The albatross is a large seabird with a wingspan of up to eleven feet. The albatross are regarded as the planet’s ultimate frequent flyers. The albatross don’t flap their wings, they use wind energy. An average black-browed albatross may cover 100 miles a day during its lifespan of more than 40 years. Over a lifetime, an albatross may cover 1.5 million miles.
A master at gliding, the albatross can stay aloft on virtually motionless wings for many hours at a time. For that reason, seamen used to believe that the albatross had magical powers. There was also a belief that albatrosses, hovering endlessly above the ships at sea, contained the souls of lost sailors, former comrades of the sailors below. Many sailors believed that disaster or death would haunt anyone who harmed or killed the bird.
In 1798 the great English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge made albatross mythology the basis for his famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The Ancient Mariner (that is, the “old seaman”) tells the story of how he, while on a ship at sea, killed an albatross for no apparent reason. Later the wind stopped blowing, and the ship could not reach port to get fresh water.
The crew assumed that the disastrous turn of events occurred because of the death of the albatross. Angry at the Ancient Mariner, the crew picked up the dead bird and hung it around the man’s neck as a symbol of guilt and punishment. The profound intent of the symbolism was reflected in the Ancient Mariner’s own words:
“Instead of the cross, the albatross
About my neck was hung.”
Today that imagery has generalized, so that anything that causes deep, persistent anxiety can be called an albatross. And an encumbrance that hinders accomplishment is an albatross around one’s neck.
(Principal sources: Oxford English Dictionary; Darryl Lyman, Dictionary of Animal Words and Phrases, Jonathan David Publishers, http://www.jdbooks.com)
Vicky suffers from Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a brittle bone disease. In people with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, one of the genes that tell the body how to make a specific protein does not function. This protein (type I collagen) is a major component of the connective tissues in bones. Type I collagen is also important in forming ligaments, teeth, and the white outer tissue of the eyeballs (sclera).
As a result of the defective gene, not enough type I collagen is produced, or the collagen that is produced is of poor quality. In either case, the result is fragile bones that break easily. Collagen in the body is what cement is in a building. It keeps the tissue/bricks together! Vicky has poor quality collagen.
Vic has a very bad spine. Her neurosurgeon decided to do experimental surgery in 2002. The Prodisc Total Disc Replacement is an implant designed to mimic the form and function of a healthy intervertebral lumbar disc. It is implanted during spinal arthroplasty after the diseased or damaged intervertebral disc has been removed. The goal of artificial disc replacement is to alleviate the pain caused by the damaged disc while preserving some or all of the natural motion of the lumbar spine. By preserving the natural motion, it is hoped that the adjacent levels of the spine will not be subject to additional stress as they are in traditional fusion surgery. http://www.spine-health.com/treatment/artificial-disc-replacement/fda-approves-prodisc-lumbar-artificial-disc;
Vic had the Prodisc procedure on Wednesday morning, the 13th of February 2002. The operation was scheduled to last “two hours and thirty-seven minutes”. Six hours after Vic was pushed into theater we were told that she is in recovery. Vic would go to ICU for “pain control”.
She was pretty out of it the entire Wednesday and Thursday. Friday Vic was conscious and in dreadful pain. No amount of morphine brought her pain relief. Her face and nose itched in a reaction to the morphine. Vic was losing her mind with pain.
Early Friday morning I cornered the surgeon. He said she is fine. I kept badgering the ICU staff to increase her pain medication. I pointed out that her heart rate was elevated and she was running a temperature. Her breathing was shallow and fast. If it was today I would have recognized the danger signs.
That evening I was too scared to leave. My child was in trouble. Just after 8pm the doctor came and spoke to me. He explained that Vicky’s tissue is extremely poor (surprise surprise!!) and that there was a small chance that her bowel may have been perforated. The X-rays did not show up anything but my concern had “alarmed” him.
“Mommy, you must decide. We can take her back into theater and check her out. The chances are that we are going to subject her to unnecessary anesthetic and surgery. The decision is yours…”
“Take her back to theater tonight” I said
“I will get a specialist surgeon to do the surgery” he said.
At 9.30 pm Vic was pushed into theater again. Eleven hours later she was rushed back to ICU. Sunday the 17th of February Vic went back t theater for a further 9 hour surgery. She came out ventilated.
She spent 22 days on the ventilator hovering between life and death.
Doctor arrogance and negligence has led to almost 11 years of sheer undiluted hell and misery. I wish there was a way I could make the arrogant fool pay for Vicky’s lost life. I wish I could put him in Vic’s shoes for one day. I wish with every fiber in my body that I could make him give the boys back their mother. I wish my child could be pain-free.
The Prodisc was never removed. The Prodisc is systematically spreading sepsis to Vic’s intestines. Thank God for adhesions.
I digress. The specialist surgeon, Brendan Bebington, which Dr Frank S tried to get to do the surgery that Friday night, wife was in labor His locum was called in. Years later (after surgery maybe 30) we ended up back with Dr Bebington again. He has managed to keep Vic alive for many years.
Brendan calls Vic his “albatross”. He is still consumed by guilt that he wasn’t available to do her emergency surgery… I wonder whether the neurosurgeon ever thinks of her?
I want to reiterate at this point that the Prodisc is an excellent alternative to spinal fusions. Surgeon arrogance is the cause of this disaster! Giving the choice again, we would more than likely opt for the same procedure again. Different surgeon.
When the albatross glides across the skies it is stunningly graceful and beautiful. But when the albatrosses webbed feet touch down on earth it walks clumsily, like a staggering drunk, and becomes the object of ridicule and pity.
One day Vic will soar through the sky, graceful and beautiful. Free from pain and suffering!