30 Days of Thanks Day 1 – Dr. Czajka

Stretched out on the hospital gurney, awaiting the results of my x-ray, I stared at my sister Sandy with dread. I knew the doctor was going to tell me it was broken. A broken bone meant surgery.

I was terrified of surgery. The last time I had “routine” surgery prior to January of this year, I almost died and spent four days in a coma in the intensive care unit. My respiratory status makes me a higher risk for complications. So I was nervous when the orthopedic resident, a handsome twenty-something who flirted with the nurses and told me to call him Chaz, was not confident I would need surgery. Rather than argue with him, I asked to see the orthopedic surgeon.

I was high on pain medications and don’t have clear memories of the first time Dr. Czajka came to talk to me. Knowing how I react to medical professionals who think they know what is best for me without taking the time to listen to me, I have no doubt I was obnoxious and petulant. Thankfully, Dr. Czajka is a veteran surgeon, and knows that a patient with a broken femur who is under the influence of narcotics is probably not functioning as her most reasonable and level-headed self. Because Sandy and my friends know me well, they grilled him with the questions they knew I would want answered. I know they made an impression, because every time I saw him for follow up he asked me about my sisters.

My respiratory status, combined with my progressive neuromuscular disability and the lack of bone density in my legs, made my situation a complicated case. Dr. Czajka was honest and told Sandy he would do his best to repair the fracture, but even with the images he wouldn’t know exactly what he was facing until he got inside my leg. He was hopeful my bones would tolerate the hardware he wanted to use to put my leg back together.

My memories of heading into surgery are fuzzy. I remember the anesthesiologist and I arguing over which side of my neck would be better for the central line (I wanted the left, he won and it went on the right). Dr. Czajka was matter of fact.

Relax – I’m the one who has to do all the work! You just have to lie there.

When I woke, two things registered: 1) I was alive (yeah!) and 2) I was cold (I’m ALWAYS cold). Dr. Czajka was standing at my feet, his gruff voice cutting through the brain fog.

Your leg was a mess, but I think we got it all back together.

I had not been extubated from the ventilator yet, so I was unable to use my voice. Dr. Czajka smiled at my eye roll, and shouted a warning as he walked away.

Try to be a good patient until I see you tomorrow!

Someone, most likely Sandy, had warned him I tend to be non-compliant. When you’ve grown up in the medical model of disability, where medical professionals try to insist they are more of an expert on your body than you are, you develop proficiency in non-compliant behavior.

Two days later, when I was more coherent, Dr. Czajka came to my room to monitor my progress. After asking about my sisters (three of them had been there over the weekend), he warned me about the force of their advocacy on my behalf.

You’ve had to deal with them all your life? No wonder you’ve got an attitude!

We talked about the surgery, about my pain, and when I could expect reduced swelling. I questioned him about the hardware I now sported, wondering when I could see the x-ray of my repaired leg. He flashed a cocky grin before telling me what he had used to put my leg back together.

You need to be careful with that leg. It’s held together with a plate, screws, some chicken wire and bubble gum.

He never gave me the exact ratio. When I finally saw an x-ray, I asked him to point out the wire and the bubble gum.

Sometimes that’s hard to see on film.

Two months after my surgery, I went to Dr. Czajka’s office for a follow-up appointment. Once again, he started by asking about my sisters and almost looked disappointed when I told him I was there on my own. Then, Dr. Czajka surprised me with what he said next.

You’re lucky. You have some great friends and family who you can call on to be “Johnny on the spot” if you run into trouble. How do I get on that list? Because you’re going to fall or break the other leg eventually. And when you do, you need to call me right away because I don’t want you to waste your time with someone who is afraid to operate on you if surgery is necessary.

I tried to make a witty comeback about how I didn’t know we had progressed to that state in our relationship. He cut me off, turning serious.

I mean it. Just call me. But don’t do anything stupid. You break my work, I’ll kill you.

Believe it or not, I have been a somewhat compliant patient. I haven’t tried to stand on my leg since surgery. Well, at least, not on land. I’ve been standing on it in the therapeutic pool in water up to my shoulders so only ten percent of my body weight is on my feet. As grateful as I am to Dr. Czajka for performing surgery, I can only be so good. But, I think he’s secretly proud of my determination. Even if he likes my sisters more than me.

Thank you Dr. Czajka for performing surgery when others were hesitant. Because of you, I was out of bed and working with therapists to rehabilitate my body within a week, instead of being bed-bound for months after my femur fracture. Your number is now programmed into my phone, and I promise to do my best not to break your work. Once is enough for me!

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Medical DeeScriptions

Today is Monday, January 25, 2016. Twenty-five days into a new year and my life has already had one year of action packed in. Here’s what is happening, and a brief glance at where 2016 will take DeeScribes.

I spent an enjoyable week at my sister Caroline’s house for Christmas/New Year vacation. It seems like years ago, not just three weeks. I played with puppies, crocheted projects, wrote, and visited with friends and family. It was a perfect week.

Just before leaving my sister’s house, I checked my bank account balance online. I planned to make a few returns and needed to check on my status. I discovered someone had written over $1000 of fraudulent checks.

The fraud caused me to take additional time off work to process the paperwork and fraud protection account changes. I have always had good relationships with my local police officers. Unfortunately, it is not the first time I have been the victim of theft.

At the end of the first week, I began to get sick. An ear and sinus infection kept me home for five days, coughing and congested. Of course, my wheelchair decided this would be a good time to die, so before I could go back to work Wednesday, January 13, I had to get my chair fixed.

With a working chair, I powered through 4 hours in the office before heading home. I am trying a new work schedule which permits me to work part of my day at home so I have access to an accessible rest room. Good thing, since that Wednesday my body decided to surprise me by starting my menstrual cycle. I know I don’t typically share this much personal detail here, but trust me – it’s relevant.

It’s relevant because it is why I used the bathroom with urgency on Wednesday afternoon. Or, at least, I tried to.

Instead, my leg gave out as my Personal Assistant was transferring me onto the commode. She didn’t listen to my commands, and she dropped me.

SNAP!

I heard it crack as my butt hit the floor. My left femur broke in two places.

Imagine the scene – me, half naked on the floor by the commode, bleeding profusely, knee blown the size of a basketball, a whimpering Personal Assistant trying too late to make things better, with the police officer who worked with me for five days to arrest the women who stole from me. Can you see me sobbing on the floor, in a puddle of blood, with the policeman rubbing hair out of my face while we wait for the ambulance? It wasn’t pretty.

It definitely wasn’t pretty as they moved me to a backboard and lifted me to a stretcher. It was downright ugly as I swore in pain while they secured me in the rig.

Competition at the operating rooms meant surgery did not happen until Friday. For 36 hours I lay in agony, anxiety about impending surgery coursing through me. The last time I had “routine” surgery in 2013, I spent four days on life-support in the Intensive Care Unit.

Thankfully, surgery happened on Friday. According to my surgeon, my leg is now held together with (his exact words) “plates, rods, some chicken wire and a little bubble gum.” I don’t know the exact ratio of those components. I’ll do some investigating.

For the past ten days I have slowly started the healing process. My body has been drastically changed and I don’t know what the end result will be. I don’t know where I will come out but I do know these things:

  1. Orthopedic surgery still hurts worse than any other pain I have ever felt. I forget sometimes, and then things happen to remind me.
  2. Friends and allies who speak up for you are worth their weight in gold. Once again, I was in a position to require others to have detailed conversations about my heath wishes. We have had these discussions amongst ourselves before, so when emergencies occur they know what I want. I am blessed to have Sandy, Sally, Stephanie and so many others to advocate for me when I am weak.
  3. Nurses and patient care technicians deserve to earn far more than they make. Especially the ones who answer your call bell at 2:30 AM because your eye is tearing and you can’t reach your face to itch it. And the ones who clean you up after your laxative decides to start working. And the ones who heat the soup your sister makes for you because nothing tastes good. And the ones who have to try to make you comfortable after your urinary tract infection causes you to void with urgency every half an hour. And the ones who listen to you and respect you as an expert on your body.
  4. Complementary medical treatments need to be funded and supported. The massage I received reduced my leg pain more effectively than the narcotics. And human touch is so essential for healing.

I am waiting to learn where I will go for rehabilitation. I will be non-weightbearing for at least five more weeks according to the doctors. The real work is just beginning. Transferring, driving, working, living arrangements – all of these unknown factors are still to be faced. This injury is a game-changer. There is no doubt about it.

But I am a tough cookie. And I have too many things to do. There are books to write, people to reach, hearts to touch. I am overwhelmed by the love and support given to me these past ten days. I am gathering such great fodder for future work! And I am witnessing countless acts of service and love which make me want to work harder.

To the nurses and doctors at St. Peter’s Hospital, especially McAuley 2, you are rock stars. It has been great to get to know you. I’m going to have fun writing about our times together!

I’ll blog as I am able. Letters and cards from friends have been positive and keep me focused. If you reach out to me and I don’t respond, please try again because I know I am not at 100%.

Thanks for reading, and for sending positive energy my way.