Wednesday, October 9, 2019


Oops. Apparently I wrote this and forgot to post it. That tells you how things have been going...Anyway, here's something from August 19th. I'm working on an update. Promise.


It has been two weeks since Ren's SEVENTH spine surgery. In the weeks leading up to it, I felt an overwhelming sense of dread that I haven't had before the other surgeries. I mean, I've never looked forward to them, and I've always gone through a process of being angry and sad about what was about to happen, but this time, I just couldn't shake the feeling that I just didn't want to go through this again. For weeks, I thought about it, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why this one felt so much worse than the others.

Then, the morning of surgery, as we went through the various steps of pre-op--helping Ren get disinfected and dressed in a paper gown; watching as he was hooked up to heart monitors and put on an IV; talking to the anesthesiologist and the surgeon; waiting, waiting, and waiting some more--it started to dawn on me that we were about to hit reset on our lives once again.

When Ren has a surgery, it's a bit like getting killed when you're trying to make it through the level of a video game--you die and then you have to start again. This time, we'd made it longer between surgeries than ever before, and I didn't want to start over again.

The first spine surgery was March of 2012, and this last one was August 2019--seven years and five months between the first one and the last one. Seven spine surgeries in seven years. But, this time, you guys. This time, we made it for 742 days--just over two years! I really thought we had finally completed the spine surgery level of this video game of our lives.

The new hospital rooms had smart boards. "Get well soon!"

Instead, we find ourselves respawned once again. Going through the same level over and over again has taught us some things. We generally know what to expect with the surgery and post-op. Each time, we gain some new skills. This time, for example, we made sure to get all of the assistive devices out and ready before going to the hospital, and I even remembered to get his post-op prescriptions filled ahead of time. Knowing that I would be homebound and essentially unable to do work while caring for Ren and the kids, started working on a puzzle that I knew would keep me both distracted and present for everyone. None of these are earth-shattering changes, but they are things I didn't do for previous surgeries because we were in denial about what was to come.

Having new skills and knowledge to draw from for each surgery is a blessing and a curse, though. This time, more than ever, we understand that the respawning can be unpredictable and sometimes pretty traumatic. Some surgeries, we respawn really close to where we were pre-op, so the way forward is clear. Other surgeries, we've been sent back to the beginning of the level and had to work out a better way through the obstacles we encountered there.  And, last surgery, we got respawned into a place we'd never been before.

Hardware removed from Ren's spine.
I get that this is a terrible metaphor and probably even worse if you don't know the first thing about gaming. But, the point is that each surgery takes us out of the game and the puts us down somewhere unexpected or unfamiliar, and then we have to figure out how to get back into the game and make forward progress. At this point, it feels a lot like an exercise in futility. And, it reminds me why I stopped gaming.


Last surgery, we were respawned into a world of medical complications that took us months to traverse and untangle. For weeks, I wasn't sure if Ren was going to be ok. He remembers nothing from the first two months after that surgery. This surgery has put us into an equally bewildering place. This surgery, Ren has had the fewest complications of any surgery thus far. Surely, this is because we spent a lot of time talking to the surgeon and the anesthesiologist to troubleshoot what went wrong last time. The surgeon has also continued to improve his procedures based on the latest findings, which I am sure also helped. Not since the first surgery back in 2012 have we respawned into a world where Ren has less pain than he did before surgery. We are, of course, very thankful. We still have four more weeks of no driving and ten more weeks of no bending, twisting, or lifting, so we aren't out of the woods, yet.

It's nice that no one has needed to go to the ER in the past two weeks, though.

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

This is a beautifully written post and a great metaphor.