Headline: George “Red Eyed Vireo” Vargas undergoes emergency surgery for broken leg
Click here for previous post regarding my crash
On Jan 3, 2014 approximately 24 hours after my crash I drove myself to the ER. I winced, limped, and hobbled my way from the car park to the Emergency Room registration desk. I had brought with me several cycling magazines expecting to be sitting in the waiting area all day. Much to my surprise, no sooner had I answered the basic questions I was escorted to the examination room directly from the registration desk. Within 10 minutes I was under the X-Ray machine and within another 10 minutes I got the news. The process was annoyingly efficient. The report I dreaded hearing came far too soon.
“Mr. Vargas you have a femoral neck fracture” or words to that effect. I stared blankly, incredulously, into the ER doctor’s eyes. It was almost a scene from a movie from that statement forward. Time slowed… almost stopped… as the ER doctor continued to speak her voice became inaudible. The once wide examining room suddenly transformed to a tunnel closing in on her lips. I stared at her lips mouthing words and yet no sound. For the life of me, I can’t tell you anything else the ER doctor said after she said “…fracture”. It might have been seconds or minutes but then I paused, breathed deeply, regrouped and regained my focus. This is important, life altering, news I must heed. I then listened with the rapt attention of someone being handed a life sentence, quizzically, since I was innocent!
The ER doctor exited the room and returned within a few minutes. She had contacted the Orthopedic surgeon on duty and he confirmed the fracture and requested that I be transferred to his hospital immediately. An emergency surgery procedure was necessary. I thought there was a void in the information flow. “Wait what are my options?” I asked. “Surgery? That’s it? Can we talk about options?”
“The specialist will go over your options once you are under his care at the main hospital.” ER doctor explained. “We are arranging transportation now. Should only be a few minutes before we move you.” she continued.
Then as if on cue, like roadies backstage, scads of people came into the room. One person doing an EKG on the right side of me. A 2-person team on the left side of the bed drawing blood and setting up an IV. Then another young man who was an intern introduced himself. Simultaneously, my nurse was being relieved and a new nurse was coming on to his shift. Lots of people and activity in a small room and lots of poking, prodding and charting. At one point I counted 5 people not including me in the room. It was approximately 9:30 am and I was told that I could not eat or drink until my surgery. “SURGERY?!?” That word still had not sunk in.
Wait what the heck is going on? Everything was happening so fast. I had walked yes walked into the ER fewer than 30 minutes before and I was already, admitted, IV’d, EKG’d, blood tested and being prepped for transport which was tantamount to being prepped for surgery. But wait I hadn’t even read a complete article in one of the cycling magazines I brought with me.
And why this reticence towards surgery? Call me old fashioned, superstitious or just plain apprehensive but I don’t like the thought of being put to sleep and going under the knife. Have I watched too many movies? Have I watched too many real life investigations? Maybe but accidents do happen and simple surgeries have turned into dramatic medical complications. But there’s yet another ratiocination. I reasoned that I had fallen or crashed on my bike many times before, in quite spectacular fashion mind you, without breaking anything save my skin. And now a speed bump is going to claim me as its prize? I imagined the speed bump reveling in its victory. “I felled the mighty George Vargas!” (I’m not mighty but to a speed bump I must look like a giant) Damn speed bump! How pitiful I was giving life to the speed bump but in my mind it was as evil as the those squirrels in the Gieco commercial.
While waiting for my transport things started to slow down. The oncoming nurse took a little more time explaining what is typical in these cases. He also showed me my x-ray and deciphered the medical terminology. He took the time to write down for me what was wrong with me. This small act of kindness paid off in spades. Now when my friends asked me what my injury was I could speak intelligently about it. I was also armed with information to do my own Google searches :) But not now I had to conserve battery power on my phone. I had to call my son’s mom to make arrangements to pick up our son from camp. Oh dear, what will my son think of me all jacked up? Wait did I have clean underwear on today?
The note the nurse handed to me. It was the most salient bit of information I was given on day one of my ordeal.
The transfer service arrived and I was taken to the main hospital. It turns out that I should have gone to that hospital in the first place. It was closer to home, bigger, newer and it was rated as a trauma center! In the ambulance as I was making small talk with one of the paramedics we rolled over railroad tracks that were not as smooth as they should have been considering their proximity to the hospital. The spring response rate on the back of the ambulance catapulted me off the gurney. Yes, I got air and then I slammed back down to the gurney! I saw stars! I had no idea we were approaching something so rough nor did I anticipate how painful my hip was now 26 hours after my crash. Long gone were the endorphins, adrenaline and shock that helped me continue my hill repeat training session in moderate to intense pain. Now it was all real-time pain!
Once inside the new hospital I was taken to a very nice clean private room. However It felt as though we had taken the most circuitous route in getting to my room. Is this hospital that big? Or are these guys lost? Down one corridor, up another, turn left here, turn right here ok U-turn the Greek myth of the Labyrinth came to mind.
As I mentioned before my room was nice, private and with a view of the hills in the foreground over-layed by mountains in the background. Oh the hills…oh the mountains how long would it be before I would climb up from your feet to your lovely curvy roads, ride along your spine and descend, or free fall as I call it, back to bottom?
My bed was equipped with a bed sore prevention air mattress. The first time it made an adjustment it scared the poop out of me lol! What the heck was that? At the foot of the bed was a pneumatic compression calf sleeve system to keep the blood from pooling in my lower extremities. I appreciated all the bells and whistles included with my bed but I had no intention of making this a long term stay!! I was here for a surgery and that’s all. Yes, I was finally coming to terms with undergoing surgery. But that also meant getting it done and getting out of here! I would be recovering at home thankyouverymuch!
Before I could be sent home there was this little issue of a fractured femur. It’s hard to see in the picture provided. I was taking a picture of the computer screen with my iPhone. If you look real hard there are two little yellow arrows that point to the fracture. The fact that it is hard to see is a good thing. Something else to notice is that my femur is not “significantly displaced” ,in other words, the bone is still pretty much together. This would explain why I was able to complete my hill repeat climbing ride, carry on with the rest of my day and not report in to a hospital for another 24 hours later. The pain was severe but it would have been debilitating had the femur become displaced.
Here is another picture to help you understand my fracture.
Soon after arriving at the hospital my son found his way to my room. He’s always been good with puzzles and mazes. He gave me the “I told you something was wrong daddy” look that only a 9 year old can give you and make you feel completely ashamed of your false bravado antics over the last 24 hours. I apologized for not respecting his opinion and said I would pay more attention to him next time.
I was now in a holding pattern. Vital signs were taken yet again, questionnaire after questionnaire was filled out via verbal Q&A. Being a healthy guy, except for this broken leg, I repeatedly answered “No” to the exorbitant amount and often redundant questions about my medical history.
“Have you ever had….?” or
“Have you ever experienced ….?” and
“How often do you….?”
My answer was “NO” “NO” and “Never” I could tell that each inquisitor grew weary of my negative responses and the lack of juicy material in which to dig in deeper with follow-up questions.
Hours passed and I continued to be monitored while waiting for my Orthopedic surgeon and the Operating Room to become available. Friday night is a business night at a trauma center. I got bumped out of my surgery spot a couple of times for more serious life-threatening cases. By now the pain was really getting bad. I was offered Morphine but it didn’t do anything for the real pain and what little efficacy there was wore off rather quickly. I resolved to dealing with the pain because surgery was going to take care of everything. I was also very hungry! It had been at least 12 hours since my last meal. Which wasn’t even a meal it was a protein shake earlier that morning about 8am because believe it or not I had intended on riding that morning so I didn’t eat breakfast.
Eventually my number was called and I was conveyed to the Operating Ward to be prepped. As we said in the Marine Corps…Hurry up and wait! More and more incessant questioning…haven’t we done this already? Didn’t you and the other nurse compare notes? Don’t you have anything original to ask me?
I could see it was getting more and more real now. I was close enough to see patients removed from the Operating Room. I was given a shower cap to contain my abundant coffee color curly locks and then we waited again.
Surgeon marking an “X” on my upper right hip
The surgeon came in and we confirmed together that it was my right leg that needed surgery. We joked but we both knew the serious nature of his question. I was happy to have that question asked more than once! He made an “X” on my right upper thigh. The anesthesiologist, aka Sandman, was a funny little man. He was full of jokes. Maybe he was just giddy from being at the hospital a full shift and more, it was past 11pm and he was still working. He asked how much I wanted to be put under. I said “all the way doc!” He said he would do a general and an epidural. The epidural thing would freak me out later. I guess I didn’t really understand what that was going to do to me. Everyone was great. I felt as relaxed as one could feel before undergoing surgery. As the surgeon came in one last time to check on me he reassured me that he was going to fix me.
A few anxious minutes passed and then I got the nod. I was wheeled in to the Operating Room. I tried to take in all that I could. I’m a curious fellow. I didn’t get a chance to see much – the Sandman had other ideas. I asked him to make sure to tell me when he was putting me to sleep. I want to see how long I could fight his venom. He said “Now” and I don’t remember another thing after that. His venom was much stronger than my willpower.
You can learn more about anesthesia here.
In the next blog post I will talk about my surgery, my recovery and my first few days at home.