Friday, November 17, 2006

OJ - A Real Pain in the Neck

"Fame is but a slow decay, Even this shall pass away." Theodore Tilton

If you've ever had surgery, you probably don't remember the exact date -- unless it was a C-section and thus a child's birthday. My husband had cervical spine surgery a long time ago, but we'll never forget the date. Here's the back story and the reason why.

One Thursday evening some years back my husband noted that his shoulder hurt. He's a pretty tough guy, rarely complains about anything, but I could see the pain on his face. Still, I had to put my foot down just to make him take some Advil.

After a rough night I insisted he see his doctor. The doc thought it could be bursitis and gave him a stronger anti-inflammatory.

Saturday the pain was worse and had moved down his arm. A call to the doctor's answering service netted a prescription for Tylenol with Codeine, plus instructions to increase the anti-inflammatory and come in for more tests on Monday.

By Saturday night he was really hurting. Bad. Shoulder, arm, upper back. If you have a husband, especially one who's rarely sick, you know how really mature they can be when something's wrong ... NOT. His complaining was so relentless I finally gave him two Valium and a big water glass filled with wine.

Finally, peace. Until the next morning. He was in agony. Couldn't feel his fingers or move his arm. I realized this wasn't a grown man being a big baby over nothing. A friend helped me take him to the local ER.

Ah, the beauty of morphine. They also took X-rays--which showed a possible muscle spasm--gave him a script for Vicodin, scheduled an MRI Monday morning to rule out anything serious -- and sent us home.

The Vicodin kept the pain at bay, but just barely. It was a long, long night. Monday we went for the MRI in a building conveniently located across the street from the hospital. And just like that, convenient became life-saving.

If you've had an MRI or any medical scan you know the drill. They do the test, send you back to the waiting room while they make sure the films came out okay and then tell you to go home, you'll hear from your doctor after he gets the results.

When they wheeled my husband out of the MRI on a stretcher with his neck immobilized in a big brace I knew it couldn't be good. They hurried us straight over to the hospital's renowned orthopedic surgery practice.

Fortunately, one of the top guys--the chief back surgeon--is a friend, our kids were in school together. He took one look at the MRI, left the room and came back with the top neck guy. The news was horrendous. Two cervical disks had ruptured so badly they were compressing my husband's spinal cord, depriving it of blood and oxygen. His body's organs were shutting down, one by one, kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, everything.

The prognosis without surgery was certain paralysis, probably death. There were no options. The operation was scheduled for Tuesday. The extra day's wait was dangerous but necessary in order to "bathe" his spinal cord in steroids so it could handle the incredibly delicate procedure.

On top of my guilt over calling him a big baby, I was terrified. My strong healthy husband knocked flat by a spinal cord injury, his very life depending on the skill of a surgical team.

On Tuesday as they wheeled him into the OR he was sedated but just alert enough to be scared witless. Not of the prognosis, that was more than he could absorb. He feared the operation. He'd never had surgery in his life.

His eyes darted around at the unfamiliar room, taking in the huge overhead lights, the gleaming instruments laid out on tables next to him, the people bustling around, intent on their assigned tasks. He was trying hard to calm himself when he heard a radio tuned to the news. Okay, something normal, ordinary, familiar.

It's important to note here that--as in any big urban hospital--the OR team was a pretty even racial mix. You'll see why in a minute.

My husband might have been a surgery virgin, but he'd seen enough medical shows to know sometimes they play music in an OR, but a radio news broadcast is definitely out of place. Just as the anesthesia began to take effect he realized in a burst of clarity why the radio was on.

The OJ verdict was about to be announced.

My husband's last conscious thoughts--and words--were, "Please, don't boo or applaud if they give the verdict while you're cutting open my neck!"

Of course they didn't. He came through the operation with flying colors. And his first two questions in the recovery room? You got it. "Am I okay?" and "What was the OJ verdict?"

Now OJ's in the news again, aiming to profit from his infamy with a disgusting pseudo-confessional book and Fox TV specials. No doubt the man's a stone killer, but to us OJ will always be first and foremost a royal pain in the neck.

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