Saturday, October 16, 2010

Everybody Says Don't

It was in January of 2004 and I was sitting pretty in the nurses station on the Neuroscience Unit where I was happily about two hours ahead and on the downward end of a satisfying day of not very complicated neuro patient care. I was in a particularly good mood that day, since I realized for the first time in my post-divorce finances the first positive cash flow since the whole nasty thing had begun two-years before. It was honestly this selfish moment of reflection on my life that kept me from responding to the tech's request for help in transferring that patient the first two times she came through the crowd of us, but finally by the third pass through, I felt my normal irritation at the common laziness that seemed to have settled across the unit  and got up and went to help the poor girl move her patient.

That was the biggest mistake I have ever made in my life.

It appeared completely straightforward and non-complicated. The man was sitting in the wheelchair perpendicular to his bed. I took the strong side of the man and she took the weaker side. I felt confident that this transfer was set up and ready to go, because it was what the tech assured me to be true, and because it was not my patient, I had no reason to not count on it.

That was the second biggest mistake I ever made in my life.

He was not a very tall man but he was a solid, dense old guy, sick from a head bleed, and rightfully frightened at the whole experience.  I introduced myself to the man and his wife, who stood back looking on. I thought I would be in the room no more than three minutes or so. I used the best body mechanics possible to posture myself to support the man in the pivot, yet in the midst of the transfer it became obvious as his bottom hit the edge of the bed that the tech had forgotten to lock the bed down, and the bed took off rolling across the room! The tech was startled and let go of her end of the man in order to retrieve the bed. Not well executed, since in a flash the man had me in a face to chest choke hold around my neck, screaming that he was going to fall. I assured him that he was going to be just fine and that I would not allow him to fall, as I had him in a sound bear hug in a half squat. I told the man that I was going to lower us to the floor to avoid a fall and at that moment he began to thrash and caused my right leg to abduct away from the mid line of my body and I went crashing down in a half- split onto the floor.

I heard the cracking in my back and the popping sounds down my right side and I felt the burn as the muscles all around let go. I held my patient safely in a seated position until help came running, and he was safely lifted back to his bed. It was only seconds before I realized that I was not able to get up off the floor on my own. It was only minutes before I realized holding on to the shredder box in the hallway that I could no longer move like I used to. The pain was blinding and unlike anything I had ever experienced.  All of a sudden hanging over the top of the document shredder box, I thought of the things I had heard from hundreds of patients who have spinal cord injuries and spine and nerve injuries and my thought was: "Oh my God is this what they all keep talking about?"

A lot of things happened in the days, weeks, months and years that followed that day, none of which included me ever being able to take care of patients the way I had specialized and trained myself for again. I could be bitter and angry except that there was as a result also an exceptional experience of triumph amidst the difficulty and suffering and through being a patient I developed into a much better and more creative provider of care.  I have had to find innovative ways to continue to do it. I did try to go back to the bedside for a number of months and my disability grew worse, my pain was intolerable and my mobility was in serious jeopardy.  It was at that time about five years ago that I was told I was "disabled" and unable to do...and the list went on.  For all those years I had no reason to not believe the doctors. We are conditioned to accept these opinions as based on far more knowledge and experience and I have since learned that might not always completely be the case.

There is far more to this story than I want to bother even telling here. I was a woman with a limp, a huge weight problem due to immobility, uncontrolled pain, and a history of injury related co-morbidities. I was "walking" around in a crowd of doctors with my head and brain barely attached to my body, and every aspect of my life was out of balance. Everybody said "just keep going", or "you will be OK" , or "you are going to die from this" or my personal favorite from one limited primary care physician: "weight loss would be prudent". Ha Ha ...having watched my weight climb to 306 shit Sherlock...Ya think??  In the course of it all, I managed to work full-time, support and raise my children, maintain (somewhat) my owned home and have a fairly decent lifestyle. None of that mattered one bit because the bottom line for me was that I was finally convinced that if I was ever going to get anywhere with anything and achieve any kind of balance in my life, I was going to have to abandon all my old ways of doing things and find another kind of doctor.

Looking back now it makes perfect sense why the old guard of traditional medical doctors following standards of care built on a framework of clinical trials financed by the pharmaceutical industry raised their eyebrows at me. They get irritated with me when I now tell them "thank you very much" and I am now getting better because I chose a new paradigm of integrative collaborative medical care for myself. It was never enough for me to be told "You can't." It was never enough for me to be told "don't this and don't do that". I wanted to DO.

All I needed was the right doctor and a hefty dose of courage and willingness to change. I went out and found him, and together, he and I put together a team and are saving my life. My children laugh because I listen to show tunes but I don't care, this one makes me feel good! I hope you enjoy it too.

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