Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The road to recovery

After my accident there were so many things that I had to “re-learn.” Actually, it was learning how to do things in a different way. I wasn't able to speak after the accident and I had to mouth all of my words. As you can imagine, this was extremely frustrating most of the time when people couldn't understand what I was trying to say.

One thing that helped me speak was an electrolarnyx. This is a small device (cylindrical and about 7 inches tall) that provides a voice when you are trying to speak. When it is pressed against the neck of someone who is trying to talk, it catches the vibrations your voice box is making, and it produces a low, mechanical sound that amplifies what you're trying to say. (It's really difficult explaining this to someone who doesn't know how it works, so it's probably confusing.) I loved the electrolarnyx because when my friends and family held it against my neck I could actually communicate with them! The only downside would be when the battery ran out and we had to charge it. I was back at square one when it was charging.

Another thing I had to learn how to do again was swallow so that I could eat and drink. I'm not sure of the exact medical/technical reason it was so difficult to swallow now, but my muscles used for swallowing may have been slightly paralyzed, or at the very least, they were extremely weak from several weeks of not using them. Before I was allowed to eat and drink anything, I had to go through several swallow studies with a speech pathologist. This wasn't a pleasant procedure. The speech pathologist inserted a lubed up fiber-optic camera in one side of my nose and fed it down the back of my nasal passage until it got to my throat. This camera was hooked up to a TV monitor so that the speech pathologist could watch me swallow and make sure everything was going down my esophagus, and not entering my airway. The speech pathologist had me eat blue applesauce (the blue dye made the applesauce more visible) and then he would watch to make sure I could swallow it correctly.

As I reflect, it's hard to remember why it was so difficult to swallow and what it felt like, but it was difficult, and I could only eat soft things, like popsicles, Jell-O, pudding, etc. I had to undergo three or four of these awful swallow studies with the fiber-optic camera down my nose and I hated every one because it was terribly uncomfortable, not to mention the fact that I've always hated applesauce. However, this was a necessary means to an end, because it meant that I was swallowing well enough to be able to start eating again. (It was neat to see the inside of my throat, vocal cords, trachea and things like that.)

The first "real" thing I ate after strengthening my ability to swallow again was the hospital's spaghetti and meatballs. I've never been a huge fan of spaghetti, but it tasted so good! I remember not eating much of it, though, because my stomach filled up so quickly, and slowly chewing and swallowing was a lot more tedious and time-consuming. Sometimes I'd get bored/tired of eating, so I'd just quit. I wasn't eating much at all at first, so I was still receiving supplemental feedings via my feeding tube.

About two months later when I was in rehab, I actually got to the point where I was able to eat well enough that I decided I didn't need to rely on my feeding tube anymore. This was my goal all along so I could have my feeding tube removed before going home. I wasn't exactly sure how the procedure of having my feeding tube removed would work, since it had been surgically implanted, but I found out it was a really simple procedurethey just yank it out! One of the nurses wrapped the feeding tube (which stuck out of my body about 12 inches) around her hand. She braced herself by putting her other hand on my abdomen, and then she pulled it out on one, two, three! There was a stopper on the feeding tube on the inside of my body which held it in place (it was about the circumference of a quarter). It hurt pretty badly having it pulled out like that, but the burst of pain was over relatively quickly, so it was worth it to be able to ditch the feeding tube. Eating on my own was another step towards more independence.


Kathe said...

I love how you are getting to share your story little by little. It is so interesting to read about all the new things you had to learn how to do, and how positive you remained through the whole process!!

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