Thursday, March 29, 2012
The initial surgery for this current brute was scheduled for August 21, 2008. It was to be done by the da Vinci® Surgical System, a minimally invasive option for complex surgical procedures. I was asked to remove my wedding ring, but requested that it be taped instead. I don’t like taking it off. The nurse was very sweet but insistent that I take it off. She said that during the surgery, instruments may be used which require electric current and the gold ring on my finger could conduct the current and burn me. I said I was willing to take the chance. She then reminded me that the same electrical current could ricochet and shock my surgeon while he was handling delicate instruments inside my body. The ring came off!
Well, the cancer had advanced too far and wide for the robotic technique to get it all. So, a LARGE incision was made. After five and a half hours of debulking – a medical term for an aggressive surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible prior to follow-up chemotherapy treatment. It also involves a lot of very sharp instruments and hours of scraping – both of which I try not to think about!
So, I had a nine-day recuperative holiday during which my sweet, unbelievably resilient husband never left my side. That’s not completely true. He went home for a few hours the day after my surgery to check our house. A small hurricane had gone through during the night. That’s usually where you might say, “What else could possibly happen?” I don’t say things like that anymore. I’ve seen what else can happen. Another day, I made him leave just to get a change of scenery. I said “Go walk around Sears or Home Depot! Enjoy yourself!” Well, he did and he got a fantastic deal on a compressor! That’s how he enjoys himself.
Thankfully, I had been placed in a private room during my stay. The nurses brought in, what was jokingly called, a “recliner bed” for my private caretaker to sleep on. He quickly re-named it “the coffin.” In order to get his 6’3” 190 lb. frame into this “recliner bed,” he had to lie on his back with his arms at his sides. If he tried to move around, it would tip – in a variety of directions. I think I slept better than he did, even with all the checking, and charting, and midnight visits from the medical staff.
We developed a routine. Meals would come; I would look them over, taste something, and give the tray to him to eat. Food wasn’t high on my list of priorities. The pain medications and anesthesia were excellent diet aids. The anesthesia also had another, more drastic, effect. Something I had never heard of. Something I think should be shared.
When I came out of the anesthesia, there was a TV over my bed. I noticed that it was blurry, but I didn’t think too much of it at the time. However, it didn’t get any better during the entire hospital stay. Everyone else thought it looked fine, and my vision had always been perfect.
After I got home, I noticed the same issue with our TV. It became obvious that the TVs were not the problem, I was. I mentioned it to a few people who blamed it on the chemotherapy. The chemo hadn’t started until my last day in the hospital – this problem had started immediately following surgery. I waited a few months to see if it would improve. I had enough other things to keep me busy during that time anyway. Finally, I saw my ophthalmologist who said it was a rare, but not unheard of reaction to long hours of anesthesia. He said it could be temporary – only time would tell. I wear glasses now for distance but I’m not complaining. I’m alive – glasses are a small price to pay for that!
Blurry or not, we watched quite a bit of TV during those 9 days. Every night after dinner, we would watch “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” We had never been big game show fans, but, for some reason, it became a favorite – and a great distraction. Since that hospital visit, I’ve had another surgery, a “procedure,” and a few 23-hour hospital stays. Each time we look for that show. It’s become a hospital staple – along with the 3:00 AM vitals, reclining coffins, and pineapple Jell-O mold. By now, we believe we are “Smarter Than a 5th Grader” – at least in the medical category!
SURVIVAL TIP FOR TODAY – Be aware of any changes that may occur after surgery or treatments. Your body is unique and deserving of your full concern and attention.
Friday, March 23, 2012
Before one of my more nasty surgeries, I spent a lot of time planning my post-surgery activities. Yes, I’m also one of those obnoxious organizers who plans everything down to the millisecond. I love lists and charts and organizing things – anything – mine or someone else’s. It doesn’t matter to me.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to drive for quite a while. I also knew I would have several physical limitations. I’ve always been very active, so I felt I needed to fill every moment of my recovery. I planned to do a lot of reading while I recuperated. I love to read and usually only manage to fit in a few pages at bedtime before I close my eyes and drop the book – you know what that’s like. I planned all sorts of craft projects – I love craft projects, almost as much as organizing. I would watch old movies, write children’s books based on my grandchildren. I even went out and bought a few jigsaw puzzles! Now that one is really amusing since I never liked jigsaw puzzles when I was well. Why would I want to torture myself with them now?
After 9 days in the hospital, my return home was such a relief. However, my well laid plans went sort of awry. Crafts were pretty much out since they required a longer attention span than I was able to muster. Mine was now that of a flea. Books weren’t too bad as long as they didn’t mention cancer, sickness, death, violence, or medical procedures. The same went for TV. Of course all my favorite shows revolved around cops, forensics, murder, special victims unit, emergency rooms, hospitals – NONE of which were now tolerable. I simply couldn’t stomach them. They made me incredibly nervous and nauseas. I forced myself to work on the jigsaw puzzles I had bought. I quickly realized that once the outer edge was done, so was I. Watching old movies was almost as bad as doing the puzzles. I tried computer games and, thankfully, they consumed part of each day.
I did have one other thing that occupied some of my time. Every day, twice a day, for about 3 months, I was visited by a home health nurse. She was an RN with an advanced degree in panic, depression, and general mayhem. I was alive, and there was a good chance I shouldn’t have been, so I was truly frightened. My emotions were raw and very close to the surface. This angel of mercy had her own way of soothing her patients. In all fairness to her, due to a number of complications that I suffered after the surgery, she did have her work cut out for her. However, she would routinely regale me with detailed stories of people who had died horrific deaths from all types of cancer. Daily, no twice daily, she would discuss which of her patients had died recently – what her parents, cousins, and neighbors had died of – what her children were probably going to die of some day because of their lifestyles – what she would like her ex-husbands to die of (preferably sooner than later). I finally begged her not to discuss death, in any form, any longer. I was simply unable to handle it. She begrudgingly agreed and we spent the last few weeks discussing her garden and her treasured plants, all of which were on the verge of – you’ve got it – DEATH! She would always time her second visit of the day to coincide with the nightly re-run of Two and a Half Men. She loved the show and would drag out her paperwork until it was over. I had two choices – adopt her or learn to pack my own wounds. I quickly learned my way around surgical wound care.
Well, the infections cleared up, the wounds healed, and I can once again watch the goriest medical show on TV. Oh yes, my CA-125 returned to normal ranges, Thank God! I had entered my first remission stage.
SURVIVAL TIP FOR TODAY: BE GOOD TO YOURSELF! Do whatever makes YOU happy, especially while recuperating. Your body knows what you need – listen to it!
Sunday, March 18, 2012
This post is a little off topic, but not completely. Since it doesn’t fit comfortably within the Three Rs of Cancer, I think I may borrow a 4th R for the moment- Rage.
A few weeks ago, my husband began looking for a smaller car. We had downsized from a house to a condo and his large pickup truck really wasn’t necessary or practical. A Jeep seemed to be the answer – Fun, small, Fun, easy to park, and lots of Fun. We found the perfect one at a dealership in Daytona Beach. Then the hassling began. I should mention here that I keep my cars for 6-7 years, on average, mostly because I despise the ritual dance that accompanies a car purchase. I find a car I like and just upgrade it when it runs out of every warranty I can buy. My husband, on the other hand loves the dance and the drama.
Well, we found the car – the salesman was actually nice and the atmosphere in the dealership seemed downright pleasant. I couldn’t find anything to dislike. For the next week, I dealt with the ups, downs, and nasty sideways of my most recent treatment and my husband dealt with car salesmen. I think I got the better of the deal.
Okay, cut to the chase. On Wednesday, he came home and told me he had bought his Jeep. I assumed the original salesman had finally agreed to a price my husband could deal with. No, it was another dealership completely – a local one – and a very young, new salesman. Seems they didn’t have the exact one he wanted so they ordered it from another lot. It was to arrive that afternoon and would be ready for him to pick up in the morning. I was a little surprised that he had changed to another dealer, but I’m all in favor of shopping at local businesses. We waited through the morning – no call. Finally the phone rang – the car had only just arrived so it wouldn’t be ready until late afternoon. By 4:30 PM, when we still hadn’t heard anything, we called and were told that it had been ready for a while. Seems the salesman had gotten busy and forgotten to call us. “He’s new, you know!” At that point, we decided to wait until morning to pick it up.
We arrived, opened the door to the Jeep with the smiling salesman standing by and said “Wrong Car!” The salesman, who was, at most, fifteen with the absolute worst Lord Fauntleroy haircut, promptly said, “Did I mention I’m new – what’s wrong!” We began to list the problems: all the connectivity items were missing from the steering wheel and dashboard – Bluetooth, compass, temperature, radio controls, leather wrapping, chrome and leather gear shift, etc. As we mentioned each one, he said, “We can add that!” “We can add that!” “We can add that!” Unless this Jeep came as an erector set, that seemed pretty far-fetched. That may have been where the chemo kicked in.
Now a manager appeared, then another one – I excused myself to phone the original salesman in Daytona. I explained where we were and why and asked if he had any intention of ever meeting the price that this dealership had agreed to. If he did, we would drive up there and buy the car we liked. If he didn’t, just tell me now! He said to come up.
While this was going on, more people were gathering around the car. I discovered that they were in possession of the Title to my husband’s pickup truck and requested it back. They kept asking that I come inside – I refused. I know that “inside” is Salesman-Speak for stalling. “I’ll stay right here – please get our Title.” Off goes my husband into the den of thieves. He comes out without the Title, but with yet another manager and a print-out promising an even better Jeep with more “stuff” at the same price – because of their error. “Where is our Title?”
“But you can have this better Jeep – don’t you want it?”
“Where is our Title?” This was beginning to sound like a bad movie script. The Chemo began spurting on everyone! Now the owner of the dealership was outside with most of his staff – facing little old hairless me, wearing my baseball cap saying “Made in Ireland” with 8 stray hairs sticking out of the front. He was trying to tell me that, in his 12 years of ownership, he had never had an experience like this. He was So-o-o-o sorry. The salesman had made a lot of errors, but he’s new, you know. Again I asked “Where is our Title?” He looked like he didn’t have a clue what was going on.
“Okay, I have asked four times for the Title to our truck. I am on chemotherapy drugs...” I began hearing murmured sympathy from a few. “NO, don’t you dare offer your sympathy; I’ve been through this 4 times already. I’m trying to explain why I don’t have one iota of patience for rude people and sleazy practices. This entire operation is crap.” (By the way, that was the only 4 letter word I used – my chemo-brain form of Tourette’s must be improving! We’ll discuss that another time.) “You are all poster-children for the stereotypical rude, pushy car salesman. This is by far the most unprofessional, slimy, den of thieves I’ve ever seen.”
“We’re leaving now to see if the other dealership will sell us the RIGHT car for the same price. You over there, with the BETTER car – hold onto that paper because we may be back. If we have to come back, you’ll be ordering that one this afternoon. Now, if I don’t have our Title in the next 30 seconds, I’m calling 911.” It miraculously appeared!
On the way to the other dealership, the salesman from there called to see if we had had any trouble. I related our “escape” in detail and told him about the promised Better car with more “stuff.” “So,” I said, “if you people don’t make this deal, and we have to go back there, someone’s going to get hurt!”
We were treated like royalty when we arrived. The car purchase took under an hour and we left feeling happy and cheerful – like you should after purchasing a new car!
The story should end there – “and they drove off into the sunset in their new Jeep.” But there’s more. There were 5 calls from the first dealership on my answering machine when we got home – no messages, just calls. The next morning, my husband graciously called them and told one of the managers (who couldn’t find the salesman – he’s new, you know) that we had purchased a car and would he please tell the salesman. The manager apologized again and said he would relay the message. Three hours later, the salesman called. He apologized for all his errors and said, “So, are you still in the market for a new Jeep?” Do these people not communicate at all???
The final note to this saga was an e-mail I received this morning from the owner of the dealership. Remember, he was also on the steps during my drug-induced but undeniably warranted tirade. It was a Thank You for purchasing a Jeep from him and for allowing them to be our “dealership of choice.” He still doesn’t have a clue!
My husband has the Jeep he wanted and I haven’t felt this good in months. Every time we think about it, we laugh out loud. Obviously venting – under appropriate circumstances – is very therapeutic!!
SURVIVAL TIP FOR TODAY: RIDE A BIKE!