and the bruising and pain from the surgery is about gone.  Perseverance….  God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.

Rebuiding and Making Progress

I turned 40 on Sept 14th.  My wife Tonia had a big surprise birthday bash a few weeks before my actual birthday.  (We celebrated it as hurricane Irene hit the east coast.)  It was a great party, attended by lots of friends and family. Many of my friends attended from out of the area and I hadn’t seen them since right after the accident.  I was truly surprised.  It was a very emotional evening.  Not because I was about to turn 40, Lord knows I shouldn’t have even seen my 40th birthday.  I can’t really complain about getting older, it comes with being alive.  What made the night difficult was seeing the slide show of photos up on the wall.  These were photos from birth to just a few weeks prior to the party.  There were photos of me with my childhood friends (many whom were there) and photos of my brother with our parents when we were kids.  There we photos of Tonia and I when we first started dating 22 years ago and when our children were born.  There were lots of photos of us on vacation and spending time with our friends.  There were also photos of me right after the accident and during my recovery.  100+ photos of the past 40 years of my life.  If you had told me prior to 4 years ago that I would be the person I am today, I would have called you crazy!  It was like I was looking at two different people. Two different families.

“Sometimes, we have to be broken down so that we can be rebuilt into what we are actually meant to be.”

I started my actual 40th birthday at the LifeLion hanger in Carlisle meeting with the crew and presenting them $2000 in honor of my birthday.  (You can read the news paper story here.) Tonia had asked the people attending my birthday, who wanted to give me a gift, to make a donation to the LifeLion Fund instead.  It was a special moment for Tonia and me, as well as the crew.  If it wasn’t for the LifeLion helicopter in Carlisle, I would not be here today.

I have had a lot of chances to share my family’s story. Recently, I had a pretty exciting one. In the beginning of October, I flew to Las Vegas to speak at Hearts on Fire University.  The theme of this event was “The Secrets of Life”.  The CEO of the company, Glenn Rothman, writes a blog by the same name.  This was a special anniversary year, not only for the company, but also for its founders, Glen and Susan Rothman, and they went all out to celebrate and share.   I, and 1000+ other people,  had a chance to listen to Magic Johnson and the Tuohy family, whom the movie “The Blind Side” was based on, speak.  I have really started to analyze how other public speakers present themselves now that I am  a “public speaker”.  It was a great opportunity for me to speak and learn and I am grateful to Hearts on Fire, and Glen and Susan Rothman, for asking me to be a part of University.

When I returned, I made a trip to University of North Carolina Medical Center to meet with a doctor specializing in venous disease and limb retention.  I had a pretty rough summer trying to get the swelling in my left leg, and the ulcers that opened up, under control.  I had spent 12 weeks in a “cast like” wrap, trying to get the ulcers closed with no success.  I was getting really frustrated with the fact that my “team” didn’t have a plan for beating this problem.  It was also keeping me from being able to get any cardio exercise and slowing my recovery.  Dr Marston, at UNC, is considered one of the best, if not the best, when it comes to damage to veins.  It was my hope that he would come up with a plan to help me save my leg and get me out of those annoying casts.  It turned out the my femoral vein in my left leg was 70% blocked, through my pelvis, from clots and scaring.  He believed that he could open up the vein with angioplasty and stents.  My issues with the damaged flaps in my deep veins can’t be fixed at this time, the science isn’t there yet, but he believed that opening the blockage could greatly decrease my swelling and pain.  I signed up to have surgery on October 18th, but first I needed to make a trip to Montana to spend some time fly fishing with my dad and brother.

25" Brown Trout

While on the trip, my brother caught the biggest fish I ever saw landed on the Missouri River.  The guide said it is the largest fish he had seen caught all year. My brother is the best fisherman in our family.  Our father and I could only hope to be half as awesome as he is.. Blah, blah, blah, BLAH, BLAH… Love Ya Bro! Consider that the end of the discussion…

On the Sunday that I returned from Montana, the Carlisle Sentinel published a story about my use of the Carlisle YMCA for my recovery.  The story was about how a Carlisle United Way supported agency was making a difference in people’s lives.  I was more than happy to do it. I find that when I can help those people and groups that helped me in my recovery, it has deeper meaning to me.  My son James also got to be there for the photo shoot and the paper used a photo of the two of us which he always things is “cool”.  (You can read the article here.)

I spent only about 16 hours home with my family before leaving for Chapel Hill, NC.  I was certainly a little nervous about having to have yet another surgery.  (Number 27, if we have been count properly.)  But, also was happy to have a plan.  The hope that I might be able to be even more active and have less pain was enough to push me back into another hospital.  The drive south was very pleasant.  A lot of people think it is strange that a guy who almost died in a car crash would love to drive on long trips, but I find it much more relaxing than flying.  Tonia and I arrived at UNC around 7 PM. In time to have a great dinner and bottle of wine before I was to stop eating and drinking.

(To be continued…)