My anxiety about the experience of waking up from surgery was second only to my anxiety about not waking up at all from surgery. I kid you not, I really, really hate the process of anaesthetic recovery.
It’s the very odd, discombobulating brain fog that hits you as soon as you open your eyes a sliver. There’s also generally someone calling you by name and telling you to wake up. At first it sounds like it’s coming from somewhere in he distance, but then you realise that it’s someone right next to your bed and you do indeed need to wake up.
Trying to come to grips with where you are currently lying is like swimming through treacle. There’s just something that you can’t quite put together, but very very slowly, you start to piece together where you are and what’s going on.
Staying awake is reasonably difficult when you’re coming out of anaesthetic. Just when you think you’re alert and with it, you’re suddenly asleep again. More than once during this time I was asleep but could hear myself snoring loudly. Nobody seemed to mind.
As you might expect, sometimes the longer you’ve been under, the longer it can take you to fully wake up. I was on the table for 8 hours, which is pretty hefty, so getting ‘with it’ seemed to be taking longer than it should have (or at the very least, longer than I wanted it to be taking). Add to this the fact that I lost 4 litres of blood during my operation (the human body only holds 5), my heart was tachycardic when I came out of the operating theatre, and I had a temperature- I was fighting something of an uphill battle.
For pain relief after back surgery, they insert an epidural into your spine. Any ladies reading whom have had one will know of the wonders they can provide. I had one for my laminectomy, and honestly, they are incredible. Generally speaking, I wasn’t in any ‘pain’ as such while I was coming too (though I will never be comfortable with a catheter in), but in order to test that your epidural isn’t numbing too much of your body, they give you this test where upon they rub ice over your body. You tell them where you can feel that it’s cold and where you can feel that they’re just touching you but it’s not cold. Unfortunately for me, I was numb from my nipple down, which as the nurses told me, was cause for concern as if your lungs go numb, they might just forget to work, which may result in a severe case of death. I was still in quite a haze, but not long after the second ice test, the decision was made to turn my epidural off, thus effectively depriving me of any pain relief after 8 hours of spinal surgery. I should say that the second part of the plan was that as soon as I could get some feeling a little bit lower than my nips, the epidural would be turned back on. Like I said, I was still pretty out of it so I wasn’t overly anxious about things, plus I had a bit of residual epidural hanging around which I thought would see me through no problems.
As they wheeled me back into my room my parents were waiting to greet me, and seeing them in there was a moment of true joy for me. The recovery nurse then had to deliver quite a detailed handover report to the ward nurse. I vaguely remember her explaining the whole numbness thing and waiting to turn to epidural back on, but there was a lot of medical jargon being spoken, and it seemed to be spoken rather quickly. In hindsight, I’m no really sure the ward nurse was fully prepared for the changeover, and I don’t mean in an incompetency kind of way, I mean in terms of my op didn’t go according to plan, I’d lost a lot of blood and temp and heart rate were up, all of it being a lot to take in and worry about.
Unfortunately time wore on, which was time wearing on with no pain relief at all. It really started to get horrific my friends. I’m not ashamed to say that I asked my mum to come over to my bed and I grabbed onto her hand with all my might. I’m sure I probably did some ligament damage I was squeezing that hard-sorry about that mum. I’d also started sweating profusely and feeling nauseous, and the pain just kept getting worse and worse. I had a couple more ice tests, but each time they still thought I was too numb too high up to turn my pain relief back on.
I think close to 90 mins had passed when a different nurse, one I happened to know, came in to check up on things. She immediately, professionally and brilliantly took control of the situation. She hypothesised that I was dehydrated despite already receiving intravenous fluids, which was causing my nausea. She decided to call the anaesthetist to check if I could receive double fluids, and also administered another ice test to see if the epidural could be turned back on. Thankfully, no, splendourifically, my anaesthetist said yes to more fluids and also to my epidural being turned back on.
Within the next 40 mins the pain had dropped from sheer blinding levels to bearable levels, and the nausea had all but disappeared. All thanks to one brilliant nurse.
So, that the story of the first 24 hours. Everything is well now, but I hope that for the rest of my born days, I (nor anyone else I know for that matter) have to go through something like it ever again.