Jerry Nelson: Back home after back surgery

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum

It’s a little scary to be put in charge of another human being’s well-being.

My wife recently had spinal fusion surgery. The operation went swimmingly, and she was cleared to return home the next day. That was the good news. The bad news was that I was responsible for her post-op at-home recovery.

My wife would be out of commission for some time, so this meant that I would also have to run our household. Entrusting me with all those responsibilities was enough to make me question the judgment of the medical community.

As we prepared to depart the hospital, members of the nursing staff gave us a lengthy set of instructions. Topping the list was “no BLT.”

I was outraged to think that we were being told that we couldn’t enjoy one of our favorite summertime sandwiches. But then it was explained that BLT stood for “bending, lifting or twisting.”

This was a relief, although I neglected to ask if this also meant that my wife couldn’t listen to the Beatles tune “Twist and Shout.”

As any experienced surgical patient will tell you, the first few days following an operation are typically the most painful. My wife didn’t feel like doing much beside taking bedrest. I did my best to tend to her needs and manage her medications. I doled out pain pills according to the schedule that we were given, woke her up to give her a sleeping pill and so on.

It had been a long time since I had cared for someone who was totally dependent on me. I was able to handle the situation by falling back on my many years of experience with raising baby calves. As I recalled, the main objectives included making sure that my charges had plenty of water and feed and a comfy place to lie. If the creature began to look “punk” – droopy ears and a general lethargy – it was probably time to take its temperature.

“How are you feeling?” I asked my wife shortly after we arrived back at home. “Are you thirsty? Hungry? Do you need more pillows?”

“I’m fine,” she lied. “Just leave me be. Why are you staring at my ears? And get that calf thermometer away from me!”

The changes around our house were numerous and astonishing. Dirty dishes spontaneously multiplied until the sink overflowed. Our soiled clothes lost their ability to instinctively migrate to the washing machine and to the dryer, then put themselves in their designated storage areas.

I had never given much credence to the theory that clothes should be folded. It turns out that the “wad it up and toss it in a pile” system I invented back when I was a bachelor isn’t very efficient. Who knew that folding clothes enables you to store more clean clothing in a given amount of space?

Going grocery hunting on my own took three times longer than usual. Normally, my wife and I use a “divide and conquer” system at the supermarket. Left to my own devices, I swiftly became distracted and began to meander aimlessly up and down the aisles. This led to some interesting purchases, such as that bargain-priced economy-size barrel of peanut butter. It was a great buy, except for that we don’t eat peanut butter.

I tended to my patient assiduously, watching for signs of infection, hoping to see indications of improvement. Here again I leaned on previous experience.

Some years ago, our barn cat, Sparkles, showed up on our doorstep with an injured front paw and scratches on her back. She was obviously suffering a great deal of pain and distress, so we broke our rule about having animals in the house. I fixed up a comfy bed for the kitty in our basement and brought her water and food. Sparkles didn’t eat or drink for several days. We were worried about what might happen.

One morning when I went to check on Sparkles, she suddenly began to groom herself. In that moment, I knew that everything was going to be OK. Things are going in the right direction when a wounded kitty begins to care about her personal appearance.

A few days after my wife was released from the hospital, she asked me to bring her hairbrush and her makeup kit. And in that moment, I knew that everything was going to be OK.

We are very pleased that my wife’s surgery went so well and that she seems to be on her way to a full recovery. But most of all, we are both deeply grateful that I didn’t have to take her temperature.

Jerry Nelson