Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Thelma & Louise's Detour on the Road Trip of Life! (Part One)

Wow! It's been a long time since we've blogged about a road trip! Guess there's no wonder why y'all have been asking what we've been up to. Folks saw us at Uncork Urbana a month or so ago, our first road trip in months, and began asking questions when they saw Thelma sporting her chic Miami neck brace. "Is this what happened when y'all drove off that cliff?" We joked that Louise was smart to have her seatbelt on at the end of that trip. But we reckon it's time to fill you in. Hold on, it's gonna be a bumpy ride!

Thelma and Louise visit Uncork Urbana
and sample some of their favorite wines!
As y'all know, this past winter was one for the record books. Snow, Snow, SNOW! So when Thelma started getting some pains in her neck early this spring, she figured it was just arthritis from an old injury she got as a teen, irritated by the cold. It was time to check in with the doctor when it got so bad she couldn't sleep.

An MRI showed Thelma had a tumor in her cervical spine (back of her neck, in layman's terms) that was pressing on her spinal cord. Surgery would keep her from being paralyzed or dying. Hmmmm... too many wineries and road trips on our agenda. Let's operate!

Thelma and Louise enjoy their time with
Inside Out friends Paula & Michele on  April 25th
The neurosurgeon set the date for Friday, May 9. Never one to do things the "normal" way, Thelma got up on Tuesday, May 6th, having a difficult time walking and using her hands. When the pain was so bad that evening that she "wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy", and our son had to practically carry her to the Laguna Blue SUV, Louise knew Thelma couldn't wait till Friday.

It doesn't seem to matter what hospital you go to in an emergency, the staff doesn't seem to worry as much as you hope. When we arrived, the waiting room was filled. One lady said she'd been there for 9 hours! The only staff to speak to was a Security guard who informed Louise they took people in order of importance with trauma as the first seen. Louise made several pleas on Thelma's behalf because she could see the pain in Thelma's eyes. Two and a half hours later, Thelma's name was called. Louise wheeled Thelma to an exam "room" where we could at least get some comfort from the pain.

We really weren't prepared for what happened next. In between numerous staff members wanting Thelma to rate her pain (always a resounding 10, on a 1-to-10 scale), Thelma discovered she could no longer move her arms and legs. Then the nurse yelled to Louise, "Remind her to breathe. I'm going for the surgeon!" That's when Louise saw the oxygen levels drop and lights started flashing. Yep, Thelma was in a bad way, and it was all going to hell in a handbasket!

Thelma was told she was now "critically urgent" and was being rushed into emergency surgery two days early. Dr. Beejal Amin at Loyola assured us he would take care of this, as he comforted Louise with a gentle pat on the shoulder. Then it was Go-Time!

Poor Louise, with her short little legs, had to hold on for dear life while the hospital staff flew Thelma's gurney down the hallways from the ER to the operating room. At one point Louise got her bag caught on a door and flew back like she was bungee jumping!

Louise had a tough wait ahead of her since the surgery was scheduled to last about six hours. Our dear friend, Pastor Barbara Lohrbach, came to keep Louise company and comfort her spirit. Dr. Amin's staff gave them hourly reports about Thelma. It was five hours later when Louise was told that Thelma was now in recovery. 

Thelma woke up in recovery to hear a nurse say, "Look who's awake... and she's smiling!"  Yes, Thelma was smiling - she knew she was ALIVE!

Thelma the day after surgery -
might not be pretty, but ALIVE!
A few hours later, Thelma was moved to the Neurological Intensive Care Unit. Louise and Pastor Barbara could finally see her after waiting patiently for several hours.

Neuro checks were done throughout the night and the next couple days checking mobility in hands and feet. Push, pull, wiggle, raise. She did it all! Thelma was still on the ventilator just to be sure she could breathe. Again Thelma beamed from ear to ear when one of the doctors declared her "a miraculous recovery" only a day and a half after surgery. With rehab, doctors shared, Thelma should be practically as good as new - well, as good as a girl can get who has seen as many birthdays as Thelma has seen!

The tumor biopsy showed it was carcinoid (or neuroendrocrine) cancer, the same slow-growing cancer Thelma has had in her abdomen for 17 years. Thelma had a eight-inch scar running from just below the crown of her head to the base of her neck which had been closed with 35 staples. She now has a plate, a rod, and three screws in her neck to make up for three vertebrae that had to be removed (just call her Bionic Thelma!). And she has a neck brace to wear for 10 weeks or more. But she can move, and she is alive!

Alyssa took fabulous care of Thelma
in the Loyola Neuro ICU
After having the ventilator removed and other unpleasant tubes they give you during surgery, a move to the regular neuro floor of the hospital was a welcome relief. Some of our young'uns visited on Mother's Day bearing spring flowers. The kids were a sight for sore eyes and did wonders to lift our spirits! We had fun taking a 'selfie' to try to rival the Oscar Twitter-crasher.

Loving the visit from some of our kids
on Mothers Day
It wasn't long into our hospital stay before we were told the doctors found evidence of another tumor in Thelma's right breast which was found during the PET scan the day before neurosurgery. A bedside biopsy done about a week after the big surgery showed the tumor was a malignancy that needed to be removed soon. Lots of tears flowed when we heard that!

Although Thelma was wiggling fingers and moving her arms and legs, she had lost much of her strength. Walking was difficult, at best. Her hands were clumsy, and it was hard to grasp anything like a fork or toothbrush. So it was decided that Thelma required In-patient rehab before she could go home.

Six days after surgery, she was moved to the Rehab Unit. Yes she could wear "street clothes", but she'd pay the price. Three to four hours of occupational therapy, everyday living therapy, recreational therapy and physical therapy was written on her board everyday. Hard work would be required to be released. If no one would be at home to assist Thelma, she would be moved to a rehab facility for further therapy. That was when Louise decided she'd take an unpaid leave of absence so Thelma could go home. 

Thelma started on the Rehab Unit using either a walker or wheelchair to get anywhere. It was strange to realize how much goes into walking. Vision is a huge part of balancing, for instance; Thelma found she couldn't close her eyes while standing without falling. Walking also suddenly required thinking - heel, toe, heel, toe... swing your arms for balance...ignore other movements in the hall. Just a slight distraction from walking was enough to make her teeter. But after ten days of doing what she had to do, Thelma was going home without any apparatus. The discharge order was to get some more physical therapy for strengthening and to take some time to heal a little more before the breast surgery. 

One tumor down and one to go!

Thelma was awarded "Patient of the Week" for her hard
work without complaints and cheering on other patients