Post-Surgery Notes

Last month I underwent lower back surgery to hopefully correct some issues and lessen the pain in my lower back. For nine years I have more or less managed the pain with injections, meds, nerve blocks, acupuncture, PT and message. But when things worsened earlier this spring, both my pain management doc and surgeon agreed that it was time to act. To be sure, I consider myself among the fortunate who entered the hospital for what amounted to corrective surgery with a hopeful outcome.  As we know, not all hospital patients have such a luxury. Still, and as anticipated, my post-op hospital stay was especially painful which was managed with liberal doses of pain medication. Laying there in my little drug haze, I managed a few observations that I kept thinking of as my own Post-Surgery Notes for what they are worth.

Post-Surgery NotesBrigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston is a Harvard affiliated teaching hospital. This means there are people, lots of people, coming and going at all hours of the day, and from my observation, performing at various levels of proficiency. I met most of them. On certain days it seemed like everyone was training someone, except at 2 AM. That’s why I’ll take the overnight nurses any day. Here’s why:

Susie Wanna Be RN: My biggest mistake with Susie Wanna Be, who is a third-year college nursing student, was that I like people, especially young people who are committed to learning new skills. Susie knew I was approachable, which meant she came in with her energetic ear-to-ear smile about every ten minutes during the day to take my vitals. It took her forever, but hey, where was I going anyway? My druggy mind kept thinking I could have used my teeth and opposite hand to get the blood pressure cup onto my arm faster than she did. So we chatted and exhausted entire topics in the time it took Susie to register a BP reading. I learned too that Susie especially liked thermometers. She’d jam that thing down under my tongue like she was spear fishing until I finally wised up and said, “Le me hold that for you.” Still, I liked her enthusiasm, especially when she came in at 4 PM to say good-bye for the day and that she’d see me tomorrow.

“I need Ice!”

When my day-shift nurse came in, along with a newly minted RN colleague who was new to the unit, to ask me if I needed anything, I asked for ice for my back. “I’ll get the PCA to get that for you right away, Mr. Lee,” she said. Minutes passed, maybe lunch hour, I’m not sure, until I heard marching footsteps coming down the hall. Even the Personal Care Assistants came in doubles. One was taller and more determined than the other and she was holding the bag of ice with both hands.

“Where do you want the ice?” she asked. Now this struck me as funny since the entire floor was filled with patients recovering from lumbar surgery. “On my lower back,” I said. I barely had enough time to grown my way onto my side, before PCA holding the goods rounded my bed and with two thrusting hands shoved the ice bag up against the length of my surgery site. Good lord! I thought she was going to knock me clear off the bed as she said, “Can we get you anything else?” Catching my breath, I said no, and watched them trotting off in lockstep out the door and on to their next victim. Safe to say that I didn’t ask for ice again.

Military Intervention

Fellows working for surgeons seem to run the place. Or at least they do if the charge nurse agrees. They arrived, at every inopportune moment seemingly out of thin air. But then, maybe it was the Dilaudid, I’m not sure. My doc walked in every time ram rod straight, square-chinned and wearing scrubs. He looked ex-military. I wasn’t able to stand at attention when he entered, but I did feel like saluting. He asked, “How’s the pain?” I said, “Hurts like hell.” He responded, “That’s expected. We did a lot of house cleaning in there. Now wiggle your toes for me,” he said next. “Are you walking? Walking is good. We want you to walk, walk, walk! Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re walking too much, okay?” Roger that.

Nighttime follies

During the overnight hours my nurses came in on cue with meds to keep their favorite patient comfortable. The floor was darkened and quiet. Most of the time after washing down the meds I’d fall back to sleep. Until I didn’t. They’d say, “If you need anything, just press the handset.” But in my crystal-clear mindset I took that to mean, don’t bug us. And besides, G.I. Joe doc told me to walk, walk, walk, and sometimes at 2 AM I felt the urge to explore, and  well yes, to pee.

Early each night they left a new plastic urinal on my tray like it was some kind of an invitation. I never used it. Instead, I saw it as a catalyst to get up, grab my walker, and shuffle off to the bathroom.  One night, I slide whatever body parts would move to the edge of my bed, sat up, reached for my “wheels, “ and staggered off to pee.

That night something felt strange, like I wasn’t alone in my little trek across my room. I got to the bathroom door and looked back, and there in the shafts of limited light I noticed that the rear peg of my walker had somehow snagged onto my bed sheets and as I walked had totally stripped my bed from head-to-foot. It looked like a long white train off the back of a wedding gown from the bed to the tip of my walker. “Oh shit,” I thought to myself. While at the toilet, I pulled that little cord that tells you to do just that if you need help. I always wanted to pull one of those cords to see if anything happened. My nurse walked in and in a voice higher than what’s needed at 2 AM said, “Oh my god, what’s happening here?”

Spills and Thrills

Another night, same time, same urge. (My wife says it was the same night, but what does she know? I was the happily medicated patient, so I should know.) The man does learn, so I made sure that no bed sheet hangers-on were following my walker this time. At three days post-op and totally juiced there is a lot to think about going from flat to sitting and from sitting to standing with hopefully legs to follow. I had this annoying drainage tube that ran from my back to a contraption that looked like, in my perfectly astute mind, a 1980’s Walkman, until one looked closely to see that it was full of red stuff that expanded like an accordion as it filled. I always forgot this damn thing. No matter.

Duty called and off I went with my two-wheeled wonder until I felt a tug in my back and heard a crash on the floor. My Walkman imposter hit the floor as I shuffled onward and the tube from my back to the contraption disconnected, splattering liquid that looked, there on the floor, like a crime scene. Damn! But the mission continued. I came out of the bathroom armed with a giant wad of paper towels, tossed them on the floor and moved my slippers  in impressive fashion around  like a pro mopping up the scene and left the soggy red wad in the corner for my favorite nurse and went back to bed.

About an hour or maybe a day later my nighttime nurse came in, looked at the wad of towels on the floor, gasped, and then looked at me. When she noticed that I had reattached the tube to the “Walkman” before going back to bed, she smiled. I think that’s when we became friends.

By the fifth day, having walked with my walker all over the place and after passing my “stairs climbing” test, the PT signed off and I was released to head home. I remain grateful for the excellent care that I received while hospitalized and hopeful that my recovery will return my back to good health over time.

Text and images by K. Lee

A Fox in Every Henhouse

Recently, in this season of waiting — that is, between our presidential election last month and the upcoming Presidential Inauguration on A fox in every henhouseJanuary 20, I heard a news reporter on NPR, in a reference to Mr. Trump’s choices for Cabinet secretaries say, “that it’s looking like we’ll have a fox in every henhouse.” And the phrase got me thinking:

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Finding sources of Joy and Delight

The results of our recent national elections in the US have left me feeling stunned and shaking my head at what happened. I am in need of finding sources of joy and delight and I need to be finding it fast!

This whole thought, the idea of finding sources of Joy and delight evolved from a question I was asked earlier this month, “How might I be a source of joy for others?” My off-the-cuff and smart-alecky answer was, “Oh, by just being my loving and adorable self!” Yeah, that’ll do it! Frankly, the question struck me as being funny and the only way that I could do anything with it was to have fun with it. Continue reading “Finding sources of Joy and Delight”

Regarding flies and dead mackerel

I know, Regarding Flies and Dead Mackerel doesn’t exactly whet the appetite, does it? But neither does this presidential election cycle, frankly. People who know me know that I generally enjoy the political seasons as they come, and thankfully, go. I work the angles with online news subscriptions to lock in lower weekly rates for just enough months that drag me kicking and screaming through the US presidential elections in November every four years.

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Supporting children following the mass shootings in Orlando

Supporting children following the mass shootings in Orlando.

I have had the privilege of working with children, teens and their parents for nearly four decades within various programs and agencies. For three decades I was employed in the public sector as a youth advocate providing counseling, support groups and crisis response as needed to children of all ages. As a Quaker and Friends Minister, this same work began before and continues still, providing pastoral care and outreach to people within and beyond my wider faith community.

Personally, it always saddens me to know that I needed to “update” the content of this article with each new tragic event over the years, from Columbine, Virginia Tech,  San Bernardino, to the lingering horrors of Newtown, just to name a few. And now, following the mass murders at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando Florida on Sunday, June 12, our nation is reeling once again.

Following  such tragedies, especially when the sheer magnitude of the crime grips our collective conscience nation-wide, I update and repost what I know about methods of helping young people cope with parents and others who work with youth and offer some approaches to the typical concerns that we all have for our children. Hopefully, what follows below will prove helpful.

Parents:  Honor the emotions and real questions that come from your children, and resist saying or telling them more than they have asked about or what they may need to know or need to hear right now. It’s important to be honest with answers, especially with older elementary aged children, but don’t go overboard. When beginning a conversation, “zipper questions,” such as, “so what do you know,” or, “what have you heard,” and “what are your thoughts” are good places to start.

These days many of us, children and adults alike, silently worry about being caught in a public place when a shooting or mass tragedy takes place. Such thinking, sadly, has become instilled in our collective psyche, awareness and oftentimes fear. Our children feel this too, and at times will talk about it openly. As a parent, if you sense that your child has a heightened awareness and fear of something happening at their school, at a camp or other recreational venue that they frequent, it’s best to offer some assurance as needed. In the event that your child expresses fear of something happening at school, I believe that it is helpful to continue to affirm what we know as a statistical fact, that schools as a whole are safer than many if not every other place, and that your child will be taken care of and kept safe by the adults in their respective schools. To say anything less only instills fear, uncertainty and worry that does not add to their safety or emotional well-being.

Monitor media INTAKE

Monitoring media intake by children after a mass shooting is especially important. Most experts recommend not allowing children to watch any of the video coverage of the tragedy at all, but to choose a good time that works for your family to encourage a quiet discussion about what your kids may know already, and what may be on their minds, etc.

We too, as adults, benefit by apportioning  our own exposure to the endless videos and first-person accounts on TV, on our phones and other devices where social media may be exploding with not only news in real-time, but with personal and politically based reactions that frequently neither adds knowledge nor promotes healing. Doing so, by osmosis can help our children, too. Print media is often a better place to get the facts without the ever-present hype and drama that TV inherently provides.

While young ears are listening, I suggest that now is not the time to engage in outspoken dialog with other adults about the pros, cons and political ramifications of gun control and gun violence, where God was, or wasn’t, our security in other public places and the psychological profiling of “could-be” offenders, all of which is swirling about on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets at this time. There will be plenty of time for those important discussions in the weeks and months ahead minus the understandable raw emotions and frequent speculation of presumed facts we all feel at the moment.

Because of the sheer number of lives lost in Orlando and with the knowledge that so many were young adults, Latino, and members of the LGBTQ community, the carnage has understandably gripped the hearts of people everywhere. It has also traumatized whole communities of people who have socially, politically and racially been discriminated against in the past. Parents of teens should especially check in with their sons and daughters, who verbally say little, but may be hurting inside for themselves or their friends.

It may be helpful for us, as adults and as parents to understand and expect that numbness, sadness, anger and fear will be present within ourselves and even our children. Making meaning of death is never easy, and making sense emotionally of such a horrific act, within our own selves, is nearly impossible. Finding ways to honor the lives and memories of those lost, even if by remaining aware of the funerals and prayer vigils in Orlando and elsewhere, can help, with time, to bring some sense of closure for us as parents and for our children. Everyone will hear about “how it all happened,” but parents can help their children who may be most affected to process too by sitting with them and explaining how theSupporting children following the mass shootings in Orlando .Man holding candle, How Prayer Can Help Orlando community as a whole comes together, grieves together, and honors and remembers the lives lost with funerals and memorial services.

Families connected to a faith community may find solace and comfort in both worship services and by the pastoral care that may be available through clergy and other faith leaders. This is an important resource not to be overlooked, which is available to both parents and children.

One of the challenging variables here is for children and teens riding the school bus to and from school for the first few days following a highly publicized tragedy. It is hard to know and impossible to control what other students might say that your child could overhear. It’s important for parents and after-school care providers to provide time and to listen closely and get a feel for how their child is doing upon arriving home after school.

Supporting Teens Specifically

Here’s what I’ve shared with many teens in the past on the heels of a national tragedy:

  1. Be gentle with yourself, this is hard stuff to make any sense of. Talk with your parents, a counselor in school, a teacher who you know that will listen and help.
  2. When horrible things like this happen, it can make you really sad, angry and sometimes scared too. These are all natural feelings. Journaling and writing poetry helps some teens. Doing artwork helps others. Consider listening to music that you find soothing, that helps you chill, seems to help many teens too.
  3. Be careful online. There are lots of people pushing their causes, their politics and their point of view right now on Facebook, YouTube and Tumblr. Some of these people are angry and many others have their facts wrong, too.
  4. Remember that when we discuss things like death and violence online that some other kids out there likely have lost loved ones too, and all this is really hard for them to handle. If you’re their friend, reach out to them privately and let them know you’re thinking about them. It really helps.
  5. It’s true; nothing can bring these people back. But what you can do is this: To honor the lives of those lost, consider doing something that helps others in your community. There are lots of ways to volunteer and help others, you just have to do it! It can help you to feel better too.
  6. Keep in your head that it’s never okay for anyone to think using guns to commit violence is okay. If you see or hear of anyone, anywhere “talking stupid” do yourself and the world a favor by telling an appropriate adult right away. It’s always import.
  7. Remember, talking with a parent, your parent, is still (usually!) the best thing you can do first. They’re old, they’ve been around for a while and believe it or not, talking with them can help you to deal with all this.

For all of us

In closing, I am reminded of the words of the late Fred Rogers, when asked how he could remain so positive and upbeat about the goodness in other people. He said that when bad things happen in the world, it’s important to remember also all the many good people who show up to help, to rescue, to protect who they can and to help the survivors to heal. That sounds like pretty good advice to me.

Resources to consider:

Below are a few good online resources that parents and others who work with young people might find useful to consider.

Mayo Clinic: Tips for talking with children and teens about mass shootings

American Psychological Association: Helping your children manage stress after a mass shooting.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Talking to children about the shooting.

Text and image by Kevin Lee