I have clawed my way up from this weird, woozy, schmoozy place where I’ve been living since a week ago Wednesday, squinting my eyes until I see the shiny silver of my laptop. Even despite being fogged up on these lovely round happy pills, I long to blog. So we’ll see how it goes tonight… usually my blogs take me about half an hour to write, but I have a feeling this one will take a bit longer, since time seems to be all bendy and stretchy these days. I think Salvador Dali must’ve had a huge ol’ tumor removed from his belly and an abdominal hysterectomy before he finished The Persistence of Memory.
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t live in a very normal world all of the time, anyway, but these past 10 days have really been odd. Very strange dreams, vividly colored by morphine and oxycodone and immense pain. I think there’s a reason my onco doc didn’t mention how badly this was going to hurt. She probably figured out that I’d be on a plane to Fiji or somewhere instead, conveniently forgetting about this alien being nestled in my abdomen.
So I packed all of my bravery into a little overnight bag and went to the hospital for my surgery on the morning of Oct. 27. The OR was booked for six hours, because my doc couldn’t tell how badly the tumor was stuck to all of my organs. She thought she might have to remove it carefully and delicately, instead of just overpowering it with 10 blades, brute force and a big Dyson vacuum. They had to remove it all in one piece, because with cancer patients, you really want to avoid chopping any odd growth up into little pieces. This is to avoid spreading cancer cells out into the wind like dandelion seeds. All it takes is one little bastard to hide somewhere it shouldn’t to cause a problem.
The tumor gave way pretty easy, though, and didn’t take as long as she thought. This was good news, except that it scared everyone in the waiting room, who thought she might’ve just opened me up, screamed in horror and stapled me right back into one piece. Instead, the alien baby popped right out, so the exploratory poking around went fairly quickly, too.
They do “frozen sections” while you’re under, which is a quick “while you wait” pathology read. It’s not conclusive, but tells the surgeon whether they immediately see bad stuff or not. If it’s “yes,” then they chop out more. If it’s “no,” they hold back a bit, which of course is difficult for surgeons in the first place. My frozens looked good, so my doc scooped out everything where cancer could grow and that I didn’t absolutely need to keep. Then she made a few stitches here and there and closed up my belly incision with 26 titanium staples. 26! Doesn’t that seem a bit extreme? I mean, I’m only 5’0″, so the scar runs pretty much from below my knees to up over my forehead.
I had asked her if she could make the incision in a zig-zag pattern, so when it healed I’d have a cool lightning bolt-shaped scar. Apparently there’s some silly ethical reason not to do that, which I find tedious. Scars are just tattoos with a real story behind them, anyway, right?
My doc thinks I’m a bit odd.
This was by far the deepest anesthesia I’ve ever been under. I don’t remember anything from the recovery room. When I surfaced in my own room, what I remember most is the little pushbutton pain control pump. When it was reloaded and ready to hit me with another round of morphine, it would glow such a nice, pretty green color. I grew to love that color. In case you’ve never had it, there’s a really good reason that morphine is a Schedule 2 prohibited drug, because when it’s coursing through your veins, you simply don’t care about all those other unimportant things, like breathing or eating or drinking or talking or waking up.
Did I mention how pretty the green light was?
My first night wasn’t too bad, since the internal local anesthetics hadn’t worn off yet, I had the magic green button to push and I was drifting off into fastastical lollipop-colored dreams that appealed to my creative side. Unfortunately, that night was followed by the next morning.
That was when I became a bit nauseated — not uncommon, given the extent of my surgery, the morphine and everything else. So a nurse comes in with a big ol’ dose of Phenergan, a lovely nausea med that I took orally with no problems during my chemo. However, I’d never had it as IV push before, and indeed, it was supposed to be given to me slowly through an IV drip, not IV push. She hadn’t even been injecting it for even a few seconds when I felt completely screwed up. For a flash, I was able to think clearly and succinctly in my mind, although apparently all that came out of my mouth was “Unnnnghhhh! Unnnngnghhh! Unngngggg… ung.” Then I lapsed immediately into unconsciousness. Out. Like a light. Night-night.
Apparently as I went out, the nurse was saying, “Wow, this is a really big dose. I’ve never given anyone this much Phenergan IV push before… I think we should give her only about half this much next time.”
This also might have had something to do with the fact that I was listed on one place on my paperwork as weighing 138… kilos. Not pounds. We old cop-shop journalists will never forget that one kilo of confiscated cocaine equals 2.2 pounds, which meant my 138 kilos would’ve made me be about 300 pounds. I believe this might have contributed slightly to the small overmedication problem that ended with me having an emergency CT, MRI and EEG and being admitted to the ICU for two days. My favorite part of that was a young neuro intern telling me as they wheeled me into ICU, “You do realize you could die from this?” What the hell do they teach these kids, anyway? Is that really something you want to hear then?
Things got better over time, although it set back my recovery a bit because I couldn’t get up and walk like I needed to. It was wonderful to have such care taken of me in the hospital, such as having my vitals checked every couple of hours and being awakened to get a sleeping pill. Despite that loving care, I was happy to go home on Monday and sleep in my own bed.
I had a lovely run of 12 hours or so before I started experiencing really horrible pains along my incision, which resembles a short little train track without no engine or caboose. This is apparently neurologic nerve pain, which usually only occurs on one side or another except in really lucky people, like me, who have it on both sides. Remember that first “Alien” movie, when the vicious little monsters began to chew their way out of the sleeping spaceguys’ bellies? That’s kind of what it feels like.
My lovely Dr. L has never seen this before, and checked with one of her partners, who’s only seen it once in 28 years. For real, I really think I need to play the lottery or something, given my odds these days.
So she wanted to put me in the hospital again. I declined, and Dr. L was sweet enough to agree to let me escape, as long as I promised to check in if it got worse. So that night, in between my moans and screams, D and I researched a bit and decided to play with some of my meds. I think we’re onto something, because it’s gotten a little better.
More so than the meds and constant medical attention, I think the real reason I’m feeling a smidge better is our Meals on Wheels. My fabulous work friends sprung into action the day I got home, and have delivered a lovely dinner every night, with sweet notes, little presents and yummy food and desserts. That last thing I want now is food, so if such tasty stuff weren’t on the doorstep, I’m sure I wouldn’t be eating at all. When I get back to work, I’m going to repay them some creative way…
Went back to the fabulous Dr. L again today, and my final pathology results were back on my little alien baby. (Although it was cantaloupe-sized, which isn’t so little, I guess.) They sliced and diced it, and saw no signs of obvious cancer! Woohoo. That’s great news, and a huge relief. But they did see some areas of changing tissue in the tumor, and they still can’t quite figure out why it grew so fast when it shouldn’t have been able to grow there at all. As my doc says, “This is just so weird! It just doesn’t make any sense. But it could’ve been so much worse.” But why would I start making sense now, anyway? Maybe I’ll star in a paper for her or something.
And regardless, the cut to the chase is that the surgery was successful, despite all of the complications, and I don’t need further treatment. No more chemo! No more radiation! I can reset the clock over again, heal up, go back to work and get on with life. Again.