Friday, April 09, 2010

The Girl with the Red Ribbon

Remember the scary childhood story of the girl with the red ribbon around her throat? If you removed the ribbon her head would roll because it was severed at the neck. I think I know what she must have felt like.

Five days after surgery I am still in pain. The worst part of it all is my throat. I was told that they had to intubate me three times for surgery. I guess when they did that they tore up my throat because now swallowing is incredibly uncomfortable.

Monday morning Robin and I arrived at St. Francis at 6am to check in for surgery. I didn't have to wait long before they brought me back to a room and started the pre-surgery interrogation. What is your name? What is your birth date? What are you having done? Those questions will be asked over and over again for the next 24 hours! They take my vitals, give me some wrist bracelets for identification.. Nurses come and nurses go... poking, prodding and preparing me to go under the knife. Next, the anesthesiologist comes in and introduces himself s and then Dr. McNellis comes in to go over the procedure. They are ready for me.

To be honest, from that point on I really don't remember anything. The last thing I remember was being in the prep room and they put my hair in the net. Robin kissed me as I was being wheeled out of the room. The next thing I know I was waking up in recovery with Dr. McNellis at my side. He was talking to me about the surgery. He told me that it went well and that they ended up doing a total thyroidectomy. I remember looking at him and I asked if it was cancer. He said yes. I cried hard and asked what my family did to deserve this and then I asked for Robin. Dr. McNellis told me that he talked to her and she was waiting in my room. I sat in recovery for a while and I remember lifting my hand to my neck to feel the incision. I didn't expect it to be uncovered. When I touched it I heard the nurse call me from the other side of the room. She was telling me not to touch it.

The Demerol was still strong in my system so I was in and out of consciousness for a while. I remember being wheeled down the hall and seeing Robin standing in the doorway of my room. I was never so happy to see anyone in my life. I must have been really high because she told me that I kept telling her how much I love her.

When I was well enough to move around I went to the bathroom and changed my clothes into something more comfortable. Robin brought me a pair of cotton shorts and soft tank top from home and I was so thankful to get that hospital gown off! When I changed clothes, Robin unhooked my IV to get the shirt over the tube and I just knew the nurses were going to yell at me. I'm sure they wondered how I got the shirt on around it, but they never said anything.

Once I was awake, the nurse brought me some "food" for a liquid diet. It was chicken broth that was actually more like a 5 chicken bullion cubes dropped in about a cup of water. It was so strong that I had to have Robin ask for some hot water to dilute it. Along with the broth was what I thing they call Jello, but it wasn't really comparable. I ate a bite and wondered what in the hell I was eating. I never had Jello that left a film on the inside of my mouth before. I opted to eat some ice chips and drink some ginger ale for lunch. I do remember eating a turkey sandwich but am not quite sure how, or when, I obtained it!

After eating I heard a knock at my door. When I turned around it was my good friend Edna! It turns out that her husband, Rusty, was down the hall for chest pain so she thought she would come to find me. While Edna was visiting there was another knock at the door and it was Debra, Jackie's sister... soon after, Jackie and her son Quentin came by. It was a party up in room 239. Unfortunately, I didn't feel like partying too much because when the nurse came in to give me my meds I ended up throwing up in front of everyone. Somehow I managed to keep the pills down, though.

Early in the evening I was so incredibly hot. I was sweating and my hair was drenched. The thermostat was turned down as much as it could go and I was still sweating. My clothes were wet and the nurse kept giving me cold cloths to put on my forehead. I remember saying that's what my Dad always did when I was sick as a kid. He thought a cold, wet cloth would cure anything. I guess I was feeling the effects of coming off of the Demerol and it was horrible. I was taking short, shallow breaths even with the oxygen on and I just couldn't get cool enough. I tied my hair up on top of my head to keep it off of my neck and tried to sleep. It was hard to do since the nurses woke me up every two hours for medicine, insulin, blood pressure... or whatever.

Every once in a while there would be a quiet moment when I wasn't struggling with being hot, trying to breathe, being uncomfortable or whatever else and the reality of the situation would creep up on me. There were a couple moments of clarity and it would hit me out of the blue. I was in the hospital and I had cancer. There is now a huge. 4-inch cut on my throat and I was next in line in my family to deal with this horrible fucking disease. I went to sleep "normal" and I woke up a cancer survivor.

There were several times throughout the night when Robin and I would sit and cry. Mostly me, I think. I just didn't (and still don't) understand how "this" happens to one person. When I say "this", I mean all of my horrible, rotten luck. I have asked a million times, and I ask once more. When does my luck turn to good? I guess I should listen to what the doctors keep telling me about if I'm going to get cancer "this is the kind you want to get!" I mean, what kind of crap is that? Is that supposed to be reassuring? Is that supposed to make me feel better? I am thankful that it's gone and that it was operable and that the probability of it coming back is extremely rare, but really! In the long line of things that I have been through in the past couple of years, when you add thyroid cancer to the list of things to happen to me, it should probably make someone go "well, of course!" Is it being optimistic if I start to look at it as I'm running out of bad things to happen to me?

After not sleeping much that night they brought in a small breakfast for me consisting of one egg, one slice of toast cut in two and a small bowl of grits. I was pretty hungry so I ate the egg and toast. I don't eat grits so those were pushed to the side and Robin went downstairs to the cafeteria to see what kind of food they had down there. She came back with a Belgian waffle! My hero! I ate half of my waffle and had some coffee and I felt like a new woman!

Around that time I had a visit from Joan of Charleston Daily Photo - my favorite blog. Joan also came to visit me the night before but I don't remember much of it. I do remember hearing someone say I was asleep and when I opened my eyes, there she was! It's kind of odd following someone's blog and reading about their daily life and all of then sudden they are a real person standing in front of you! It meant a lot that she took the time out of her day to visit! Maybe next time we can meet under better circumstances.

After checking my vitals for the millionth time the doctor finally cleared me for discharge. We gathered up my things and headed home. All I could think about was laying in my own bed. I wasn't looking forward to the quiet and contemplative time that was sure to follow once the hospital hoopla, phone calls from friends and general craziness subsided. I've been trying to stay busy with doing stuff around the house and have probably overdone it a bit. I had a follow-up with Dr. Eads today and this was the worst day I have had, physically, so far. He extended my leave one week so I can take more time to recover physically and also mentally.

I'm physically drained and emotionally devastated. I need to regroup, center myself and find the part of me that grew stronger from this experience and use that to grow on. I know that this... all of this, has happened to me for a reason. I just don't know what that reason is or what I'm supposed to do with this life of experiences. Good and bad.


Clytie said...

Wow. I've been sitting here for 5 minutes wondering what to say, but it all seems so trite.

I am so relieved that you are a cancer survivor - emphasis on SURVIVOR. I too hate this thing called cancer. My brother did not survive it. He was only 42.

I'm so glad you have a second chance at life.

My thoughts are prayers are with you and Robin, as you meander through the repercussions both physical and emotional.

P.S. - the scar isn't nearly as bad as I had imagined it in my head! A badge of courage!!!

Pamela said...

I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your brother. I consider myself to be so lucky because it really has no discrimination and I just happened upon mine by accident. Because of my family history, I am hypersensitive and worry about every little spot and bump - for good reason, I now know!

As always, thanks for all of your thoughts, prayers and comments!