After a traumatic injury, such as a spinal cord injury, the body goes into a “Flight or Fight” mode. Basically, all non-essential systems in your body go dormant as your body is trying to keep critical systems such as your heart, lungs, kidneys, etc. functioning. Over the next year I eventually went to go see a gynecologist and found out that I had cancer cells on my cervix and would have to have them cut out. Clearly, I was not best thrilled about this news! My hormonal system had gone all wonky and started producing cancer cells.
Nevertheless, I was rolling into surgery and we opted not to use a general anesthetic, but rather a spinal epidural as I was paralyzed and would not feel it anyway. The concern, which is why we used an epidural, was that my involuntary muscle spasms might kick in during surgery. The surgery went quite smoothly and I thought we were home and free.
24 hours later I started developing these intense headaches when I sat up … Long story short they used too big of a needle in the hospital for the spinal epidural and I was leaking cerebral spinal fluid. I also developed this feeling where I could not breathe, it felt like my lung was collapsing. They told me to come into the hospital and that I would feel better after coming in for a procedure called a “Patch.” In this procedure they take blood out of your arm and then insert the blood back into your spinal cord to patch up the area that had been punctured. Strangely, I rolled into the operating room and they told I need to be sitting upright, but I was unable to do it on my own. This might be hard to comprehend, but they set me up wrap my arms around a pole and tied them together. I didn’t know quite what to think at that moment. After they patched me up they told me I had to sit still for about 20 to 30 minutes. Well, everyone left me alone in the operating room. Seriously! About 60 minutes later I started to yell as loud as I could because they had forgotten about me. To top it off the lung pain was still so severe that I could barely breathe.
Eventually they came to find me and I tried to explain that I was in severe distress as it felt like my lung was collapsing. After about six doctors got through with me they found a huge Pulmonary Embolism. For those of you that don’t know, a pulmonary embolism is a blood clot in your lung that has a very high chance of killing you if not caught within 12 to 24 hours. I was already 36 hours into my Pulmonary Embolism. Panic is the best word I can describe with how the doctor started hustling. The immediately got me on a drug called “heparin,” which is a blood thinner. I was not in a private room at the time, but overheard several doctors and residents from the curtain next-door discussing how it was just a miracle how I survived.
The embolism had started in my leg, but since I cannot feel my legs, I did not know it was there. After the initial surgery I should have had some sort of device on my legs to massage them, but being a “newbie” at being paralyzed I did not think to ask is either. Shame on me I suppose!
I then went home from the ICU after about two weeks and started to develop severe signs of distress, which manifested in severe shaking, sweating above my level of injury, crazy levels of neuropathic pain, and a fever. There was clearly still something wrong with me. I then return to a different ICU where they ran every test imaginable except an abdominal CT scan. To make an extremely long story short again they doped me up on a ridiculous amount of morphine because they could not figure out what was going on. When one has a spinal cord injury and something is wrong it can be very hard to diagnose since one cannot feel as an able-bodied person can.
I woke up in the ICU several weeks later and I had immediately stopped shivering and my fever was gone. I had an ICU nurse walk in the room and blurt out, I’m not kidding, “Holy Shit.” Of course I was terrified because I had no idea what she was referring to. As it turns out I had been very slowly been bleeding back into my abdominal cavity for weeks after the surgery and the pulmonary embolism. The pulmonary embolism medication is a blood thinner, so I was not quite healed up from the surgery and I was lying flat, which did not allow the blood to come out of me. I will leave the gory details out of it, but a very massive blood like clump came out of me the size of a football. Again, seriously! Everyone was completely gob smacked.
This simple procedure to slice off a piece of my cervix resulted in over a month in the ICU, but I will say, this is probably when I started pain extremely close attention to my own medical care. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice … You get the idea 🙂