Sunday, October 28, 2012


Okey-dokey, so here’s what’s been going on in my household.

Before my September 11 lumbar surgery, I had a dog problem in my house that cost about $250. Then my car died. Another $250. Then my air conditioner died. $250. I began to think, “How the heck am I going to get through this month, pay the utilities, buy food, take care of the hounds and cover my insurance co-pay?” And then, out of the blue, three of the kindest, most generous women-writer friends a person can have, Norah Wilson, Bonnie Vanak and Pamela Clare, sent me money! They just sent it to me! God bless them all. It’s because of Norah, Bonnie and Pamela that I was able to weather one of the worst experiences of my life without losing everything I own.

Anyhow, on September 10 (which would have been my daddy’s 108th birthday, had he still been alive), my dear friend Ann Wilmer-Lasky drove me to Albuquerque, where we stayed overnight with some more dear friends, Marcia Fish and Larry Anderson. Then the next day we went to the University of New Mexico’s Neurosurgery Unit.

I was told to expect a four- or five-hour “minimally invasive lumber laminectomy.” Well . . . ten hours later, I woke up in the recovery room (I guess) to see my 16-year-old Austrian neurosurgeon smiling up a storm and saying, “Oh, my, you gave us such a challenge!”

Goody gumdrops.

Evidently, in order for a neurosurgeon to minimally invade something, there has to be a space to invade. The discs in my lower spine (on the right) had bonded together (guess they were pals), and were locked in a clump. They had to get out the band saws, drills, power tools, and stuff like that in order to get ‘em apart, scrape the junk off them, put spacers between them, and screw them in place. I grew a whole inch after that! Mind you, I’d shrunk four inches, but still, at least I’m back to being a whole five feet tall. I used to be five-three, dang it.

The first two days after the surgery I wanted to be dead. Honest to God, I’ve never experienced anything like that. I don’t know how nurses do their jobs. I’m rather a non-difficult sort of person, but I was lying in bed (truth to tell, I was bent of in half, ‘cause they had to put 60 pillows under my legs and crank the bed back up so that I was . . . well, bent in half). Worse, I lay or folded there and moaned. Out loud. Couldn’t help myself. How humiliating.

But, boy, did I come away with an appreciation of those nurses! They not only provided me with ice chips (‘cause I couldn’t swallow w/o them), but they cleaned me after I threw up all the water from the ice chips. And they never scolded! They just said, “Not a problem. That’s why we’re here. We’ll just change this bedding and get a new gown on you and wash you up,” while I cried. The first few days after that operation included not a single one of my finest moments. However, I gained a GIGANTIC respect for the nurses who take care of people like me. I had never, ever, once, considered what nurses have to go through in order to deal with post-op and other types of patients.

Not only that, but the doctors and nurses gave me a whole bunch of great drugs (morphine, Valium, oxycodone, etc.). One day I decided to tell my grandson, Dai, who’s an Army Medic and has been nursing for years, how much I appreciate nurses like him who take care of people like me, so I telephoned him in Fort Bragg. Emily, my granddaughter-in-law, answered the phone and assured me she’d tell Dai I’d called to appreciate him. I thought it was around noon. It was more like around midnight. Heck, I was on drugs, y’know?

Then there were the food trays. Since I was bent in half, they had to plant the tray on my folded knees, which lifted the tray above my head so I couldn’t reach anything on it. Not that I was hungry, ‘cause I wasn’t. I did manage to snag some soup and drink it out of the bowl a couple of times. Once the massive muscle spasms and throbbings in my right leg began to subside (the neurosurgeon had had to cut through the muscles of my right leg in order to have at the clumped-up discs), I was able to lose some of the pillows under my legs, and the bed back could be lowered some, so that by the time I felt like eating something, I could actually get at it.

Then there were the other fun things that happened. During any surgery, I guess they have to stick tubes down your throat and tape your face to the operating table. Well . . . ten hours is a long surgery, and my throat didn’t react too well to having that stupid tube stuck down it for so long. There was a whole lot of coughing going on for quite a while. That was nothing to the worms on my face, though. I guess my skin had reacted to the tape they’d used to tie me down, and my face itched. When I reached to scratch, felt big, wormy lumps. I asked a nurse about them (I LOVE nurses), and she said, “Oh, you just had a reaction to the tape. We’ll give you some Bacitracin, and you rub it on, and those rashes will go right away.” She was right, bless her.

I think people visited me, although I’m not sure. I spent the first two days in ICU, weak as a sick kitten, mainly because I’d become grossly anemic. Had to have three blood transfusions. Lemme tell you, when you’re that anemic, even lifting an eyelid is a chore.

After my blood count and blood pressure (which kept shooting into the stratosphere) leveled off, they moved me to another room, and I remained with the hoi-polloi until Marcia and Larry came to pick me up on September 17. My instructions for recovery were simple: walk and rest. Easy-peasy. Until I fell over some doggie steps and landed, WHOMP, on the surgery site on my right leg. I had the most gynormous hematoma you can possibly imagine from that piece of idiocy. It was so big, it pooched out my ever-so-fashionable muu-muu. My wonderful friend Patricia took me to the ER here in Roswell, where I was X-rayed and found to be still in one piece. The following Thursday I had an appointment with the neurosurgery folks in Albuquerque, to which my cousin Lois and (again) Patricia accompanied me. I couldn’t drive ‘cause of the drugs. Since I obviously couldn’t even walk, this was a wise precaution. The neurosurgery assistant took out the staples holding my back together, so now I have a little, albeit quite long, set of railroad tracks running up my lower back. I’m trying to decide if a tattoo will add anything to the gorgeosity of my scar.

Then last Thursday Lois drove me to the neurosurgeon (Google her if you don’t believe me when I tell you she’s a 16-year-old Austrian. Her name is Martina Stippler, and she’s fabulous) Dr. Stippler found I’m doing quite well, everything’s holding together, and she was particularly pleased with the way I could bounce right up out of chairs and stuff. Guess all that exercising I used to do did something besides ruin my body. I still can’t fetch my 25-pound dog, Giblett, from Kari in Fort Stanton, because I’m not supposed to lift more than ten pounds, and Giblett, due to a genetic malformation, has to be lifted. He comes with a handle (his harness) but he still weighs more than I’m allowed to lift. I’m sorry, Kari, although I know Giblett’s having a wonderful time with you. The best news they gave me, however, during that visit was that I am not to begin an exercise program yet, but to “walk and rest.” I can do that :-)

Then, late in September, something totally dreadful happened to my winner-picking-wiener dog, Rosie. I don’t know what it was, but she came into the house one afternoon with her face smashed in. Honest to God, it was horrible. Up until that time, Rosie had been a happy, healthy, jolly 14-year-old wiener dog. But I had to have her put to sleep. Broke my heart. I held her in a soft blanket while she was sedated, and then, when she went to sleep, they gently moved her to the table, and I petted her while the doctor injected her. Lord, it was awful. I miss Rosie SO MUCH. I’ve looked over every inch of my back yard (which has a six-foot fence around it) and can find nothing to account for the state of Rosie’s face. She looked as if someone had hit her with a sledge hammer.

Um, what else . . . Honestly, the surgery and its aftermath sort of took precedence over most other things in my life, although I was pleased that both FALLEN ANGELS (mystery category) and GENTEEL SPIRITS (historical novel category) are finalists in the New Mexico Book of the Year Awards Contest. Since I belong to the George C. Scott school of contest appreciation, it took some overcoming for me even to enter the books, but I did it anyway, and I aim to go to the banquet on November 16, too, what’s more. Another dachshund-rescue lady, Janet Johnson, is attending the banquet with me, and it should be fun. I don’t expect to win, as my books aren’t what you might call mainstream fiction, but it’ll still be fun, and it’s delightful to meet other authors and stuff.

Then there’s the book I’ve been writing all year long. Unfortunately, there have been huge gaps in between the times I can work on it, because every other week or so I’ve had a surgical procedure or had to go to Albuquerque (have I mentioned that Albuquerque is 200 miles away from where I live, and there are NO specialists in Roswell? Well, it is and it’s true. Grumble). Fortunately for me, two fabulous women whom I’ve only met on-line, Lynne Welch (former RWA Librarian of the Year) and Sue Krekeler (teacher extraordinaire and, thank God, reader and editor) have agreed to beta-read SPIRITS REVIVED, so I can maybe finish the stupid book when I’m able to sit down and DO it. There are so many wonderful people in the world. On the news we hear about the creeps, but not everyone is a creep, thank God!

Oh, and several of my books are being made into audiobooks! With luck, they’ll be available on eventually. So I guess life isn’t all throbbing pain and grief over lost dogs, although there’s still a lot of that going on.

And I’m holding a contest this month! I skipped last month because I was recovering, but I’ll be giving away copies of GENTEEL SPIRITS and FALLEN ANGELS. What the heck. If you want to enter, just send me your name and home address ( and I’ll throw your name into my special contest doggie dish. Not sure who’s going to take over winner-picking duties from Rosie, but someone will do it, I’m sure.


Patty Froese said...

Oh my goodness, you've been through the wringer! I hope things start getting better from here on in--they seem to be going beautifully in your professional life!

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Patty! If I could only sit and write, thing would be going better with my professional life :-)

Jacqueline Seewald said...


You certainly have had a tough time. I can tell you haven't lost your sense of humor though. I have a feeling things are going to keep getting better for you now.

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Jacquie! I appreciate that and hope you're right.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Alice, I hope yo are recovering well. My cousin had that back surgery where the docs had to scrape away the yuk and redo things. She is doing well now and she is older than you are. Take care and keep writing those wonderful books!

Alice Duncan said...

Ha! I'm glad SOMEBODY'S older than I am! Thanks, Caroline. Things seem to be going really well, knock wood.

Monica Stoner said...

You make it sound like a minor inconvenience, bless you, when we both know it was major trauma. Yes, nurses are wonderful human beings. And next time you're up here, lady, let me know I can meet you in Albuquerque as easily as you can stop off here!

Anonymous said...

Whoa! Hat's off to you for going through all of that!

Alice Duncan said...

Will do, Monica. It was way fun having lunch with you! Lord, we go back a long way, don't we? I'm recovering, though, however slowly. right now, for instance (well, not RIGHT now), I'm lying on my bed with my dogs and my heating pads and listening to an audiobook. I get exhausted easily still. Pthht.

Thanks, Katherine! It hasn't been any fun, believe me :-)

Nancy G. West said...

Wow, Alice. You have really been through it. I'm so glad that (a) it's over and (b)you're dying to write. I wonder if you could recline on pillows, put an iPad held by a Zagg keyboard on top of a pillow on your lap, and write that way?
Things can't go any way but up, starting with your 2-BOOK-NOMINATIONS!. I'll be pulling for you Nov. 16!
Nancy G. West

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Nancy. I'll be okay in a couple of weeks. It's just that I can't sit very long now. I don't have an iPad or a Zagg keyboard. Actually, I don't even know what a Zagg keyboard is! I'm such a dinosaur.

Pat Browning said...

Great God Almighty, Alice. And I thought I had a tough life going on. You have such a gift -- you make those awful experiences sound almost funny.

Get well, girl. If it's true that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, then you should enter a body-building contest or take up professional boxing or run a marathon!

Get well now, hear?

Your fan,
Pat Browning

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Pat! It's actually been pretty rough. Today I feel crappy. Don't know why some days are okay and some aren't. But it'll all be okay one of these days! I saw a thing on Facebook about things that don't kill you making you stronger, so by this time I should be able to bench press a Buick!

Unknown said...

ooYou have some very good people in your life it seems. I'm so happy for you I know you deserve so much!

I hope all the health problems have been solved now and you can go back to writing and enjoying it!

I couldn't agree more about nurses being the best. I've had some good ones over the years.

Take care and hope the recovery goes well

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Barbs! You're right. I have so many good people in my life. I'm truly blessed.

Norah Wilson said...

Alice, you have sure been through the wringer! But I'm hoping and praying you're getting better every day and will soon be back to walking dogs and sitting in front of your keyboard without any pain. Nothing could make me happier!

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Norah! If not for you, Bonnie and Pamela, I'd never have made it through the month. Honest to God.

Deb Stover said...

Good heavens, Alice! You did not share the full mess with READ. I'm so sorry. The back was way, way more than enough. I'm so glad you're on the mend. Good friends rock. You are blessed. Love, Deb

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Deb. I didn't think the whole world wanted to hear all the gory details, so I gave 'em the option. HOWEVER, if you want to point the blog out to READ members, it's okay by me.I love sympathy :-)