Friday, February 17, 2012

The Pain of Grey's Anatomy

WARNING: This is a long one. But I've never shared this story before, so I hope you think it's interesting.

I'm on this new kick of watching Grey's Anatomy on Netflix. I don't know why I started; I'd never watched the show before. But so many people rave about it that I thought I'd give it a shot.

If you've never watched the show, it's all about these surgical interns at a hospital in Seattle. They all kind of compete for the most surgeries—or at least the most interesting surgeries. One of the doctors—dubbed "McDreamy"—is a neurosurgeon. He does lots of brain and back surgeries.

And watching this kind of freaks me out, since I actually had back surgery in 2008. On my anniversary. While I was pregnant.

Write an episode about THAT, Grey's Anatomy!

No, McDreamy didn't perform my surgery.
I had ruptured my L4/L5 disc somehow, and the pain was too much. My neurosurgeon (actually, the head of neurosurgery at the big hospital) said he hadn't seen a rupture that awful in all his 30 years of medicine, and he couldn't believe I was only 28 years old.

Aww, shucks. You really know how to flatter a girl, Doc!

The night before the surgery, I was freaking out. I'm not even sure I slept. I prayed almost all night and had to be at the hospital by 6am for prep. But I got there, and I was actually pretty calm the morning of the surgery. A few of my friends from church came to pre-op to pray with me, and that was awesome. The funniest conversation during prep:

Nurse:  If you'll come into the next room, we need to get a urine sample to make sure you're not pregnant.
Me: Well, I am pregnant.
Nurse: (gives me the hairy eyeball) What?
Me: No, it's OK. The doctors know. They have a special setup and everything.
Nurse: (still eyeing me) I'm just going to go check on that...

Hilarious! I was cracking jokes with the doctor. The resident who was assisting on the surgery came in and asked how I was feeling. I said fine and asked how he was. He said, "I'm OK. I'm a little nervous that you're pregnant, honestly." My reply? "Oh, it's OK! Don't be nervous!"

And, yet, it didn't freak me out to be reassuring the medical staff. I knew it was a new surgery for most of them—actually, for all of them. This hospital had never done a discectomy on a pregnant woman before. They couldn't have me lay on my stomach, and they couldn't use an x-ray machine during the procedure. I would have to lie on my side, and they'd have to rely on their eyesight alone to remove the pieces of disc that were pressing against my spinal cord. No Mr. Magoo's on call today, please!

(Awkward side note: A girl I later became friends with is that resident's wife. We didn't know it at first until I mentioned my surgery, and, as it was a one-of-a-kind surgery, she knew he'd been in on it. When someone's seen inside your spine, socializing can be a bit weird.)

I was fine right up until it was time for me to go back to the operating room. Having to say goodbye to my husband was difficult, of course. The nurse who came to retrieve me looked like it was her first day out of nursing school—she was very young. I think her name was Anne. She asked if I wanted to be wheeled back on the bed or if I wanted to walk back. I said I may as well walk back, since it may be a while before I walked comfortably again.

Or at all, I thought. There's always a risk of paralysis when they're working on your spine. The other risk I wasn't thinking about much that morning was the risk to the baby. They had taken so many precautions when it came to the operation itself and the anesthesia that I guess I didn't feel the need to worry about the baby as much? I don't know.

So Anne and I started walking. She asked if I wanted her to hold my hand. I laughed and said no. Then we got to the doors of the operating room and I peeked in the windows. It looked just like the operating rooms on TV: bright lights, an operating table, lots of machines, carts with assorted surgical instruments.

I promptly began freaking out.

I started to sob, and that little nurse hugged me and said, "It's OK. You'll be fine. We do this every day. People have back surgery every day. It's OK, Rachel." I'm actually tearing up a little recalling it. Anne took my hand and led me into the operating room, she helped me up onto the table, and she didn't let go of my hand until I was out cold. The anesthesiologist said, "This mask is just some oxygen, since you're a little upset. It will help calm you down." Liar! It was totally the happy gas! I was out cold in ten seconds flat.

When I woke up, I was in the recovery room. If you've never had surgery, it's the weirdest feeling. I had no idea how long I was out, but it was apparently somewhere around four and a half hours. The surgery itself had taken about three and a half hours, and then it took me almost an hour to come out of the anesthesia. A nurse came over with an ultrasound machine to check on the baby, and I remember saying, "Can I hear the heartbeat? Does it have a heartbeat? Can I hear it?" Even in my medicinal fog, I thought to myself, Well, of course the baby would still be there even if it didn't make it. A heartbeat will be the important thing. The nurse told me that the machine didn't have speakers, but that the baby did, in fact, have a heartbeat.

I was relieved. And then I threw up. I hate anesthesia.

They took me up to a room in maternity for the night, and my husband met me there. They made me get up and walk to the bathroom and to another hospital room in a different wing (there was apparently a birthing boom that night), which made me grumpy. It hurt! My husband and I ate trays of hospital food while we watched the season finale of America's Next Top Model (this was our third wedding anniversary, remember). Whitney won, so I was pleased. And what pleased me even more is that the nerve pain I'd been dealing with for months was gone. I was finally fixed!

Everyone says that giving birth is really the epitome of pain. Either that or breaking a femur. But the next morning as my husband was helping me out of the hospital room shower, I bumped my hip on the sink. Barely brushed it, and suddenly I was in excruciating pain. I started to cry, but that apparently uses back muscles (and mine had recently been cut apart), so that made it hurt even worse. It was a ten on the pain scale, if I've ever felt it. It was awful. And I think that watching Grey's Anatomy and the back surgeries on there reminds me most of that—the pain. That moment where I really thought I was going to pass out, it hurt so badly. Ugh.

Recovery was difficult. I was terrified my husband would hit me in the back (or touch me even slightly) in our sleep, so he slept in our guest room. Still, I was pregnant and needed to use the bathroom in the night, so he kept his cell phone by the bed. I'd call him, he'd come in and help me out of bed and to the bathroom, he'd help me back into bed, and he'd go back to the guest room. These are things the under-30 crowd doesn't really anticipate until we're the over-80 crowd, but my husband was so good to me while I was recovering. Talk about true love!

He turned out just fine!
And people have said, "Wow. Pregnant and having back surgery, all at the same time? Tough break, kid!" But you know what? It worked out perfectly. I was able to carry my son to term (which I would have had a hard time with if I had to deal with all the nerve pain), and he was (and is) perfectly happy and healthy. And because the back surgery had met our max out-of-pocket deductible for our insurance, my son's delivery ended up being free! Well, relatively speaking, of course.

What more could a mother want?

I suppose the lesson I learned from all of this (and thank you for reading all of it, by the way), is that sometimes things that seem to be coming together to form the perfect storm are really just—perfect. God can use all of our situations for good, if we're willing to see it. While it doesn't sound ideal to have to undergo back surgery while pregnant, God can use even that situation to show he's got your best interests at heart.

Which he does. Always.


  1. Try having parent teacher conferences with your gynecologist. THAT is awkward :)

    1. The midwife intern who's done several of my exams since I got preggo goes to church with us---and she recognized me. I'm glad her internship ended before I needed a pelvic!

  2. I'm sure I had a profound and life-changing comment to leave here, but then I read about p/t conferences with a gynecologist and lost all ability to think. I think I snorted the last of my brain cells away on that one.

  3. Wow, Rachel. I had no idea that you had gone through this. I mean, I saw a comment here and there, but really didn't know the extent of it. I'm so glad everything worked out.

    1. Yeah, it made 2008 a pretty big year all around. Seems like every three years I have a big year. lol

  4. Wow, that's amazing. Thank the Lord that all went well and your baby was well too. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Love it! I remember coming there to pray for you! Can't believe it has been three years... God is amazing!

  6. I read every word! That is amazing and such a wonderful story! I mean, I hate that you had to have back surgery but, what an experience. You can tell your son that he went through surgery before he was even born. You also love your husband a little deeper, I'm sure, after the way he cared for you. I loved this post! Thanks for sharing it with me!

    1. My son was born so strong---I know God made him extra tough to deal with the surgery. He amazes me every day! And my husband did take really wonderful care of me. But I kind of hope I don't have to return the favor, if you know what I mean. lol

  7. I love when we can look back and see God's hand at work. Sometimes it's tough not seeing it at the time, but He gives yo the peace about it which is really what you need to get through it anyway. Thanks for sharing such an amazing story. Now if my back will just stop having weird sympathy pains. :)

  8. I just stumbled upon your blog as I googled "lazy Christians" for a message I am doing lol. I am a youth minister. I found out that I had a tumor on my ovary when I was 8 weeks pregnant. Surgery had to be done at 14 weeks pregnant to remove the basketball sized tumor and ovary. I appreciate your story! No one who has not been through surgery while pregnant can fully understand the joy in seeing that baby's heartbeat after. (I had to wait 2 days!) It is in that moment that all selfishness or laziness is gone as we would do anything to preserve the life of that child.


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