Saturday, March 28, 2015

Follow-Up Day at LSI/Recovery Day

Yesterday Connie had an her follow-up appointment at the Laser Spine Institute. The clinic personnel checked her incision and then changed her bandages. We then met with a physician assistant who reviewed her case and gave her these instructions for the next two weeks: Walk, ice, rest, Walk, ice, rest, Walk, ice, rest (repeat again and again for the next two weeks). The best advice he told us is to allow the body to heal and not to overdo it. He also reviewed once again the medication that Connie will be on for the next few days (antibiotic, pain medication & muscle relaxer) and how to take them. We were able to get a copy of the pictures taken during Connie's surgery that shows the before and after results of the procedure.

Connie bandage over incision showing time and date of the end of her procedure along with a "smiley face" for the good result
Connie incision for procedure (about 1.5") and where Dr. Mark Flood indicated where the procedure would take place (the OR crew made his writing into the figure you see above)

We then met with a Patient Case Review worker to go through the week Connie experienced at the Laser Spine Institute. They wanted to know what Connie liked and did not like about the interaction she had with LSI. Connie gave them positive feed-back on almost everything at the clinic and her experience through out the week. They asked her if she would like to be on the clinic "Wall of Fame" and she agreed. So they took her picture and will post it with some of the comments she made during the feed back interview. Connie also agreed to be available by phone to answer any questions a prospective patient might have about the Laser Spine Institute and about her experience with the clinic and the personnel at LSI.

Connie and I have found the clinic and personnel at LSI to be very professional yet also very caring with their patients. We found that the clinic schedule ran on time and we rarely waited more than a few minutes for the next appointment through out the week. The procedure was a great success and the hardest part will be not overdoing it during the recovery phase.

Saturday is a Walk, Ice, Rest day here at the hotel. We have a flight back to Texas in the morning and then a return to the Duchess. Then two weeks of Walk, Ice, Rest for Connie to continue her recovery. Hopefully next week this blog will return to it's original purpose of writing about our preparation for full-timing and then our start on the journey. As with everyone who has ever started on this journey, life interrupts us when we least expect it.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Big Day at Laser Spine Institute (LSI)

Connie had her surgical procedure this morning at the Laser Spine Institute. The easy name for the procedure is "Minimally Invasive Decompression", I will not try to spell the actual medical term for the surgery. We arrived at the institute around 7:30 AM and were taken up to the Pre-Op area. Connie had to go through another series of questions after which we spent a few minutes with Dr. Flood who would perform the procedure. Then we met with anesthesia and one of the operating room nurses and they explained the process that would get Connie ready for the procedure. IV's were started and a few minutes later Connie was off to surgery.

Connie was in surgery for about an hour. Dr. Flood found that there was a rubbery like mass that had formed in the area between her L4 and L5 that was compressing her nerve. The odd thing is that this mass did not show up on either of the MRI's that Connie had done over the last few months. Dr. Flood was able to clean this out and then did some smoothing of the bones. Once he was finished there was a clear channel for the nerve to pass out of the spinal column. From the operating room, Connie went into a recovery room for about 45 minutes. From the recovery room she then moved to the post-op area where I was able to join her. The post-op nurse went through all of Connie's medications and how they were to be taken along with reviewing the restrictions on her physical activities. Dr. Flood came out and reviewed the procedure with us. He had taken a series of pictures that showed the before and after area that he had worked on. It was amazing the difference in the first and last pictures that showed how the nerve was free of any compression one the procedure was completed. We are extremely grateful that Connie chose to have the less aggressive procedure performed rather than the more aggressive disk fusion. Dr. Flood also reported that even though there are some alignment issues with Connie's back, everything is stable and this procedure will give her the results she wanted.

After the surgery, Connie has no back pain, no hip pain and no pain in her foot. She has a slight sensation down her right thigh, but Dr. Flood told us this was expected and will disappear in a couple of days. It is the normal result of the compression being removed from the nerve (he described it as the nerve is beginning to wake up). We returned to the hotel and ate lunch after which Connie took a long nap. She was able to take a couple of 10 minute walks inside the hotel this afternoon and evening with no pain.

Connie has a follow-up appointment with the surgeon tomorrow and with a physical therapist to go over her recovery exercise program. The hardest part according to Dr. Flood is to not overdo things since she is now pain free. The body still needs time to heal. We are thankful to all of the personnel at LSI who have been wonderful and very supportive throughout Connie's workup and procedure. We are also grateful to all of our friends and family for their prayers, thoughts and support during this week.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Another Day at the Laser Spine Institute (LSI)

Connie at the enterance to the Laser Spine Institute
Connie had her first appointment of the day this morning at 10:30 AM. We arrived at the clinic early and both of us had the complimentary breakfast provided for patients and families. We then went into an appointment with a surgeon (not the one who will actually do the procedure) and a physician assistant. The surgeon and the PA discussed the problems with Connie lower back and the options that were available at LSI. The less aggressive procedure was to remove the pressure from the nerves between Connie's L4 and L5 by trimming some of the bone and smoothing out any spurs and pits. The more aggressive procedure would be to fuse the L4 and L5 bones. We went through all of the pros and cons with each of the options. If Connie did the less aggressive procedure now, the more aggressive (fusion) would still be available down the road. The results from the last 11 years at LSI have shown a 70-80% success rate with the less aggressive procedure in relieving back pain. So, after much thought and discussion Connie decided to have the less aggressive procedure with the surgery occurring tomorrow morning. If Connie had decided to go ahead with the disk fusion, we would have had to reschedule the procedure later in the year along with her having to go through a lot of hoops with the insurance company. There was also a shadow on her MRI that the radiologist thought might be a cyst in her kidney. So Connie had to go to a local imaging center to have her kidney scanned.

After a quick lunch at LSI (yes they also provide lunch as well as breakfast for their patients and families), we met with Dr. Flood who is one of the founders of LSI and will be Connie's surgeon. We again discussed Connie's lower back and the two options available. After this discussion with Dr. Flood, Connie did not change her mind and she will go with the less aggressive procedure.

Raymond James Stadium - Home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
We went through all of the "money" issues with Serena Tamayo who is a Spine Care Coordinator at LSI and she started the process to get Connie on the schedule for tomorrow. We also had to get three prescriptions filled at a local pharmacy for her post-op recovery. After a drive through Tampa to get the the radiology center for Connie's kidney scan, we then travelled on to the pharmacy where we were picked up the prescriptions . Everything turned out OK with the kidney scan. If there had been a cyst (the MRI was several weeks old), it has now disappeared. During our travels between the radiology center and the pharmacy, we drove past the New York Yankees spring training facility and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football stadium. As the afternoon spring training game at George Steinbrenner Field was just ending, we got caught in an afternoon traffic jam.

It was a long day for Connie with a lot of information thrown at her. We are hopeful she made the right decision and the procedure tomorrow will be successful in getting rid of her back pain. We walked over to the Bahama Breeze restaurant and ate dinner. While at dinner, LSI called and told Connie that she needs to be there at 7:45 AM in the morning for her procedure. Please continue to keep Connie in your thoughts and prayers.

Laser Spine Institute/Time in Florida

The DoubleTree Hotel that we are staying at is only a 5 minute walk from the Laser Spine Institute. On Monday morning we made the short walk from the hotel and Connie checked in with the Laser Spine Institute and was told her first appointment would be on Tuesday morning at 7:15 AM. We walked around the facility and visited with a couple of the staff members at the institute. Since we had the rest of the day "free", we decided to take a trip over to Clearwater Beach which is suppose to be the nicest beach in this area of Florida. We drove over to the beach and the rain followed us. As we started to walk down the beach, the rain started falling so we ended up walking around the shops along the beach. We called it an early day after driving from Clearwater to St. Petersburg then back to Tampa.

Mike and Connie on Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach

Tuesday morning rolled around early for us. Since we had to be at the Laser Spine Institute (LSI) for Connie's first appointment by 7 AM, we got up at 5:30 AM to get ready for the day. The LSI provides a complimentary breakfast for their patients and families, so we ate a quick breakfast before going up to the 3rd floor to get started. We did not know how long we would be at the clinic on Tuesday since it would depend on how many tests Connie would need to have done. Connie had appointments with:

  • Patient Experience Coordinator that went through the process for the week and gave us additional information.We were given an information packet that included information about LSI and pre-op/post-op directions. There is also information for me as the Care Giver for Connie after the procedure.
  • Then we met with another Patient Advisor that went over all of the paperwork that Connie had completed and sent to LSI last week.
  • On to have a History & Physical, blood drawn for tests, EKG to check Connie's heart along with answering another set of questions about her lower back pain and symptoms. A physician assistant then did a physical examination of Connie and an evaluation of her pain and symptoms. Since Connie had already had two MRI scans down in the last few months, the only additional diagnostic items were some x-rays of Connie's lower back in different positions.
  • Connie then had a consultation regarding the anesthesia used during the procedure and completed another set of computer questions about her back pain and symptoms.Connie will be using a device called a Neuro-Stim System after the procedure has been done that is attached behind her ear. The therapy generates a low frequency and continual pulse that is suppose in increase the release of endorphines and help to reduce the amount of pain medication that is needed. It can be used for up to five days post procedure.
  • Down to the Diagnostic Area where Connie had a set of x-rays taken of her back.
The LSI is a very efficient organization. There was never a long wait for us in any of the different areas of the clinic we visited during the morning. All of the personnel at LSI were very professional but also very patient friendly. Connie's appointments on Wednesday start at 10:30 AM with the surgeon where we will find out their recommendations.

Since Connie's day at LSI finished up by lunch time, we decided to take a trip to see my uncle/aunt (Harry and Carol Johnson) that live in Sebring Florida which is about 90 miles from Tampa. We drove over to their house and spent several hours visiting with them. One of my cousins, Scott Johnson and his wife Julie, dropped by and we all had an early dinner. After a nice visit, we made the drive back to our hotel in Tampa.

Monday, March 23, 2015

On to Tampa FL/Laser Spine Institute

Connie waving good-bye to The Duchess
After spending one night in The Duchess, Sunday morning Connie and I packed our bags for a flight to Tampa Florida. We ate breakfast at a local restaurant in Bastrop Texas called the The Coffee Dog Roastery. The food was delicious and the coffee was wonderful. They serve a number of their own blends of coffee so we were able to try out several during our meal. Then on the Austin airport to catch our Southwest Airlines flight. With the South by Southwest festival going on in Austin, we did not know how busy the airport would be. We arrived early and had no problems or long waits in line going through security. The plane ended up being one-half hour late, but once everyone was on board the airplane the flight was uneventful (thankfully we had a direct flight).

We are now here in Tampa so that Connie can have a procedure done on her back to relieve the pain caused by a car wreck in 2013. Connie will be having the procedure done at the Laser Spine Institute here in Tampa. We know of several individuals who have come here to this medical group with excellent results. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will be spent seeing doctors and other personnel at the Laser Spine Institute with the procedure currently scheduled for Thursday. We are hoping that the medical procedure done here will allow Connie to be pain free and more active in our travels around the USA and Canada. Keep Connie in your thoughts and prayers throughout this week.

Rain has followed us here in Tampa. When we awoke this morning, the rain was coming down so hard we could not see across the parking lot at our hotel.

End of Dog Sitting/Move to The Duchess

Connie and I ended our dog/apartment sitting job on Saturday morning and said our good-byes to Murphy and Emma. We had packed up everything left of ours in the apartment on Friday and loaded it into our Jeep and car on Saturday morning. It had started raining in Austin on Friday and the rain continued all day Saturday. We made the trip to Rosanky Texas to spend our first night sleeping in the RV since getting the new transmission installed. We spent the time we had on Saturday moving our stuff into the RV and deciding where to store everything. Everything is soaking wet at the farm so I put out mats to keep our shoes from sticking in the mud. The good news is that all of the stock tanks at the farm are now full which is the first time that they have had this much water in them in several years (Texas has been in a drought since 2010).

Here are a few pictures of the RV and my dad's farm:

View from The Duchess overlooking the farm

The Duchess at the Rosanky farm
The Duchess and storage barn
We had purchased groceries at Trader Joe's in Austin before we left so that we would have something to eat for dinner on Saturday night. At the end of a long day, Connie cooked our first "meal" in the RV using the convection/microwave oven. We enjoyed one of the bottles of wine that came from our "Bon Voyage" party before settling down for the evening.

Wine from Bon Voyage party
I was finally able to get the DirectTV connection working (or so I thought). After a couple of hours of having a satellite signal despite the rain, we started getting error messages again. I called DirectTV and was able to speak with a customer service rep who actually knew about RV DirectTV setups and we spent about 30 minutes correcting everything the previous service rep had told me wrong. Once I had made all of the corrections in the setup, DirectTV starting working again and we were able to watch a movie on Saturday night.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Duchess has returned

On Wednesday morning we finally got The Duchess out of the repair shop. The new transmission had been installed on Monday afternoon and the shop had finished it final testing on Tuesday. After some issues with the invoice (the repair shop's computer servers went down on Wednesday morning), the final invoice was faxed and paid so we were able to drive off in The Duchess. We have had a great relationship with National Indoor RV Center in Lewisville TX where we purchased The Duchess. They have done what they promised us to make sure that everything on the motor home is in working order even allowing us to have the repair work done here in Austin rather than having to take the RV back to Lewisville.

We took the motor home out to my dad's farm which has full hookups (electric/water/sewer) and got her all set up.  The new transmission worked great on the 50 mile trip from the repair shop to the farm. My dad, who is 82, is on the road with his motor home for the next three months so we will take advantage of his absence from the farm to get to know The Duchess.  We need to spend time learning about how all of the systems in the RV work and see what we will be able to store in the closets, drawers and basement storage. We took another load of clothes and other items from the apartment down to the farm's barn and gave a desktop computer and shredder to Connie's sister.

I spent a couple of hours trying to get DirectTV set up in The Duchess. First of all they sent us the wrong receivers (they sent three HD receivers all with DVR's instead of HD only receivers) and so before we could activate the receiver they had to "re-organize" our account. We decided to keep one of the HD-DVR receivers and send the other two back. DirectTV will be sending us a replacement HD receiver but without a DVR for our bedroom TV. We tried for a long time to get the HD-DVR receiver to work, but it kept losing the satellite signal. We finally ran out of time and I gave up for the day. I will try moving the RV location a few yards to see if the signal is being blocked by trees and hopefully get it working this week-end.

Today Connie and I attended our last yoga class at the Brushy Creek Community Center. Connie has been going to these yoga classes for a lot longer than I have, but we will both miss all of the people in the classes. We will especially miss Katie McBrearty- Shield who taught the class. She is a great teacher, a great friend and an inspiration to both of us. We also made a trip to visit the grave sites of Connie's mom and dad who both died with-in a month of each other late in 2013.  Tonight we will get to eat fish one last time at Brooks and Heidi Ivey's house and enjoyed one last visit with our friends.

Down to our last couple of days here at the apartment dog-sitting Murphy and Emma. We will leave Saturday morning after feeding the dogs to head to the farm and spend Saturday night sleeping in our own bed inside The Duchess. HOORAY!!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Continued Preparations

Connie and I continue to make preparations for the move from the apartment where we are dog sitting into The Duchess. We made trips to my dad's farm on both Friday and Sunday to put "stuff" that we had at the apartment into the barn. Some of this will go into the motor home and most it we will store in the barn. We are grateful that my dad is letting us store stuff in the barn during our travels as it allowed us to keep some items that we would have had to get rid of otherwise.

We ordered more items that we need to start off with in the motor home:

  • Direct TV receivers and service
  • Small satellite dish and tripod to have in case the roof-top dish is blocked by trees
  • Collapsible ladder
  • WiFi Ranger Go2 router that works with both campground wi-fi service and cellular
  • Cover for bicycles
  • Extra keys for Jeep along with Hide-a-Key box
  • Small fire resistance-water resistance safe to store valuables in
  • Fire extinguishers for motor home (after going to a class with Mack the Fire Guy, we did not want to start out without this)
  • Passport America membership
  • Renewed our membership in Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) 
The weather here in Austin was much nicer over the last few days, so we took advantage of it and walked the dogs twice each of the last three days. It looks like we are in for more rain later this week. The Duchess is scheduled to have her transmission replaced this week, so hopefully we will get her back and be able to get her set up at the farm by this week-end when we end our dog-sitting job.

We finished up our tax returns for 2014 and will put them in the mail today. We are trying to move all of our accounts to a couple of financial institutions to simplify our lives during our travels, so there is more paperwork to complete to accomplish this.

All for now as the countdown continues. Connie and I can't wait to get started on our journey.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Dinner with Grandson/Happy Hour Group

On Monday night, Connie and I had dinner with my grandson Rhys McKay and his mom, Grace McKay at Kerbey Lane Cafe. We had not seen Rhys in a while and he has grown quite a lot. He is now two and one-half years old and is going through the "terrible twos". It was good to be able to spend some time with Grace and Rhys before we head out on our journey. As usual, we forgot to take any pictures, so here is one from last year. One of our resolutions is to take pictures of the people we meet and the places we go.

Last year's St. Patrick's Day photos
Tuesday we received good news about the motor home. The dealer we purchased The Duchess from agreed to pay for the replacement of the transmission. The work will be done here in Austin at the Allison Transmission repair shop that the motor home has been at for several weeks now. The repair shop has told us that the transmission replacement will be completed in about one week, so hopefully we will get The Duchess back in the middle of next week.

We also had our final get together with our Happy Hour group on Tuesday night at Brio's. This group has been getting together almost every month for the last 13 years. The group members have changed over time, but Connie has been a part of this group from the start. I joined the group when Connie and I started dating in 2002. Connie was the "planner" for the Happy Hour group and we are hoping that someone will step up and continue the get togethers on a regular basis. Although I am sure that we will meet lots of new friends on our journey, we will miss the camaraderie of our Happy Hour group.

Connie and I are continuing to complete the purchases we need to make before we start full-timing. We are having packages arrive almost every day now at our friend's (thank you Marty) house with "stuff" we have ordered on-line. I am sure that we will have ordered some items we end up not using along with finding our there are other things we forgot about.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Dog/Apartment Sitting

Emma and Murphy
Connie and I took a job dog/apartment sitting here in Austin from February 10th to March 21st. The apartment is located in the Great Hills/Arboretum section of Austin in an area that has lots of shops and restaurants. There are two dogs, Murphy and Emma. Both of them are them are King Charles Cavaliers. Murphy is 11 years old and Emma in 5. They are not related. The couple that we are sitting for is spending this 5 weeks in the British Virgin Islands. We were hoping to be able to get out and visit a number of the restaurants in the area, but here in Austin we have had a series of cold fronts plus a lot of rain that has limited our outdoor activities. The rain started again yesterday and continues today. We are hoping for better weather starting tomorrow. Maybe we will finally start our spring over the next couple of weeks.

I spent the week-end doing taxes. We had to complete the final tax return for Connie's dad's estate along with our 2014 tax forms. Everything has now been completed and we will file them in the next couple of weeks.

We are still waiting on approval to have a new transmission put into our motor home. The tests have all indicated it needs replacing, but the dealer we purchased it from has not given the OK yet.

Connie and I visited my dad last Friday since we finally had a sunny day. He is still living full time in his motor home which most of the time is located on a farm in Bastrop County Texas. He is leaving this week for about three months to join other SoJourners in some church work here in Texas. After that he is headed to Arkansas and Oklahoma to do some additional SoJourner missions in April and May. We had finished the scanning of photos into our computer, so we took the boxes of these photos to my dad's barn for storage.

There has not been a lot of activity for us in the last week, so no posting in the blog. I will continue to post from time to time on this blog as items come up in our journey. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Fish Fry/Visit to The Duchess

Brooks and Heidi hosted one of their famous fish fry dinners last night. Brooks and Robert Hocker had gone fishing on Sunday and caught over 80 fish at Lake Travis. About 20 people attended the fish fry and brought along side dishes. Brooks deep fried the fish (white bass and striper) and as usual it was delicious. We all ate our fill and enjoyed the getting together with friends. One of the things Connie and I will missed the most is the fish fry dinners and the good times shared with our friends at these gatherings.

Connie and I went out to visit The Duchess yesterday. She is parked in the corner of the repair shop awaiting the next step in the process of repairing/replacing the transmission. The shop is suppose to pull the transmission today and do a physical examination of the parts. They still don't know if the entire transmission will need to be replaced or if it can be repaired. We are in that "hurry up and wait mode".

We went ahead and drained all of the water out of the motor home since it is suppose to freeze again over the next few days. We remembered to drain all of the water out of the filteration system and will go ahead and replace the water filter itself. We still need to order a few more items for the motor home before we head out on the road. We ran the generator for about an hour and put a load on it. The recommendation is that you run your generator for at least an hour once a month.

I went through some old photographs/old paperwork in a box I had been given after the death of my mother. I found several items that I had never seen before. Another trip down memory lane.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Bon Voyage Party

Even though our launch date is not until April 1st, last night a group of our friends threw us a "Bon Voyage" party to celebrate the start of our great adventure. We want to give special thanks to Darlene & Rip Collins, Heidi & Brooks Ivey and Rhonda & Russ Herrington for all of their planning and preparation in putting the party together. We also want to thanks all of our friends who came out on a night where the weather was inclement.

Friends dating all the way back to our childhoods attended the party and wished us well on our journey. Several specials gifts were given to us including: trail mix for those long hikes and "special" bottles of wine for the end of those hikes from Darlene & Rip, koozies to keep beverages cool along the way from Heidi & Brooks and a Wilson Cell Phone Booster and Antenna (so we can keep in touch with all of our friends here in Austin) from the Collins, Herringtons and Iveys. The party had a camping theme, so the food was what you would find on a camp out (at least one appropriate for the RV lifestyle of camping). Rhonda had a friend make wonderful sugar cookies with a camping theme: some looked like canoes, campfires, RV's and other assorted items you would find at a camping site. All of the food was delicious and there was plenty for everyone. We have a great group of friends here in Austin and we will miss them when we leave.

Everyone was curious about the blog, especially the one who had not heard about it. It was enjoyable to be able to visit with friends and discuss our plans.

Again we want to thank everyone for the cards, thoughts and gifts we received. It was unexpected, but our group of friends have always been generous with each other.

Connie had spent the entire day going through photographs and picking out which one she scanned in the computer. A long day for her but one that brought back a lot of memories. This blog remains a work in progress and hopefully we will continue to add "stuff" to the blog as we go along.