People Are Nice

Sister of sister-in-law bringing dinner. Lots of other kind souls bringing dinners. Eighty-five-year-old Relief Society President coming over to vacuum stairs and mop my kitchen floor. Pretty flowers. Neighbors giving rides to my kids from school, to piano, to dance, to activity days. Steve's employees (and their mothers) praying for me. Nine-year-old nephew fasting for me. Good books and magazines. Thoughtful hand-sewn hearts for my kids to keep close when I am not. Friends from afar sending cleaning ladies. Basket full of yummy drinks. And a pink eraser. Monday runs to Costco. Jamba Juice gift card and a good friend to provide delivery service. Chocolate covered strawberries. Incredibly busy sister-in-law offering to drop everything to come to Utah to help for week. Loaves of bread. Grandmas and grandpas and aunts and friends taking care of the kids. Friend mailing me the beautiful picture seen above saying I need something pretty to look at while I recover. The list goes on and on.

I have learned much from your examples. I have learned how to better serve by being served.

Thank you.


Back to the Hospital & Some Graphic Pictures

Are you sick of these posts about surgery and recovery? Because I am. I have been looking at pictures from everyone's wonderful spring break trips, and it's making me wish I were somewhere else. Anywhere else. I spent my spring break in bed at home and having surgery. I wasn't planning to post these pictures, but Steve thinks I should. He really enjoyed being the photographer. Kind of like a seven-year-old boy enjoys ripping legs off of a grasshopper.

So the "almost hernia" wasn't an "almost hernia" after all. The bulging area on my incision turned red and made it pretty obvious that it was an infection. I went in for an ultrasound on Wednesday at 10:00 am, and they quickly sent me Salt Lake to be seen by the doctor down there. (Dr. Steppacher was still out of town.) I was prepped and ready for surgery at Intermountain Medical Center by 2:00 pm.

Dr. Goodman cut open about half my incision and cleaned out the infection. (A staph infection, likely caused by that stitch that poked out through my skin a couple of weeks ago.) Because of the infection, the incision could not be closed up and will remain "open" until it heals by itself.

I actually felt quite a bit of relief after the surgery. Except for the wound dressing changes. Gauze pads were packed into the wound and had to be changed every eight hours. The first change was one of the most painful things in my life. I had been feeling so good that I was completely unmedicated. It felt like a jagged knife was very slowly being pulled down my abdomen. And that was just to remove the gauze. Then he had to shove new gauze back in. I screamed through the whole thing and cried afterwards. Steve was ready to get a video but ended up having to go sit down because he was going to pass out. We made sure I was medicated for all subsequent changes.

On Friday evening, Dr. Goodman came and hooked me up to a wound vac. The cultures were back and showed the infection was responsive to the antibiotic, so I was free to leave. As soon as Steve could get away from Sonora Grill, he drove down and picked me up. I was discharged (with a bowl for the drive) and got home at 10:30 pm.

The wound vac was fairly painful (and really loud) for the first two days, so the home health nurse thinks there must have been a leak. It's not nearly as problematic now. . . except for the wound dressing changes. Now they are only every other day, but I've got to get something figured out because I really don't want to have to go through that torture ever again. I slept for three-and-a-half hours after she left and am still a bit tender around the area. I am already dreading Wednesday.

So, just when we thought things were starting to get back to normal, we are back to where we were a month ago. I have new lifting restrictions for the next eight to ten weeks. I have to be propped up with four pillows to be able to go to sleep at night. I have to keep the wound vac completely dry and can't shower or properly bathe for three weeks. (You may not understand how difficult that is for me, but believe me, it's going to be tough.) But at least I have a good husband who hasn't complained once, is taking good care of me, and is helping me identify lessons to learn from this experience.

Consider this your official warning:
The pictures below are a little gross.
A little graphic.
I have not shown them to my children.

Tuesday, April 19; Wednesday, April 20; Thursday, April 21

Friday, April 22; Saturday, April 23; Monday, April 25


My Favorite Four-Year-Old

After two weeks of celebrating Adam's birthday, he finally turned four on Thursday. I am glad we started his birthday celebrations early since this last week didn't work out too well.

His first birthday party took place at Sam & Kacie's house. They ordered pizza, wrapped up a gift, and called it a party. He was one happy little boy.

Then we went to Ballard Family Sunday and celebrated there with hamburgers on the grill, baseball cupcakes, and more presents. He got baseball things (including a "baseball-hitter-offer-thing") and books. All of the other kids went outside and played baseball, but he sat on the couch, interested only in playing Angry Birds.

Rebecca came and hung up his ADAM letters before they got further damaged. And then she took these great pictures to document his upcoming birthday.

Cards in the mail, more gifts from family members, and being the leader at preschool have kept a smile on this boy's face for two weeks straight.

And this picture is keeping a smile on my face:

Our Week

Monday: Steve called saying that he just got the official decision from the Kemps and he was closing Rickenbacker's. That night. I went out with Steve's parents and the four of us sat down to eat our last dinner. It was sad (but needed to happen. . . they had been loosing exorbitant amounts of money since they opened their doors four years ago.) Steve had to let go 31 employees. He got about an hour of sleep.

Tuesday: Steve spent the day calling all of the people with reservations for dinners, banquets, and weddings to inform them that Rickenbacker's was closed. Not fun, but was able to switch many of them over to Sonora Grill. I went to a PTA meeting and then to pick up kids from neighbors. As soon as Rachel got in the car, she started bawling, saying she hurt her arm. Tried to determine if she was being overly emotional or if she really needed medical attention. Dropped the kids off at Richard & Gloria's house and took her to the urgent care center. X-rays came back and showed a broken arm. You can read more about it here.

Wednesday: Called surgeon's office with complaints of painful, tender area on incision. Thought it might be an infection. Went in to have it looked at by physician assistant (surgeon out of town). She told me to put Neosporin on it, take some (more) ibuprophen, and start an antibiotic the next day. Steve came home from work throwing up from a terrible migraine. Derrick took over with the kids and Steve and I both went to bed. By nighttime, my painful area had grown and it hurt to walk. And breathe. I went to the ER.

Thursday: I was released from the emergency room at 3:00 am. No infection, no bleeding, no problems with the arteries. CT scan showed that I tore through some of the muscle tissue that wasn't completely healed. Painful area is my intestines trying to push through. . . an "almost incisional hernia". Wrapped me up tight with a super wide ace bandage and sent me home to rest. Little kids out to Richard & Gloria's (again). Steve back on duty taking care of everything else (again). Debra kindly made us dinner (again). I spent the day in bed.

Friday: Steve took Lucy to school, the little kids to Richard & Gloria's, and Rachel to get her cast. I was back to sitting with a heating pad on my stomach and taking lots of pills to control the pain. Called physician assistant back and she faxed prescription for abdominal binder and scheduled appointment with co-surgeon for Tuesday. Rebecca went to Costco and picked things up for us for the second time of the week. (I am very lucky to have my own personal grocery shopper.) And then she came over to watch the kids while Steve went to work.

Saturday: Security alarm went off at 3:00 am. Steve popped out of bed and ran down to turn it off. Then hurried to check on kids, tripping on all of the toys on the stairs. Kids were all fast asleep. Rachel had set off alarm by hitting her cast against the window. All four kids to Ron and Jean's for the day. Then Rachel and Lucy to Rebecca's house, Adam to Angie's house, and Kaleigh with Derrick. Steve cleaned my office. (Hooray!) I finished taxes. Still in lots of pain and abdomen slightly bulging out. No significant improvement.

And that was our week.


The Update

My one-month post-op appointment with Dr. Steppacher was last Monday. He pushed all around on my incision and told me things looked good. (But that one of the little knots was going to pop through my skin and need to be stitched up again. And that painful lump at the top of my incision will be there for a good six months.)

I told him the surgery was a success: I tested my stomach with some carnitas from Sonora Grill and a slice of greasy pizza. He was impressed, but told me to be careful and ease into things slowly. And then he lectured me on eating a balanced diet. He is funny.

I should have written an update right then, before I got hurt. I overdid it that day and spent the next few days (and nights) in pain. I wasn't feeling very positive about things . . . probably lost six or seven days of recovery. But, I suppose I learned my lesson.

So I'd like to say that I'm feeling wonderful, but I'm not. (And I'm not sure when I will.) It can be frustrating. Because although I am out and about a bit, most physical activity comes with a cost. Going to church on Sunday meant that I spent a couple hours laying in bed that evening. Folding and putting away the laundry means that I need to sit down a take a break for a while. But I have enjoyed reading, organizing photos, and even practicing the piano. I spent the afternoon reading books with Adam while Kaleigh napped. Slowing down can be good.

The eating is fabulous. On Thursday night, I had my first piece of bacon. Rachel and Lucy's response was automatic, "Mom! You can't eat bacon!" But it looks like I can! I had a sirloin steak on Saturday night and some delicious filet mignon tonight. (So much for a slow transition.) It is amazing. I haven't had any stomach problems in the last two weeks. I'm starting to gain weight and warned Steve to get ready for forty pounds.

I feel like I understand a little of what Steve felt after his surgery when he had cancer. Everyone kept asking him when he was going to go back out on his mission, but he didn't feel well enough. There are still days that I would rather not get out of bed. (If I didn't have kids to take care of, I wouldn't.) And I wonder when I will ever feel well enough to swing my kids by their arms, spinning around in circles. But I have much to be happy about.

Like how well my incision has healed.

Quite remarkable, don't you think?

I suppose my theory on recovering was a little off. I assumed that because I was young, I would recover much faster than the seventy-five-year-olds who Dr. Steppacher usually operates on. But now, I am thinking that if I were seventy-five, I would probably be fairly satisfied with my current level of recovery. It is because I am younger and more active that I have so much further to go to return to my normal level activity. Does that make any sense?

I had big plans to accomplish all sorts of amazing things during my recovery. I was going to organize my office, scan all of my documents and photos, and write thank you cards to all of the wonderful people who have done so many nice things for me. I envisioned having lots of time to go to movies with Steve while our kids were gone and accomplishing projects around the house. But my office is messier than ever, the stack of papers on my desk is a good thirty inches tall, photos are still unorganized, and thank you cards have yet to be written. And there was not one night that I felt up to going to a movie.

Today's household accomplishments were limited to two loads of laundry, two loads of dishes, and cleaning the microwave- that's all. But it will come. I will get caught up on things. And life will be so much better without my stomach problems. Hooray for modern medical technology!


The Husband

When my surgery was first switched to Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake, I told Steve that might be better because then he would be away from the restaurants and might actually stay with me at the hospital. He assured me he was going to stay the whole time, regardless of where we were. (Adding that he would never live it down if he didn't.) I didn't really believe him.

Based on everything he has done for me over the last month, I will never live down doubting him.

As mentioned in a previous post, the second night I was in the ICU, Steve stayed up till 3:00 am, pushing the medicine release button every ten minutes for me. . . and then slept in his car to stay close. That was just the beginning. I am pretty sure I was the only one on the whole cardiac unit with someone who stayed every night in their room with them. Steve learned, not only how to empty my foley catheter so I didn't have to wait for a nurse to come help me, but also how to unhook all of my cords so he could help me up to go to the bathroom. He patiently walked the halls with me, encouraging me with every step (even at 3:00 am). He did such a good job that after a few days, Oscar, the really-nice-but-probably-thought-I-didn't-like-him physical therapist turned my physical therapy over to Steve. And jokingly asked if he could assign him a few other patients as well. Steve listened to the doctors attentively and was such a good protective husband, quickly notifying the nurses when there were problems.

I still remember one of the anesthesiologist nurses. She cocked her head at us and remarked, "You must be newlyweds." Steve told her our ten-year anniversary was coming up this year. "Wow," she looked right at me. "You hang onto that." (In case you were wondering, I plan to.)

Being at the hospital was the easy part for him. Back then, he still had time to play Angry Birds.

Since coming home, Steve has continued to be my nurse, my physical therapist, and my cheerleader. He also became my personal cook, preparing countless trays of food for me like this:

His duties became increasingly more challenging as the kids transitioned home.

He has dressed the kids, fed them breakfast, packed lunches, driven them to school and Grandma's house, gone to work, then picked all of the kids back up and brought them home for dinner, homework, baths, and scriptures. Somehow, he has mostly kept up with the dishes, the laundry, shopped for groceries, and filled in for me with all sorts of other responsibilities.

My empathetic husband knows all to well what a recovery from a surgery like this is like. (His abdominal incision from his lymph node removal from when he had cancer is a good two inches longer than mine.) My good husband has taken such good care of me.

Poor guy deserves a few more naps. And a vacation.

The Kids

The biggest logistical issue with my surgery was who would take care of the kids. Steve's mom, Gloria, was our lifesaver.

She had the kids overnight for thirteen days straight. Ten more days with the little kids during the day. And two additional weekends with just Kaleigh. She has been absolutely wonderful. Amazing. Unbelievable.

I know much of my praise has gone to Gloria, but I sure appreciate Steve's dad's willingness to help too. Richard drove kids back and forth to school and helped take care of them as well. (And, more impressive than that, he didn't even make anyone cry with stories about ghosts from the basement.)

Many thanks to the others who also helped with the kids. On Tuesdays, Angie took the little kids all day long and even brought them home to bathe them and put them to bed. Saren picked up the girls from school, took Lucy to dance, and fed them dinner. Kacie has had two crazy (long) weekends with kids at her house. And I hope my mom is ready for her second weekend with some loud kids at her house for another sleepover.

And thanks to those of you who offered to help with the kids. Gloria was so kind and said she didn't want me to have to worry about coordinating a complicated schedule and wanted the kids to have some stability during my recovery. But she didn't just watch the kids. She played games with them, helped them with their homework, held Family Home Evening, took them on walks, sewed a button on Kaleigh's dress, mended Lucy's sweater, did workbooks with Adam, read scriptures, made picnic lunches, and even invited more grandkids over for a sleepover.

I know all of this because Rachel and Lucy kept detailed journals about everything they did while they were gone so I wouldn't miss out on anything.

Notice the minute-by-minute updates from Rachel's journal. I loved reading them!

I was a little sad that I missed the first time Rachel bore her testimony in sacrament meeting. But reading about her shoes full of sweat was probably the next best thing to being there:

Our kids are blessed to have such great grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, and neighbors to help take care of them.

Here are the cute notes Lucy made for me:

And the sweet note Lucy's friend gave her, just before my surgery:

All in all, the kids handled things really well. I almost think the little kids were more resilient to the changes than the older kids were. Adam wakes up every day and asks whose house he is going to. (And he's certainly going to be disappointed now that he is stuck at home with me.) Rachel and Lucy, on the other hand, each had impressive meltdowns about a week or so ago. Complete with this awesome note:

After that, Steve decided it might be good to take a day off work and spend some time with Rachel and Lucy.

Problem solved.