Though I’ve had many minor surgeries, I was most nervous about this one. It was only another lymph node biopsy, but I would be getting full sedation (the propofol- plus treatment) and my lungs were compromised from the recent pneumonia, the lymph nodes swelling in my chest, and the fluid that had been floating around them, plus I had a fever and subsequently, all that does to a body. I was afraid that the anesthesiologist would take me too low and I wouldn’t be able to come out of it, or that once they pulled the breathing tube, my own body’s mechanisms would be useless.
I’m here, six days later, writing this, so obviously my fears did not come to fruition. However, it didn’t stop me from asking the anesthesiologist and anesthesiologist’s assistant and nurse anesthetist if they would be by my side the whole time.
“You’re not going to leave me, right? You’ll be there for the whole thing to make sure nothing happens?” They assured me that they at least one of them would be.
My mom took me in for the procedure. As is always the reality, unless you are the first case of the day (which I wasn’t), your surgery won’t be on time. So, we spent a lot of time waiting in different holding pens with all different types of people in the pens around us.
One young guy was particularly entertaining. I just thought he was funny, but my mom made the determination that he was wildly nervous – I realized she was right. He was showing off and talking it up to every nurse, secretary, other patient, in ear or eyesight. We heard all about how he pulled the hernia he was in to get corrected by lifting too many heavy kegs as a bar back.
He literally talked nonstop and had this manic laugh that you could tell was trying to masquerade his intense worry. He was a 30-year-old man reverting to 12-year-old boyish flirting ways. It was cute and real sad all at once. But we met back up again in recovery when he heard me talking about Cool Ranch Doritos in my drugged up state and yelled through the curtain: “Cool Ranch Doritos sound fucking awesome!” back to me in his drugged state. We both made it out okay.
While waiting in the pre-op pens, I was not feeling well, and not just because of the surgery anticipation. I was chilled and had a fever hovering in the 101/102 range and my pinpointed back pain was flaring badly. It was not easy to find a comfortable position. My mom tried to keep me entertained, and I dosed in and out of sleep. Hunger was raging as I had to fast from midnight the night before; it was approaching a 13-hour fast by the time I went in.
The operating room was bright and cold – everything gleaming stainless steel except for the very thin table where I would be transferred to that was covered in a very thin blanket. As the nurses and assistants helped pull me from the stretcher to the table, they assured me they’d be careful positioning me so as to not further hurt me back. They were gentle and kind and friendly, especially the surgical nurse, whose sole job, it seemed, was making sure I was comfortable until I went to la-la land. She kept stroking my arm and asking questions about my life. We hit on dogs and she knew that was the topic she could relax me with as I started yakking on about how much I love Sammy. She asked me why we named her that. I told her that she was a rescue who came with the full name of Samantha, but that her most recent family thought of her as more of a Sammy and that we fully agreed. “Samantha” is far-too refined a name for our dog who adores maniacally digging holes in beach sand, diving under water, and running with big sticks/branches.
The surgeon came over to my ear. I was all taped up and tubed up at this point and sucking pure oxygen from a facemask.
“Karin!” he cooed in his funny, sing-songy voice. “Karin! What are we dooooooiiiiiiiinnnnng?” They took my mask off so that I could say: “Taking some lymph nodes from my right side.”
“Yes! Yes!” he said, and also wrote the word “yes” in black marker alongside my armpit.
The facemask was replaced and the nurse told me to keep thinking about Sammy.
I heard the anesthesiologist direct me to take a few deep breaths and that soon I would be on my favorite island. I was skeptical, but sucked in as deeply as I could, desperately afraid that I would be awake when they sliced me open.
I remember the deep breaths and thinking about Sammy and then suddenly a very, very blurry ride to the recovery room. I remember asking whoever was pushing me if they got some good samples.
“Yes, they did,” they told me. Likely, it was just a transporter who had no idea what I’d even had done, but it gave me the comfort to fall back asleep.
I don’t know this, but I felt like I was in recovery for only a few minutes before my mom was brought in and I could have saltines, though I wanted Doritos as much as my buddy on the other side of the curtain did. My mom relayed my grocery list requests to Craig who, though he thought it was a joke because it was so random, went ahead and picked them up for me: Cool Ranch Doritos (obviously), grapes, all-fruit popsicles, mud pie ice cream, “healthy” mayonnaise, a roaster chicken, frozen waffles, and a Cosmo magazine. It wasn’t a joke and it was all delicious over the course of the first few days home, just as I predicted.
As I sobered up, the pain settled in. It felt like someone opened up my armpit and ripped out a few swollen lymph nodes of tissue – because they had. But really, after just the first couple of days, I’ve had no pain there. Other pain, yes. Post-surgical pain, no. Just a little weak.
I’ve been very social these past few days since, with book club and dinner get-to-gethers and basketball watching with friends and a total girls fun/recovery day with my best friend since childhood, and tax filing and dining room remodeling planning with Craig. It’s been the life of a “regular” 30-year-old and I’ve been enjoying it. It’s just that in the middle of it all I’ve been battling shortness of breath, continued pain, immense fatigue, and coughing fits. But it’s not stopping me.
I already have the results back from the biopsy. Drum roll, please …. “Classical Hodgkin Lymphoma.” Wow. Original. It’s the same damn thing I’ve been dealing with since 2009. Even so, I have no regrets on getting it done, however, as now we can move forward in confidence. There will be many additional stains happening to the tumors and pathologists will be analyzing it for certain proteins that will help determine the best treatments. No matter what, we’ll get beneficial information from having a very recent sample to base treatment moves off of.
At first I was quite down on the news, as I wanted to find out that it was something else entirely that we’d be able to wipe out and I’d be done with it all. Then Craig reminded me that I probably would still have HL on top of that, and it’s doubtful that anyone would say it’s better to have two diseases than one. That logic was hard to argue with. This is not bad news – again – it’s just news.
What we’re calling “salvage” treatment, which is basically a nice way of saying really harsh treatment to melt the disease, starts this week, like maybe tomorrow. I don’t know what it will be yet or where or when I will start it. Waiting on word … .