Monday, November 20, 2006
It's mine. You can't have it.
Didn’t sleep a wink last night. Was too excited for the big halo removal today. It’s been nine weeks, and at my last appointment seven weeks ago, Dr. Gutierrez had told me Nov. 20 would be the day he’d remove the halo. I am so nervous in the doctor’s waiting room this morning that I seriously might puke. I literally have to pace around the office while Tatiana tells me to stop being such a loser.
Turns out I was right to be nervous. All of us were convinced the halo would come off today. My acupuncturist, D. Z, who I’ve been seeing regularly since the accident, had said weeks ago that he could tell by feeling my neck and checking my pulse that the fracture had already healed. He used to be a neurologist back in Russia, so he would know, right? This started making me more than a little cocky. I’m a fast healer! I’m a spine injured bad ass! Nothing can stop me! I started feeling super human in more ways than one.
This morning, I dressed quickly for my 9am appointment. I even put on my special purple foam crown that my friends, Susan and Scott, had given me expressily for the halo. It has a stretchy backing, so it’s perfect for fat heads like me. I walk through the many halls of Northwestern Hospital with Tatiana like the Queen of the Cripples. Look at me! I have a sense of humor about my halo! I am so funny ha ha you could just wet yourself!
Not so fast, dewd.
Dr. Gutierrez’s office is already hopping when we arrived. I get the usual questions from others there waiting (“How do you sleep in that thing?” and “Does the crown come with the halo?”). After keeping us waiting for about 50 minutes, they call my name and T and I slump over in an examining room for another good ten minutes. It’s torture. Finally, Dr. Gutierrez comes into greet me. He is so sweet and kind that it’s impossible to stay mad at him for keeping me waiting.
The first thing that comes out of his mouth after a “How are you feeling?” is, “So, only a few more weeks, right?” T and I both immediately ambush him simultaneously, “NO. YOU SAID IT WOULD COME OFF TODAY!”
“I did?” he says as if we are putting him on. Yes, dude! Nobody jokes about this! It’s coming off! I have my purple crown on!
At this, Dr. Gutierrez still looks a little skeptical, but he mutters something like “Okay, okay. Let’s take a look at the x-rays.” I start drowning in bright sand.
He pushes about three different films from my CT scan up onto the light box. I hold my breath. He rifles through some more films (there are, like, 20). More time passes. Saliva starts to pool in the cheek of my mouth. I don’t even notice that Tatiana has taken my hand but I suddenly find myself digging into her cool palm with my sweaty paws. It takes Dr. G FOREVER to speak. And then:
“It looks good. It looks good.” (my head starts to swell again) “…But, well, here, let me show you…” and then he gestures for Tatiana and me to stand up and take a closer look at a cross-section of the bone. He shows me where the fracture is. There’s no denying it. It’s not completely healed.
“Here’s where it’s healed,” he begins pointing to its edges, “but you can see that the middle is still quite open. I initially might have said nine weeks because you’re young and I thought you might heal faster, but we almost always usually give the bone 12 weeks to heal for an injury like this.”
We rifle through more films, and it actually is kind of scary how little it looks healed in the cross-section view. I ask Dr. G if he is worried. He says no, but that he doesn’t feel comfortable removing the halo just yet. It would be foolish and hasty. Why, if a bone can heal as much as 12 weeks out while still stabilized by the halo, wouldn’t we keep it on for the maximum amount of time? He has a point, but I am shattered.
“Of course, there’s a chance that it might not do any more healing and that the x-ray in three weeks will be the same,” he continues on. What does that mean? Does that mean I’ll need surgery? No, not necessarily, he says. It’s just that he doesn’t want to take any chances. Better safe than sorry.
I bite back the tears. T squeezes my hand tighter. Dr. G. looks genuinely sorry. He apologizes a few more times, but reminds me that this is a serious injury and we have to take it one step at a time. He's right. Then he takes the special wrench to tighten the bolts on my screws. All of them are still crazy tight. I can feel my skull pop as he adjusts the back left screw. I am so f-ing glamorous.
We’re done. Dr. G promises that he will take the halo off in three weeks, no matter what. After 12 weeks, there’s not much more healing that the bone will do in the halo, so it’s pretty much superfluous after three months. You can tell he feels so bad about things. But he's not about the take the halo off just to make me happy. I thank him and we leave.
A lot of static swirls through my head…I won’t be able to go back to work yet….I’ll be in the halo for Thanksgiving…there’s no way I can sleep with this thing for three more weeks…more sponge baths...more boredom...more no getting your life back just yet...
And then it slowly dawns on me that I need to get over it. I need to take a deep breath, leave the office and quietly walk back to the car with T. Once inside, I can burst into tears and have my little pity party and let it out and slobber and beat my fists against my chest and maybe crush the crown a little. But then I’m going to have to buck up and thank God again for the precious gift I’ve been given. Remember that I’m alive. Remember that I’m not paralyzed. Remember that it’s only been nine weeks (only nine weeks!). I broke my neck, for heaven’s sake. This is not something I want to rush.
This is a wake-up call. Somewhere along the line, in all my hubris, I had gotten ahead of myself and had forgotten the gravity of my situation.
So, you see, I have to learn to love the halo more in the next three weeks.
Help me love it, caress it. Send me romantic titanium vibes. It is uniquely mine, custom tailored for me, built to heal me. It doesn’t talk back and it stays with me unconditionally, even though my hair is greasy and my legs are stubbly and I need a good shower in the worst way.
Oh, Halo, let me count the ways.