Monday, August 1, 2016

Another terrible,horrible, no good, very bad day

Nobody likes Mondays. Mondays signal the end of weekend freedom. Mondays mean a return to the grind for those who remain enslaved in the workforce, but even for those who no longer do the typical 9 to 5 routine, Mondays aren't anything to look forward to...most people I know dread Mondays. I'm one of those Monday haters and let me tell you why.

This morning, when I woke up, I knew I had an appointment for physical therapy on my spine. For the past 2 weeks, I've been enduring challenging treatments to help remedy severe spinal pain. The first few treatments were difficult but as treatment continued, I decided enough was enough. I was tired of going in with my back hurting and coming home with it hurting even more than it did before I saw the therapist. I wasn't looking forward to my appointment and wanted desperately to call in and cancel it.

I got dressed and made myself go to the appointment. I knew Dr. K, my orthopedic spine specialist, had scheduled these therapy sessions to help me and I was determined to follow through with his plan of action. As much as I didn't want to, I got in the car and drove to the rehab center. When I arrived, I was taken back to the treatment area, asked to disrobe and lie on a therapy table. One of the assistants came over with a very large heating pad and placed it on my back. I lay there for 20 minutes before Russ came over to work on me. When he began the deep tissue massage, I realized how tight some of my muscles were. As he dug in deeper, I winced in pain but he continued. Next he used some kind of spinal manipulation tool to separate the vertebrae into the proper positions. It felt like a large metal file of some sort that he was pressing and sliding across my spine. It did NOT feel good and I told him so. I'd thought I was going to get the electronic stimulation next but he decided I needed to do a different type of therapy today. I was placed on top of a large foam roller and had to do various stretching exercises while the hard foam semi circle dug into my back. I did everything Russ (my therapist) asked me to do. I was thankful therapy was only 45 minutes today instead of an hour. As I got into my car, I bawled. What a great way to start the day...but wait, it gets even better.

My new lymphedema pump
When I got home, I noticed a large brown box on my front porch. When I went to open the box, I found the new compression pump and compression sleeves for my lymphedema treatment. For the past 2 months, I've been waiting for this unit to arrive. I've been fighting with my insurance company to get them to approve the equipment ordered by my oncologist but instead of giving me the specific unit he wanted me to have, they substituted another less powerful machine. They said the one my doc wants me to have isn't medically necessary but the representative from Tactile Medical (the company that makes these lymphedema treatment machines) told me they usually balk at first but give in after the patient tries the less powerful machine without good results. In a nutshell, I have to use this machine and document how it doesn't help me in order to get the original machine my oncologist ordered...doesn't make sense to me, but you have to play their games, I guess.

My cell phone rang as I was unboxing the equipment. It was my oldest daughter. She was calling to tell me about her weekend. As we talked, I got the compressor hooked up and finagled the compression sleeves onto my arms. I figured while we talked, I could have my one hour treatment and kill two birds with one stone. This was the first time using the equipment alone. The last two times I'd tried it, the rep had been with me and had shown me exactly what to do. She stayed with me during the entire treatment.

The hookup looked fairly simple according to the diagram. I unzipped the right compression sleeve and lay it on the sofa then unzipped the left one and lay it alongside the first sleeve. Then I connected the hoses to the compression pump. I continued talking with my daughter while I plugged it in and slipped the first sleeve onto my arm and zipped it up. Next I tried to put the second sleeve on and found it quite difficult since I already had one sleeve on my arm and had no free hand or fingers to zip up the zipper. I had to think for a minute and finally bent over and used my teeth to pull up the second zipper. So far, so good. As I listened to my daughter tell me about my youngest grandson cutting his two year molars, I switched on the pump and sat down on the sofa to enjoy a quiet, pumping massage to both of my arms.

Me in the compression sleeves
As the machine began to inflate the sleeves, they became quite tight and restrictive. Having both arms outstretched was uncomfortable. By scooting my outstretched arm over the sofa pillow and alongside it, I managed to move a cushion under one arm and then do the same for the next arm. Now I was all set and ready to let the pump do its thing. I was supposed to have an hour of treatment according to my doctor. I sat back with my elevated puffy arms and let the machine work. The compression pump was extremely quiet. I was thankful as Erin and I continued talking. Somehow, during our conversation, the call dropped and when she called back in, I wasn't able to answer because I couldn't move my arms. I couldn't get them out of the sleeves! What to do??? I managed to straddle the long hoses connecting the sleeves to the pump while staying attached to the machine and bend over just enough to use the tip of my nose to press on the green answer button on my Iphone. I wasn't able to hold the phone and I couldn't hear her talking so I spoke loudly asking her to wait a second while I used my nose once again to switch on the speaker button. When I had her where I could finally hear her, I told her what I'd just had to do. Although it sounded hilarious to her, it was a difficult challenge. I sat back down on the sofa to continue my compression therapy and pick up on the conversation where we'd left off.

After about thirty minutes, my arms were feeling very uncomfortable and I wanted to get out of the sleeves and turn off the machine. As I looked down at my arms I had no idea how I was going to manage. There were large fabric loops attached the zippers on both sleeves but I had no free fingers or hands to grasp the loops because both hands were encased in the compression sleeves. I tried bending my head at an angle to grasp the loop with my teeth, which I managed to do, but was unable to pull the zipper down toward my hand. Just knowing I couldn't remove the sleeves seemed to intensify the level of compression and I began to go into panic mode. My daughter could tell by my voice I was starting to freak out a bit. She told me to calm down and try to think what I could do to get out of the sleeves. Since she was 1700 miles away, she could do nothing to help other than try to calm me down and offer suggestions. When the anxiety began to escalate, I heard her call her little ones together to come pray with her. I listened as they softly asked God "to help Gigi figure out a way to get out of the compression sleeves."

I wiggled and twisted my body trying to find some way to be set free but nothing worked. After about 15 minutes, I told my daughter (who'd been so kind to stay on the phone with me the entire time) she needed to call my other daughter, Laura, and ask her to drive over and help me. (Laura lives about 45 minutes away so even if she'd been the one coming to my rescue, I'd have had to wait a good while before I was able to be out of the sleeves.) Erin told me she was going to call Laura and call me back. I asked her not to hang up because I didn't know if I could answer the phone again with my nose. She said okay and put me on hold as she called her sister and told her of my plight. A few minutes later, Erin came back on the phone and said Laura was in a neighboring town shopping. She wasn't going to be able to help me. I was feeling very helpless and then, to make matters worse, my nose started to itch! Have you ever had an itch you can't scratch? Well, it isn't a good feeling! I tried thinking about something else but it didn't work. My nose kept on itching and wasn't getting better. I leaned over from the waist and rubbed my nose on the compressor box. Ahhh...finally some relief! Now my nose was feeling better but the rest of me was still in a tight (pun intended) situation.

Entering total freak out mode and feeling like I was in a straight jacket, I put one arm between my legs and tried to pull. The compression on the sleeve was so tight it wasn't going to budge unless I could manage to squeeze some of the air out of that sleeve and manage to slide it off. I used my thighs to squeeze as tight as I could. As I squeezed on my right arm, my left arm inflated even more. (The air was transferring between the two sleeves.) And to make matters worse, the pump kept filling and refilling every few minutes as it was supposed to do with the compression therapy. Then it dawned on me...if I could manage to unplug the machine, it might stop inflating. Still, I had no hands free so I had to kick the pump off the coffee table and using my toes, unplug the adapter cord from the back of the compressor unit. After several attempts, I managed to unplug it. No longer was the pump forcing more air into the sleeves, thank God!

I stood up and put my right arm between my legs again and squeezed with all my might. As I continued squeezing, I tried to force the sleeve down my arm. It took 4 attempts before I was able to feel a tiny give in the compression sleeve and as soon as I felt that little bit of wiggle room, I was intent on getting that sleeve off! Erin kept talking to me the entire time and helped keep me calm. After all that struggle, I finally got one arm free and then was able to get the other free too.

I've never felt so happy in all my life! Getting out of those tight compression sleeves was a miracle! If there'd been a hidden camera recording the entire situation, I'm sure it would have made the top 10 of America's funniest home videos. While it is funny to think about now, it was the furthest thing from  being funny at the time.

Tonight I'm going to write the company and suggest they place warning label on the compression unit encouraging patients to make sure they are not alone when attempting to use both sleeves at the same time. I'd hate for someone else to go through what I went through today. So now you can understand why I don't like Mondays very much. Especially ones that end up like this one did - a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

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