Sunday, November 25

Thanksgiving Thankfuls

After almost two years of life being turned on it's side, I feel the need to list my blessings and joys.  Just Thankful, Happy Thoughts! 

  1. My Husband and surgery that was successful 
  2. Children that have grown into amazing adults. 
  3. A home that keeps us protected.  
  4. Abundant food (too much at times!)
  5. The love of dogs
  6. Church   
  7. This year my eyes have seen the most glorious colors of Fall. 
  8. Watching my baby sister find love. 
  9. Movies that move me ~ tears and all. 
  10. Good health for my family! Especially Corey & others being cancer free! 
  11. Thankful for Family that stands by you. 
  12. Music played loudly and joyfully. 
  13. Grandchildren. 
  14. Surprise morning phone calls from Grands
  15. Friends that not only listen, but give you honest advice.
  16. A good haircut. 
  17. Shoes that don't hurt your feet 
  18. 'Dancing' at a football game 
  19. Blankies and fuzzy socks. Mine. 
  20. Blessings in Business

Saturday, August 11

Nana Duty

Last month I had the opportunity to be blessed with a long weekend of Nana Duty in Chattanooga. I love babysitting when the momma and daddy are away!! Grands act a little different when they are released from the watchful eye of parents. 

Now, I am not saying I had it easy breezy.... there were a few screaming meltdowns. (One said three year old is not a fan of hair washing) And much like the twin toddlers of 1985, the two boys fed off one another ~ One screams and cries, the other one screams and cries. Little grand is quite sensitive to the outdoor voice his brother uses when he is unhappy.  

My biggest disappointment of the weekend was the weather. Not much chance for outside play until Sunday, when mom & dad were returning. We did hit the mall, which has an indoor play area. And a food court. Hello Chick-fil-a! I fed both boys PBJ sandwiches before we left and then they both devoured chicken strips and lemonade. 

Bedtime was pretty easy.... both boys were tired each night. That could have something to do with the fact that Nana is not a pro at time management. Hey, if you are getting the love from two precious boys ~ who wants to give that up??? Oh, and clocks. Only clock I see is the the one hanging in the boys bedroom. And the microwave. But, with the slightly later bedtime came a later morning rising! And no one got up in the middle of the night! 

At the end of the weekend, I was one happy Nana with 'Grand Love' in my heart.  

Wednesday, June 13

Goodbye Phoenix

The party's over.
Gene would tell you that the party was pretty rough.
From what I saw.... the party was scary crazy.

I wanted to blog along the way ~ through the surgery and recovery, etc. ~ but I was either too busy helping Gene, trying to find a minute to go eat, return a phone call, text or email, or take the dogs out to potty.
Oh, and sleep.
Ask our kids. They did not get phone calls ~ they had to rely on Facebook updates most days just like everyone else.

And then there was this other reason.
How to blog about something that is scary emotionally?
When the person you love and cherish is hurting so much.
Is what you are experiencing too personal to share?

It was great to have people with me for those days before and after Gene's surgery.
And I thought I was a big girl ~ independent ~ capable ~ strong ~ caregiver..... I could handle it all by myself when they left.  But, the fact of the matter was..... it was HARD.

Hard to watch the doctors as they tried to remove the breathing tube from his mouth/throat ~ taking two tries at bringing him out of sedation and the planets aligning just right before pulling it out.  I stood next to his bed trying to figure out what he was pointing at while his arms were restrained. I finally noticed his opposite hand moving ever so slightly. One finger spelling out words on a pillow.
C H O K E.
He was choking on the tube and wanting to be put back under sedation. My heart was hurting for him. Fortunately the tube was removed shortly afterwards.  One just never imagines.

Hard to leave his hospital room. Gene was ever so serious about me "not forgetting where I left him".  I knew it was paranoia from the anesthesia, but, I still felt bad for him being alone when I would leave to go eat (my escape time) or go back to the hotel to tend to the dogs.  I slept at the hospital all but the first night (he was sedated) and the last night (his pain meds were on track).

Hard to be on a two hour time difference than my friends and sister. But, think about it... hard to share things while sitting in the room with Gene. After all, it would be about him!!!

I WAS strong. And I was capable of most everything presented to me. I even think I was a good caregiver (and continue to be).  But not all days / nights were easy emotionally.  I was so thankful for social media. It at least gave us a way to connect with those back home and read that prayers were being lifted up for him/us. They were felt.

Goodbye Phoenix. The surgery was a success (we saw the MRI). Now the healing begins.

first sitting 
Since Gene had MRSA staff last year
 they wanted everyone to wear these! 

Incisions after going home

First walking

Thursday, May 3

Little Signs, Big Hope

Your first thoughts may be "signs, signs, everywhere are signs, do this don't do that, can't you see the si-gns"??  I guess that is exactly what I'm talking about, only not in song. As a woman, sometimes my 'gut' feeling or intuition is a sign.  Other times things just jump out at you. 

Wednesday, the five of us were sitting in the waiting room.... waiting for our pager to buzz us a "sign" / message that surgery had started......when over the intercom in the hospital is a daily prayer. THREE times the prayer talks about GOLD. Did you remember that the doctors placed GOLD seeds around his vertebrae ? Beth, Ginny and I looked at each other and mouthed 'gold'?! A Sign!! Like a hug from God. 

Earlier, before surgery started, as one of the assistants was walking out of Gene's holding room, he said "He's the Master" ~ referring to Dr. Dickman.  Well, I say Give us the Master!!! (a verbal sign)

The night before surgery some of us were with Gene at bedtime and had a prayer together. During this prayer we heard a couple of very loud horn honks outside ..... maybe an encouraging noise.... then, just before the prayer finished my cell phone went off with the Alabama fight song ring tone!!! We got some 'signs' from noises!!! 

The first meeting we had with Dr. D last month, started with simple formalities of "Hello, I'm xxxxx". The next thing we hear is "my son is so excited to be going to The University of Alabama as a walk-on Offensive lineman". Okay now.... we were in Phoenix Arizona. And we get a doctor that will be cheering for our beloved University of Alabama???? S-I- G- N  Roll Tide!. 

We have been blessed to have the best doctor available to us for this particular surgery (after all, he did invent this less invasive procedure & teaches it) ~ Yes, we had the master. And with our Master above to look over us.... our Faith is in place. The sign of the cross hangs from my neck. 

Wednesday, May 2

Counting Down the hours.... 10,

I cannot believe Gene's surgery is only 10 hours away. Only 8 hrs. until we arrive at the hospital. Maybe that is why he is already sound asleep. Surgery itself can take as long as 5 hrs.+. Our prayers today have been for Gene to wake up without the pain from the herniations.... though we know there will be pain from the incisions, etc.. It is time for some relief.

Speaking of prayers... wow... what a fabulous circle of family, friends, acquaintance's and obviously people we don't even know ~ since some of you put Gene on your prayer lists!!! We feel so blessed. Thank you, thank you.  While we have all the confidance in Dr. Dickman and his staff, we know that God has a plan for each of us in this life. My personal prayer will be for that plan to include my precious husband for many many more years to come. 

The last two days have been busier than we expected .... trips to the hospital of the pre-op stuff.  Monday was an assembly line of people coming to us with papers to sign, explaining different aspects of the procedure, co-pays, and even an internist assigned to Gene. Today, Tuesday, was a procedure to place gold seeds at the desired locations of the herniated discs so that Dr. Dickman will have markers to see the vertebrae better. After sleeping off the local anesthesia and zofran, we arrived back to the hotel just in time to visit with our support team from home, as they arrived from the airport. 

To those that want to send messages to Gene, just send him a text or e-mail ~ one of us will read them to him when he is awake enough to hear them.  We may not be able to answer specific questions, but check Facebook and those that read the blog.... well, you lucky people get ALL the gab!!! 

So, off to bed.... so many thoughts running through my brain... 

Blessings to you. 

Saturday, April 28

Phoenix, we will be there soon!

Shhhh.... don't wake Gene. He gets upset when I am on the computer instead of packing.

Sometimes I stay up most of the night before we fly. I've learned that I am a slow, easily distracted packer. And house cleaner. I even read books so slowly that I forget the chapters before the one I'm on (thus the audio books while driving).  Surprisingly though, I have been mostly packed since about 5:00 p.m. I've got to compile the last suitcase with the abundant plastic baggies, make-up style bags with misc. items from the bathroom in them ~ oh, and pillows. Yes, there is nothing like your own pillow at a hotel (especially with a 17 night stay .... give or take).  Don't forget a few edible things!

Gene received his 'packet' of information in the mail a few days ago. Lots of  'don't take these meds and don't eat these foods' two weeks before and two weeks after surgery. Um.... they do know we only had 8 days notice, right? And take off a couple more days to mail the packet to us. Not to worry. Those that know Gene can pretty much rest assured that food list was not hard to follow!! Except for the part about not eating pickles ~ excessively ~ whatever that means. He loves his bread and butter spicey pickles. The daily meds he takes are not any concern. He removed his Fentenayl patch on Wed./Thurs.. They usually get replaced every three days, but he is supposed to be weaning off things before surgery, so no replacement!!

Monday he has an appointment to get blood work done and other items of business at the hospital. Tuesday he will have GOLD put in his back as 'Markers' for the surgery. They say he will be there for about 4 hrs +. Does not sound fun.

Wednesday we will be at the hospital at 5:30 a.m. for a 7:30 surgery time. No idea on how long it will take.

We have three family members and a good friend coming out to support Gene and I. Our son Daniel, Gene's dad, Gene's sister Ginny and Beth Chapman. They will all fly in Tuesday and then each has a different time they will fly back. As Gene is sent 'home' to our temporary residence ~ The Hilton Suites (we call them Embassy Suites here) ~ it will just be the two of us. They allow pets, so our two tag-a-long Chihuahua's will have plenty of room!! HA! That is actually for me. That means two t.v.'s too!

I'll try to update again by Wednesday p.m. to let you know how things went.  Prayers are always appreciated. Thank you to everyone who has sent them up already and called and sent messages. We love you all and can't wait for Gene to feel better so we can have some fun!!!


Sunday, April 15

UPDATE on Back situation

There really is no update.But everyone keeps asking "WHEN" is he having his surgery. 
Gene encountered a snafu when the x-ray that was ordered did not show his whole rib cage. Dr. Dickman needs an accurate rib count before he operates (some people have an extra rib). Seeing as he is doing a laproscopic procedure and needs to go between the ribs, he needs to be certain where to venture in.
So... we are waiting on return phone calls to rectify the situation and get another x-ray sent to the Dr..

Meanwhile we are fitting in every event we possibly can before we have to head out to Phoenix. We always intended to make it to our grandson's first birthday this past weekend ~ and did. This coming weekend we are babysitting both grands for 3 nights. Then we have a couple other things on the calendar ~ Mayor's Prayer Breakfast on the 1st of May and an Aldridge Garden's recognition event one night. Hopefully we will make those and the surgery will be right after them. My hopes are for surgery in May, since my first hope was March, and then April, both of which failed.

As soon as we have a date, we will send out a notice to everyone to let you know the plans. So, catch up on Gene's situation here and stay tuned! 

First I wanted to share with you that herniation's in the Thoracic region are rare. Only 1-2 percent of back problems occur there. Also, the following description of the region will show you how hard it is to reach the herniation's:  The thoracic spine is built for stability. The ribs attached to T1-T10 curve around to meet at the front of the body and attach to the chest wall, or sternum. Combined, the thoracic spine and rib cage anchoring each level of the spine from T1 – T10 provide both stability and a protected space for the heart, lungs, liver and other vital organs. So, you see, a major surgery due to the fact the doctor has to come in from the front and deflate a lung and work close to the aortic artery and heart. Normally the surgery is done like a heart surgery and they open you up. The minimally invasive way will still be a serious surgery, but it will involve separating a few ribs from the front side to allow the instruments passage instead of cutting Gene open. Dr. Dickman is a practiced surgeon, who 'invented' this procedure well over 10 yrs. ago and we trust he will be successful in reaching the herniation's without any complications. Side note; there are no guarantees that the pain will go away after surgery. Our prayers will be for Gene to be pain free afterwards!!

Here is an overview of what has been going on for the past year: Note that the first 11 1/2 months of 2011 were spent trying to buy, remodel and move into the Bruno's grocery store bld. for our new location of Hoover Tactical Firearms, to include a shooting range and deli. Can we say stress for Gene?
  • January 16, 2011 slept on a very uncomfortable mattress in LV / 2 nights
  • Brought new mattress, but Gene's back had started hurting
  • Got a massage to see if it would help pain
  • Home on 24th / another massage
  • Jan. 26th he went to his GP doctor / shot for pain
  • February 4th / MRI / he has 2 herniated discs
  • Feb. 7th Gene goes to see Dr. Maher for back
  • Pain is bad & Gene cuts a D.C. trip short this week
  • Feb. 14th first pain block
  • Tried an inversion table but it was too uncomfortable
  • March 9 second pain block / helped with radiating pain
  • March 16th 11:00 p.m. Gene goes to ER for unrelated situation.                                                      He has a staph infection / spends 5 nights in hospital
  • March 29 a Full Body scan is done & Gene cancels a D.C. trip
  • April 20 Gene's 3rd pain Block
  • Manages a D.C. trip with Daniel, but in pain May 8-12th
  • June 24th Gene has surgery for his Ulna nerve (elbow)
  • July is spent working with a neurosurgeon for pain management
  • Pain mng. included the Tene's electrical pulsometer ~ only temp. relief
  • Fall is spent opening store (Nov.19) & trying to find comfort in meds & going to therapy to try and deal with issues related to pain (not very successfully)
  • December 2011 decision is made to look for a surgeon
  • January 24 2012 we meet with Dr. Pritchard at UAB/Kirklin clinic.
  • Dr. P was amazing. Explained things so well. Ordered a Mylegram CT to determine the severity of the herniation's. Also agreed to send records to Doctor's in Phoenix, Arizona to see if Gene qualified for a minimally invasive procedure that was designed by Dr. Curtis Dickman.
  • Spent almost 2 months to get a response back from Phoenix. Yes
  • March 21, 2012 we flew to Arizona to meet Dr. Dickman. It is a go!
  • Orders are to get the x-ray of the ribcage (see above) & to get release letters from doctors in Birmingham (done).
  • As soon as we have a date Gene is going to have to cut back on his pain meds. Dr. D wants him to go into surgery without any meds on board.
  • Gene is prepared for the pain to become intense as he cuts back
  • I am prepared (not) to take care of him during that time

    Monday, March 26

    Seriously. When did I become an Allergy magnet?

    Somehow I have managed to have a pretty strong immune system.

    Most of my illnesses have started with some kind of 'allergic reaction' to the environment.  When I go to the Doc-in-the-box it is because I have started coughing. And I can usually pinpoint an event that had me out in the blowing wind or very dusty conditions .... even traveling and staying in hotels with their air system blowing on me at night!  So, when I recently spent 4 days in a whirlwind of travel and places ~ BAM! The coughing started. But, I was also around some pretty sick people ~ my grandson had pneumonia and his momma was also coughing.  I also stayed in places with cats, spent time in a Laundromat and helped folks clean & flew on planes.

    My fear of 'catching' something from those that were sick around me took me straight to the doctor when I slowed down. I was flu and pneumonia free, but got the cortisone shot, antibiotic shot, cough medicine, z-pac, and nose spray.  Four days later I went back when the cortisone wore off. Tested negative again, but another shot, changed cough medicine, gave me a breathing treatment and put me on an inhaler. Time to fly again, this time heading west to Arizona..... maybe the change will dry me up. Nope. It took both cough medicines just to get me through the day. It has been two weeks now and I have used up the prescriptions and started taking over the counter allergy medicines. 

    So, I am not contagious dear friends ~ sorry you have to listen to me cough.

    Sunday, March 25

    Are we talking about back surgery or ..... Football?

    Gene and I waited for Dr. Dickman to enter the room, anxious to meet him for the first time and ask our many questions about the upcoming surgery options, etc.  "Hello, Curtis Dickman, Gene Smith, my wife Pam, 'smiles' all around" ..... then we hear "my son is really excited to have the opportunity to play at the University of Alabama as a walk-on offensive lineman" ~ REALLY? Trust me, neither of us were wearing any paraphernalia that suggested we were for our beloved team. It goes without saying..... Guess we will have more to talk about then back surgery.

    Today, Sunday, I was googling the doctor for a picture and came across an article that mentioned his talents (besides the guitar):
    Dr. Dickman’s surgical fetes at BNI have often made headlines, including the Phoenix teen whose skull was literally detached from his spine, when he was hit by a drunk driver. In a daring surgery, Dr. Dickman reattached the teen’s skull to his spine with a first time ever technique.  Wow. That sounds familiar, like I remember hearing about that!  Guess Gene will be in good hands! But, I am WAY ahead of myself.

    Barrow Neurosurgical Associates is located on the same site as St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, near downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Their front office has an aquarium full of colorful saltwater fish swimming about. Many young 'doctor's-to-be' dressed in blue scrubs hurried in to get some coffee on their way to their work destination for the day. The mood is upbeat all around.  Gene and I are joined by a couple other early appointment patients before heading back to a room. As stated above, the introductions were made, small talk had and then Dr. Dickman went right into examining Gene and discussing his own abilities, etc.  He is a confidant doctor. Skilled. Knowledgeable. Someone we feel we can trust with the delicate surgery at hand.  We had been sent to him because he has been doing a minimally invasive procedure that can be used on Gene's Thoracic herniation's.

    Dr. Dickman noted that Gene's reflex's showed some spinal cord damage that could worsen if the herniation's were not addressed. He has two that need to be tended to. One other smaller one will be left alone. I felt comfort in the fact that the doctor can do BOTH the less invasive procedure AND the "older" cut you open one, as well as switch gears if he sees that the minimally invasive one is not going to do the job. Before leaving the room, a contract was signed..... giving Dr. Dickman permission to perform the surgery.  Gene's doctor's back home need to sign off and say he is well enough to handle it.  One other thing is in order; Gene needs to work with his pain management team and start coming off his pain medicine regimen. With a plan in hand we can schedule the surgery.......

    When, when, when? We should be able to get on their calendar within a month of calling to schedule. 

    Wednesday, March 21

    The Year of the Back (pain)

    It all started in February of 2011 ~ After flying to Las Vegas for a short trip to meet with the design team for our new Gun Range. And sleeping on the crappiest mattress ever. But, there is no medical explanation for a crappy mattress or a plane flight causing Herniated discs. Thinking it might have been the mattress I encouraged Gene (the pained one) to get a massage. He did. After we returned home he even got an x-ray & shot to relieve the pain and muscle relaxers from his GP doctor ..... helped some. Then it was an MRI. The Herniations appeared in the Thoracic region, which is where your ribs connect in the back. The discs do not move independently in this area, so in order to work on them you have to go in through the front of your chest.... deflate a lung and move the Aortic valve, etc.  A heart surgeon is advised to be nearby. Can be risky. At best, the recovery is like that of a heart procedure.

    Gene got on board with Dr. Mayer at St.Vincents (friend referral), who scheduled Gene for pain blocks, saying due to the rare placement of his herniate discs there were only a few people in the country he would allow to do surgery on him.  Therefore, we want to avoid the surgery route and work on Pain Management.... starting with the pain blocks, which do work for a lot of people. After the second block, which appeared to help, he got a staph infection (not related) and skipped the third session.  

    With only pain medication to control pain, Gene went to see Dr.Gomez, a neurologist. Tried  Electrical impulse unit he tried. Fail. Special creams. Fail. Then came the prescription drugs. All I can say about those is ~ Not good. There are so many emotional issues with taking a prescription drug for pain relief. First: They help (at first). Second: You need to increase the dosage to continue relief.  Third: You don't WANT to WANT more.  Fourth: You try to find another solution or become addicted.  Dr. Gomez switched Gene to a Pain Patch. But, eventually even that by itself was not enough. Time to talk surgery. 
    Or risk becoming an addict AND staying in Pain. Thank you to a friend with much knowledge of pain medications. We have been enlightened on the terms and definitions surrounding the word addiction, and feel much better about the use of these pain management choices.

    Since St. Vincent's did not allow for Thoracic herniation surgery's at their hospital (due to the risks involved), Dr. Mayer could not do our surgery.... we asked for that list of doctors he would consider. While waiting for his list, we got a few other referrals to doctors in town. The first one we went to see was eager to help.Said he had invented a new less invasive procedure. And he had done 7 successful ones. He had also done many, many of the 'old way' surgery's, but was certain this new way was the way to go nowadays. Gene did not want to be part of TRIAL!! I told him not to scoff at the new procedure idea.... just in case other doctors have the market on it. 

    Next we pursued  a group of doctors at Kirklin (UAB) Clinic, settling in on Dr. Pritchard. He was an amazing talker, explaining how the surgery works, how the hospitals allow and disallow this kind of surgery, and by the way: "had anyone mentioned any doctors in Cincinnati? Phoenix? California?".  Nope. But then, we were fresh in our search. Dr.P. told us that bottom line was that he was there for our patient care, whatever that may be. If sending us to a different doctor was best for Gene, then he would do that.  After some thought, Dr. P sent Gene's records to a doctor in Phoenix, Arizona, that did a more minimally invasive procedure.

    I must stop here. We fly out in the morning for the consult!! Update on Saturday!