Monday, February 4, 2013

Week 3 post-spine surgery, week 2 of the flu

There's nothing like recovering from surgery with the flu packed on top of the recovery. Now that I am into week 3 post-spine surgery and have caught the heinous bug of the season, I haven't been able to do the recommended distance walking every day for my PT as the flu kicked into high gear.

My brother Tim (right) left on Sunday after spending several days down here helping me out; I bundled myself up and folded carefully into the car and Kate drove us to RDU to drop him off for his flight. Yeah, I look like (and felt like) @ss, but it was good to have him here; my appetite is pretty much nil now, but he made us homemade chili and lasagna that we could freeze and eat while I'm on the mend. Mwah! xo. (I'm the big sister, btw; Tim is five years younger).

I managed to stay cold and flu-free for at least 3 years before this crap hit --I got my flu shot (the reports are that this year's shot is only 60% effective), used hand sanitizer everywhere, but alas, the nasty bug got me at the worst time.

I've stayed offline (barely on Facebook/Twitter, no posting at PHB)  mostly because I'm focused on constant drinking and trying to get some sleep, coughing up a lung, etc.; talking and even seeing clearly are difficult right now. I have NO energy. This post was done over about 24 hours -- in between all the TMI stuff below; it's hard to see the laptop screen with what's going on with my eyes.


I've warned you, so skip over this section if you are queasy about flu symptom descriptions.

Since I'm diabetic and have other conditions, many over-the-counter remedies folks take to help make it through a cold or flu are off limits -- no alcohol, avoid most cough syrups, no sinus or decongestion stuff (like Dayquil or Nyquil-type meds) -- so I have to address each symptom as the condition progresses.

The first week I got little sleep because I was up every hour or so dealing with the symptoms since I can't take anything that would knock me out really well. So I worked on them all day and all night -- if you're battling the flu, perhaps we can compare notes:

Fever: I was already dealing with nearly daily fevers (99.5-102.5) post-surgery. The flu just extended the issue; I can only take 2 mg (8 extra strength pills) of Tylenol per day, so I did that for about a week and a half at the max dose. Now I only take a single dose 2x a day and it has kept the fever in check. Almost any exertion beyond doing nothing causes it to bump up.

Coughing -- I did take some off-limits cough syrup the first couple of days because I weighed the danger of an uncontrolled violent cough causing re-herniation of my L5-S1 disc versus the impact on my blood sugar and blood pressure and definitely avoiding additional back surgery won out. After using DM syrup a couple of days, I felt I could do well enough with some sugar-free cough drops. I am now coughing up a lot of unpleasantness, but drinking constantly to thin it, and to keep fever down. Of course constant drinking means you're also in the bathroom a lot and therefore not sleeping, but doing this helps you to get better faster. Right now I'm having difficulty with speaking, more like laryngitis, not painful like the initial sore throat that this flu started off with. Probably another phase of  "recovery."

Breathing: Boy, there's nothing like being oxygen-deprived because of an endless supply of disgusting mucus. This I am handling a couple of ways -- 1) nasal spray only at night, to reduce the inflammation of the passages, and 2) nasal irrigation -- in my case Simply Saline spray, used much like a Netipot to help fluse the nastiness out and re-hydrate the passages because the nasal spray always dries them out. This combination works really well, so breathing hasn't been the big thorn in the side. BTW, I find most tissue to be useless for blowing my nose. I prefer carrying around a roll of good toilet paper.

Eye discharge: By far this has been one of the worst aspects of this flu. I haven't had so much gook flow from my f'ing eyes since I was a kid. Mucus flowing constantly starting around day 5. For one afternoon/evening I sat up using tissue/q-tips every 5-10 minutes pulling phlegm-like goo out of the area in my lower eyelid and corners of my eyes or they would seal shut. Eyes were bloodshot and my vision was blurry. In between I would use saline/tear drops to lubricate the eyes to aid the discharge. By the next day, the free flow of mucus had halted; I only have to do the above about 4x a day.

Next step is to wash out the eyes frequently since the mucus buildup even after a short nap is like nasty glue. A god send that has worked to clear this up more quickly for me is to get some baby wash (tear-free), and, with clean hands dilute some and use it to wash the garbage away from around your eyes, then repeat and while cupping your hands, open your eyes and let the diluted solution cool the eye. Then rinse. Take a disposable hand towel to gently pat your eye area dry. I usually apply some tear drops after. This helps reduce by a lot the build up while you're awake.

Mind you there is constant hand-washing going on, it goes without saying, using Kleenex disposable hand towels. Did you know they have tissues that claim to kill 99.5% of bacteria and viruses? Kate bought me a box to try out. I'm skeptical of that claim. My skin has been really dry, including the area around my eyes. About the only thing that has been safe to address this has been Nivea hand lotion -- not to thin, not too oily, doesn't burn.

My eyes, even with all the effort I'm putting into this, are still weak, vision kind of blurry, but they are no longer burning like a hot poker is in them, which is what it felt like around day 4.

So we're into week 2 of this and just getting up and showering and dressing is like a marathon; I need short naps, but I'm still up a lot doing variations of the above less frequently, but it is interrupted sleep. .

Lotsa fluids and chicken soup are being consumed. Had apple cinnamon tea a couple of times.

I spent Super Bowl Sunday watching (actually more listening given my eyesight) a Law & Order marathon. For me it's soothing, predictable programming.

TMI Alert Off

As I described in the previous post, re: my back -- the incision is really looking good. It's about 2.5" long and healing cleanly. The area is still sore and gets inflamed a bit a times, but I've not needed ice packs for a few days. Just Tylenol a few times a day at this point, staying under the max.

The coughing jags during week 1 of the flu were bad. I did feel something "pull" and my left leg went numb. That was scary. Right now the situation seems to have improved slightly, though the numbness hasn't retreated the severe ankle and foot swelling that plagued me since the acute herniation in August seems to have subsided, only occurring occasionally at night. I hope to get back to doing walking laps in the house and outdoors again as soon as this chest rattle of congestion is better, hopefully this week. I'm kind of frustrated that the necessary walking I need to do has been short-circuited by this flu. I was doing well, improving distance each day. Guess I have to start at square one.

I see the surgeon at the end of Feb. It's likely that I will need another MRI to clear me before going back to work not only because of the flu and the coughing, but of the severity of the herniation and the more intense nature of the surgery to correct it. I am supposed to return to work March 4. If there has been re-herniation, then I may have to undergo additional surgery.

Right now I'm on unpaid FMLA because my frequent medical absences from rheumatoid arthritis over the last year burned all my PTO away. 2012 was not a good year health wise -- but hey -- 2013 is getting off to a slammin', @ss-kicking start, isn't it, lol?

On the good news front, I received word that because I will be out the full six weeks, and will qualify for the Kiel Donation program -- Duke staff can donate their sick leave to applicants who have exhausted their paid time off because of illness. I have to fill out the paperwork and send it in this week; I was too out of it to do anything with it over the weekend.

I knew post-surgery life would be challenging -- and no guarantee of full recovery, but relief of acute pain has been successful so far. Here's to crossed fingers.

* Week 2 post-L5-S1 slice and dice: good news, not so good news

1 comment:

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