Other than the fact that I look like someone sliced my neck ala Jack Bauer style, the immense swelling around the incision, and the impending news of the biopsy results hanging over me, I'm doing okay.
We arrived on time for the procedure and were escorted right to the OR prep area. My nurse there was sweet but not so savvy with the old IV insertion. She asked me myriad of questions about my health history from whether I ever had asthma to the last time I had a bowel movement. I had to strip down everything, but she told me she wouldn't rat me out if I kept my undies on. I didn't see why I had to be flapping in the breeze if they were operating on my chest. I got to wear one of the hospital's newly acquired "Bair paw" pre-op gowns which has a tube you can connect to it and blow in hot air to warm you up. It was fun inflating and deflating it and it felt good to be nice and toasty.
My nurse had breast cancer the year before so we swapped stories about amazing friends and the debilitating fatigue that the chemo can cause. Unfortunately, they couldn't use my port as it was too close to the area that would be operated on and not accessible enough to switch out the meds I would need. So in she went for a stick in my hand. Unfortunately, she missed and it was a regular blood bath. I could feel the hot blood seething through my fingers as she kept saying "sorry, sorry." I just breathed and didn't look until she got the IV in. Then I saw the blood-soaked white towel and the blood splattered on the sheet beneath me. The cracks of my fingers were stained red. Great start to the morning.
Then it was a lot of waiting. I did some calisthenics to get pumped up and Craig and I read trashy magazines and cracked jokes. I was ready to get it done and over with. We then got a visit from my anesthesia team - a doc and a resident. They were a very funny and very calming duo who explained how they would insert a breathing tube and at times they would be breathing for me during the procedure. They warned me that if the surgeon had to make the second incision in my chest that they may need to insert a chest tube to ensure air flow so as not to worry if I wake up with a hole in my side and a tube coming out of it. They told me that first they'd give me preliminary meds to relax me which would make me feel like I had a few too many margaritas then they'd send in the hard stuff that would send me right to "Maui." Sounded nice.
I asked if I'd get the chance to talk with the surgeon before. That was very important to me as I had never met this man and wanted to at least see the face and shake the hand of the person that would be slicing me open. They assured me that he would come see me.
More time passed and one by one all of the other patients in the curtained cubbies around me were visited by their surgeons and rolled away into their respective operating rooms. Eventually it was just me and Craig. The nurses pulled the separating curtains back and it was just me on my one stretcher in this expansive empty room. My anesthesia duo were sitting in chairs in the hallway - all of us awaiting the surgeon. We joked that he was probably really hung over and had a touch time making it in that morning ... that was not a very funny thought. But he arrived, with time to spare before my scheduled start. My hero in blue scrubs. His curly white chest hair peeked above the v-neck scrub shirt and I marveled at the curly, white hair on his arms. His Ironman watch and muscular build gave off an aura of confidence and experience. I liked him immediately. He again explained in his faint British accent what he'd be doing and assured Craig and I that he's been doing this for 30 years and it was no big deal.
Craig and I kissed goodbye and I was wheeled away leaving the pre-op room empty and ready to prepare for the return of all of us patients after our procedures when it would covert back to the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU).
Just like my anesthesiologist from my biopsy in May, this one also grew up in Simsbury so we chatted about the Tariffville gorges and the hiking trails at the end of my street.
"Here we are, lucky number '8'," he said as we rolled into Core 8 Operating Room. Eight is my lucky number in fact. The OR nurses introduced themselves and again asked who I was, why I was there, what I was getting done, who my surgeon was, etc. to make sure we were all in the right place. I was then transferred from my stretcher to a skinny padded operating table. Huge, white round lights were above me and lots of beeping boxes around me.
The anesthesia resident gave me the margarita injection and told me I'd feel like I had too much to drink then came the hard stuff which burned badly as it entered my vein - exactly as they had warned me. The last thing I remember is them unbuttoning my gown and I was in another place ... .
I woke up as I was being wheeled out of the OR and back to the PACU and the anasthesiologist said, "Look, you missed all the snow."
From what I could see out the corridor without my glasses were big, beautiful white flakes coming down. I thought that I must have been in there for days. That morning it was nearly 50 degrees. Then I remembered that we live in New England.
As soon as I could speak the first thing I asked him was, "Did he have to go in twice?"
"No, he was able to get some good samples at the first entry point," he replied.
I felt like the wind was taken out of me and a lump developed immediately in my throat. When I was parked in my curtain-partitioned "room" in the PACU I was facing a large digital clock on the wall which read: 10:03 a.m. That meant that I was in the OR for less than an hour. I knew that this was bad news and got very, very emotional. I tried my best to hold in my tears, but I knew that this meant he found abnormal tissue right away. I was so hopeful that he'd have to keep entering me to try to find anything abnormal and would come away saying, "huh, must have been a fluke on the scan." But that was not the case.
I was so, so, so thirsty and my throat and lips were so dry from the breathing tube. I asked for something, anything, and what they could give me was a "post-procedure popsicle," a tiny, blue sponge on a stick that soaked in water. I rubbed it across my lips and sucked out every last drop. It felt amazing.
A few minutes later my mom and Craig came into the room and that's when I lost it. It's not easy to cry with oxygen tubes up your nose and a very swollen neck. I was still loopy but conscious enough to know what had happened. I demanded to know what the surgeon said to them and learned that he pulled three hard, abnormal tissue samples from my chest lymph nodes that were quickly determined to be good samples for the pathologist to analyze.
Tears streamed down my face and my mom grabbed my hand. The nurses looked away to give me some peace as I tried to suck it up and save myself some dignity. I was just so gravely disappointed. They took my family away and injected me with some more pain meds and some anti-nausea as I felt rather sick from the whole ordeal. The anti-nausea made me sleepy and I dosed in and out as I waited for the ride that would take me to a room in another area of the hospital where I would do some more recovering and get some food and something to drink. The PACU filled with more and more post-op patients and I woke to the sounds of a woman across the room heaving and puking violently and I was grateful that I was not in her shoes and my heart went out to her.
Finally my transportation came and I was sent to a shared room where my parents and Craig were waiting for me. I was presented with a tray of food: "turkey" with salty gravy, spinach (this was good) and white rice, a plastic wrapped piece of white bread and a little dish with something attempting to be apple crisp. I forced it down and chugged the ginger ale knowing that they wouldn't release me until I ate, drank and purged. The peanut M&Ms and Raisenettes that my family had went down much easier.
I got my bearings pretty quickly. I was very sore in the incision area but my head was clear. My mom, dad, Craig and I played some trivia games on the computer as my "food" digested then took a walk around the unit until I could assure everyone that I was fine to go home.
So, here I am. The past couple of days have been spent doing a lot of napping, a lot of reading, movies and a lot of Tylenol popping. I've managed to not have to fill the vicodin prescription. Everything is just very swollen more than anything. My mom helped me to remove the Band-Aid yesterday which I was a big baby about and now there are three steri strips that remain covering the 1-and-a-half-inch incision. Eventually they will disintegrate. Basically I look like I was mugged by knife point or held hostage with a taunting knife slice. I'll forever have this scar in this very prominent area as a constant reminder. Right now I'm not too happy with my new look but I know in a few months that it'll just be a battle scar resembling the battle that I won. Craig says scars are cool and I'm trying to convince myself that I must be super cool with all that I have.