Last week marked seven years (lucky seven!) since I launched the Collecting Postcards Blog, and my (virtual) return to work following spinal surgery.
I came home from the hospital on March 27. Although I was ecstatic to be back in my own bed and away from the stress of the hospital, the earliest days were understandably rough. After the second day, I decided pain medicine was not helping and discontinued it. I had some trouble maintaining a normal sleeping pattern then, but it was preferable to the constant motion sickness of opioids. Clearly I am a poor candidate for drug addiction!
I needed V’s help to get my legs in and out of bed, as I used a log roll motion to avoid bending or twisting my spine. I used a walker to get to the bathroom. I went up and down the stairs carrying nothing: holding onto the railing on one side, and V’s hand on the other. When he needed to leave the house, I stayed in bed and slept with both my phones right next to me.
Another 10 lbs fell off rather suddenly even though I received my three daily meals on a little tray and sometimes would sit in a hard chair downstairs to eat.
Even once I started to move around more, my activity level was much lower than I am used to – a few hundred steps per day rather than several thousand and up. My FitBit sent me suggestions to “Try and hit a 10K step goal today!” But simple activities like taking a shower or going downstairs to get a glass of water (because we have no potable water upstairs) wiped me out. The first time I took a shower it took me over an hour, and I had to keep turning the water off to sit down on my shower bench and rest before I could continue.
But slowly, I started to do more. I started getting up more often, and by myself, and then taking the stairs by myself. Lifting the Brita to get water myself. I parked the walker and never touched it again. I started sending fewer emoji bells for food and coming down to prepare the food myself.
Then around the three-week mark, I started to have more energy and spend much more of the day up and around. My abdominal stitches had been healing and I had been applying scar cream to try and fade the jagged line.
A few days after my driving restriction was lifted, fatigued from eye strain that had developed suddenly since my hospitalization, I drove to El Paso for an eye exam and a checkup with my neurosurgeon. I was so happy to hear from him that my progress was ahead of schedule, and that I was doing very well. I also told him all about my hospital experience and he apologized and told me one of the nurses who was particularly crummy to me is “no longer” even employed there already due to complaints. So, then! (It had not occurred to me until my neurosurgeon brought it up what 13 months of a health pandemic might have meant for the employment prospects of the most skilled nurses in a hard-hit area like El Paso, and who might have been “left” to deal with “elective surgery” patients.)
And finally, last Wednesday, I logged into a video meeting and saw my boss and our team! I was still several hundred emails behind, but it was amazing to see them all again. And it was very sweet to wear an old Australian dress that has been too short for ages but now fits perfectly. I even managed to sit in a chair for part of the day on video.
Since then, I have been steadily getting back to normal, tolerating mostly normal activity throughout the day, and even went for a couple of long, slow walks at the consulate gym. I also went to my office a couple of times, although I mostly still telework; the majority of the consulate community is only halfway through its COVID-19 vaccination process and waiting for the second shot, so no need for me to rush in and crowd the office. My colleagues are busy and doing important work I am still a bit too slow on the uptake to get to.
Sometimes I also wear my brace for extra stability and to curb my instinct against any sudden reaching or twisting movements, but I am feeling surprisingly pretty good and normal. I think all my colleagues were kind of shocked to see me and looked at me like I might explode, especially as I was not intending to come back until May 6. I told them now that I have bolts and screws and a cage in my back, I am fulfilling my destiny to become a robot. I really did think it would be a lot more painful, but so far I just have some lower back pain and the same old left leg and foot numbness, which hopefully will ease with time and physical therapy, which I start next week.
In short, things are going well and I am happy to be moving forward as spring and beautiful, sunny, warm days arrive again in Ciudad Juárez.
And more than 60,000 visitors and 186,000 views later, Collecting Postcards is still going well too! I did not imagine when I started it that it would last this long, or that I would write this much, or never miss a month, but I am glad it has turned out that way and I hope that many people will continue to enjoy it. More answers to readers’ submitted questions are coming soon.