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In Which I Earn an Honorary Doctorate in Wound Packing – What kind of shoes do you wear for that?

IMG_6999Caution: Today’s post is about the crazy that is my current role as a reluctant wound packer and cancer hater. This is how I let off steam and cope with our surreal life. You’ve been warned. No worries- I shall spare you graphic photos and details.

Answer: knock-off nursing shoes. AKA: Any shoes, socks or slippers I feel like wearing during our twice a day wound packing sessions. (I refuse to buy real nursing shoes because I DO NOT want to do this forever and I COULD not do this for anyone except my dear husband. I’m not a nurse- I pass out over blood. I used to gag when changing my own kid’s diapers. Cleaning up their barf was a race against creating my own mess.

In other words: I’m really not nursing material.

Since November- the number of miles I’ve walked through wound care-are countless. Endless and surreal.  I can’t even believe we do this every day.

This is not something I’d planned on adding to my life skills repertoire. I had been considering learning Italian. Or-maybe- taking a photography class….a creative writing class… But, definitely not: wound care.

Although- in the event of a Zombie apocalypse, I now have even more valuable bonus skills:

  •  I can spin fiber to yarn
  •  I can create garments from yarn.
  •  I can recognize skin  infections and effectively treat/care for some pretty wicked wounds without throwing up or passing out.

Who knew?

Not me.

Here are some interesting factoids from the miles we’ve logged on this wound care journey:

  • You can order a surprising amount of medical supplies on Amazon. (Seriously- from Purple Sparkly Metallic forceps for removing packing to kerlix. It’s all on there. ) Amazon is easier to deal with than our insurance company. Some of them are probably illegal in some states.
  • You need a PRESCRIPTION for pre-made saline solution. Or, you can follow the directions for making your own. Yes. it’s on Pinterest. No the insurance company doesn’t cover it. (Saline= what you use for cleaning out a pack wound and for re-packing it.) Yes- I got a prescription- because boiling water with salt and letting it cool then putting it into a sterile container each day- is a little tough to fit in between wound packing sessions, carpool, homework, meal prep, laundry and breathing. I have a hard enough time making coffee.
  •  COFFEE IS A MUST. But not too much- shakey over caffeinated hands are not wound care friendly.
  • At the evening packing- you may need wine. It’s medicinal. Trust me.
  • Visiting nurses are fabulous- unless you have to crate 2 dogs, clean the house, figure out the best way to “display” the wound that needs to be checked all while waiting for them to make it from one appointment to another. (Let’s just say- we cancelled that fairly soon after starting it.)
  • I  created  a treatment plan template- check list- spreadsheet and document care like a pro. (Seriously- a life saver. Kyle’s life.  Because, it is the only way I can track his temperature, blood pressure,  wound care and medications without missing anything or accidentally killing him by overdose.)
  • Once you get past the gross factor- wound healing is science. KEEP TELLING YOURSELF THAT. It helps. For real.
  • Granulation, contraction, epithelialization are words I can now use fluently. (And they have new meanings- Granulation now has nothing to do with sugar and  contraction now has nothing to do with labor. Just sayin.)
  • There are YouTube and other online nursing courses available – for free.  You can get the CEU’s for them if you pay. I did not pay. I will not be packing anyone’s wounds for a paycheck. You couldn’t pay me enough. But I do suggest checking into them if you find yourself in need of a very fast education.  *Side note- this experience has given me a whole new appreciation for nursing and hospital staff. They are incredible.They can clean and pack wounds- vomit, poo and any other bodily fluid (or solid) without gagging and while still treating a patient with respect and not getting annoyed. They’re amazing.  I am not.
  • Cancer is the gift that keeps on giving. Even if the numbers improve (I’m happy to say they are- at the moment.)  cancer can continue throwing you for a loop. As in: the reason we’re packing a wound is due to an infection most likely caused by the combination of radiation treatment damage to tissue and chemo therapy related compromised immune system.) This is the medical equivalent to that “gift with purchase” – fancy  tube of lipstick in a color no one wants- well we want it because it’s free- but we can’t wear it because it’s weird- so we keep it under the bathroom sink for all eternity- because: It was free and it’s: Fancy.  except I am not holding onto this any longer than necessary. Trust me.
  • After a while- wound packing becomes kind of boring and blase’. We now make obnoxious jokes while packing wounds. As in- too obnoxious to share here- and I’m obviously-pretty ok with being obnoxious- but these are even too much for me- level of obnoxiousness. Fact: the other day I found myself eating a piece of pizza while waiting for kyle part of packing prep to be completed (This involves showering and cleaning the wound out with a shower head. *not as bad as it sounds.) He finished before I did. I set the pizza on the desk- washed my hands- gloved up- finished and went back to my pizza and had a Frango Mint chaser. We both laughed. Seriously? Who’da thought I could eat and pack?
  • Dogs like to eat gross things.Wound packing and unpacking produces copious amounts of gross “medical waste.”  If you must pack a wound and have dogs- immediately buy trash cans with lids they cannot get into- or you will have a whole new mess to clean up. (Also available on Amazon- of course.)
  • Dogs are also curious about wound care- in general. Lock the door of the room you’re going to be packing in- lest a pooch come bounding in and jump into your carefully laid out on a sterile pad supplies- and cause much havoc and screaming.  (Only happened once. Not good. They now wait outside the bedroom door like whimpering sentinels guarding their favorite human behind the door. (Hint: I am not their favorite human. The dogs think I’m purposefully hurting their favorite. Thanks for the love- dogs.)
  • A headlamp is very helpful in wound packing. (Yes- I look like a coal miner- or a wound- spelunker-so what?)  Remember to remove it or be at risk of spelunking your way downstairs and blinding ourself in the bathroom mirror.
  • You can practice packing a wound at home with an orange analog. If you’re bored, or desperate to learn how- so your husband can come home.
  • Taking photos to track the wound healing is important. It is also important that you put them in a separate file on your phone lest our child be damaged for life by accidentally viewing graphic photos; of his dad’s wound .  (Also- only happened once. Still- that was bad. Poor kid.) Good thing my husband and I are not celebrities-or theses babies would be hacked- internet gold.)
  • There is no limit to the number of times you may need to have surgery for a particularly nasty infection. During his 12 day hospital stay in November- my hubby had- 3. Tomorrow, he will have surgery number 4. I think he’s going for a record. I suggest he try for a record in loads of laundry washed or toilets cleaned- but apparently he doesn’t listen to me. (Which is probably good.)
  • Hand washing can hurt. While I occasionally joke about my OCD-like tendencies- washing your hands like a doctor or nurse has to-causes serious pain. Like- oh my word my thumb is splitting open as if it’s mummified- type pain. Buy non- greasy lotion. Lots of it.
  • Packing a wound is not like packing a suitcase. Do not ever try to see how many pair of shoes you can fit in there. It’s not a game. (Given enough time- you may start to wonder things like that. I’m pretty sure this is normal and not a sign of psychotic break. Unless they come to take me away after i post this. If so- good luck with packing that. I’ll enjoy my in-patient vacation. Just put a tiny umbrella in my anti-crazy juice, please.
  • Wound care is like fight club. The first rule: We don’t talk about wound care.

Oops- just blew that one. Big time.

Here’s the thing- it’s private and gross and hard and scary- I know. And-  we don’t talk about it. I know because I looked online for someone who really offered some hope that I could do this. and found: not much. Just medical sites and nightmare posts.

I’m hoping that by putting this out there- the next person about to face wound packing will be able to find some humor and hope for the journey they face.

The bottom line? If I can do this- anyone can. And trust me- the first time I watched in the hospital- I was convinced I WOULD NOT be able to do this.

Some days? I’m still not convinced I can.

Bonus round: wound care and healing can be a long complicated process. There will be bumps in the road. Don’t be afraid to use that phone number the doctor gave you. There are no stupid questions. And yes- take pictures- the progress can be very slow- it’s encouraging to look back and compare where you are now to where you were a month or to ago. (Kind of discouraging to know it can take that long- as well- but it can. Tell yourself- one more day down. One packing closer to healed. )

If you are the caregiver- you absolutely MUST take care of yourself.  Eat. Drink water. Take breaks. Do things that re-fill your tank or you;ll find yourself sick and running on empty. That- is not helpful.

Try to find humor in this mess. Seriously- when the dog jumped into the water tray trying to check on his daddy? I was tempted to cry.  and freak. Instead- I stepped back (after dog removal) and laughed- because it was truly a scene from a sit com. It’s ok to laugh. And I highly recommend crying in the shower when you need to- as well. This is hard. You can do it.  You’re not alone.

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do all this through him who gives me strength. 

Yes, Even here. In wound packing.

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