an unsecured manhole

I fell through an open unsecured manhole on July 27, 2014, and that began a year plus a long time of dealing with chronic back pain, visits to doctors and a Presbyterian Pain and Spine Clinic. Complicating matters is the fact that I am my wife’s caregiver as well as her husband. I once was able to pick up 180 pounds and swing it over my shoulder and walk up a ladder to a rooftop and lay a roof. Or I could shoulder my end of a heavy beam and put it in place overhead with the use of work platforms or scaffold. Lifting my wife was no problem and setting her in the van seat or in her chair from bath or bed. Now I couldn’t tie my shoes without being in intense pain. Twisting and turning and bending without effort or pain like I used to do were all taken away when I fell through that manhole.

The accident happened at a City of Albuquerque recycling site, and when I first notified the city through email, it appeared they might settle amicably, but such was not to be the case and they said I didn’t notify them properly. This was after I had emailed the mayor and entire city council informing them of the fact and after I had been treated at the site by Albuquerque Fire Department techs and medics and a city police officer came and checked out the incident. But that is typical government response to circle the wagons and try to avoid liability. I hired a lawyer to handle that end and have concentrated on getting well.

My treatment started with the ambulance crew who determined that at least I had not broken anything as far as they could tell. But I had a furious painful tingling spreading down through my lower legs and back. They advised I needed to go to the emergency room at the hospital. I didn’t think it was so serious at first. I just thought that the tingling would subside because it might be shock and the hard impact jarred me a little more than I was used to. But that proved to not be the case. I did go to the ER and found I had dislocated a vertebra. I knew that was not good. Nerves can be pinched and even damaged or crushed or cut when that happens. I got worried. I went home from the emergency room and found that thieves had stolen tools while I was in the ER and my van was parked in the hospital parking lot, and that too is normal for Albuquerque anymore. Kind of makes it depressing to try and make a living but it was a thief that stole the manhole cover for the scrap value of the metal, and a thief was invariably hanging around any given parking lot to see who left their car in a vulnerable place.

I went to the Presbyterian Pain and Spine Clinic on a referral from my PCP and I began treatment there. I found that the heavy narcotic type pain medications left me feeling totally doped like a zombie so I opted for non-opiate pain control to try to retain some degree of function. I needed to be able to care for my wife when she had her down times. Those are frequent as her Migraines hit and drive her to bed. In addition, she is in a wheelchair and although very self-sufficient and independent there are still times when she needs a lot of help if she is ill.

The recommended treatment at the pain and pine clinic was to have epidural injections and to have certain exercises in the pool to try and heal over time with the injections meant to buffer the nerves in my spine to reduce the pain while I recovered. I was also on anti-spasm meds and an anti-inflammatory med to keep the swelling down. It just didn’t work. For months, the pain continued to increase and get more stressful and cause me more and more restrictions in movements. I got to the point where walking across a parking lot was hard to bear and long walks were entirely out of the question. That for someone who loves long hikes and snowshoe hikes in winter is a terrible sentence.

After 11 months had passed, I found myself back in the doctors office and being referred to a surgeon. We had a conference after another MRI was done and the damage was clear in my spine. It came down in a nice smooth line until L5 Vertebra which appeared to be stepped out of alignment just a little. But that little was a lot judging from the excruciating pain that was then radiating down my back and into my legs. I knew that regardless of what else happened, if I did not choose surgery I would have to find something soon. Pain can become unbearable and overwhelming and dominate a person’s every waking moment which is what was happening to me.

I had the surgery on October 8 of this year and it proved to be challenging for the surgeons. I lost 700 cc’s of blood and needed transfusions to restore my blood levels to close to normal. Things were going well otherwise. Due to the blood loss and the doctors fear of blood clots that could form I was kept well past the normal discharge time of the next day. I was released the following Monday evening instead.

A good friend took me home to ease the stress on my wife and I settled in. It was wonderful to be home and I was able to spoil the family dog and enjoy my wife’s amazing cooking and everything was right with the world. I had intense pain from the surgical incision but that throbbing burning back and leg pain from before the surgery were gone. I could have hugged that surgeon!

I enjoyed my supper and went to bed early as I was tired from all the stress done to my body in the process of surgery and the after effects. Early in the morning at about 4:00 AM I got up at my usual time and went to the restroom and then sat down at the table in the dining room to write. I felt a little nauseous so I decided to lay back down. At 8:30 the hospital called and checked up on my progress. I realized my right side had gone numb. I had a stroke.

I was sent for in an ambulance by the nurse who called to check my status and I found myself in the cardiac unit back in the hospital. I felt defeated and depressed. But it didn’t last long. I have always preferred Presbyterian to other health care providers and my choice proved to be a good one. I was treated with blood thinners and scanned for any other clots that might have formed and the incident that had happened was checked out thoroughly.

This time, I was not discharged home but transferred to a rehab hospital where I am now. I found several things have helped me recover some of my mobility already. First of all, I am active and I do not like nor do I sit still much. I like to be doing things. Perhaps that is why I am still working a craftsman’s trade instead of sitting in some desk chair somewhere. I also do not smoke nor drink alcohol, which makes my body assimilate more oxygen and am healthier overall, so my healing will not be so difficult. Next and just as important, I have to watch what I feed my wife and ensure she has healthy diets so I applied the same eating rules to myself. By doing those three things, I know from my time here in the rehab hospital with people also being treated who did not live healthy lifestyles, that I have a higher than normal chance of full recovery. Which is my fervent hope and prayer.

Doctors and nurses say I am very lucky, that I could have easily died. I don’t believe in luck, I am a Christian, I believe that I was blessed.

One of the greatest blessings was the compassionate and dedicated care provided by the nursing staff at Presbyterian Hospital downtown, Albuquerque. Another thing that was a blessing was the people who visited from church and good friends who took time off from work to come and visit. And I believe the greatest blessing was the various doctors who were professional and also very attentive to what I was feeling and through their careful treatment of my health issues and surgery have contributed to a better recovery. In spite of the complications, I am beginning to feel more of my right side and even some small amount of improvement in hand grip and mobility is happening. My doctor in the rehab hospital adjusted meds and using a new treatment brought some symptoms to a stop. I’m blessed!

Written by David Waterman
I am a spousal caregiver. I have had a lot of serious accidents in dangerous construction jobs. My recovery has not always been smooth but I did learn how my wife feels when she is bed bound for long periods. With similar experiences in our past I have a better understanding of what she needs to be comfortable. I also spent years involved in Christian ministry and the principles of Christianity apply so well to this life I lead now and give much needed stability when all other things are so often in the air.

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