Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Two weeks old

Photo has a picture of the author's leg on the bed with black & white zebra striped satin sheets, a black, white, & grey leopard print fuzzy blanket, brown & black leopard print mary jane slipper, black & white fuzzy bathrobe, and an iPad with a green case protector.
A few things that make recovery more tolerable
Two weeks ago I had my spinal fusion surgery.  It's been surreal.  Sometimes it feels like more time has passed, and sometimes it feels like I was just released from the hospital a few days ago.  I've realized that those feelings of a weird temporal nature are pretty closely tied to how much pain I'm in, or how well I'm getting around, or how much I'm sleeping (I still sleep a lot, but I've not managed to sleep more than 3.5 hours in one stretch yet).

I am slowly getting better.  I haven't had problems with my left leg since the surgery....not a surprise as the surgeon said that nerve was absolutely crushed.  I do have pain sometimes where that nerve starts, but it's sporadic instead of constant.  I figure that's probably a sign of it healing.  I am having some issues with my right leg with spasms and numbness, but pretty minor compared to everything else.

Most of my pain is in the lumbar area of my spine or in my left glute, and it's been interesting experiencing the different kinds of sensations.  Bone pain versus nerve pain, numbness at the incision site, extreme itching on my back, stiffness in my legs, a "stuck" feeling in my low back.  The part that I'm finding the most frustrating is that I'm still relying on pain medication to get me where I'm at.  I was really hoping that I would be tapering to a lower dose by now. 

Although the pain is still barely controlled, I try to stay positive and think about the things I am able to do.  I usually walk around my home without the walker.  I can get up and down my front stairs without a huge increase in pain (although it will wear me out).  I can stand long enough to make simple meals.  I can sit in my desk chair to type blogs.  I managed to go to class on Monday for 2.5 hours (which felt good at the time but ended up being way too much as I spent most of yesterday in bed, in pain, and cranky).  I'm probably going to part of my class tonight, but tell the professor that I won't be able to be there for the entire 3 hours (I'm aiming for 1.5).

There are a few things that have really helped me get to this point in my surgery recovery.  Several of them are shown in the photo I have on this blog post, and several of them are suggestions from the surgery forums.  First of all, the satin sheets have made getting in and out of bed exponentially easier (particularly with the restriction of "no bending, twisting, or lifting").  They also feel delightful even when I was restricted from taking a shower!

The bathrobe and microfleece blanket are just snuggly, although the bathrobe is fantastic post-shower to help air dry one's body (terry is recommended, but was out of my budget).  Showering, even with the assistance of a shower chair and changing the shower head to a detachable one with a hose, is still a time consuming, pain-filled, and exhausting activity.  Having a bathrobe that can help you air dry helps to keep one from breaking the "no twisting, no bending" rule by towel drying.

Slipper socks with grips on the bottom were part of my usual at home lounge wear before surgery, but have become more important while I recover.  I have hardwood floors in my home, and slipping would be very very bad.  The grips also help get traction for changing position in bed with the satin sheets.

As for the other big thing that has helped (other than occupational therapy gadgets like the shower chair and grabber) is my iPad.  It's a refurbished first generation model that I bought last year because of my worsening spine issues, but it has become a huge help.  I have a medication reminder app, I have Netflix and Amazon Prime to entertain myself, I have audio books for those times where the medication makes it hard to physically read, I have DropBox for the pdf's I need to keep up with my schoolwork.


I see the surgeon for my first follow-up appointment on Friday.  I fully expect to be scolded for going to class without asking him first, but he knows I'm a driven individual.  There is a part of me that wishes I could have taken a leave of absence from my PhD program to focus on healing, but I think having my classes to work on (albeit independently so far) have helped keep me focused....and have kept me from trying to push too much physically (which I'm having trouble with anyhow!).

Hopefully the next two weeks bring more positive changes!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Surgically modified scholar!

X-rays of my lumbar hardware. Image has two parts, the first is a front view of the hardware showing the four screws and two rods along with black lines to show the cage.  The bottom view is a side view showing the depth of the screws.
X-rays of my lumbar hardware
I had surgery on Wednesday, January 16th and spent until Saturday afternoon (the 19th) in the orthopedic wing of a local hospital.  It's been a roller coaster but I have absolutely no regrets right now.  Once my pain was under enough control that I could think, I could tell that a huge component of my spine instability was gone.  No more shooting pain down my legs and no leg spasms.  I was in a lot of pain, but it was different....and sometimes all it takes for a ray of hope to bust through is CHANGE!

I've been trying to put together a blog post about the whole experience, but my writing has been so disjointed that I'm leaving all of those notes for the possibility of writing something more scholarly about the whole ordeal (I'm a graduate student...I'll do a lot for lines on my CV!).  It's been hard and surreal.  I'm sleeping a lot, but never in long chunks.  I'm still clock-watching for pain medication (on an every four hour schedule), but I don't need the walker in my house as much.  I've only left my house twice, but have found that the line between "doing ok" and "dear Dog*, I've overdone it."

It's also been hard to try to get my scholarly work done.  The semester started last week, but most of my actual work has been pretty superficial.  It's hard to read and engage with an essay with a medication haze, so I read in one page chunks.  My writing process comes in fits and spurts, and many times needs to be revised and rewritten several times (this blog post has been in the works for a week, for example).  It's not so much a matter of physically writing as I have a laptop that can be used in bed and Dragon Naturally Speaking with a wireless headset to get thoughts out.  I'm just having trouble doing the cognitive work.

Author with wet auburn hair, rosy skin, green plastic glasses, no makeup, wearing a snow leopard print fuzzy bathrobe. Wall is medium blue in background with a bookshelf visible
Saturday morning breakfast scholar!
It's getting better slowly though.  I'm hoping to be physically back at my classes this week, even if it means I'm only there for a half hour or hour.  I have my first official post-operative visit with the surgeon on Friday, so I'll get to find out first-hand how everything went.  I'll also be asking a lot of "it is this a normal part of the recovery process?" questions (including some questions involving how permanent some of the nerve damage might be).

Thank you to everyone's well-wishes on this journey.  As I dig through my schoolwork and my various notes about the surgery, there will be more blog posts for you all to read (and maybe more silly photos of me snuggled in my leopard print bathrobe)!

*=Dog is one of my terms for diety, the divine presence.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Call for Papers: National Women's Studies Association 2013

Here is the NWSA Fat Studies CFP for 2013. Please feel free to pass on!

NWSA 2013 Fat Studies Interest Group Call for Papers
November 7-10, 2013, Cincinnati, OH.
Papers on any topic at the intersection of women's studies/ feminism/ womanism/ gender/ sexuality and fat studies will be considered.

At minimum, your submission should fall under one of the following themes for NWSA 2013:
  • The Sacred and the Profane
  • Borders and Margins
  • Futures of the Feminist Past
  • Body Politics
  • Practices of Effecting Change
For more information on the themes, visit:

Black and white photo of the author on a racing bicycle wearing spandex shorts & top with "Erik's Bike Shop" across the chest, wearin ga helmet. Text says "I stand for fun physical activity for all. Weight =/= health"
.I love this pic of me on my racing bike
While this is an open call, topic suggestions from last year's meeting include:
  • Defining and Refining Fat Studies
  • Fatness and Beauty Ideals/Beauty Privilege
  • Women of Color and Body Size/Fatness
  • Fat Intersections (including race, nationality, disability, sexuality, appearance/beauty)
  • Teaching Fat Studies (professorial bodies, student bodies, resistance)
  • Fat Feminist Research Methods (including role of the researcher body)
  • Fat Feminists Theorizing the Body
  • Fatopias/Fat Utopias
  • Transnational Fat Bodies (immigration, globalization)
  • Knowledge-sharing/de-colonizing
  • Fat Performance/Performing Fatness/Fat Icons
  • Fat Activism & Feminism/Fatosphere

If you are interested in being a part of the 2013 Fat Studies panels at NWSA, please send the following info by February 13, 2013 to NWSA Fat Studies Interest Group Co-Chairs Michaela A. Nowell and Candice Buss: ( and Please make sure one of us confirms receipt of your submission.

Your submission should include your:
*Name, Institutional Affiliation, Snail Mail, Email, Phone.
*NWSA Theme your paper fits under (and fat studies topic area/s if yours fits any of the above).
*Title for your talk, a one-page, double-spaced abstract in which you lay out your topic and its relevance to this session.
*AND a 100 word truncated abstract (NWSA requirement).

Each person will speak for around 15 minutes, and we will leave time for Q&A. In order to present with your name in the program, you must become a member of NWSA in addition to registering for the conference.
If you submit a fat studies related paper or panel, you can tag it with the keyword 'fat feminisms,' and likewise search the program for 'fat feminisms' to find relevant panels. If you submit a paper or panel on your own, we encourage you to use this keyword if your paper or panel fits the bill. We thank NWSA for adding a keyword that helps conference attendees locate fat studies panels.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Becoming cyborg

Text graphic, has "good things come to those who wait" crossed out, with "good things come to those who work their asses off and never give up" underneath
My mantra as of late (text in alt tag)
I've taken a bit of a hiatus from writing lately because I've been in a fight to get effective pain management and a date for my spinal fusion surgery.  My mental and emotional resources have been pretty drained, which led to me not writing here and having trouble finishing up my fall courses.

I finally have a surgery date.  Wednesday, January 16th.  It's the first week of classes and I'll be missing the first meeting or two of both classes and trying to work independently while recovering.

I'm excited, scared, frustrated, many emotions.  I've written about how I'm trying to postpone surgery because of the risks of pseudoarthrosis (where the fusion doesn't actually fuse).  I've read a lot of horror stories about how surgery made certain problems worse....but my spine has become more unstable and I've needed to do something about it for a while.

Thankfully, I've found some success stories online recently.  People saying that their nerve pain was immediately gone.  Some folks have had rocky recoveries that at least lead to a higher quality of life.  I'm hoping that I stop having the bobblehead feeling in my low spine, and hoping for less pain.  I'm ok if I'm still a part-time wheelchair user because of the nerve damage making my balance & proprioception wonky.  I don't expect to be pain-free from the surgery, and my surgeon's physicians assistant confirmed that this won't make me pain-free.  I'm just hoping that I can get to a level where I can do my scholarly thinky work, not be constantly derailed in my speaking and writing, and have hope that I can do any of the jobs that my PhD will open up for me in the future.

I know it's risky, but I have hope.  If nothing else, I'll have a conversation piece to get people thinking about cyborg theory!  Or I'll just keep making bad cyberpunk jokes about the screws & rods that are part of the surgery.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Flying with wheels: Bay Area edition

United Airlines wheelchair tag. Top is pink with black lettering that says "United Special Handling" with a white bottom with black text reading "wheelchair weight, location of key/switch" and blank lines.
The pink & white wheelchair tag for United
This is one of the blog posts that's been stuck in the queue for over a month because of my ongoing medical issues, mainly related to my spine.  Enjoy and happy new year!

Some of you may remember my first airline trek with my wheelchair (part 1 with US Airways and part 2 with United).  The resolution of the mild fiasco with United was a $50 discount for my next flight, so I decided to use the discount for my trip to the National Women's Studies Association meeting (I'm co-chair of an interest group in the organization, so I'm required to attend).  I didn't really want to fly United again, but the combined cheaper fare plus discount made it the most financially feasible option.

To make the trip more fiscally feasible, I ended up taking one of my non-academic friends with me to split hotel costs.  She'd not been to the Bay Area, and I wasn't getting funding from my university to attend the conference, so I ended up having some help getting around with my luggage.  I tend to pack light, but I also tend to buy several books from vendors at conferences which can quickly undo the "light" packing!

Anyhow, our first flight was scheduled to leave for San Francisco around 6am.  I was sleep deprived and lacking any caffeine, so I was really hoping that I would manage to get to San Francisco relatively accosted.  I was wrong.

One of the gate crew decided to treat me like a child.  She came up to me before pre-boarding and asked me if I needed any assistance getting on the flight.  I told her no thanks, told her that I didn't need an aisle chair  showed her my cane, and explained that I would roll myself down the jetway, park the chair at the end, then use the cane along with rails & seats to get me to my space.  She kept repeating that the jetway is steep and how they usually roll people down backwards because of it (I did my Minnesota-nice face to keep from saying something uncouth).  She insisted that she walk backwards in front of me, making me worry about her falling backwards, hands outstretched like I was going to go rolling out of control.  She said in a panicky tone "where are the brakes on that?"  I told her that there aren't any and I use my hands to control my speed.  She finally gets out of my way at the end, I whip the chair around to get out, and she looks flabbergasted.  The only kind reply I can imagine is "I play wheelchair basketball."  My friend and I get my cushion & fold my seat down, and find our seats.

Thankfully, the flight attendant was awesome.  She commented on my spin, asked me if I needed anything, and made sure my cane was properly stowed so I could get it easily & safely.  I love it when I'm treated like an adult!

The flight to Washington, D.C. took about an hour and I scheduled an hour and a half layover to make sure we had adequate time to grab some breakfast since our light from D.C. to San Francisco would take 6 hours.  I was a little nervous about the flight since I think the longest continual flight I've ever had was a bit under 5 hours.  Thankfully, we pre-boarded the plane without any real problems or really anything of circumstance happening.


Our trek back involved a red-eye from San Francisco back to the east coast with a layover at Washington Dulles.  We arrived to the airport too early, but that gave me a chance to wander the airport (and accidentally lose the souvenir sweatshirt I bought for my partner along the way).  I decided to check my main carry-on bag because I was tired and hurting, and really didn't want to burden my friend with the now-book-filled bag.

Once the pre-boarding time got closer, one of the gate attendants came up to me and asked if I needed assistance.  I did the my usual routine: showed my cane, explained I didn't need an aisle chair to get from the jetway to my seat on the plane, would roll myself down the jetway, and hobble to my seat.  He looked at me incredulously and began to use a "little kid" voice on me.  I kept myself from rolling my eyes, but repeated myself more firmly.  He looked to my friend as if she were my caretaker (who is incredibly shy and wouldn't make eye contact with him), then back to me when she didn't respond.

He left but came back about ten minutes later asking me again if I needed help.  I'm exhausted, annoyed, and really on my last nerve (and last spoon).  I again show him my cane and tell him I'm rolling down the jetway.  He continues the baby talk when I get my ticket scanned, but thankfully doesn't walk down the jetway backwards in front of me (I may have told him off, or threatened to run him over...I was cranky).  I get to the bottom, and he wants to help fold my rigid wheelchair...which doesn't fold.  I get the seat back pushed down and make sure the wheels are locked, repeating that the frame doesn't fold and board the plane.

Thankfully, the flight itself was uneventful.  I slept on-and-off through most of it, due to a combination of the overnight flight and pain medication.

When we landed in D.C., we thought we had enough time for a fairly lazy meander to our next gate, but found out we were completely wrong.  To get from our landing gate to the connecting flight, we had to go up and down and around the airport, necessitating NINE elevator rides (it would have been seven if one of the elevators was properly marked, but we had to go back up and down one because the signage in that elevator was incorrect).  We ended up missing pre-boarding for the flight, but managed to get there with enough time to spare.  Since boarding was already in progress, I didn't have to deal with any weird overly-helpfulness from the gate crew (which was a blessing because of how tired and cranky I was!).

The last flight was pretty uneventful, and my chair arrived to me unscathed through all four flights.  I wouldn't say that I'm a United fan, the repeated treatment as a child by United employees will still make me look to other airlines before I fly with them again.