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Shouldering the workload after hubby's surgery

Hooray! Darling Husband is alive and recovering nicely.

He needed surgery: Not just your ordinary, run-of-the-mill surgery; we're talking replacement of a major joint, injured in a skiing accident 60 years ago. A daredevil Swiss youth back then, Darling Future Husband took a hard fall on ice, dislocating his shoulder at the top of a 10-mile ski run. He walked all the way down and to a doctor's office in the village. They laid him on the floor, put a foot on his chest and pulled the arm until it went back into the shoulder socket. Ouch!

Over the years his right shoulder has become a rather useless, very painful bag of broken crockery. Arthritis, that ruiner of joints, did its dirty work. He is 80 years old, has congestive heart failure, is overweight and has a pacemaker: a high-risk candidate for surgery. Still, if he didn't have the replacement now, risk factors would prevent it altogether.

I trembled, I quaked. I became a drill sergeant and made him walk for a full half hour whenever I could get away with giving orders. Circulation is a key to stroke-free surgery.

It has been one week since the operation. He came home three days ago with prescriptions for horrific painkillers, the sort they prescribe for terminal cancer patients. He doesn't like them. (Understatement of the year!) However . . . he must relieve the pain enough to be able to do the physical therapy that will make his right arm a useful limb again. When it was time to take the prescription painkillers, he shut his mouth tight and shook his head, like a belligerent 4-year-old, so we tried plain old Tylenol instead, and it seems to work well enough. (Whew!)

Everyone, including one of my daughters, who creamed her own shoulder, has told us that there's no more painful surgery than shoulder surgery. I believe it. So does Dear Husband. But he's doing the exercises, getting the X-rays and blood test, and now he begins regular, professional therapy sessions that will no doubt make him tired and sore . . . and tick him off. I tell myself that crankiness is a sign of healing.

We have also conquered the Great Shower Challenge. Though he has been cleaning up every day in the hospital and at home, his hair had become a matted, greasy horror. So we placed the little shower seat so the water wouldn't beat down on the incision. Swabbing him down with soap, I got the best look yet at the 10 inches of staples. I also saw the bruising on the back of his arm and under his right pec. He's nothing if not colorful. Happily, he's also clean.

Now I'm encountering the predictable, inevitable bureaucratic issues involved in such a major plunge into the works of our health care system. Initially three doctors were involved; his primary caregiver, his cardiologist and the surgeon. Add an anesthesiologist and we were at four and climbing. And then there is the all-powerful HMO . . .

I don't rise and shine early. Doctors like to make hospital rounds very early in the morning, so I never met Dr. Petalumanocajahal, or whatever his name is, who was a hospital surrogate for the primary caregiver. He left orders for the nurses. The only doctor I did see was the cardiologist, who was unhappy that Dear Husband wasn't on a low-sodium diet. Of course no one had ordered such a diet, so who knew? The poor patient really wanted that BLT. He could eat it with his left hand and it tasted good.

The five pages of discharge orders were explained to me by a nurse. There were a lot of orders for physical therapy, for blood tests, for X-rays and for follow-up appointments, so I got on the phone and started making appointments. Then I discovered that each testing facility and therapist needed a specific, written referral, acceptable by the HMO, before any would be covered. So there was another round of calls trying to find out who ordered what and whether or not those referrals had been provided in keeping with the rules of the HMO.

It's amazing how well he's doing now. Dear Husband doesn't have to deal with all the headaches, all the phone calls. He blissfully works on his computer, thrilled that the action of moving the mouse exactly mimics one of his therapy exercises. He's happy to be ordered around by me, his In-House Physical Terrorist, because he can have one drink when he's done. That wasn't an option when he was taking the industrial-strength painkillers. No one scolds him for the occasional grilled cheese sandwich.

The gaping gown, the predawn visits from mystery doctors, the tubes and needles are all history.

Welcome home, Mr. Cranky Pants! I can tell you'll be fine.

Write to Sheila Stoll in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

Shouldering the workload after hubby's surgery 03/23/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 23, 2009 10:20am]
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