CONTINUED FROM FAILURE TO LAUNCH, Part 2
Failure to Launch is three-part follow-up series to the summer of 2014 when we invested blood, sweat, and tears to prepare LA VITA for the next leg of our long distant voyage. These events were chronicled in Count Down To Launch.
THE FINAL CHAPTER: FAILURE TO LAUNCH, Part 3
The needle pricked each time it entered my arm. On her third try, I trembled, “What’s the problem?”
“Your vein is collapsing.” The nurse hovered over my wrist, hypodermic in hand. She shook her head in frustration and marched away.
Confused, I asked Rick, “What’s going on?”
“I have no idea.” He tucked the soft, warm blankets around my shoulders and whispered, “It’ll be okay.” I gazed into his deep blue eyes and drew his love and reassurance to me.
My mind jumped to a new question, what if Dr. Valletta, hadn’t forgiven me? Yesterday, I’d seriously challenged his authority and hadn’t had a chance to apologize. In a few minutes he would be operating on my right shoulder.
An attendant arrived and announced it was time to go. She unlocked the gurney wheels and guided me down the hall. We whizzed past dark, empty pre-op bays. Along the way, I wondered, what about my collapsed veins; would they cause unforeseen problems? Suddenly, double doors swung open and I rolled into a space-age looking operating room.
Once inside, I looked around, trying to make sense of the strange equipment. What are those weird-looking things attached to dangling hoses? A soft hissing from an unknown location snaked through the room. Overhead, strong white lights washed over me. The faint smell of alcohol and soap teased my nose. Surgical personnel, dressed in white, moved silently. A masked nurse gently turned my hand and swiped my wrist with cold, wet gauze. This time the needle easily found my vein and I slipped into slumberland.
I regained consciousness sitting in a chair. Rick stood beside me, jotting notes on a scrap of paper. Jules, Dr. Valletta’s Physician Assistant, asked if we had my pain meds. Rick glanced at me and said, “Yes, we filled the prescription yesterday.”
“The surgery was a success, however, Dr. Valletta discovered far more damage than was visible on the MRI,” said Jules. “The shoulder surgery you had in 2006 failed. There was massive scar tissue. The rotator cuff and biceps tears were extensive. Dr. Valletta had to pull and reattach good muscle using special clamps and sutures to hold the repairs in place. It will take a year to fully recover.”
Jules placed my right arm in my supporting cradle and tore the Velcro straps apart. She connected them to various places on the brace, then said, “You’ll need to wear this cradle 24-hours a day for the next three months.”
I looked down at my arm strapped in the contraption, “So, do I sleep with it?
“Yes, it’s very important to limit your mobility especially when you sleep or are out in public. Your biceps tendons and muscles were relocated and need three months to fully reattach and heal,” said Jules.
Rick asked, “When can Lynn begin physical therapy?”
“It’s important to work the muscles with gentle passive movement in a day or two,” Jules replied. “Use the CPM (continuous passive motion) chair twice a day.”
The final instructions were delivered; it was time to return to the real world. An attendant chauffeured me out of recovery and across the parking lot to our car. A fresh breeze carried memories of freedom.
Rick cautiously reached around me, pulled the belt, and clicked it. I basked in the attention. Am I becoming a princess? It’s kind nice being waited on hand and foot.
LIFE AT THE NAVY LODGE
The anesthesia wore off and I became miserable. Dull, throbbing pain radiated from my shoulder. A side effect of the medication caused mouth sores. Pain pills burned my tummy. I couldn’t find a comfortable sleeping position. I resented the bulky cradle. I simply wanted it all to go away.
I emailed Dr. Valletta, Jules, and his medical staff expressing my heartfelt apology for my meltdown the day before surgery. They replied, “All is forgiven.”
Rick took over galley duties. I didn’t want to eat. Even toasted bagels didn’t tempt me. It’d been two days since I’d showered. I was cranky and stinky. Would a shower improve my mood? How to keep the brace dry? Rick solved that problem by gently wrapping it in Saran Wrap.
“Hey hon, can you help me?” I called from the shower.
“What do you need?” Rick smiled as he stepped into the steamy bathroom.
“I can’t wash my back.”
“Where’s the soap?” Rick pulled back the curtain and went right to work.
One morning, I woke to the heavenly smell of freshly brewed coffee; a reminder of my favorite part of day. Previous to surgery, four in the morning was a private time. Alone with my thoughts, I would sip and write undisturbed. Now, my days opened with the TV broadcasting local news. I missed my independence. I missed writing. I struggled to reach a new norm.
Two weeks after surgery, I sat in Dr. Valletta’s office, still ruminating over my shameful behavior. Rick leaned against the counter, careful not to disturb the medical supplies stored on the shelf.
The door opened and Jules entered the room. I relaxed, grateful to be spared an awkward reunion with Dr. Valletta.
Jules examined my shoulder thoroughly, then stepped back and smiled. “Lynn, you are doing very well. You’re healing just fine, and thanks to the CPM, your range of motion is excellent.” Mentally, I gave myself a high-five for insisting on the CPM machine.
“I’d like to see you again in four weeks,” Jules said.
“When can we return to Mexico?” I asked.
“You can return now, but you must wear your cradle around the clock.”Great. Another two months of sleeping on my back.
“How about my rehab in Mexico?”
“You can send me pictures of your physical therapy and I’ll comment via email.”
“Thank you! That’s a wonderful solution. I’ll do it.”
“Remember, you must wear your brace day and night.” Jules looked me straight in the eye and added, “It’s important.”
“Is it still possible to have surgery on my left shoulder in six months?”
“If your right shoulder is fully functional, we can operate on your left shoulder in September.“
It was time go home. We packed our bags and checked out of the Navy Lodge, both dreading the drive. I stressed over revisiting thousands of potholes. Rick recounted the endless gray Mexican highways peppered with unexpected road hazards.
On the last leg of our journey I broke the tension with a mild case of food poisoning. Rick pulled over every 15-minutes or so while I tossed my cookies out the door; the sour smell of vomit swirled through the car.
We pulled into the Marina La Cruz parking lot as the sun set behind the hills. It took multiple trips to haul our stuff to LA VITA. With one good arm, other than opening the gates with our electronic keys, I was useless.
The fresh salt air lifted my spirits. Rick’s love of the ocean softened the furrows in his brow. We stood holding hands gazing out to sea. We were home.
Within two months, the brace was a semi-permanent fixture. My left handed penmanship was still chicken scratch. Typos punctuated my two-finger typing. Folks gave me funny looks at my awkward and clumsy behavior. One friend affectionately called me Lurch as in The Addams Family television show. Strangers held doors open for me and I smiled with gratitude.
INTERNATIONAL REHAB TEAM
Rehab became my life and continued at ProSport & Health in Puerto Vallarta, MX. Deep tissue massages forced my muscles to relax. Gym workouts built strength and coordination. Hours after each session, my muscles sent pain messages to my brain. I struggled to decode them; was I ripping surgical sutures or building muscles? I analyzed and fretted for months.
My international medical team operated with mutual cooperation and respect. In San Diego, Jules monitored my progress through weekly email reports and pictures of my physical therapy. Michelle, the ProSport receptionist, translated the orders into Spanish. Eder (my first physical therapist) and I listened intently.
In November, Eder went to Madrid, Spain, for advanced training. His replacement, Itzel, spoke fluent English and we clicked immediately. She went on to fix a long-standing muscle cramp and modified my weight lifting program to accommodate my life on LA VITA.
LIFE ON LA VITA
Nighttime on LA VITA brought its own unique challenges. To relieve the aches, I’d support my arm with pillows. This helped, but pain pulled me from my sleep every couple of hours.
Rick and I sleep in a Pullman-style berth and I’m on the inside. As boat captain and first responder to any emergency, Rick commands the outside position.
When nature called, I couldn’t climb over Rick. Oh, how I wished I hadn’t had to wake him. The alternative was unacceptable.
I’d gently touch his shoulder and say, “I need to pee.”
Rick would then throw back the sheet, his medical tags jingling as he staggered out of bed; usually, two in the morning.
Three months after surgery I still couldn’t fasten my bra, but created a delightful solution. I’d sashay over to Rick, kiss him on the check, turn around, and lift the back of my shirt. He’d get the message.
Five months from my right shoulder surgery, I gathered my courage and called Dr. Valletta’s office and scheduled my left shoulder surgery for September 16. Dr. Rios, here in Puerto Vallarta, ordered my pre-surgery medical tests, The results were emailed to Dr. Valletta.
Once again, we made reservations on the Navy base at the Navy Lodge. We drove the same Mexican plated car to the military gate. I released a sigh of relief when Navy security checked Rick’s ID and waved us through without comment. The Check In process at the Navy Lodge went smoothly, however, the Navy wasn’t through testing us.
What I didn’t expect was two fire drills. TWICE, body shaking fire alarms screamed in our room. TWICE, the alarms forced immediate evacuation. High pitched alarms chased us down the stairwells and pierced our ears.
What set off the sirens at this ungodly hour? As the guests straggled back into the Lodge, I interrupted a police officer studying her smart phone. She told me an abandoned pot on the stove set off a smoke detector.
The second ’emergency’ was a routine fire alarm equipment test. The staff neglected to notify the Navy Lodge guests!
We stayed at the Lodge for six weeks while I recovered from surgery. Since I’d already figured out how to sleep and shower wearing the brace I expected a smoother recovery. As it turned out, I was correct; much less pain, right from the beginning.
November 1, we headed back to Mexico and LA VITA. By now, pot holes and topes (speed bumps) were routine, but just as jarring. We never did get used to the unmarked detours which diverted oncoming traffic into our lane. Rick’s knuckles would turn white, while keeping a steady hands on the wheel.
Complete rehabilitation was slow and I fell short of my expectations. My right shoulder refused to lift weights while my left arm convalesced in the cradle. I fought mild depression.
Could I ever trust my right arm again? My first ray of hope appeared the day I held a knife and pared an apple. More proof appeared one night, I successfully pulled a blanket up over my shoulders. The day I opened the overhead sliding hatch and exited the boat all by myself was priceless.
Ten long months after the first surgery, both shoulders were strong enough to support my weight as I slid over Rick and exited our berth, I was elated.
It took a year, but today my stamina has vastly improved. Most mornings, well before sunrise, you’ll find me savoring my first cup of coffee while my fingers dance over the keyboard.
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