And the party continues….

Yesterday, Bode finally got patched up at the orthopedic surgeon’s. Here’s a tip for you: if you’ve ever going to break anything or get deathly ill, don’t do it over a holiday weekend because no one is around to fix it.

I had to wait until Monday to call the surgeon to schedule an appointment. Now, this was after spending several sleepless nights with The Boy as he wailed and thrashed around. We just wanted to transition to the healing process so when the scheduler told me they couldn’t fit him in for another week to get a cast, let’s just say it didn’t go over well.

The squeaky wheel wins. They “miraculously” found me an opening at a location up north.

When we arrived, I had Bode help me fill out his paperwork, which was about the funniest thing I could have done. When I queued how it happened, he replied:

“I stood on the crate and den I fell.

He was the youngest in the orthopedic office by about 60 years so everyone fawned over him, especially the staffers when they offered him a cookie and he brought me a heart-shaped one. The kid’s a charmer, even when in pain.

I’ve never broken anything so it was pretty fascinating to watch the casting process. Bode was in good spirits. In fact, I can’t get him to ham it up for the camera even in the best of times!

Stay tuned tomorrow for just how much the kid is working it.

The good and bad news of our hospital stint (pun intended)

If I ever write a book, the title will be, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

Jamie was once again in the hospital for chest pain this week. On Tuesday night, he had meetings at the church and I asked him to drop off something.

“I probably can’t.”
“Why not?”
“I think I need to go to the ER,” he casually informed me.

He then revealed he’s been having chest pain since FRIDAY but never said anything because he knew I’d freak and make him go to the hospital and he would have missed his pumpkin party and weigh-off.

Death vs. a pumpkin party? Priorities.

And so they admitted him Tuesday night. We knew they wouldn’t be able to do anything until the next morning and that he’d need an angiogram. The nurse told him it was OK to eat breakfast so imagine how pleased he was to have the cardiologist come in a few minutes later to inform him he couldn’t eat before the procedure, that he now had to wait six hours, and that they were so backed up they probably wouldn’t be able to get him in until the next day.

This news did not go over well with me, in large part due to the already-overwhelming medical bills we’re paying off. There was NO WAY I was paying for an extra day in the hospital due to THEIR screw-up.

I was still at home at that point so I made some calls. They were not pleasant but apparently my loving threats hit home because 20 minutes later, Jamie called me.

“You contacted the hospital, didn’t you?!”
“How did you know?”
“They just informed me they found an opening for 3 p.m. today.”

Sometimes it pays off to be me.

The findings? When Jamie had surgery back in February, there were three arteries that were almost completely blocked as a result of his chemo radiation treatments he had in his late-20s. For two of the main arteries, they were able to put stints. The third artery is a smaller branch off the main and due to its position and size, they were unable to do anything with it. The only possible solution to open it up is bypass surgery and at this point, they don’t want to go there.

Believe me, neither do I.

And so they think it’s that darned third artery that is causing the chest pain. Because it’s not a main artery, they’re not overly concerned about it but if the pain continues they’ll reevaluate. They hope by switching up his meds, they can help him manage the pain.

So, I guess it’s a bit of good news (the stints in the main arteries are fine) and bad news (there’s nothing we can do about the blocked third artery). We hope Jamie will return home today.

I’ve got to say once again how grateful I am for our awesome friends and family and their outpouring of support. Whether it’s watching the kids, bringing us dinners or just offering to help in anyway they can, I am so humbled by everyone’s support. And I’m hoping that someday soon we can return the favor.

Read: Cease from being charity cases.

The kids and I spent most of Wednesday afternoon and evening in the hospital, with a quick trip to the nearby pumpkin farm while Jamie was doped up in recovery. I’ve become disarmingly comfortable in a hospital setting this year but what I was not prepared for: Jamie’s celebrity status.

As two nurses were wheeling Jamie into surgery, he managed to worked it into the conversation that he grows giant pumpkins. Both of the women scrutinized him, turned to me, recognized The Hair and exclaimed, “You were on The Marriage Ref!” Jamie then delighted his captive audience.

It didn’t stop there. Following his surgery, his new nurse not only remembered him from six months ago (horrors to be considered a “regular” in the cardiac unit) but also from TV.

It was my worst nightmare on many levels.:)

But here’s for hoping we’ll be able to once again pick up where we left off and start running again today.

Limping along

Yep, that’s a picture of my real-life meniscus tear. Sassy, isn’t it?

I’ve been busy trying to play catch-up after my drug-induced stupor last week. My prognosis: good. I started to turn the corner on Saturday and even limped to church and to a friend’s dinner party on Sunday.

I had my follow-up appointment today and the doc said I’m healing nicely. He encouraged me to keep doing low-impact workouts the next four weeks until the pain completely goes away.

I’m opting out of physical therapy. If this was a total knee replacement or ACL, physical therapy would be a must but a meniscus tear is not structural. I’m confident I can tackle healing with my own home exercises because 1) I’m delusional and 2) Our deluge of medical bills has started to hit.

And like that picture, it ain’t purdy.

On my one-week anniversary of my knee surgery on Tuesday, I went biking.

Or rather, made the attempt. I looked like a one-legged gimp trying to bike up the hill to my house without putting pressure on my sore knee. But I felt triumphant after doing it, despite the resulting pain the next day.

My motto these next weeks: One step forward, two steps back.

The party continues

I’ve already made it clear I despise being forcibly stuck at home but to spend two entire weeks out of the past three flat on my back? Tedious.

My first couple of days after my knee surgery, I was so doped up on anesthesia and Vicodin, I barely noticed. In fact, during one of Hadley’s half-hour-long “I don’t want to read and you can’t make me” tantrums, Jamie was shocked when I didn’t get frustrated at all. It was a new side of me I didn’t know existed: drug-induced patience.

Now, if only there was a non-narcotic solution for dealing with homework hissy fits.

But yesterday, I hit the wall with the whole thing. Sure, I was in very little/no pain but I also hadn’t slept in a few days, had major internal plumbing issues and was in a miserable haze.

And so I’m weaning myself off the hardcore drugs. This meant Thursday was my most painful day yet but I’d much rather figure out a way to naturally manage my pain than stay up all night hallucinating about cotton balls and rainbows.

Recreational drug users who think it’s fun to live in La La Land are just stupid.

Today, I have a whole new set of problems. I was in an excruciating amount of pain last night due to Said Plumbing Issues so I sent Jamie to to buy me some drugs. I took the maximum dose last night and then again this morning…and nothing.

That’s the maximum dose twice over the course of 8 hours if you’re keeping track.

But then they finally kicked in and I’ve had a whole lot of something which amounts to bathroom trips every five minutes on my painful knee, along with exhaustion and nausea. As miserable as I am right now, I’m trying to remind myself I’m just four days into my recovery and this, too shall pass.

And I can go back to just getting my knee better.

After all the drama, that somehow sounds like the lesser of many evils.

Partying it up during my inevitably long recovery

So, I’m alive.

I just wish I didn’t have this lovely reminder all night long with my drug-induced insomnia.

I awoke early yesterday to fastidiously shave my knee before surgery. I’m not what one could call vain but apparently I am as it pertains to unsightly knee hairs. Turns out I was better off with a bit of stubble because I gashed my knee.

So kind of me to give Dr. Stahl a headstart in the process.

Knee surgery went fine. Given my recent stint in the hospital for chest pains, getting my knee fixed was the lesser of the many medical evils we’ve endured in 2011. I tore my meniscus two years ago and had my first round of appointments almost a year ago.

By the time I was admitted for surgery yesterday, the staff at Panorama Orthopedic Surgeons & Spine Center kept asking if I was nervous. “No, I just want this to be over with,” I repeated over and over again. And I meant it.

I’m not a person who needs a lot of hand-holding. I insisted Jamie drop me off, go home and work (he’s as overloaded as usual), pick-up Bode late-morning, take him to Seanie’s and reconnect with me in the recovery room (mine was an out-patient procedure and I was home by early-afternoon). Jamie initially insisted upon being there but I was firm.

“Listen, all you’re going to do is waste time sitting in the waiting room for four hours.”

“But what if you need me for something, like an emergency blood transfusion?”

“No offense, Honey. But you’re the LAST person’s blood I’d ever want to have.”

We’re no Edward and Bella.

One of the few nice things about having a husband who’s a medical disaster is he’s been through it before and knows the right questions to ask the doctor. Problem was, the doc and his PA never bothered to do a follow-up after the surgery and the recovery room staff was clueless. It was one of the many things that ticked me off about the sub-par care I received. Call me crazy but if I’m dumping thousands of dollars into a procedure, I’d at least like to know how it went.

But in the end, the only thing that matters is if they were able to fix the knee and that has yet to be determined. My follow-up appointment is next Thursday.

In the interim, I’m outfitted with some nifty ice packs and thigh-high anti- embolism T.E.D. stockings for the next 10 days (try sleeping with a girdle on your legs). But thank heavens for the Vicodin. I’ve been taking it regularly and had minimal pain until about midnight. Three hours later, I’m wired but my pain is in check.

I’m thinking taking an upper + bedrest will not = a restful combination for me. Hopefully I’ll finally get some sleep when the kids are in school.

I have some swell friends from church who are bringing over dinners and Jamie has been taking good care of me. Mostly. He outfitted my room with a nice rose, plenty of DVDs and snacks. He works from his den in the basement and has graciously accepted my many requests via cell. His only failure was when I couldn’t reach him about cranking up the air-conditioning so I told the kids: “Go tell Daddy it’s too hot up here.”

He started to reply he already turned on the air until he double-checked and realized he had accidentally cranked up the heat. Did I mention it’s still upper 90s in Denver, that our upstairs is already a sauna and I’m wearing a leg girdle?

It’s gonna be a long recovery for all of us. ;)

My Diagnosis

Note: After publishing this blog post, I realized this might be confusing to anyone who has not been following the saga on Facebook. After returning home from the hospital on Thursday, I experienced even more severe chest pain that night and readmitted myself to the ER the following morning.

It’s been a long three days full of needles, tests and doctors. When I was asked by a nurse on Day 2 in the ER, “Hey weren’t you in here yesterday?” it reconfirmed to me this ain’t exactly the kind of place you want to be called a regular.

Heart pain isn’t something you want to mess with, especially since just six months ago, doctors were throwing around terms like “open-heart surgery” and “stints” with Jamie. And even though I was praying like crazy it wasn’t something serious, I have to admit I didn’t want it to be something embarrassing like heartburn or acid reflux.

That is on par with feeling like you were having an acute appendicitis attack, only to realize it was just gas (been there, done that).

As it turns out, it was something: Costochondritis. Basically, it’s a condition that causes localized chest pain due to the inflammation of the junctions where the upper ribs join with the cartilage that holds them to the breastbone or sternum.

It feels similar to a heart attack so the only way to diagnose it is to systematically rule out heart-related problems. Over the course of three days, I got X-rays, an EKG, a CAT Scan and a treadmill stress test.

Yep, those medical bills are going to be ugly.

When the pain was at its worst and I hadn’t slept in two days, they pumped me with morphine, wherein I uttered such slurred profundities as “Sleeeeeepy…” and “DUUUUUUDE.”

They kept me overnight last night for observation because my symptoms seem to worsen in the evening. I knew it was the right thing to do but that evening, we were supposed to drive Haddie to Vail (about 1.5 hours away) where she would compete in her adventure race today. For the past few weeks, we’ve been biking, hiking or zip-lining every day as a part of her training. I am devastated about missing it but grateful our good friends (with whom she is competing) took care of her.

So, I’m learning how to take it easy at home and I want to thank everyone for their prayers and well-wishes. I’ve been prescribed anti-inflammatories to reduce the swelling and vicodin for pain, and the prognosis is good. No one knows what causes it but out of all the heart-related conditions, this is one of the lesser evils. I mentioned earlier I’ve had these flare-ups most of my life (though never to this degree) so wasn’t surprised to read Costochondritis is a common cause of chest pain in children and adolescents.

But there’s one complication. If you’ll recall, I was scheduled to have my knee repaired last February but Jamie had heart surgery the day prior so I pushed it back until we could pay it off. The rescheduled surgery was supposed to be in a couple of weeks and now we have a new deluge of heart-related bills.

But I’m not complaining. Maybe it’s just the good Lord’s not-so-subtle way of telling me I’m meant to limp around forever.

My Morning in the Emergency Room & Why I’m Pretty Darn Grateful About It

Yep, that’s right folks. I just got back from the emergency room. For myself this time, not my beloved medical-nightmare husband.

The culprit? My heart. Maybe it’s just me but after enduring the uncertainty and downright terror of Jamie’s recent heart problems and stints, you’d think we’d be exempt for the rest of the year, right? Wrong.

I’ve been blessed with good health and was reminded of this when the nurse at the hospital reviewed my spotless medical history. But there’s been one weird condition I’ve occasionally had that I’ve never been able to pinpoint. Since I was young, I get this weird seizing up of my heart. I remember lying on my Aunt Miriam’s couch when I was about 7 or 8 and feeling like if I inhaled even a little bit, my heart was going to explode.

The episodes never lasted long (about 15 minutes) and were infrequent (a couple of times a year). But yesterday while I was hiking with Haddie and her friend Sydney, my heart started seizing up. It has never happened to me before when working out but wasn’t intense enough to cause much worry…until I arrived home and it didn’t stop. And the pain augmented as the evening went on. Finally at around 1 a.m. I took some aspirin and finally got some sleep. I resolved if it wasn’t gone in the morning, I’d go get it checked out.

Sadly, the pain persisted so I called my doctor who referred me to the triage who told me to go to the E.R. I grabbed some breakfast and waited it out for a few minutes. Jamie came into the kitchen:

“Why have you not left yet?”

“I’m waiting for the washing machine to finish so I can load the clothes in the dryer. Haddie’s adventure-racing outfit is in there.”

“Are you kidding me?! GET TO THE E.R. I’ll change the laundry.”

As it turns out, he forgot. This has instilled within me a greater purpose that I cannot die because the laundry would never get done.

I underwent an EKG and X-rays. Thankfully, everything checked out OK. The ER doctor’s explanation was I had skeletal and muscular chest compressions, which I already knew. But my heart itself is fine and I was released four hours later.

As I walked out, a mother and her 12-year-old daughter were standing on the curb. As you probably know, the “rooms” in the ER are flimsy curtains so I heard this woman’s story. At first, I’ve got to admit she grated on me with her piercing, slurred voice and I assumed she was drunk. As I eavesdropped, I ascertained she was more likely uneducated. She was probably my age but looked much older, 8 months pregnant, was in for a fractured ankle, had another 2 year old at home and was about as down on your luck as you could get.

I could hear her going back-and-forth with her tween. She was in an excruciating amount of pain and couldn’t walk but they didn’t have a car so they’d have to take a couple of buses to get home. And then they were gone.

A half hour later, I signed my release papers and was surprised to see this woman and her daughter outside of the hospital. I offered them a ride, which she gratefully accepted. She talked non-stop our entire drive–of how thankful she was for the ride, her 2-year-old’s numerous surgeries for his club foot, wondering how she was going to take care of this new baby with her ankle, and hoping Medicare was going to cover her hospital visit. I talked to her daughter about entering middle school next week and we discussed how she could help her mom.

When we arrived at her ramshackle apartment on a dead-end street in the bad part of town, I helped her out of the car. She expressed her gratitude once again as her daughter assisted her inside.

And then I got in the car and cried the entire way home. Partly for relief I will likely be OK but mostly out of sorrow for this woman, her entire situation, the circumstances under which this baby will be born, and this sweet 12-year-old who’s the same age as many of the girls I teach in church. And who’s been given a pretty crummy lot in life.

When I arrived home, Jamie informed me his Aunt Norma suffered a hemorragic stroke and likely won’t pull through. And then his Aunt Brenda had a mild heart attack.

Today has been a day of a whole lot of gratitude, perspective and a whole lot more prayers for the many who need them more than I.

Signs of the [sickly & crippled] times

Fortunately, the Johnson Clan has turned the corner (though we’re still not 100%). I’ve detailed our many ailments of 2011 of this blog that include perpetual illness, heart surgery and knee traumas.

Unfortunately, my kids have lived it.

Jamie and I have downplayed the gravity of much that has taken place but kids are perceptive. They kinda notice when their mom (a.k.a. the one who normally drags them all over tarnation) is bedridden so they played together a lot.

Hands down, their favorite toys are their abundance of stuffed animals. During healthier times, the animals would go on make-believe hiking adventures, ski down double-black diamond runs and race at the Olympics.

This week, the animals are sick. Bode professes his husky Lolly has a lengthy recovery ahead of him with back surgery and his beloved Tabby is having head surgery.

Let’s hope a nursing home is not in their (our) future.


In related news, here’s a recent conversation I had with my beloved James.

Jamie: “I’ve been going over our financials. I have figured out what we owe for taxes, the heart surgery and the new refrigerator.”

Amber: “So pretty much that means I won’t have knee surgery until 2014?”

Jamie: “Actually, I think that’s a little soon.”

The Canadian Patient

I finally broke down and went to the doctor yesterday. Six weeks of off-and-on illness sent me over the edge.

And the fact I was almost out of my prescription codeine-laced cough medicine.

Desperate times, desperate measures.

My cough was so bad I started to worry I had bronchitis but turns out it’s just the flu and a killer sinus infection. The cough was a result of all the drippage. Allegedly. I’ve been so stuffed up I don’t know how any drippage is possible. Or, in the doc’s words as she looked up my nostril:

“Geez, I can’t see up there at all. No wonder you can’t breathe!”

Validation is important at the doctor’s office.

I came home with hard-core antibiotics, couch medicine, nasal spray and a new outlook on life (albeit a fuzzy one due to all the drugs).

For those not aware, I have some pretty bad nose problems over the years. I even have a couple of failed surgeries under my belt, which resulted in a hole in my deviated septum. As a result, I blow my nose all day long, even when I’m not sick (this makes me totally endearing to my beloved James.)

When I am sick, I debate taking out stock in Kleenex.

My snot could make me a very rich woman.

The doc and I also discussed returning to get some blood work done so we can figure out what I’m deficient in and why I somehow catch every infection floating around Colorado.

I told this to my neighbor Steve who was watching Bode while I was at the doctor’s office.

“Yeah, it could be that,” he asserted, “Or may you should learn how to take it easy every now and then.

I wonder if there’s a cure for that, too.

Lessons learned

We’re not out of the woods yet with Jamie. He’s had some side effects from the blood thinner medication and also some pain in his foot we feared was a blood clot, which landed him back in the Urgent Care. Thankfully, they didn’t find anything wrong.

But overall, he’s doing well and the last week I’ve learned some things about him.

1) The Man is Vain.

He refused to take off his baseball cap in the hospital because of his bad hair. I told the man hospitals are the only place where you get a pass for bad hair (and everything else) days.

2) The Man is Addicted to Television.

He only watches television late in the evenings and often needs to fall asleep to it. I’ve made concessions in this area because it was the difference between him falling asleep in our bed vs. the couch and have learned to live with it.

But after his surgery where he was barely lucid and couldn’t put two words together, he managed to say this:

Where’s the remote?

Intervention needed.

3) His Children’s Empathy is Questionable.

Because we have two boys and two girls, we are highly competitive and our loyalties are evenly divided. However, Fat Kitty tips the gender scale and Hadley and Bode often obsess that we actually have three boys and two girls.

The first night Jamie was in the hospital was the most difficult for me because there was a deluge of uncertainty. The kids and I brought him an overnight bag and visited with him but I was reluctant to leave at the end of the evening. Then sweet Bode piped up:

Oh no! Now we’ll only have two boys and two girls at home.

The kid could have waited until we left the hotel room to start writing Jamie off.

3) The Man Has Great Friends

In addition to the many people who called, watched the kids and attended to so many of our needs, Jamie had some of his buddies stop by. College friend Whitney and his wife were house-hunting from Utah and generously brought us a healthy meal from Olive Garden. Then, Jamie’s childhood friend Ivan arrived loaded up with heart-healthy groceries. He also happened to drop by at the exact same time the BYU basketball game was on.

Kind of convenient that Ivan doesn’t have cable and we have an 84″-inch HDTV. :)

4) The Man Has An Obsessed Wife

A few years ago, we watched a special on television that told the story of a husband who was in a horrific accident. He survived but his short-term memory was destroyed. This had many ramifications but the one the wife hated the most was anytime they were separated–even if it was just for a bathroom break–when they were reunited, he would respond like it had been years since they had seen each other.

Initially, this would be flattering but after a while, such celebrations would be annoying.

Welcome to Jamie’s world. Such is the trade-off for a gushing wife who’s just glad he’s still around.