A year later… From devastation to a new life

One year ago today, I received devastating news.

I went to my doctor for worsening back and leg pain (sciatica), and came out with a diagnosis of spondylolisthesis, a condition where one part of my spine slipped past another. Essentially, a broken back. I spent most of the next few months learning exactly how BAD my problem was. Initially being told, “We can medically manage this. Most of these are very stable.” to “Your back is unstable. I’m sending you to the spine surgeon.” to a neurosurgeon wanting to do surgery immediately (and my putting it off)… to losing sensation in my foot, losing sensation in my girlie parts (Yeah, TMI, I know), feeling a spider permanently crawling on on my lower leg, and a horrid gnawing ache deep in my leg that was not relieved by ANYTHING… by late March, I *KNEW* surgery was my only chance. Not just to stay in EMS, but to have a life. A life without paralysis. A life without pain. I wanted MY LIFE back.

I muddled through last summer and fall. Steroids, both oral prednisone and some directly injected into the area near my spine where the nerves were so pissed off, helped some. Not enough. In late January, I began my internship, and did ok… until March. Then the shit started to hit the fan. I know what precipitated my descent off the cliff into the rapid deterioration I began to have (Some of you know what occurred, but I won’t share it here right now). All I can say is it happened. It merely hastened what was going on in my back. I had gotten a surgery date in March for the end of April. And I kept fooling myself, thinking I could put it off further. When I got my 3rd 120-hour review from my preceptor… I knew I couldn’t keep doing this. My preceptor saw things get bad for me quickly. And although the paperwork followed our talk, she and I agreed that my internship was on hold until I could get relief from the pain that was making positive learning progress impossible. It really is hard to care for your patients when you are in more pain than most of them are. Concentration and critical thinking go right out the window.

As many of you know, I had my L4/L5 spinal fusion surgery on 4/30. It was minimally invasive surgery (Well, as minimally invasive as someone planting titanium rods and screws in my back can do it. But I didn’t have the traditional “open” surgery that leaves so many struggling for so long.). As I put in previous posts… this was my only chance. And yeah, post-op… it sucked. I lived my first two weeks in a narcotic cloud. And needed the help of others, especially my roommate Jonathan, to help me through. I learned a lot about allowing others to help me. I am a very independent person. But I needed to let people in to my world to help me to recover.

Since then, I have continued to improve. Faster than the docs ever thought. But I’m tenacious as hell. My neurosurgeon told me I couldn’t drive until I was off the narcotics. Challenge accepted! I was essentially off the narcotics approx 3 weeks after surgery.  I have had a few days I have taken them, at night for sleep, but that was after overdoing things (And after emergency oral surgery for an abscessed tooth that was extracted). I am even back to light duty EMS work. Yes, I still have limitations. Both as I become stronger, those limitations are being lifted. It’s hard at times to stay limited, but I must to heal. I am getting to know my newly repaired self. I still have overwhelming (at times) fatigue. But it is to be expected. I am, after all, building new bone. The bone IS fusing. The implant has not moved at all. We can see it on the x-rays. I am doing everything I can to ensure my back heals. Including working on weight loss. It is my only hope to be able to continue to do what I want to do.

I never want to have to have this type of surgery again. I have a vested interest in making sure this is my only surgery for this issue. Is it realistic? I hope so. I’ve been warned that the stresses on the vertebra above and below my fusion may make for future fusions. And I really understand not using my back to lift. I did before. That’s how I lasted as long as I did with a broken back. Not everyone needs additional surgery. I hope I’m one of them.

My internship will proceed. My neurosurgeon agrees that 9/1 is a good, realistic target to get back to it. And so, I am back at studying.

Today marks a milestone. A year in hell is OVER. My new life has started. And started well. I hope it continues!

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An Open Letter to G6 Hospitality LLC (Motel 6)

Dear G6 Hospitality (aka Motel 6),

Your company has a major problem. You do not value your guests. In fact, your company seems to thrive on taking advantage of people.

I and my staff stayed at one of your locations June 11-15. The location was the Gilroy, CA Motel 6. On June 12th and again on June 14th, I became a victim of crimes at this Motel 6. I was burglarized. The first time, it was by people who are in a position of trust that work at that location. The motel staff. My four business radios that are used for medical communication at events were stolen, and the charging bases as well. My roommate, who was also my assistant for medical issues I have since I had  major surgery on April 30th also had items stolen. Specifically, her professional makeup kit and some of her clothing. The second time was 17 gallons of gasoline that was stolen from my Jeep Commander, an emergency vehicle, the last night we were at this location.

How do I know it was the staff who committed the room burglary? It was witnessed by four separate people, including a police officer from another city, who thought your staff were working on the lock, not realizing they were breaking in. The Motel 6 staff were in uniform at the time. And the desk clerk KNEW we were going to be gone for several hours working emergency medical at a nearby event. By the description of the two women who broke in, one of them was the clerk. The crime was reported to the local police department, who let me know that your establishment is WELL KNOWN FOR BURGLARIES, as well as other crimes, including several staff members who have been arrested at that location.

I contacted G6 Hospitality by phone when the manager didn’t call me back after I reported the burglary to the hotel staff. Shortly after I called, I did get a call from the motel manager. I can only assume she was directed to call me, based on her attitude toward me. She was very rude, very indignant, and tried to kick us out of her establishment for daring to report a crime at her motel. In fact, the manager, Ofelia, denied any knowledge of crime at that Motel 6. Not her location, and not her staff. WRONG.

She even tried to subvert our conversation by changing the topic every minute or so, interrupting me as I tried to tell her what happened, and even trying to tell me we were committing fraud. She tried to tell me that when we checked in, we were generously given a kitchenette room which we didn’t want, as it wasn’t what was reserved, and I was overcharged for the room as a result. Her excuse was that because my reservation stated we needed non-smoking rooms due to a medical condition, she thought we would need the kitchenette. No. We needed non-smoking rooms. That was the only request. I had reserved two rooms, with two full beds in each room. We ended up with one room with two full beds, and one with a queen bed and a kitchenette. Only after my insistence did she even refund the difference. She even tried to charge me for her presumed ADA compliance. Ahem… who is committing fraud?

The manager didn’t apologize for the burglary, for the room which now had a lock that didn’t function properly, for anything at all. I even asked her what she was doing to ensure the safety and security of not only us, but for the other guests at her location. She had no answer.

I called G6 Hospitality back when I was treated so rudely by the motel manager. What I was offered was a free night stay at Motel 6 for our losses. Our losses are several hundred dollars. A free night won’t come close to compensating us for the loss of our property, for a room that had a broken lock on the door, and for us being left in a position of insecurity due to the burglary, and the manager not willing to consider that she has a problem. Please note, I am CERTAIN she is fully aware of the issues at that location. I won’t be bought off by a free room for a night. And I said that to the people I spoke to at the 800 number.

I will say, there was one person at that location that acted nicely to us. The night clerk. When we returned after our shift working (We couldn’t leave until our shift ended due to the nature of our work – emergency medical services), we ended up running into the four people who witnessed the burglary of our room. None of them realized what they witnessed was a burglary. The witnesses also spoke to the night clerk and explained what they saw. The night clerk called Gilroy police department on our behalf, and then called her manager to relay what was going on. The manager then directed her to refund the overcharge on the kitchenette room (She had not taken care of it during the day as she said she would, but pushed it off onto her night clerk.), and briefly spoke to me, again unapologetic about the situation. The night clerk felt awful for us, and the next day, after we returned from work, we were moved to another room (Next door to the room which was burglarized). At least the lock worked. But our sense of security was gone. Long gone. If you have ever been burglarized, had your possessions rifled through and stolen, you would understand this. If I could have found another hotel nearby at a reasonable rate, I would have moved all of us. Due to multiple events in the area at the time, rooms were hard to come by.

Today, I received the following letter in the mail from Claudette Bryant – Team Lead – Claims Representative, from G6 Hospitality LLC:

Motel6 Letter

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Note to those reading this: I removed my address, but the rest of the letter is complete.

I have no idea what your company considers an investigation, but it is clear you never spoke with the witnesses to the burglary. Or to Gilroy PD. Speaking with the manager would only get you her version of things, and not the truth.

As one person recently told me of Motel 6, you can clean up the property all you want with your “refreshed locations”, but until you get rid of the cockroaches (figuratively), you aren’t fixing anything.I expect nothing short of full compensation for our losses, and our rooms fully refunded. I’d rather not have to involve civil action, but make no mistake. I have absolutely no issues taking this to court. Your company has a requirement of due diligence to maintain security at your locations. Due diligence was not maintained. This location is well-known by Gilroy PD as a problem location. You have staff stealing from customers. You have rooms with defective locks. More than one guest reported issues with their rooms and locks while we were there. Others stated their rooms were not cleaned at all. These are guests who came from other states. Not long term residents that your motel chain seems to cater to above short term guests. You have a manager overcharging guests and changing room reservations without talking to the customers, and then trying to use ADA as an excuse to cover her actions. A manager who is perpetuating problems at this location. You need to clean house quite a bit at this (and many more locations).

I will not risk my staff, our medical and communications equipment, and our vehicles at your locations any longer.

Sincerely,

Renee Roberts

 

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Recovery continues

I’ve been walking more, starting to bend and flex more (Within the limits imposed by my neurosurgeon), and have been able to lift up to 18 pounds. Longest walk was 5 miles.

Today marks the first day I am back at work in the high rise at the day job. I actually started back last week, attending my yearly HazMAT Tech/Spec refresher class at Camp SLO. Took my roommate with me as a thank you for taking care of me in those first very painful weeks post-op, and continuing to help me at times when I need it (And reminding me when I am doing too much.). He got a free vacation while I was in class.

During Hazcatting (Categorization of unknown chemicals – learning what the dragon is before it is fought.), we were seated, and we took breaks. No problem there!

During the obstacle course and scenarios, it was a different matter. No, I didn’t suit up. I wanted to, but with a current lifting restriction of 18 pounds, the SCBA alone weighs more than that. And I didn’t want to stress the fusion area, as the SCBA would rest around that area. And, I think my neurosurgeon would have kittens if he knew I tried it. So, I biomonitored everyone, and led my partner on his obstacle course. And during the scenario, I was offered the chance to be the group supervisor, which I took. I had never done it before, so there is nothing like jumping in with both feet, right? Actually, my ICS training kicked in, and I stayed a leader, and let my team leaders handle the minutia that they need to handle, freeing me to do what I needed to do as the supervisor.

I’ve also managed a few supervisory/very light duty EMS shifts (No lifting! I let my staff do that.) as well. But still trying to not do that, so I can concentrate on exercise and healing up.

The next appointment with my neurosurgeon’s PA is probably going to be via email. First films at one month looked good. I am hoping she will do another set here at 2 months, more to satisfy my peace of mind, but to also see how bone growth is going. Pain-wise, I still am having intermittent sciatica, but most of the time, it is a minor reminder of my exercise, and that the nerves were pissed off for a long time. I realize now how much I had lost neurologically now that I am gaining it back. Little things that I thought were age-related, pregnancy-related, or previous injury-related. Nope. It was my back all along. I also notice that I occasionally drag my left foot, especially when I am tired. That is also improving as I am walking more and more.

Last weekend, I had a chance to go floating on the American River with friends. I did run it by the neuro, just to be safe. No rapids, but floating… yeah, it was allowed. AND FUN! I had a great time! So great, that we repeated Saturday’s trip on Sunday as well. I got out and swam for a while (well, floated more than really swam). Since my strength is still sucky, I needed a boost from my friends to get back in the raft.  Soon, I will be able to do that on my own! I just need patience…

All in all, it was a good way to get back into things.

Renee

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Surgery… and recovery starts

April 30, 2014… I was scared shitless. Seriously. I damn near turned around on my way into the hospital. Jon, my roommate, friend, and appointed patient advocate, was my point of strength. He reminded me I needed to to this. I knew without the surgery, my career in EMS was over. Permanently. This surgery was giving me the chance to continue to do what I love to do, provide not just BLS care to patients, but ALS-level care as well. My internship is on hold due to this damned problem with my back, and I WANT… I REALLY WANT… I HAVE TO GET… my paramedic. So… I registered and was escorted to pre-op.

Initially, they didn’t want Jon back there. Put bluntly, I wasn’t going back without him. And they knew it. A quick conversation with the pre-op charge nurse, and we were both back there. Changed into that beautiful hospital gown and booties. They decided to put those DVT preventing leg pumps on me, but didn’t use them in pre-op. 20-30 min went by and a nurse came over to start a line in my hand. Went on one helluva fishing expedition using a 20g catheter in what is one of the easiest veins in my hand to hit. Hell, I’ve hit it. One handed.  Took her 5 minutes. Seriously. Ouch. Anesthesia came over, talked to me a bit, verified a few things, then disappeared for a minute, came back with what I think was midazolam and that took some of my fear away. I was still crying off and on. Even when they took me into the OR soon after, I was still upset. I know my surgeon saw I was. Not sure exactly what he said, but part of what he said was that I would be back in EMS soon. I expect him to hold to his word. I will do my part.

20140430_182314Next thing I knew, I was waking up in post-op. Wanting Jon there. We had gotten agreement from Kaiser he could be there as soon as I was brought back, intubated or not. He was brought back, but the nurse I had was really not nice to me or Jon. He even kept shoving my gurney at times, and then another nurse pushed Jon away at one point (Yeah, I remember this, even with all the drugs). I kept holding Jon’s hand. The nurse kept saying “Policy prevents Jon from being there, unless I was dying or a kid”. Turns out that isn’t true. Jon and I dealt with it later, and the charge nurse was less than happy that she was never even notified there was a problem while we and she were there. She was literally 20 feet away, and he never told her. Ass.

Soon enough, I was sent to my room, which was a two-bed room. My hospital roomie and I got along great. She had surgery right before me, same level, same surgeon. I loved her as a roomie. They got us both out of bed that night, but left us sitting for over an hour (orders were no more than 30 min – I didn’t know). We yacked and yacked. High as kites, talking and talking. I still had a lot of meds from anesthesia in my system. Good thing. They were using morphine for my pain… a whopping 4 mg every 2-4 hours. Didn’t really touch the pain. DUH. Really? Ironically, my roomie was getting dilaudid and her pain was well controlled. By morning, I had taken a walk (primarily to get the friggin’ urinary catheter removed – a requirement). Got that out… whew! It was actually a Godsend to not have to get up to use the bathroom that first night. But with one kidney, I wanted it out ASAP. I do not want to risk a urinary tract infection any longer than I need to. Neurosurgeon came around, as well as his PA, they immediately changed my meds, first to dilaudid, then adding percocet every 4 hours. Problem is… the nurses didn’t follow those orders. Even when the PA confronted them, they used the “Well, her pain seemed controlled.” Uh, no… when I say it is 8/10, it’s 8/10… That’s not controlled. For the most part from then on, it was controlled. With 2 notable execptions. One was at night, and the night nurse insisted on giving me a single percocet (Note: 2 were ordered every 4 hours round the clock), and make me wait at least 30 minutes before she would provide any further pain control. It was my roomie who came over and talked with me, rubbing my arm, and helping through 45 minutes of hell, until she went out using her walker, and told them I needed help. They finally came in and gave me IV dilaudid. Which got my pain under control. 2 hours later, I got another dose. Finally slept for 4 hours straight. Wow! I needed that! The PA even told us it isn’t the first time that they have had run-ins with these particular nurses. So why the HECK are they still there??? Now, to their credit, I had several nurses that really were fantastic. I thank them for their compassion, and their help.

My PA pointed out I had done more walking than ANY of their patients EVER had. Really? Wow! I walked maybe 100 steps. She felt strongly my pain was from overdoing it. OK. I’m game to admit that. To me, 100 steps isn’t overdoing it (Especially after walking 3 miles the day before), but after a back fusion… maybe it is. I stayed in bed on day 2 most of the day, getting out only when PT wanted me out, or I had to use the bathroom. I used a walker everytime I got out of bed. Sucked, but I had to. Those first walks SUCKED. REALLY SUCKED. Pain like you can’t imagine, unless you’ve had this done before. But I did them.

Correction of my spine wasn’t quite what I had hoped I would get. But the nerve monitoring they do during surgery guides where they do the fusion. When they correct into toward what is a normal position and the nerves react by freaking out, they stop. I respect that. I have my own bone, donor bone, bony putty, and BMP, along with an Infuse implant in the intervertbral space, along with pedicle screws and rods holding L4/L5 together. What does it look like on x-ray?

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Lateral (side) view

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AP (Front/back) view

 

On Friday, I was offered the chance to leave. Initially, I was hesitant to, due to pain. But Jon and I talked, and we figured we could manage everything at home just as well, if not better, than I was getting at the hospital. So,I decided to check out (With the blessing of my neurosurgeon and his PA). I did ask for some oral dilaudid for breakthrough pain, which the PA did order. Thankfully!

While waiting for the pharmacy to get my discharge medications ready (Can you believe it too 3 hours???), I ended up with another bout of uncontrolled pain. I texted Jon, telling him how bad it was. He called me, and I could hardly talk, I hurt so much. This time, it took a call from Jon to the nurse’s station after I waited almost an hour for pain relief. Not sure what he said, but it shook them into action. They came in almost immediately at that point. I insisted on the dilaudid FIRST, then the percocet to cover after the dilaudid would wear off. They did it, no problem. Just before they pulled my IV, they pushed another 0.8mg of dilaudid (Topped me off for the ride home – THANK YOU!).

We got home, and although my first night was rough, it was better being home, knowing I could take my own meds ON SCHEDULE. I have had a few breakthroughs in pain, but all were managed quickly. My Iceman has been a Godsend (I strongly recommend it!). Came home using a walker, and was also given a cane. That was a rough thing to admit to need and use, but I needed it. Hell, I couldn’t even get up from sitting or lying down without assistance the first 2 days.The bruising on my back was horrendous. But I bruise easily. It is resolving. Got to shower after 5 days post-op. OMG… that felt SOOOOO good! My hair was one giant mess of ickiness. And I know even with body wipes, I still stunk. That shower still feels great!

So, where am I right now? Today is 10 days post-op.

It took several days, but I have graduated from using the walker. I am using a cane intermittently right now, but not inside the house most of the time. Outside, on uneven surfaces, in public… yeah. But even that is less and less. I sleep a lot. My body needs it. I only get 4 hours at the most, due to meds, but my body is using it.

I am still on full strength percocet. Using the dilaudid very intermittently (Like 5 out the whole 20 prescribed to me). Sucks. I have a normal high tolerance for pain. Wish I had been able to taper down already, but I’ve had more than a few people remind me the level of surgery I have had. Still taking valium to keep muscle spasms down, but I have been tapering off during the day. Seems to be helping with the lingering dizziness I have off and on. I’m walking more and more. Even walked a bit through Walmart earlier today. Prior to that, I was using their electric cart. Trying to walk more and more. Tomorrow… I want to walk to the mailbox and back (Not a short walk, and not on an even surface.). Won’t do it without someone with me, though. Or maybe a walk at a local park.  I still am limited to no more than 10 pounds of lifting ANYTHING. I’ve been good about it.

I managed to wear blue jeans today! I know it doesn’t sound big, but it was for me.

I still need someone with me off and on during the day for minor things. I can’t do laundry, dishes, anything involving bending, lifting, or twisting. At least not until the 30th… I’m being a model patient. Really! This surgery is my ONLY chance at getting back to what I want… no… need to do. It keeps me sane. I miss it terribly right now. More than you can imagine. Well, I know some of you can who have had to leave EMS due to their backs.

I want to thank ALL my friends on the Spondylolisthesis group on Facebook for your support. Without you, I would have NEVER have survived without losing my mind. THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

And thank you to all my family, friends, and even some of my staff who have come to help. I don’t know how to repay you for your help, your ongoing help, and even just encouragement. I love you all.

Until my next update.

Renee

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The Last Shifts… for now

2014-04-26 12.48.05This last weekend shift was a bit melancholy for me.

With my spinal fusion surgery looming on Wednesday, this last week was my last EMS shifts for at least the next 3-6 months. Being the owner of an EMS provider, I can sometimes control the shifts I work. So, I chose to work a mountain bike race last Wednesday, and the California Dental Association Free Dental Clinic in Vallejo on Friday and Saturday.

 

 

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The MTB race was busy! We had 2 transports from there, which is a lot for that race. One was seriously injured, and I haven’t gotten feedback on how he is doing, but I was concerned for a subdural bleed and c-spine injury on him; the other was hurting, but due to mechanism of injury, and her presenting in so much pain, we sent her out on trauma criteria. I know she is doing well at this point. She isn’t happy that we cut her clothes, heart monitor strap, and Camelbak, but this is the downside of getting hurt. We HAVE to do it to expose someone, and not risk further injury to the patient. As a physician friend of mine told me out there, “Well, you went out with a bang!”. Yeah, no kidding, Tony! Thanks, BTW, for offering to help. :-)

 

 

 

 

 

2014-04-26 09.38.13CDA is a labor of love. This is the 3rd one I’ve worked. They do incredible work, and I am proud that they use us as their EMS provider.  It’s grueling, but rewarding, work, and I got in a helluva lot of walking, hiking one of our 30 lb trauma bags at the same time.  The buildings were a few hundred yards apart, and my partner and I would also switch off every few hours, to change up the scenery for a while. We see a LOT of medical issues. Most of the people there haven’t seen a dentist forever, and also have underlying medical conditions that may or may not be under control, usually due to poverty. We treated a lot of patients for a variety of issues, including hypoglycemia, asthma, anxiety (wonder why?!), nausea, vomiting, and even a little trauma for good measure. A few got transported out. My feet were almost as pissed off at me as my back. Duty boots are NOT good for huge amounts of walking. I don’t care what the shoe companies say. But I love working the CDA events, and am planning on working the next one in November, if at all possible.

 

 

2014-04-26 22.10.32

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These guys were a hoot! They guarded my EMS station when I went on a call. I taught them how to make balloon faces with nitrile gloves… I’ve created monsters. :-)

 

I wasn’t planning on working Sunday; it was supposed to be a day for me to get caught up on some things pre-op, but I had to. Sunday was a 7-on-7 football tournament, all high school players. And it was a solo EMT event (Don’t get me started on that subject). This is helmetless, padless, non-tackle football. Players still get hurt, but not usually major. Spent most of the day watching them play 25 minute games at a time, with a few players here and there having minor injuries. The worst injury treated? A spectator/parent who decided it would be a good idea to jump a railing. He got caught on it, and fell face first to the ground 7 feet below, breaking 2 teeth, lacerating the hell out of his inner upper lip, and hurting his elbow. He did this all without the benefit of alcohol. Not sure about other substances, but he didn’t present like he was on something. With a bystander holding cspine, I checked him out. Neg LOC, A&Ox4, GCS 15, neg head pain (except for the facial injuries), neg spinal injury, and just the sore elbow (Good CSM). Nothing else I could find at all. Controlled his bleeding, and then he AMAs on me (Against Medical Advise). His out of control SO was another matter. When the event staff found her and brought her down to where he was (We were working on the all-important documentation at this point), she starts mouthing off, shoving him on the shoulder, and wouldn’t get out of my face while I was finishing up with him. I told her she needed to calm down, and she continued, telling me, “Well, this is how WE FOLK do things. I’m not gonna stop! He needs to hear it and get shit for it!” No, this isn’t. I told her if she didn’t calm down and stop it, I was going to get security out there, and she would be escorted off the grounds (She didn’t know security was already on their way).  She then laid hands on me. I told her very loudly not to touch me again. Security showed up at this point. She still kept mouthing off, so they walked her out. I finished up with my patient (He was quite apologetic about his SO’s behavior), and he went his merry way after a few minutes, with security also escorting him out. He did go to the ER, but by himself.  Not knowing he went by himself at the time, I was tempted to call the ER and warn them about his SO.

So, the upshot was that I worked a lot of hours (18 hours Friday, 16 Saturday, and 9.5 Sunday) this weekend. I think I worked more hours than anyone this weekend.  I’m sad that I won’t be working EMS for a while. I know others have faced their medical issues and come back. I will as well. This past 11 days has been hard pain-wise, without being able to take NSAIDs. Even just sitting hurts now. Working out there actually helped me to keep my mind off the pain… to a point. My body has made it clear that the time for surgery has come.

To Jon and Dylan: It was a pleasure working my last shifts for a while with you! (( HUGS ))!!!!

——

God gifted me with a beautiful sunset last night…

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Sunset from the high school I worked at.

And then, as I was driving away, on the radio was “How To Save A Life”, by The Fray.

I hope that is a good omen.

2014-04-26 22.12.19

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