We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Friday, December 31, 2010

Auguri a Tutti! Buon Anno Nuovo

Happy New Year to all!!!  I want to wish everyone a healthy and happy 2011!!!!

Here in Venice there is a great celebration about to kick off in St. Mark's square for the countdown to midnight with entertainment and fireworks over the lagoon.  This year, we stayed in.

Today marks two weeks at home after the knee surgery, and boy it's been two busy weeks.  My orders from the doctors and my physical therapist were to walk, walk, walk, and do my exercises every day, so that's exactly what I've been doing.  We walked in the snow. We walked in Aqua Alta.  When it's been really too cold, I walk a circuit in the apartment with my dog Sam trailing behind me every step of the way. 

Every day gets a little better and there is a little less pain. I spend most of my day working my knee- either walking, or doing exercises, followed by an ice pack break. This week I did my first walk outside solo.   After the holidays I will be returning to Fate Bene Fratelli for a few weeks of outpatient rehab.  

There are people in the streets yelling, and setting off small fireworks. It's that time!  Auguri, tutti!!!

Fate Bene Fratelli - Part 1

The transfer from Ospedale to Fate Bene Fratelli in Cannaregio may very well have been one of my most Venetian experiences ever.  It was scheduled for 5pm on November 21, but the boat was late, it was more like 6:30 pm when two paramedics with a wooden wheelbarrow type chair arrived at my room.  I wish I had a photo of the chariot they use.  Literally, it's a wooden chair, with two long wooden handles attached to it. You get sort of dumped into the "chair", and they haul you off!  In my case, getting me settled into the chair took a little bit of doing, as my left knee wasn't able to bend.  What the paramedics did before we took off was to attach my right leg to the end of the right side handle using a nylon strap so it was hanging down from the handle. For the left leg, instead of dangling it under the handle like the other leg, they sort of tied the leg directly to the handle so it didn't move as they wheeled me.  And then we took off.  One paramedic handled the ride from my room to the boat dock and I just hung on for dear life, in absolute amazement. We zoomed through hospital corridors and out the door at the Emergency Room exit, where the ambulance boats all dock. 

At this point, before I knew what was happening, the two paramedics lifted the chair up and they climbed up onto the duckboards (high water platforms) that were lined up from the doorway down to the dock.  One of them explained that a few hours earlier there was Aqua Alta!  Glad I missed that.  We got to the boat, where there were 3 other men.  My paramedics lifted me up over the side of the boat, still in the chair, handed me off to the other 3 men who put me down into the boat, and pushed me through two doors into the covered inside part of the boat, which looked to me just like an ambulance.  One of the paramedics who had come from my room also rode in back with Mike and I. 

The ambulance boat then took off, with blue lights blazing.  I was annoyed it was too dark out to get a good look at where we were going. I could tell we were riding parallel to Fondamenta Nove for awhile, then turned left onto a smaller canal.  About 15 minutes later they pulled up along side Fate Bene Fratelli.  The whole getting me into the boat routine was reversed, I was lifted up onto the street, still in my chariot, then wheeled inside by my two paramedics, followed by Mike.  The paramedics did some check-in procedure with the man at the desk, and I was told we would have to wait a little bit, they weren't ready for me just yet, but someone would be down to get me shortly. 

While we waited, my poor left leg was in major pain.  One of the paramedics kept asking me how I was, and I kept telling him I was in pain.  He bent down to his knees, unhitched my left leg,and cradled it in his arms, trying to make me more comfortable than to have it strapped to the handle of this chair gizmo.  In about 10 minutes, a guy arrives with a wheelchair for me.  The object was for me to be transferred to the wheelchair and the paramedics could leave.  Unfortunately, this particular wheelchair didn't have any attachment to it that would allow my left leg to be out straight, and I couldn't bend it.  Bottom line, the wheelchair wasn't going to work. So, my two paramedics wheeled me to my room, unhitched me from the chariot, and lifted me into my bed.  The one who had held my leg in the foyer downstairs  told me he was sorry for my pain.  I thanked him, but I sure hope I run into him again someday so I can thank him again.  I will never forget his small kindness.

So- here I was in my new home for the next 3 weeks. Room 123.  The nurse, a guy named Antonio, did some additional paperwork with me and then asked if I was hungry.  YES!  He arranged for some dinner to be brought to me, and then he proceeded to show me how my automatic bed worked.  What? an automatic bed? The whole bed goes up and down, the back elevates, and so does the foot.  Have I gone to heaven?  I don't have to ring for a nurse to arrange the back of the bed here?  This is good.  Also, the bottom of the bed had this little hood like thing on it, designed to hold the bedcovers off of your legs. This gizmo proved to be one of the greatest little comforts imaginable!

When dinner arrived, it was very good, another pleasant surprise. 

When we first learned I'd be moved to this facility, Mike and I made a little joke about the name Fate Bene Fratelli.  We called it Fate Buono Fritelli instead, which translates to Make Good Fritelli.  This is particularly meaningful to me, as I love the Venetian treat, the Fritelli, which is made only at Carnevale time.  Essentially a Fritelli is a donut, stuffed with things like zabagone, crema, or, my favorite, ricotta with pinenuts and raisins.  Oh, this is one heavenly little treat!  Fate Bene Fratelli, on the other hand, means Make Well Brothers.  Great name.  And I can tell you that over the next 3 weeks, I had first hand experience at how well they did with that. 

Note: Thanks, Yvonne for sending this great photo of Fate Bene Fratelli.  I took a few, but this one is much better.

More on six days in Ospedale Civile

When my surgery was scheduled originally, I was told I would be in the hospital 7-10 days, then have 3 weeks of rehabilitation. So I had prepared myself for a long 10 days in here. I asked if I could have my laptop- no. I asked if I could have my cell phone- probably not, no signal in the building. Hmm. This was going to be more of a challenge than I thought. I brought the cell phone, and decided I'd be optimistic about it. And, on rare occassion, I actually got a signal.

Ospedale Civile is an enormous building. I get lost in it every time I go there. It's located inside the Scuola Grande di San Marco, in Campo Giovanni e Paolo. Zillions of tourists stop and stare at the incredible facade on this building every year, and walk past it never even realizing it's our hospital. So.. deep inside this monstrous old building, which became a hospital in the early 1800's, I spent six interesting days.

A few immediate impressions:

- Everyone, without exception, wears white scrubs. In the USA, I am so used to seeing nurses in colorful tops- bunnies, flowers, birds, santas. You name it, it will be on some nurse's garb. Not here. It's all white- V neck tops and white pants. Everyone wears the same blue sweater if they are cold.

- Hospital food is hospital food no matter where you go. It wasn't anything to write home about. For breakfast there was the normal pastry with a cup of tea or coffee. Lunch was usually a pasta or soup for the first course, followed by a meat and vegetable for secondo. Dinner was pretty much the same as lunch. Ususally there was also fresh fruit available.

-Italian nurses seem to know how to stick you for blood with alot more precision than I ever experienced in the US. I was used to nurses taking 2, 3, 4 attempts to get a needle in, and me always having an incredibly bruised arm afterwards. This never happened here.

During the course of my six days, I got to know several different shifts of nurses, and some of them were quite the character. My favorite was the big burly bald headed guy with a goatee, who reminded me more of Hulk Hogan. I wish I could remember his name! Everyone knew I was "The Americana", and that was usually the topic of conversation whenever a nurse was with me, either to stick me for blood or change the sheets, they were all asking me why I was there. Some of the younger nurses knew a tiny bit of English. One particular day one girl asked me if I needed more drugs and my answer was "Oh yeah!!" She repeated "Oh yeah", and from then on everytime she was in to visit me she'd ask me some question or we'd be talking about something or other, and she would always say "Oh yeah".

On one day, this young nurse and the big burly Hulk Hogan guy were at my bed, hooking up the knee machine for me to use. Hulk Hogan heard us talking, and he says " Colorado" out of the blue. Oh, you know Colorado? With a big smile, he says "Si, and Frank Sinatra!" He was singing "Strangers in the Night" as he walked out of my room. Gotta love it.

Talk about Strangers in the Night.... some strange stuff goes on in the hospital at night. I'm not a good sleeper, so I needed them to give me medication. What I was hoping for was to be knocked out so I could get some good sleep. Not going to happen. My roommate snored. Big time. Besides that, there were two women down the hall who screamed "Aiuto mi" (Help me) all night long at the top of their lungs. And I have not yet figured out what the nurses do after they put all the patients down for bed. The nurses station was across the hall from my room, and while I was up all night, I would hear them laughing and eating all night long. I wished my leg was working so I could have gotten up and gone to hang out with them.

They did give me sleeping medication, but what they gave me didn't do a thing One night having nothing to do but stare at the ceiling, I made notes on what I thought would make a great Saturday Night Live skit--- notes for a Do it yourself Knee replacement Kit, for all those poor folks without insurance but need to have the operation. That same night, as one of the nurses made her late rounds she stopped and asked me why I was still awake. And then she says,"We can put you down with the two screamers if you like! " No thanks, I'll stay right here. After night three, they upped my sleeping medication dosage, and I did sleep. Whatever they gave me left me a little less than lucid in the morning also.

On day 3, I spent what seemed to be most of the day getting transfusions, since my blood pressure was so low. I learned to say "Gira in testa" (my head is spinning/ I'm dizzy) real fast.
My orthopedic surgeon visited that day, the ace bandages on my leg were taken off, the dressing changed and the drain removed. He told me everything went well, it looked good, and I had to be getting up. Yes, I wanted to be up also.

The getting up didn't work so well. I managed to get about 10 steps from the bed before I got so dizzy I nearly passed out. The two nurses with me got me back into the bed. I continued to use the knee machine that was brought to my bed to move my knee, but I wasn't up walking.

On day 4, a nurse informed me that I would be moved in two days to Fate Bene Fratelli at 5pm. That's all she told me. What??? I had no clue what Fate Bene Fratelli was. Fortunately, the daughter of the woman in the bed next to mine was there at the time, and she explained to me that Fate Bene Fratelli is a rehabilitation center in Cannaregio. Her mother had been there the year before, and would be going there again when she was released from the hospital in a few days. She told me the staff was wonderful, and it was a very good place. My roommate was an adorable little elderly woman named Loredana who was in for a hip replacement.

The pain medication was wonderful. It was administered by IV, and whenever I said I felt pain, a new bottle was hooked up, and I felt good again. Aside from the low blood pressure problem I really felt pretty good. I was hooked up to the knee machine twice a day to keep my knee moving, and on day six, I actually was able to get up out of the bed and walk down the hall and back to my bed with two crutches and the assistance of the physical therapist.

My husband Mike came to visit me twice a day, making the trip by the number 42 boat from Piazzale Roma to Fondamenta Nove and walking the rest of the way. On days when it wasn't exceptionally foggy and the #52 was running, he could take that all the way to Ospedale.

On day six, I was disconnected from my IV, and around 4:30 pm I got ready to be moved to Fate Bene Fratelli., which was supposed to happen at 5pm. Finally out of a hospital gown and into my own clothes!!! That felt good. We waited, and waited, and finally a nurse came and told us the move would be delayed, there were no boats yet, but one would be coming. The next chapter in my adventure was about to begin.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Buon Natale a tutti!!!!

If you have been keeping track of Venice weather, then you know we have been having a run of Aqua Alta. Last night at midnight the water was extremely high, 140 cm. Tonight at midnight it's estimated at 120 cm, so because of that Christmas Eve midnight mass in ST. Mark's will be held at 10 pm instead of midnight.

We're having a very low key holiday this year., staying home. It's about all I can manage. Mike put up and decorated the Christmas tree while I was in the hospital, so it was great to come home to alittle holiday spirit. I normally hang lights on our balcony. Next year!

Buon Natale!! Merry Christmas to all. I hope you all have a very special holiday season.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Surgery day

I don't remember a whole lot of November 16, but what I do remember needs to be recorded here.

I was having full knee replacement surgery, which involves inserting a metal substitute for the knee joint into the two leg bones. I knew ahead of time the make and model of the knee joint I'd be receiving- an American made prosthetic. I also had lots of fears. Would my legs be the same size when they were done? That was a huge worry in my mind. Would the new knee be the right size for my leg? Would I be able to wear high heels ever again? Would I be able to sit indian style on the floor ever again? All these thoughts were running through my head as I was being wheeled off to surgery on the morning of November 16. Thankfully, those magic happy drops the nurse gave me took such an edge off, the answers to all my questions weren't very important at the moment.

It was a short gurney ride to surgery. I'd never seen anything like it. You enter an area that is entirely stainless steel, with one big open slot in one wall. There is a nurse on the other side of this slot, I could see her. My gurney was wheeled up to the slot, lined up, and with a one, two, shove, I was moved off the gurney, through the slot, and onto another gurney on the other side. I recall the two nurses having some sort of conversation, and then my gurney was moved a bit, and a doctor walked over to me. He had colorful glasses. Green frames, and he wore a colorful surgical cap. I remember telling him I didn't speak much Italian. He made some small talk, then told me he was going to give me an ansethetic that would only numb me from the waist down, I'd be awake otherwise. A second doctor was in front of me, I was now sitting on the gurney, while the anesthesiologist inserted a needle into my spine. It seems like only a few minutes later and I didn't feel a thing in my legs, and they wheeled me into the operating arena.

I could see all sorts of equipment, trays of instruments, numerous nurses and doctors all moving around, getting things set up. They put a dark green piece of material screen-like thing in front of my face so I couldn't see a thing (thank goodness), and things started to happen. I heard lots of chatter, nothing I could particularly remember afterwards, but I know everyone seemed to be happy. Doctors were singing, one of them I know for sure was singing this popular Italian song "Ancora". What I remember most the sounds of lots of drilling and sawing, which seemed to go on forever. I was imagining Santa's Elves with dremel tools making toys. Really.

The next thing I remember is arriving at my hospital room being moved off a gurney into the bed. My left leg was wrapped in ace bandages. I was told the surgery itself was about 2 hours. I was in recovery a bit longer. The very first thing I did was put my two legs together and look at them to try to determine if they were still the same length. They appeared to be, so I felt relieved. One worry I could tick off my list.

What I expected next was that later that day or the next morning I would be gotten out of bed. I had read that getting out of bed early was necessary with knee replacement surgery. Unfortunately for me, that did not happen. I had pretty severe low blood pressure, which made me extremely dizzy, so I wasn't able to get out of bed that day or the next. I'm someone who has had high blood pressure for years, and wouldn't you know it, now it was just the opposite!

Back home, catching up

It's been over a month, the worst is behind me and I am home recuperating. I had no access to my computer the entire time or I would have been blogging religiously, as this was some experience! Unfortunately, no computers allowed where I was, so I wrote on paper.

What I will attempt to do over the next several blogs is record my last month. These are times I never want to forget. Not sure how I'll blog in reverse, but I'll give it a shot.

First, though, HUGE THANKS, to all of you who keep up with my little adventures for emailing me during this ordeal. It was amazing to hear from everyone, and the little notes and emails kept me going on some tough days!

When I posted last, I described the days of going to give blood in preparation for surgery. A week later I was to check into the hospital, so that's a good place to pick up.

I was scheduled to check into Ospedale Civile here in Venice at 8:00 am on November 15, have tests during the day, with surgery set for the morning of November 16. I had been told ahead of time to bring a suitcase of personal items like pajamas, underwear, and toothpaste, and also two important items: stampelle and monocollante. Stampelle are crutches. Monocollante are these very thick stocking/sock- like things which you must wear to reduce the possibility of blood clots after surgeries like this.

For both of these items we visited our local farmacia. Our farmacista has been fabulous, so we knew she'd be able to tell us where to go for these things. Fortunately, she handled it for us. She had stampelle, Mike purchased a pair for 30 Euro. She told him she needed to make measurements of my legs, so I had to return laster that afternoon. I showed up at the farmacia, she took me behind the counter and proceeded to measure around ankle, thigh, calf, and whole leg measurement. She got on the phone, made an order and told me to return the next day, with 42 Euros for each of the socks (you must have one for each leg). Done. Little did I know then that these sock like things were going to have an important role during the next month! More on that later.

With my bag packed, stampelle and monocollante included, on the morning of Nov 15 Mike and I left the house at 6:30 am to catch the #52 boat to Ospedale. Wouldn't you know it that morning, because of fog, the 52 wasn't running! So, we caught a 42 for Fondementa Nove and walked the remaining distance to Ospedale, which caused us to be about 15 min late.

Being late didn't seem to matter, even after we ran around several floors trying to find the right place. We eventually located the waiting area for Orthopedia and rang the bell. No one came.
A few nurses went in and out, I spoke to each one explaining I was here to be checked in and no one seemed to know what was going on. We continued to wait. After about 2 hours, a nurse finally came and told me that there were no beds for me available that day, I would have to return tomorrow, but first had to go have x-rays taken. A nurse came, took me off to x-ray, and left. When the x-rays were completed, I walked myself back to Orthopedics, told the nurse I was finished, and she said "go home, be back here at 7:30 am tomorrow". I had expected to meet the dr. who would perform the surgery that day, and told the nurse this. She said, "ok, talk to the dr, he is right there. " OK. In my halting Italian, I asked the dr a few questions. He opened my file and handed me a 3 page document I had signed earlier which described all the complications possible with a surgery like mine. What I had wanted was a little explanation of what would happen during the surgery, not what could happen as a result of it. The nurse handed me a form to sign, which essentially was giving my permission to be released overnite, and off we went home.

To be honest, I was relieved to be sleeping at home that night. It took alot of the nervousness away for me.

The next day, we repeated the trip to Ospedale Civile and arrived in plenty of time. I rang the bell at Orthopedics. This time, a nurse came right out for me, and ushered us inside. She explained that I was first in line for surgery that day, there still was no bed for me, but there would be one by the time I came out of recovery. They had me change into a hospital gown, and the nurse put a few drops of something into a little plastic cup for me. She said this would relax me some. She was right. Whatever was in that cup was perfect. My fear and nervousness were miraculously gone, and I was on that gurney ready to go! Mike had my bag and stampelle, he was going off to wait in the waiting room, and I was wheeled off to surgery- feeling quite happy. There were alot of days after that I wished for more of whatever those magic drops were.