Friday, February 19, 2010
Of Bribery and Rollercoasters
Picture this: Ben is reclining in his hospital bed, fully rigged out in his “Shaky Jake” vest, the contraption that makes him look like he’s undergoing some rigorous protocol for NASA or something. The vest, filled with air through two hoses, is shaking him at 10 Hz (10 hertz = 10 shakes per second, or as Ben says, 10 HURTS!) for 20 minutes. His mouth and nose are covered with a mask and a foul smelling mist is blowing into it which he breathes and which purportedly helps to fill his lungs with oxygen, break up the mucus that has taken up residence there, and allow him to heal. Suddenly, he begins to hum. It sounds like the theme from Mission Impossible to me. This is entertaining! I join in, but I have to hammer on my chest to get the same effect. I break into Darth Vader’s theme song from Star Wars. He joins in. And just then, Lorenzo, our big teddy bear of a respiratory therapist comes in to check on Ben’s progress. “Lookin’ good,” he says softly. “Lookin’ good.”
Today was quite the rollercoaster. There were a few moments like the one above and then there was the walk down the hall that made Ben turn a shade called “Cement,” ask for a chair, and ultimately return to his bed to vomit up his breakfast. Later in the day, his face ashen, dark gray circles around his eyes, I couldn’t believe how much worse he looked from yesterday when his cheeks were flushed pink and he chatted with friends on the phone. In fact, I couldn’t believe how much worse he looked from 11 am this morning when he checked my profile on Facebook and wrote a comment back to our friends about how he was doing. Up and down. Down and up. I must admit, I’m exhausted to the edges of my eyelids tonight.
When we were first planning this event (How should I refer to this? Adventure? Journey? Certainly not vacation…), this experience…I was told to expect he’d be discharged about five days post-surgery. That seemed a bit “hopeful” to me (SARCASM). I mean, he was having two major surgeries in two locations on his body. But I was told most likely we’d be out by Friday or Saturday. Call me a skeptic, but after what we went through the last time he had surgery, deemed a “walk in the park” for neurosurgery, I was hesitant to take that 5 days at face value. For one thing, Ben’s only about the 14th kid to have the rod and staples done, and it’s even a lower number if you count having them done at the very same time. What I’m trying to say is, he’s not getting out so quick. Today was day 4 post-op, tomorrow day 5. At this point we’re looking at Monday.
This feels a bit like déjà vu. Ben is generally a healthy kid. He rarely even catches a cold. But when he goes through surgery his body does not seem to bounce back. It reacts as if it has been assaulted. Red flags up. All systems down. Like a deer in the headlights. I believe that one of the most difficult aspects of both this surgery and his Chiari surgery four years ago is that pre-op, if you looked at him he seemed just fine, and his body thought it was fine. It wasn’t like he was in pain or an invalid. The surgery was an imposition. The surgery was traumatizing.
No one at Shriners seems overly concerned about this lung issue, though for me, the mama, this was my biggest fear about the surgery. It was the complication I knew was out there. My friends in the medical profession all are familiar with the “shake and bake” (as my friend Nurse Shawna calls it) and, I suppose, it’s a necessary evil…does the job. Lungs collapse. The “shake and bake” opens them up again. I don’t know though…it sure sounds critical and scary to me.
Yesterday, I noticed that Mark was being sort of a softie with Ben about his lung exercises. He wasn’t pushing Ben to try harder to inhale deeper. I would sort of lean on him…”Come on, you can do more than that!” I'd say when he didn't seem to be trying very hard and I’d notice Mark furrow his brows at me with a “lighten up” look. Today I realized we needed to push him despite how hard it was for him to breathe deeply. It was a Catch 22. If he didn’t breathe deeply more often he’d be unable to breathe deeply at all. And the last thing I wanted was for pneumonia to develop. I took to lecturing myself about being strong, not backing down. But as I sat at his bedside it finally dawned on me that pressuring him wasn’t going to work. So, I considered…what does work with Ben? Aha! Cold hard cash.
Me: “Ben. Ok. Listen to this. I am going to pay you for your breathing exercises. Every time you get the inhaler up to 750 ml I’ll pay you 75 cents. If you get it to 1000 ml I’ll pay you $1. 1250 ml, $1.25. Understand?”
He narrowed his eyes at me. He raised one eyebrow.
Ben: “I’m going to make you go bankrupt!”
Me: “That’s a consequence I’m happy to endure. Oh, and that lung vibrator thingee? [another one of his lung exercisers that helps bring the mucus up] I’ll pay you $1 for every 20 blows OR one hack up of phlegm, whichever comes first!”
Ben: “It’s a deal!”
Needless to say, bribery works. You know, it’s been proven. Look at the Texas school system. And Ben, well, he’d earned 34 bucks three hours later. My friends on Facebook, apprised of the situation, have already begun to take up a collection. Hey, if it gets us out of the hospital sooner, it’s worth every freaking penny to me, and apparently to them, too. Love you guys!