Since my last blog update in February, 3 Years & 5 Surgeries, the past month and a half have been chaotic, to say the least.
I ended my February blog by updating you all on what was to come, so it is long overdue that I fill you in on what happened and what is going on now.
May arrived and I was hoping to have this posted a few weeks ago. I feel like I have been so busy since getting home, I’m probably doing more than I should, but I just can’t seem to get this post done without adding more to it as each week passes.
In my last post, I told you I was going to West Virginia in early March to see THE leading thoracic specialist for Slipping Rib Syndrome, Dr. Hansen, so he could perform his Hansen technique on my wonky ribs. By the time this is posted, I will be 6 weeks post-op.
- Slipping Rib Syndrome & Hansen Technique Information –
- Chest Wall Injury Society – https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=1_GqCVq4GAUQWXFpKoz5XOII8t8Sl-Xqy
- Annals of Thoracic Surgery – https://www.annalsthoracicsurgery.org/article/S0003-4975(20)30566-X/abstract?fbclid=IwAR2Ib_cZ7swDLtHQUaWYYAfXR6H2GmbvwCC0iwnJ3pp-kyo8y8-GVuDX7dI#secsectitle0035
- Diagnosis & Hansen Repair – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zd0I5w-n1Fo
- Slipping Rib Syndrome Facebook Group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/783005615189562/
Come March 1st, we headed to West Virginia to prepare for surgery. I had already had both of my COVID vaccinations and I was mentally and physically prepared for surgery. I had waited for 6 months after my last surgery just to have a consultation, with another two months until the procedure. I was ready.
It being my 5th thoracic surgery, I knew what to expect, I knew the pain that follows, and I knew how hard recovery would be. I am a professional at these surgeries by now and I was ready for my ribs to finally be fixed for good.
Come the morning of surgery, I had already had labs and pre-op COVID tests done the day before – but we didn’t know it came back positive until the morning of surgery.
I was ready for surgery and already in my dressing gown when the nurse asked when I had gotten COVID. I told her I had not gotten it yet but I had been vaccinated. She told me that I tested positive but we weren’t sure when I had gotten it or when I would have been contagious.
With my last negative screening done at the end of January, I had to have come into contact with it in those last 32 days or so. Because the test can show up positive for up to 90 days and because we had no idea when I contracted it, we had to cancel my surgery.
I was crying in the pre-op room and completely let down. Dr. Hansen was also let down since they had everything ready for me to go to surgery.
I asked for a second test in case it could come up false positive, but false positives with these tests aren’t a thing – but the nurses didn’t tell me this until after I had already gotten the test swab up my nose. I asked if it was my last vaccination that could create a positive. Again, no.
Since we don’t know the exact date I contracted it, the surgery couldn’t happen. We had to go back home and self-quarantine for 14 days. By the time I got home, even the health department was calling me to quarantine. We all believed I was beyond the contagious stage, but since it was my first positive COVID test, we couldn’t risk it.
We were all afraid that I would have to wait 4 to 6 weeks for rescheduling, which meant another month or more of dealing with these wonky ribs of mine.
I tell you, the 4 1/2 hour drive to pick up my fur-baby Bilbo was very depressing. I am not one to be excited about having to have another procedure. Especially not excited for something that should have been fixed years ago, but I was excited for this one. I wanted my ribs to be put back in their place and waiting even a few more days was devastating.
But, because I am such an anxious person, I called Dr. Hansen’s office the next day and aimed to get my name on the surgery books as soon as I was good to come back.
Luckily, Dr. Hansen and his wife are amazing people, and I was called back the same day with a date – and it was only two weeks away! As soon as we exited quarantine, just in time for St Patricks Day, we would be making the commute back to West Virginia. This was amazing news that helped soften the blow of having to reschedule.
Because I had already had the vaccines, I showed no symptoms for COVID, which meant the shots were doing their job at keeping me symptom-free. Quarantine went by quickly, as we stayed home and watched a lot of Netflix, and before we knew it we were ready to head back.
When it was time for surgery, I did not need to get retested for COVID, thankfully. And because I was being squeezed into their schedule and Dr. H takes his time, I had to wait until late afternoon to get pulled back into the OR.
!!! WARNING – VIDEO FOOTAGE FROM SURGERY !!!
Dr. H likes to take video footage of his procedures and I was thankful that he took a couple for me. I have a few videos that you have probably seen on my Facebook, but he got footage of what was going on inside both before and after using his technique. And boy, I was so happy that he did! I was not leaving West Virginia until I downloaded them!
In the footage, you can see that my 9th and 10th rib are slipping up under each other and the ribs above them. There are loose sutures, sutures that have come untied, and the sutures are circling each rib, impinging what little nerves I have left – Dr. H called it cerclage. Dr. H goes over what was going on before and the rib movement after his technique, and he did a really good job of showing why I was still having issues with my ribs.
By the third video, he has performed his Hansen Technique, where he figure 8’s the ribs, suturing them back to where they belong and leaving the nerves alone.
I turned “red-man” during the procedure when I was given medication – this hasn’t happened to me before – and Dr. H said it was fascinating because I was red everywhere on my body except where the VA surgeon had cut my blood vessels in my first procedure; he could see the lines of demarcation where my body has a lack of blood supply.
After surgery, a wound vac was placed to help my wound not get infected, and I tell you that I absolutely hated that damn machine. The battery was supposed to last 8 days, one day extra so that you wouldn’t have to worry about it – but mine had to get new batteries twice.
The machine would make noise every 10 seconds, sucking the air out of the wound covering. The machine also would go off randomly with loud beeping alarms to tell me that there was a leak somewhere. There was never a leak. It would go off constantly with noise and I wanted to get it off of me as soon as I was allowed. It got so bad that I had to turn it off at night during my last few days with it. Thankfully, there was no infection or fluid coming from my incision, so turning it off let me sleep at least a few hours without it waking me.
In my follow-up appointment, the wound vac continued to make noise, and even the staff and Dr. H was annoyed with how often it would go off. In the appointment, Dr. H took the batteries out of it to finally make it stop and I was happy to watch it be thrown into the trash can. Good riddance!
I was also eager to get the machine and covering off of me so that I could see the wound and incision. I was unsure where exactly I was opened up and how big the incision would be. I was nervous that the wound vac was going to make the incision and scar larger, so when it was finally taken off, I was relieved.
The incision was attached to one of my previous scars, creating a longer incision starting at the tip of one scar and moving toward my back. The incision wasn’t too large and it was closed for the most part. Be warned, the first few photos after getting the wound vac off are kind of messy, I was bleeding as soon as the gauze was taken off.
During recovery though, I was put on antibiotics and pain medications. Immediately after surgery, I was ready to leave the hospital and recover in my hotel. I remember being in pain but I was happy it was over with and that Dr. H validated my pain – since I was still right and there was something wrong with my ribs all this time.
Day two post-op had to be the hardest for my body as the internal nerve block wore off but by day four, I was no longer on pain meds. I remember telling Dr. H about this at the follow-up and he was shocked.
By day seven, we were out doing some easy-on-my-body sightseeing and at eight days post-op, I got to meet with Dr. H to remove the wound vac and make the trip back home. I felt great at our follow-up and I could already tell a difference in my ribs and the pain that they used to cause me was gone.
I had ordered a shirt from a Slipping Rib Syndrome Facebook group member to celebrate having had Dr. H’s technique and I had to wait six months to finally get to wear it. I made sure to wear it to my check-out appointment with Dr. H and got a photo with him and his lovely wife.
Even though I had a good time chasing waterfalls in West Virginia, I was really happy to be finished with surgery and I was ready to get back home. Living in a hotel for eleven days is hard, especially after surgery, but we made the most of it and spent most nights playing cards and watching Netflix.
The past six weeks haven’t been easy, and as I mentioned before, I have been doing way too much. By weeks three and four, my body started to feel tight again in my ribs and I know I need to rest more. My body is adjusting, my ribs are adjusting, and I have to let them heal.
Last week I had my one-month follow-up visit with Dr. H and I am in the clear! I won’t need another follow-up until my six-month virtual visit. He told me that I was a rockstar patient and that he was worried my ribs were going to be a challenge. On paper, my ribs look a mess with all of the failed procedures on my wonky ribs at the VA – but I am resilient, I tell you.
I was even happy to hear that Dr. H uses some of my lingo when he talks to other patients now — I say that I have to “sleep like a vampire” with these ribs, only laying on my back and avoiding turning over, and he has gotten to where he will use the expression with other SRS patients.
Because this post has taken me so long to finish and I want it to be focused on SRS, I am going to leave you guys here with a plan for another post soon. I am still healing but every day is a little bit better.
If you have any questions about SRS or my surgery, please reach out to me. I know I have received quite a few messages from people who have SRS and have found my page. I appreciate all of you and I am glad I can help, even just a little.
Until next time, for me, It Could Be Worse.
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