Friday, March 18, 2011
I woke up Wednesday morning feeling very anxious and quite hungry. I was surrounded by young children enjoying their breakfasts, and I was not allowed to eat one crumb. Not one drop of coffee or juice. Surgery was only a few hours away. Just after 8:00 that morning, I kissed my kids goodbye, wished the nanny good luck, and my mom and I were on our way to the hospital. Check-in time was 8:30, but I was 8 minutes early. The nurse welcomed me in, led me to my room, issued me a gown, poked my arm with an IV, and I waited. Nervously, hungrily, thirstily, I waited. Several hospital personnel came in and spoke with me, explained the procedure, and informed me on what to expect - after I'm asleep they would insert a catheter; they would put a tube down my throat and I would breathe through a ventilator; they would make 8 incisions in my abdomen and insert a piece of mesh to cover the hernia; the surgery would last 90 minutes. A nurse came in and put something in the IV. I was chatting with my mom for one more minute . . . and then I heard a man's voice telling me it was all over. There was an oxygen mask over my mouth and nose. My stomach was in severe pain. I couldn't breathe. A woman's voice was right next to me, but I couldn't open my eyes. "Laura, you're having a panic attack. You're hyperventilating. Take slow, deep breaths. You are ok." I still couldn't breathe. It felt like hours. The woman asked me to rate my pain from 1-10. In between breaths I said 8. My eyelids were so heavy. Oh, the pain! "I administered a narcotic into the IV," said the woman. "How is your pain now?" I said 7. Then almost immediately, my pain level dropped to a 2. My lungs were working again. I slowly opened my eyes. "Your surgery is done!" said the woman, who happened to be a nurse. "I'm going to leave the oxygen mask on you until you fully catch your breath. You gave us quite a scare there." I breathed a deep sigh of relief and observed two men in the recovery room with me, one on each side of me. We were separated by curtains, and I could only see their feet. I wonder what they thought of my breathing show. Exhaustion set in. After a few minutes, the nurse wheeled my bed out of there and back into the room where it all began. I was still a bit whoosy as nurses came in and out. My mom was there and then she wasn't. The surgeon came in and spoke to me. He said it went well, but I couldn't remember anything else he said. A nurse removed the IV from my arm, then she handed me my clothes and told me I could get dressed. I told her I was going to throw up. She handed me a blue plastic bag and an alcohol swab. I waved the swab in front of my nose, and after a minute the nausea went away. I dressed myself in the bed with as little movement as possible. The nurse helped me out of bed and into a wheelchair. She told my mom where to meet us, and my mom disappeared. Everything was happening so fast. The nurse wheeled me down the hall quickly. Too quickly. We passed a man in another wheelchair, and I wondered if his feet were one of the ones I saw in the recovery room. A minute later we were outside waiting for my blue van to pull up. Two nurses and my mom helped me into the van as I cringed with every move. The ride home was uncomfortable. We pulled into the driveway, and my mom helped me out of the van and into the house. I was tired, and I was in pain. I sat in the recliner, and I stayed there for hours. The kids were excited to see me but confused as to why they couldn't get too close. Maddy cried when she wanted me and cried harder when she couldn't have me. Tally witnessed me throwing up in my trusty blue plastic bag a few times, and she looked terrified. I didn't want her to see that. I kept nothing down for the rest of the day, and I ate very little the next day. But here I sit two days later, still uncomfortable, especially first thing in the morning, but with the help of pain pills it is bearable. I am able to walk farther today. I walked all the way across the downstairs without giving out. Every few steps, I stop and wince with pain, but the more I move, the better I will get. Never do I ever want to go through this again. I don't know which is harder . . . the recovery or the effect my "absence" has on my kids.
Saturday, March 5, 2011
Two years ago this month I was still living in Germany, although our time there was running short. It was the tail end of ski season, and although I previously spent four years in the mountains of NC and now almost 5 years in snowy Germany, I had never in my life been skiing, nevermind snowboarding. Suddenly, the opportunity presented itself to go snowboarding in the Black Forest with two friends, Allyson and Jacki, and leave all our kids at home with the husbands. Sounds dangerous, but it was so appealing! I had to jump on it. The husbands had all gone on this amazing trip a few weeks earlier, and they assured us it was only 3 hours away. We rented our snowboards, found some snowsuits, packed up my stylin' minivan, left our 5 kids with our 3 husbands, and hit the road. Black Forest or bust! I plugged the address into my GPS and cruised on down the autobahn. We were so excited to be kid-free and actually doing something fun and exciting. Allyson was the only one of us who had much experience with snowboarding. She was our designated instructor for the day. We were an hour or two into the trip when we suddenly realized we were getting dangerously close to the French border. Why are we headed towards France? we thought. Isn't the Black Forest in Germany? What we had not expected was that the GPS was taking us just barely across the French border and then back up into Germany. That would be fine and dandy . . . except Allyson and Jacki did not have their passports. I had mine only because I had left it in a hidden compartment in the van. Before we knew it, we were at the border. Allyson, being Canadian, was fluent in French. Mine was a little rusty. Plus, my mind went blank when I was face to face with the border patrol agent and realized we might have a problem. Allyson spoke up when I rolled down my window and said nothing but "Bonjour!" and showed him my passport. She exchanged a few friendly words with the man and then told me to go park. I pulled the van into a parking space next to the border patrol office building. Allyson and Jacki went into the building while I sat in the van and waited. And waited. What is going on in there? I wondered. Should I be worried? Should I go check on them? I could totally leave them right now and freak them out. But I won't. What are they DOING?? Finally, I see them come out of the building and walk towards the van. They both had papers in their hands. They climbed into the van as I started the ignition, ready to continue our trip to the Black Forest via France. "We have to turn around," Allyson said. "We have officially been denied entry into France!" She and Jacki started laughing. I sat in disbelief. They showed me their papers which clearly stated that they were not allowed to enter the country. We all laughed about it together as I turned the van around and thoroughly confused the GPS. The GPS recalculated the route but kept trying to direct us to various French border patrol stations. Finally, after several tries, I ignored the GPS and back-tracked to the autobahn. Long story short, we found our way to the Black Forest, but our three hour trip ended up being five. Allyson was an awesome instructor, but I was a horrible snowboarder. She and Jacki put me to shame. Over the two hours that we were on the slopes (the BUNNY slope), I successfully completed about 84 nose plants, 65 summersalts, 98 self body slams, and 13 butt slides. After one especially brutal tumble that harshly knocked the wind out of me, I sat in the snow for a minute to catch my breath. As I sat on the verge of defeat, a 12 year old German boy came flying down the mountain behind me. He skillfully snowboarded dangerously close to me, purposefully spraying me with cold, wet snow. The nerve! I thought. No adolescent show-off is gonna beat ME at this game! With my feet still strapped into my board, I ungracefully flipped over onto my stomach, hopped onto my hands and knees, dug the edge of the board into the snow, and carefully balanced myself into an upright position. I slid down the slope, first slowly and then quickly gaining speed. I was excited and proud. Look at me! I thought. I was doing it. I had gone at least 50 feet. And then it happened again. I crashed and burned. And it was brutal. I waved my white flag, unstrapped my boots from the board, and walked the rest of the way down the mountain with the board in my arms. The 12 year old can have this mountain. I am done. Allyson, Jacki, and I made our way back to the van, ready to start our trip home, hoping it would only take three hours. I changed a setting on the GPS that prevented us from even attempting to cross the French border, and soon enough we were cruising down the autobahn. Maybe an hour or two into our return trip, not far from the city of Strasbourg, France (but still in German territory), we heard helicopters and sirens. A few French and German police motorcycles sped by on the other side of the autobahn in the opposite direction. Then a few more. They were soon followed by police cars and more motorcycles. What is going on?! We passed an exit for a small local airport. More police sped by. And more. Then there was a whole group of police cars, all with their lights flashing, and in the middle of that group were three plain cars with the windows blackened. They were followed by yet more police, and then it was over. Must have been someone important. Then it occurred to us that Barack Obama was giving a speech in Strasbourg, France that day. His speech had just ended. Could it be? Did we just witness the presidential motorcade on the way to the airport? No wonder security into France was so tight!. I guess we'll never know. But I am fully convinced that is exactly what we saw. It was the perfect conclusion to a very adventurous day . . . besides finding our children happy, safe, and healthy in the care of our husbands of course! And it only took us three hours to get back.