Of Familiar Roles and Functions

From an email sent on August 31, 2012.

My people!

I’m beginning the draft of this e-mail at 7:14 PM on Thursday, August 30, 2012, nine days post operation, and my third full day at home. I’m not sure when I’m going to get to be able to finish it. But, I didn’t want to let too much time pass before my next communication to you. As we all know, the Israelites didn’t do so well the last time they went leaderless for too long.

That said, tremendous kudos to Tammy for not only simply having the strength to write the e-mails, but actually becoming more confident with each one. Perhaps, moving forward, she can be a more regular contributor.

There’s really a lot to cover in this e-mail update, so let’s begin with patient intake process.

As you’ll remember, I checked into the hospital on Monday, August 20. Earlier that day, at seven in the morning, my aunt and uncle had flown in from Buffalo to be with us for the week. Having learned from previous experiences picking them up at the airport, I knew that they are usually not as efficient as I am in getting through the airport to the curb. So, this time, I took my time and waited a bit until after they had landed to leave the house. So, I was standing around for about 45 minutes, keeping an eye out for my aunt and uncle, when I got a call from Tammy. She asked me if I was at the airport. I explained I was waiting patiently by the doors carefully examining every passenger exiting the baggage and customs control area. Guess what? It turns out, my aunt and uncle have become incredibly efficient at making their way through the airport. They had been sitting drinking coffee for about 45 min. waiting for me.

The rest of the day was spent doing things basically designed to keep me busy and to keep Tammy busy and not pondering the fact that about 3:30 or so we have to make our way to the hospital to begin the check in process.

Sure enough, three o’clock did roll around, and we gathered my bag that I had prepared – although it wasn’t prepared early enough according to Tammy. She had wanted me to prepare the day before even though it’s only for one night.

After a shockingly smooth and pleasant parking experience on the multilevel parking deck (That’s for you, Helen.), Tammy and I quickly made our way to the surgery B ward. Once we checked in with the very busy and overtaxed nurse there, she sent us down to the emergency room, where we were to go to check in again, receive my plastic bracelet, and a whole series of stickers with my name and ID number on them.

Thereafter, we returned to the surgical ward where we were told we would have to wait about 10 min. or so. We did and were told to come back in another 10 min. or so. So we went for drinks. Finally they were ready and, since I was only pre-op, I had fully expected to be placed in the hallway. Yes, you read that correctly, in the hallway. This is a 50 bed ward, serving approximately 80 patients at one time. Luckily, such was not my case. While I didn’t have my own room (I had one of the triples), I didn’t have to deal with sleeping in the hallway.  (Not to worry: thanks to Delta, I came prepared with sleeper mask and ear plugs!)  After a great dinner of Burger Ranch, a surgical resident came by with the apparent mission of simply reminding me that I was going for surgery the next day.  Never one to miss an opportunity, I looked him squarely in the eye and said, “Surgery? What surgery?” and glanced frantically at Tammy who, thankfully, limited her reaction to a rolling of her eyes.  After letting the resident flop around a bit – not unlike a 100-lb salmon on the deck of a fishing boat – I told him to relax and that yes, I was fully aware of what’s going on, and did he have any questions.

The fun really started the next day just before 6:00 am.  Tammy was there, bright and early, and so was the nurse, Fleet bottles in-hand.  (Yes, two bottles.)  Alrighty then.  Time for our first indignity, and I did very well, thank you! Then, a couple of Valium and – presto-chango! – I’m one smooth operator.  I’m quite sure I was suave and debonaire, but Tammy insists otherwise.

And off we went to the OR.  The orderly pushing my bed took extra care to ensure I hit every door and corner along the way, and some people, too.

Upon entering the OR, my anesthesiologist asked me if I wanted an epidural so I could get morphine administered more easily.  No brainer and, already being high as a kite, I don’t even remember having the needle put in my back.  I remember my arms being strapped down at 90 degree angles, a likely less-than-religiously-sensitive joke that would NOT have gone over as well in Pittsburgh, and, the next thing I know I’m being given the great news by my aunt and uncle, who were standing over my bed. Then, talking to Tammy on the phone held to my ear.  Then back to the surgery ward where I’m put in a different room for three.

Easy stuff, this HIPEC.

It would be futile to offer any kind of coherent recounting of Wednesday – Saturday of that week, other than to say, it was a constant cycle of meds, needles, blood pressure cuffs, NG tubes, catheters, thermometers, nibbling at food, sleeping and shuffling around.

But then came Saturday.

Tammy had arranged for a private aid to sit with me through the nights to ensure I was getting what I needed.  Early Saturday morning I was about to ask the aid to help me from bed as I was having gas pains and the #1 cure is to walk.  But, who should walk into my room? None other than Andrew (jetlag) and Tammy (wife), neither of whom could sleep, for the aforementioned parenthetical reasons.

Tammy helped me out of bed and, standing there, at the side of my bed, figuring out what to do, I felt increasing pressure in my lower abdomen and thought, “This seems familiar.”  With all due haste – like the slugs I find at the right time of year late at night – we made our way to the bathroom. “Wait here,” I told them, and I closed the door behind me.

Now, I’m pretty good with the words, but I’m really not quite sure how to describe the flood of emotion – from anxiety to satisfaction – as I sat in the pre-dawn stillness.  But I can tell you this, it was, and continues to be, miraculous.  It took a little while, but things progressed and, once I washed and exited the bathroom, I was able to stand with Tammy and Andrew and say a truly heartfelt blessing, thanking God for my body’s ability to function properly.

It’s now 2:55 pm Friday, and I smell chicken soup.  So, thank you for paying attention until now and for your wonderful notes of encouragement along the way.  I hope you update you again, next week.


About Alan

F---ing Cancer since 2011.
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