The following was written in bits and pieces over nearly twenty-four hours. I’m still a little goofy (it takes me a while to shake off anesthesia), so my apologies if there are breaks in logic or coherency. This is really more for me — a sort of documentation of the day for myself — than anything, so my apologies in advance to anyone who bothers reading it.
It’s 1:26am as I (‘m starting to) write this, from my bed in my private room at Karmanos. Well, it’s supposed to be “semi-private” — two beds per room — but they “closed” the other bed, and it’s currently occupied by my sleeping mother.
If you can’t tell, I lived through the surgery! More than that, I’m tumour-free. My doctor told me he got “everything (he) could see” and got “great margins.”
I got to Harper — the site of the surgery — at 6:20am on December 7th. I signed it at the surgical lounge and waited with my mother and Aunt L until I was called back to register for the surgery. Registration simply consisted of more questions, signing consent forms, and getting my ID band. We also ran into a problem I’ve had for a decade: though my birthday is April 29th, my insurance has it listed as June 29th. I’ve fought with them over this for the better part of a decade, but it never gets changed.
I did more waiting in the surgical lounge until I was called back again. My first RN of the day, Kassim (sp?) directed me to the changing room where I left my clothes
and modesty behind in favour of a paper-thin hospital gown. He then led me to the pre-op area and started my initial IV (right medial forearm). My “actual” nurse, Peg, showed up soon after. Peg was fantastic, and I wish I could thank her for being so awesome. Amongst the small talk, she gave me some advice — which many other seasoned nurses have given me — and advised me to consider looking for a job at a larger hospital — like DMC, of which Harper is a part — after I graduate and take pass the NCLEX/become an RN, both for the security and benefits as well as for the likelihood of on-site ASN-to-BSN (and later BSN-to-MSN) programs. As I waited for the surgery, meds were pushed (Versed) and bags hung, and I got to stare at the wall for a while. Strangely, Harper faces beds/people toward the wall, not out into the room. Something about HIPAA and privacy. It still sucked, for want of a better word.
Anyway, around 8:30am, after seeing my mother one last time — usually not allowed, but Peg, being awesome, let her come back anyway — they hauled me off to the OR. I have to admit, I was less than pleased with the OR nurses/staff. I get that they have a routine, and that they go through the motions repeatedly each day, but to say that I was “man-handled” would be… sadly appropriate. There was no “Okay, we’ll be helping you move onto the table now,” just wordless tugging at my gown and body until I got the hint and scooted onto the table. Then more wordless poking and moving of my down, with absolutely no thought to whatever modesty I might have come in with.
At any rate, before long, I had the “gas mask” on, and heard the famous words: “just breathe deeply now; you’re going to go to sleep.” I don’t remember exactly when I went “under.” After I did, I was intubated and my second IV line (left dorsal hand) was started. At some point, the nurses, staff, and my doctor and his residents did what they do.
I was woken up somewhere around 11:40am. I was probably woken up shortly after being moved to recovery/post-op, but if so, I have no memory of it. I only remember waking up shortly before noon, feeling so hot I thought I would burst into flames, and with nausea more intense than I’ve ever experienced. I’d been nauseous after my second surgery, but that was nothing compared to this. I was confused and overheated — I do not deal with heat well; I’m a cold-weather girl — and kept trying to pull my oxygen mask off, as it was one of the things adding to my sense of being overheated, and was given oxygen via nasal cannula instead. They poked and prodded and took some blood and eventually left me to my own devices. I’m not much of a deep-breather when asleep (no apnea or other problems; I’m just a shallow sleep-breather), so I spent the next hour getting screamed at by the monitor for not breathing deeply enough.
Somewhere around 12:30pm, my doctor came out to talk to me. It might have been sooner, or possibly later, but for some reason 12:30pm sticks in my mind. He explained that he’d gotten everything he could see, with great margins, and that aside from being “boogery” I shouldn’t have any problems. He asked how I was breathing, and I told him the truth: I’ve never breathed as well as I did then, and do now. I’ve had this tumour for at least seven years (remember, it was never removed entirely before, only partially by another doctor), but no one’s sure how long I had it before then, when the symptoms started. I’ve always been a sniffler, and I’ve always breathed better on my right side than my left. It makes me wonder if George hadn’t been with me for a good decade before he was discovered. Anyway, Dr F told me he’d spoken to my mother, and that she’d be allowed back shortly. And she was — but not without a fight. At Harper, for whatever reason, family members aren’t allowed back in the post-op room, either. It makes no sense to me, and makes me wonder if the policy-makers have ever been patients themselves. I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I’m sick (or, as in the case of today, just drugged and icky), I want my mom. Yes, I’m a 25 year-old adult, but when I’m sick I still want my mom. (Doesn’t everyone? Or at least someone specific?) So, mom argued with the staff and eventually talked her way back to me, my Aunt L with her.
When Dr F came to talk to me, he explained that I’d lost a lot of blood — something he’d warned me about/had been concerned about — and wanted to keep me overnight for observation. Both of my previous surgeries had been outpatient, and I’d been released within an hour of waking up. On the day of the second surgery, I went in at 7:45am and was out by 11am. At any rate, Dr F wanted me to stick around “just in case,” and I was too tired to say “But I wanna go hooooooome.” Shortly after he left and before my mom and Aunt came back, I noticed something crusty in my hair. I picked at it and it flaked and disintegrated. Then I found another spot. It didn’t take me long to recognise it for what it was: crusted blood. I had blood in my hair. A lot of blood in my hair. As in, damn near the entire right side of my head was tangled with dried blood.
My mom and Aunt knew that I’d be staying overnight, so after they came to see me, Aunt L took mom home, where she got the vital necessities – my laptop, iPhone cord, the book I’m reading — fed my furbabies, and came back. I would, they assured my mom, be in my own room by the time she got back. No dice. I didn’t get moved up to this room until 6pm — over six hours after I came out of surgery. I spent six hours in post-op listening to people cry and scream with pain (more on that below) and fight with the monitor over my breathing. My nurse in post-op, Matt, was as awesome as Peg. He harped (ha, ha) on Karmanos (where I’m at now) to get my room ready and cleaned so he could “get rid of me” (said jokingly, of course). Thanks to the divider between my area and pre-op, I heard him on the phone with the Karmanos nurse. He called me a “perfect patient.”
Anyway, when I finally left post-op, they hauled me up to the ninth floor. Harper and Karmanos are attached, so to get to the Karmanos rooms, we simply went through sliding glass doors with the Karmanos name and logo. I can’t even imagine how daunting or scary it must be for cancer patients to go through those doors. Karmanos, as I said before, does nothing but cancer. Until this experience, I didn’t think one could come here unless he/she had cancer. When one heard someone say “I’m going to Karmanos,” one knew that person had cancer; that’s what Karmanos does. So, suffice to say, it was a little strange to be in a room with Karmanos literature and logos all over the place, knowing I don’t have cancer. I’m incredibly thankful for that fact. As I said before, IP can become malignant; mine just didn’t (knock on wood… seriously, go find some wood and knock on it. Now. Please? …Thank you.). Even if this never returns (cross your fingers!), I’ll be thankful every day of my life that my tumour, while annoying as all hell, was benign. It pushed my septum over and destroyed a little soft tissue, but compared to what it would’ve done had it been maligant? Yeah, I got off easy. My sinuses are a little achey, but aside from that, I have no pain to speak of.
The “I got off easy” mantra kept coming to me over and over in post op. I don’t know if it was “cancer surgery day” or what, but everyone around me seemed to have some sort of cancer-related surgery, and they all seemed to be in extreme pain. A woman to my right had undergone some sort of reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy. She took Vicodin daily for back pain — two bulging disks — and her tolerance to narcotics had been raised by that daily regimen, meaning that nothing seemed to touch her pain. I recall her nurse saying “We’ve given you Versed, morphine, and Fentanyl since you’ve been here; I don’t know what else we can give you.” They eventually gave her Dilaudid, which seemed to help a bit, getting her down to a six from a ten (using the numerical 1-10 pain scale). They didn’t want to send her to “phase 2″ until she was at a four, but they eventually had to move her when it became apparent that she wasn’t going to get to four — at least not anytime soon. She sounded young-ish, and her sobbing was enough to break your heart.
I didn’t sleep well Tuesday-into-Wednesday night. The room was cool enough (I tend to run hot when I’m sick or in pain) and the bed was as comfortable as any hospital bed can be, but it wasn’t my bed or my home, and my body knew it. I also hated being attached to the IV pole. Every time I got up to go to the bathroom, I had to detach the pole from the wall and wheel it into the tiny bathroom. No matter how careful I was, I always managed to get my IV tubing wrapped around the pole and around the cord that went into the wall. My mother, bless her, sometimes has problems sleeping, so she took one of her Restoril before going to sleep in the next bed. This meant that she was effectively useless whenever I woke her up to help me untangle myself or plug in the cord, though she did try to be helpful. Suffice to say, I didn’t venture to the bathroom much, and only when I absolutely had to (damn those IV fluids and my constant need for Frostys and Slushees1).
Around 6:30am, some of Dr F’s residents came by to look up my nose, go over the surgical details, etc. One of them assured me I should be able to go home after breakfast, no later than 9:30am, as soon as Dr F arrived and signed my discharge papers. The next few hours passed uneventfully. Breakfast came, and I ignored it. Apparently, I was on a clear-liquid diet (no one bothered to tell me, and my nurses knew I’d had Wendy’s after getting up to my room), so breakfast consisted of chicken broth, some sort of applesauce-like mixture, and a cherry ice… thing. I passed. Around 9:30am, Dr F came to check in and sign the discharge papers, and I was ready to go by 10:30am — or, well, 10:40am, after my mom ran back up to my room to grab the phone she’d forgotten. (We always manage to leave something!) I got home around 11:15am and immediately stumbled up to bed. I was able to sleep on my left side for the first time in over three years — previously, sleeping on that side would cause the tumour to shift over (sorry for that image) and block the entire left nostril, making it impossible to breathe through that side and causing a heaviness that irked me to no end. I almost cried when I rolled over on my left side and realised I could breathe. It seems trivial, to cry because I can sleep on my left side, but I think it was less “can lie on left side” and more “finally hitting home that this beast is finally gone.”
I should have washed the blood out of my hair before sleeping, but I just couldn’t force myself into the shower. When I finally did, it took me twenty minutes of shampooing and rinsing to get it all out. By the time it was all out, the bathroom smelled equally of coppery blood and vanilla-orange (the shampoo). After that, it took me three rounds of conditioning followed by a metric ton of leave-in conditioner before I could brush through the tangles. After that, of course, I spent an hour and a half in the tub, just reading, soaking, and washing the glue- and tape-residue from my arms.
It’s been about 36 hours since the surgery, and aside from a sore throat, some achy sinuses, and some drainage, I’m doing pretty well. I haven’t touched the Vicodin yet — and don’t intend to, unless I need to; I’m a “narcotics only absolutely necessary” person — but have been relying on Aleve for the ache and Halls honey-lemon for the sore throat.
So, how was your Tuesday?
- The only thing that temporarily relieved the horrible sore throat. [↩]