THINGS I DID RIGHT
Major surgery is a traumatic event. No matter what age you are, it is traumatic. And it’s not only physically traumatic. Surgery and the subsequent rehabilitation are emotionally and mentally traumatic as well. The older you are the harder it gets. Your response to it will vary according to a host of personal circumstances including:
• General health
• Severity of the injury
• Degree of surgical intervention required
• The skill of the surgeon
• The amount of post-surgical rehabilitation you undertake
• The amount of personal help you are able to access and
• Your mental resilience
Like many men of my generation I hate asking for help. I prefer to soldier on, on my own. This time was different. Lying in hospital waiting discharge, I caved in. I had to admit that I wouldn’t be able to do this on my own. I was convinced by many of those closest to me that I would not be able to look after myself in the first couple of weeks post-surgery. For the first time in my life I listened to advice. And took it! They were right. For anyone living on their own recovering from severe surgery is impossible without help.
I made a lot of mistakes. So will you. But……
Some things I did right:
My daughter moves in. I came home from hospital on a Friday and my daughter Catherine moved in for that first hellish weekend. In pain and smashed out of my mind on opiate drugs, I was only barely aware of what was going on. Coming home to an empty house in that condition would have been unbearably miserable.
My brother comes to my rescue. Catherine could only stay for the weekend and my brother Damien offered to come down from the country for a week to help out. This was extended to a fortnight, when, at the end of the first week, I still wasn’t up to looking after myself. He generously offered another week of his time. He was heaven-sent although I didn’t realise it at the time. Damien went and picked up the two wheelchairs I needed, cooked, cleaned the house, did the shopping and even emptied the pee- bottle as I couldn’t get out of bed. This went way beyond filial duty. Most importantly, he was someone to talk to. Getting used to life in a wheelchair is a tough gig. Going for a ride along the beach in your wheelchair with someone to talk to makes it more bearable. I recovered a lot in that first fortnight but the help my brother gave me was invaluable. I’m forever in his debt.
Allowing people to love you and care for you is a step towards maturity in a man. I’d always resisted it. Too proud. But being busted and broken and alone I had no choice. I had to accept the offers of help. I’ve grown through the experience and am a better person for it. There is always an upside from breaking a leg.
Getting a housekeeper: After my brother went home, my family convinced me to get a housekeeper. This was mortifying but I quickly learned that rattling around in an empty apartment on your own trying to make meals, keep clean, wash up etc is impossible in a wheelchair and almost impossible on crutches. Try making a bed in a wheelchair. Try hanging clothes on a clothesline standing on one leg supported by crutches. I engaged a company called Home Instead which services Sydney’s Northern Beaches. They sent a series of very helpful women to cook clean etc and generally keep my apartment tidy. To start with they came twice a day then once a day, then only three times a week. They did this for the month between when my bother went home and when I could weight bear, which was six weeks post-surgery. They were great.
Not going back to work too quickly I didn’t return to work until several weeks post-surgery. I was operated on on Thursday February 12 and returned to work on Monday March 2 – a gap of 18 days. This was vital to get over the pain and start the healing process. This was smart. I wouldn’t have done this when younger.
Not going back to work full time. It is now early June 2015 – 110 days (15 weeks) since surgery. I’m still not back at work full time. My schedule is to go in Monday, Wednesday and Friday and work from home the other two days. Self-employed, it has been a god-send and luxury that I could do this. My staff has soldiered on and it’s allowed me time for physiotherapy, the gym, doctor’s check-ups, Doppler scans etc. It allows a break as rehab is exhausting enough. When combined with work, and trying to look after yourself, it can feel relentless and there is always a temptation to let the rehab slide. This is not wise.
Late August 2015. Still not back in the office five days a week.
Getting hold of an experienced physiotherapist:
Getting an experienced personal trainer
Getting stationary bike on verandah
Not falling over
Not giving up I haven’t given up hope of making a full recovery. Not yet anyway.