Rejoining the Zipper Club

It has been thirteen years since I was a member of the zipper club. After my last surgery, I had truly hoped that I’d never have to return to the ranks of the anesthetized, the cut and sutured, the heavily medicated. But oh, my achin’ back. Since nothing seemed to be helping, I succumbed last week to the inevitable . . . the fact that I want to be able to walk unassisted in my remaining years . . . and that involved lumbar surgery.

The lumbar spine, that pesky lower back area, is the province of the neuro-surgeon. And when we’re talking about walking upright, I don’t know about you, but I want a rock star surgeon, the doc whose everyday work site is the central nervous system. For me that guy is Doctor David Zorub – in Pittsburgh.

24 years ago I had a lifting accident that rendered my right arm numb, tingly and painful. By the time three months went by, I had trouble holding a fork and couldn’t work with either a paring knife or scissors, let alone open a pickle jar. It was Doctor Zorub who fixed the discs in my neck and gave me back my right arm. This time there was no question for me; when walking any distance over two blocks finally became unbearable, I called the doctor’s office at Shadyside Hospital.

Don’t think, however that this was a casual decision. Who really wants to go under the knife? Especially not this kind of surgery. I had treated my back pain much like I’d treat a headache, with Tylenol and all its cousins . . . for a long time. My everyday thoughts tended towards, “Okay you have arthritis and this is what it’s like. Learn to live with it.” But the walking distances became shorter, the comfortable standing time was getting briefer each year and I finally realized that the traveling, socializing and working I have planned for the next few years were definitely compromised. If I’m going to fix it, better now than years from now when the stenosis will be even more severe and the recuperative time would dig into grandmother doting time. Besides, as a newlywed, I owe my dear Richard a walking, exploring partner for that delayed honeymoon trip we have planned for September.

Back to the surgery: To make a long story short, I consulted with Dr. Zorub and completed all the pre-op exams, tests, pictures and bloodletting soon after Christmas. D-Day was scheduled for Tuesday, January 21st. Richard and I headed down to Pittsburgh the day before “The Big Cut.”

Early the next morning we arrived at the David Zorub Family Surgical Waiting Room right on time. The entrance to the room is graced with an impressive oil painting of Doc Zorub in his blue scrubs, just in case anyone had missed the idea that Shadyside thinks pretty highly of this guy.

Everyone in pre-op was professional and kind. The anesthesiologist who promised me no pain and no hangover was good to his word. Even the post-op nurse named Joy was true to her name. Joy finally released me to my room eight hours after Dr. Zorub had started . . . just in time to stare at a plate of turkey and gravy that had been kept warm for two hours. Eating it was not an option. And Richard had waited for me literally all day. The stenosis was deeper than even Dr. Zorub had expected.

Over the course of the next four days I met a cross-section of Pittsburgh’s chirpiest caregivers and volunteers. The nurses and aides who gave me meds and took my stats made me promise to call if I needed anything. They were consistently professional despite the fact that they were routinely working twelve hour shifts. Doug, Dr. Zorub’s physician’s assistant who came early every morning, explained what would be happening and made me promise to call him if I needed anything.

The nutritionist: “Please call me if you need anything.” The dietician handing me her info: “Please call if you need anything.” The physical therapist; the occupational therapist; the respiratory therapist: “Please call if you need anything.” With their Pittsburgh twang, the parade continued: the billing department; housekeeping; the Elder Care Representative : “Please call if you need anything really, anything.” The social worker; the duos of college volunteers; the trios of student nurses, all insisting that I call them if I needed anything. The med tech came, then Dr. Zorub’s partner, the transport people to radiology, the volunteer with the newspaper, the Health-Trak medical records person, the phlebotomist, the pulmonologist and the elegant Dr. Zorub himself . . . “Please call if you need anything.” I couldn’t believe my ears. The medical world was beating a path to my door, and insisting I call them if I needed ANYTHING.

And I really only wanted one thing: PUH-LEEZE stop coming in every five minutes so I can get some sleep. The traffic, however, did slow at night. In the wee hours they only came in every 25 minutes. “I’m sorry to wake you, but I need . . . “

On day five Dr. Zorub finally released me and we made the three hour trip home . . . in five hours. Richard followed a 15 m.p.h. snowplow through the whiteouts from Pleasantville to Youngsville, arriving in Warren a half hour after our pharmacy closed. Finally solving that little problem,(Give me those pain pills!!) we went home, I kissed the cat and fell into bed. Sleep, glorious uninterrupted sleep.

I’m writing this five days later, happy to have spent our frigid week cozy at home. Richard took a picture of my eight inch zipper tonight . . . and we’re both pretty pleased. The sutures comprise one of the neatest pieces of embroidery I’ve seen in a long time. Doctor Zorub has many talents.

We head back to Pittsburgh tomorrow morning to have the sutures removed. I’ve been medicating, walking, and have scheduled home health therapy for next week. In the same time frame, Richard has laundered, cleaned, shopped, cooked, served my meals and every other request and whim. Godblesshim.

He could probably use someone to say: “If there’s anything you need . . . anything.” Thankfully, some friends have done just that . . . and not one of them has a Pittsburgh accent.