I lasted posted the night before major cancer surgery, expressing both confidence and alarm. It’s now been about ten days and I am doing extraordinarily great, especially considering the circumstances.
Here’s kind of a blow-by-blow:
Arrived at the Georgetown University Hospital Surgical Center Thursday, May 2nd at 6:30am. Everyone and I mean everyone on Georgetown staff is so cheery and positive and kind. Where do they find these people, I ask myself. They are like cheerful mutants from a faraway galaxy where there is no such thing, for example, as road rage.
I pick up my bracelet with my name and birth date so from here on out, no one accidently removes wrong body parts or gives mistaken medications. The bracelet also contains the bar code on which thousands of dollars of medications will be charged in the days ahead.
In the actual operating room I have a brief chat with the chief surgeon and crew. The gentleman performing the operation is the Surgeon-in-Chief of the Lombardi Cancer Center, Dr. Waddah Al-Refaie. I ask the doctor if he had a good night’s sleep and he confirms he is well rested and ready to rock and roll. At this point the anesthesiologists suggest that considering the length and complexity of an operation expected to result in the removal of 60% of my stomach, would I be up for an epidural? Incredibly strong pain killing meds delivered right into the spine and nerves? Yesireee, I would like that, gentlemen!
And that was the last thing I remembered. They put a tube in me to do the breathing while I was gratefully and completely and totally out like a light for the next 7 hours, 6 of which were actual operating time. Operations are like time travel. Your loved ones get briefed once an hour on what’s happening but for those of us on the table there is only before and after. There is no time in between.
I awake in post-op and my girlfriend, Millie is letting me know that while I was away, the surgeon did, indeed, take 60% of my stomach. And, oh, an extra 10% of ye’ old liver. Oh, and the gall bladder. Gall bladder’s gone but they found nothing wrong with it and they put it back. Still groggy, I make a mental note to revisit this analysis. I would be correct. Poor Millie had gotten lost in the fog of war. They don’t put stuff back after they take it out. But she was right that there was nothing wrong with it. They saw something they didn’t like that turned out to be benign. Goodbye gall bladder. Of questionable value as a mere bile creator to help the stomach handle fatty foods, I will not even miss the little guy. “And so…” sums up Millie, “The operation was a great success!”
I smile to hear this; still slightly alarmed they took some liver. But hey, it regenerates!
The next two days were mostly a sleepy haze. The boys with the epidural did a masterful job. Patients in hospitals are always being asked to gauge their pain on a 1 to 10 scale. The first 48 hours after this big a surgery I had pain of 0 to 1. That’s amazing. For all the advances in medicine, the single most important has got to be anesthesia and the art of pain killing.
But, alas, Saturday came and they’d have to stop the epidural- can’t keep that going for long- off to the land of IV drugs!
I honestly didn’t even look at my sutures until day 3. Nice job. Very handsomely done. I counted about 36 staples from below the belly button to the solar plexus. And they all hurt just a little bit! Dilaudid into the veins helped.
All of this stuff, by the way, is measured in small hourly and daily victories. The catheter comes out. Yay! Day 4, a day earlier than I thought, they pulled the NG tube. This is a fiendish device that during surgery is put into your nose and way down into the stomach. A kind of suctioning event is generated and bile and other bad things from the belly go into a vessel and the pressure also helps the stomach in some way no one adequately described to me. The NG tube was an unwelcome addition to my head. It also tethers you as much as an IV does. It’s really fun when they pull it out too. Oh, the laughs.
Run for your Lives- It’s Cable News!
And now here was the part of the hospital visit that sucked the very most. It wasn’t nurses and techs walking into your room at 4am to take your vitals or give you another blood-thinning injection. No, it was no longer being groggy enough to sleep the day away and being awake and alert. And ready to become the unsuspecting victim of CABLE TELEVISION.
This was the day Cleveland police officially arrested Ariel Castro and two of the three women the horrible little man tortured for a decade, returned to their homes. This was the day America’s favorite villainess, Jodi Arias, was convicted in the gruesome stabbing death of her boyfriend. This was the day of the Benghazi hearings. In other words, this was the kind of day that was created for Cable News. And, here I was, comfy in my hospital bed with my right trigger finger on the remote control.
Over on CNN, they covered everything in great detail, concentrating about 70% of their programming on the Cleveland House of Horrors. Nice coverage- couldn’t complain about a thing. They didn’t get any facts wrong. They brought in solid contributors along with their own paid experts and personalities like Nancy Grace. Over on Fox, no developing story of any magnitude could budge the network from its breathless coverage of the Benghazi hearings. One guy at the witness table almost cried. Another had triple the normal amount of emotion in his voice. I didn’t see what else there was to it by way of red meat…or new facts. And this is categorically not a political view on my part. I was just a highly drugged-up guy in a hospital bed switching from cable channel to cable channel.
On one channel, live TV crews watching the Cleveland women arrive home, stunning police news conferences; bizarre, sick revelations about the nightmare decade for these poor women. On the other channel, congressmen getting pissed or preening depending on their political persuasion and more white guys in suits at witness tables. Every now and again, Fox News anchors went away from the hearings to Fox News reporters to explain to people the significance of something that just happened in case they couldn’t discern it for themselves.
And then….the Jodi Arias verdict! This time, Headline News jumped into the fray, primed as they were positioning themselves as the Arias Verdict Network. This hurt them early in the week as they went live to Phoenix repeatedly for two days before there was any verdict or news. But now that the jury was back- Christmas for Headline News!
CNN adjusted and did a pretty darned good job covering both the Arias verdict and the House of Horrors. Over to Fox; continued highlights and analysis of the Benghazi hearings. By 6pm, even a Fox News anchor made reference to the fact there had been a lot of breaking news on this day but maybe tomorrow when it’s her birthday, they’ll let her cover all these other stories.
Then it was off to sports where I simultaneously monitored the Washington Nationals and Caps- the Nats on radio the Caps on the tube. Nats won, Caps lost. And they lost the next night too. I came close, but would later dismiss notions of suing the Capitals for emotional distress.
I wrapped up my TV orgy day with the Science channel and three straight one-hour episodes of Stephan Hawking on space travel, space aliens and wonders of the cosmos. It was an absolute pleasure to watch houses of horror, Benghazi hearings and murder verdicts shrink to their appropriate cosmological scale.
And I Thank You for Your Support!
Within two days I would be discharged. And here we are, about four days at home. I just got back from my first post-op consultation with the surgeon. The tumor was larger and invaded a bit more territory than everyone first thought. But no lymph node cancers. And none to be found anywhere else in the body. I am officially staged at stomach cancer 2b. This gives me about a 65% chance of living through the next five years, odds I gladly accept.
I will likely get some chemotherapy this summer and fall but the all the cancer has been surgically removed. We’re talking preventative measures. Then after a few months of that loveliness it’s just a matter of monitoring until five years from now, we can all declare, “case closed.”
And I do not accept alternate outcomes.
To my friends:
I thank you for the books, the magazines, the musical play lists, the T-shirts, the kind sympathy cards, the wicked-funny cards, the thoughts, prayers, animal sacrifices and smudge ceremonies and as the three words on my blue left wristband say- for the love, the hope and the faith too.
We are beating this together. Thank you for that.
The following account includes details of human biology that could make normal people a little queasy. It’s an honest account and, I might add, a therapeutic one for the author.
Last time somebody opened up my stomach and took a gander it was all quite spontaneous. You see, the stomach is supposed to be a sterile environment. But in my case last October, an undiagnosed ulcer perforated. It was a mess. Suffice to say I was en route to getting numerous rapid and intense infections that would make me, if left unattended- a dead man by morning. But waking up that day not knowing I would later be taking an ambulance ride to the ER had its advantages. At least I had no idea what was about to take place.
Now, some six months later, after an endoscopy performed to check on my progress from the perforated ulcer operation discovered- oops- a tumor- they’re going to open me up again. Only this time I know exactly when; 8am, ET, Thursday, May 2nd, 2013. They’ve blocked off 6 and half hours of operating room time to get a 1 to 2 centimeter superficial carcinoma out of my body and cure me. I’m grateful for that. It was caught early. Stomach cancer is not curable in later stages. And, of course, to be on the safe side, cancer-fighting doctors are using an AK-47 to wipe out a gnat, so they’re also going to remove 60 to 70% of my stomach.
I am likely to be going from being an overweight former smoker, to being a perpetually slender and much healthier former smoker. God works in mysterious ways.
But the knowing is not fun. I am sentimentally enjoying meals I know I am not going to be having again for six months. Even sipping from a water bottle is a luxury. In less than 24 hours, I will be lying in a Georgetown University hospital bed with a tube running from my nose into my stomach while an IV pushes saline solution, antibiotics and painkillers into my bloodstream. No water or even crushed ice for at least 2 to 3 days. You get nothing but a moist tooth brush type thing to keep your mouth sort of hydrated. You know it’s bad when you start salivating at the mere thought of green Jell-O. Forget solid food for 3 to 4 weeks. Welcome to the wonderful world of nutritionists teaching you how to eat six small meals a day.
I generally have a very good attitude about these health things. But only because I suspect I’m going to live to laugh about it. I would not be this sanguine if the situation were dire. Still, dark thoughts enter the mind from time to time. Will this be the 5% of operations that have complications? What happens if they mess up the anesthesia and you have a massive coronary or something? Do you see the white light and the tunnel and everything if you’re knocked out on heavy drugs? Who do I bitch to about a bad outcome if I’m, like, dead? Will they get all of it so I can avoid post-operative chemotherapy? What if it’s worse than they thought and I awake from the operation and they tell me the whole stomach or some other organ is gone?
But then I remember they have done about 3 bazillion tests on me so they have a pretty good idea of what they’re dealing with. I have Dr. Waddah Al-Refaie, Surgeon-in-Chief (that’s his actual title) of the Vince Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown University performing the operation. I also realize how fortunate I am to be alive in this day and time when there is so much knowledge about these terrible diseases that used to be death sentences. Perhaps most importantly, I remember there are so many folks so worse off than me and my stupid stomach.
I have a health directive in place. Finances are in order. My peeps know who to call if stuff goes south.
To my many wonderful family, friends and co-workers with whom I have shared the cancer news in recent weeks and who have been so sweet and supportive- THANK YOU! But just because it’s early stage cancer and an operation may cure me, doesn’t mean you can stop praying. No siree. Keep those going please. Especially from 8am-2pm on Thursday, May 2nd.
Speaking of prayers- here’s an Irish joke somewhat appropriate for the occasion:
An Irishman is flustered not being able to find a parking space in a large mall’s parking lot.
“Lord,” he prays,” I can’t stand this. If you open a space up for me, I swear I’ll give up drinking me whiskey, and I promise to go to church every single Sunday.”
Suddenly, the clouds part and the sun shines on an empty parking spot. Without hesitation, the man says, “Never mind, found one!”
I vented about this almost two years ago and there’s a growing chorus of respectable journalists like Tom Brokaw who have vocally joined the cause. Whatever the hell that function is that used to pass as the White House Correspondents Dinner is now so over the top, so disgusting in its opulence and crassness and such an incestuous and inappropriate coupling of the so-called independent media and those they are supposed to cover impartially- that it’s no wonder the public can’t stand either the blowhards who populate politics and Hollywood or the blowhards who cover them.
But as the Washington Post points out, the dirty little secret is that this dinner is actually about corporate interests. The celebrities are really the window dressing; the honey that attracts the corporations- i.e.- potential advertisers that populate the Washington Hilton dinner tables and after-parties as much as the so-called stars. Yes, cash-strapped news organizations that fire journalists every quarter, spend upwards of a quarter a million dollars a year without batting an eyelash in order to host a party that draws the stars that, in turn, draws the CEO’s and CFO’s and maybe, if they’re lucky, get a little money spent on banner ads and 60-second spots. There’s no way of knowing how much return there is on the investment. And no, you can’t blame media companies for trying to find funding- but this really has become an unseemly orgy of power, celebrity and money mongering.
Not that the celebrity portion of this is tasteful or measured in any way. For example, it was revealed this week that the White House Correspondent’s Association is threatening to sue a company over its use of the WHCA name to invite celebrities to its “gifting” suite on the night of the dinner. That’s right, a “gifting” suite. Bags of expensive swag only for the celebrities being invited by the various media companies. This is like the goodie bags they hand out at the Oscars. New this year and offered as yet another exhibit of the superficiality of this once fun and interesting event.
The point of this event used to be to give reporters an opportunity to invite their sources to a nice dinner where there would be humorous speeches by special guests as well as the President of the United States. It all changed in the 1980’s when then celebrity-of-the-moment, Fawn Hall, got an invite on the strength of being Oliver North’s secretary. Then the following year, Donna Rice of Gary Hart fame got an invite. Now, media companies shell out 1st class airfare, hotel suites and cold, hard cash to get the buzziest celebs.
So as this celebration of incestuous trough feeding continues to morph into the grotesque, with Lindsey Lohan and the Kardashians supplanting the Donna Rices and Fawn Halls, let’s call this what it really is: the erection of more and more walls separating politicians, corporations, and the media from the public- the people who elect the pols, give corporations their profits and read, listen or watch the media. The little people are not welcome on this day except behind the rope lines to watch the preening on the red carpet.
The current President of the WHCA, Ed Henry of Fox News, justifies all of this decadence by pointing out that over $100,000 is raised to support needy kids hungry for scholarships. A good cause, indeed. But considering the money media companies spend to put on their parties and fly in their celebrities, really, 100K is chump change. It ought to be more like a cool million. So here’s an idea, Ed. For 100K, hold a friggin’ bake sale. Hey- it’s all about the scholarships. Right.
Well, NPR is moving. Most everyone except Newscast, Digital News and Technical Operations has left the old building at 635 Massachusetts Avenue for the beautiful new headquarters building at 1111 North Capital Street. We, the stragglers go last- next week.
What will become of the old building that housed NPR for some two decades? It will be destroyed in just a few weeks; demolished and turned to dust. So….what do a few hundred snarky, already cynical NPR-types do to a building they know will cease to exist in a few short weeks?
Graffiti! Big time Graffiti. On all the walls, the elevators, the CEO’s old office bathroom. You name it. The entire place has been turned into a kind of performance art canvass where features of the building itself are part of the show. We have been unleashed like 6 year-olds with finger paints.
Here’s the old, handy, 3rd floor defibrillator:
NPR’s Supreme Court/Legal correspondent, Nina Totenberg, is photographed by White House correspondent, Ari Shapiro as she leaves behind her mark…
Later, an unnamed colleague added their snarky rejoinder:
The old building had its quirks. There was only one elevator that actually took you up to the 7th floor cafeteria. All other elevators took to you to the 6th floor and you’d have to walk up a flight of stairs. But that one elevator that went all the way up was also very, very popular. It could take up to 5 minutes or longer before you’d hear the cheesy little bell that signaled its arrival.
This is one of the other elevators. It featured a special guest rider all Friday afternoon. I maintain we are the only major radio network in the world with a headphone-wearing mannequin.
And continuing with the elevator theme- some are taking the move rather philosophically:
We always wondered what this old 3rd floor valve did, exactly. And we still wonder but just to be on the safe side….
For some reason, beards have been a big theme this week. It started Thursday when I attended a Washington Nationals baseball game and my good friend, Walter Ludwig, whom I had invited, noted the very excellent beard sported by right fielder, Jason Werth.
Exceptionally full and outdoorsy, even woodsman-like, I’d say.
The beard theme continued Friday when I read this article in The Hill about the creation of a political action committee dedicated to the financial backing of bearded candidates, regardless of party affiliation or ideology.
This PAC is for real. The paperwork for the Bearded Entrepreneurs for the Advancement of a Responsible Democracy (BEARD) was filed with Federal Election Commission Wednesday by a Jonathan Sessions, who describes himself on his website as a member of the board of education in Columbia, Missouri.
Sessions notes, as did this fine article on Slate.com nearly a year ago, that Benjamin Harrison was the last U.S. President to fashion a beard and that it’s high time political beards came back into fashion.
As this touches on Presidential history, one of my absolute favorite areas of study and expertise, some cursory research finds there were five American Presidents with actual beards:
Rutherford B Hayes
This period of 1861 to 1893 was truly the high point for Presidential beards. The only exceptions were Andrew Johnson who had no facial hair at all and was, perhaps not coincidentally-impeached; Chester Alan Arthur, who did sport impressive mutton chops- and Grover Cleveland, one of our four mustachioed Chief Executives (the others: Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft). Early Presidents, John Quincy Adams and Martin Van Buren were also mutton chop enthusiasts but did not have mustaches (or beards).
Since Taft, we have had nothing but clean shaven Presidents beginning with Woodrow Wilson who was inaugurated in 1913. The first patent for a safety razor, by the way, was issued in 1880 but even then the early razors still needed to be sharpened by professionals. The point is that about 1916, some 15 years after the release of the first disposable razor, there was widespread adoption of this remarkable tool from Gillette. Politics has not been the same since.
The political beard article in Slate, by the way, points out that recent adoption of beards was significantly stymied by the images of both hippies and Fidel Castro.
This trend could have been stopped dead in its tracks had Richard Nixon done a Richard Nixon to China thing with beards (the analogy that’s probably outdated now about how only an anti-communist could escape political peril offering peace to communists).
That is, I must say, a pretty cool looking Tricky Dick.
And then, of course, there’s this gentleman:
And that, ladies and gentlemen, makes beards as American as:
Well, thank you for your prayers! Looks more and more like I’ve dodged a huge bullet as medical tests continue to indicate I have a very small and early gastric tumor. I’ve seen the pictures; it kind of looks like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree- just a scrawny little thing.
Blood tests do show a slightly elevated level in a marker that’s an indicator of tumor growth. But a CT scan came back completely boring with nothing irregular whatsoever. This should all mean it’s at a very, very early stage which means everything in regard to stomach cancer. Basically it’s the difference between it being curable or not- the difference between a 5% and a 75% five-year survivability rate.
Within a week or so, I’ll get a treatment plan and then get a second opinion on that plan. I’m pretty sure they will still want to dive in with knives so they can eyeball things for themselves and cut the thing out, along with a hopefully very small portion of the stomach. And while an operation of that nature has risks of its own and really, really sucks for about 7 days in the hospital and then another six weeks of recovery, it’s way more important and significant that long-term survival looks like a real good bet.
My highly amusing doctor, Thomas Butler, tells his patients that the most important part of any treatment plan is looking both ways before you cross the street. Because what good do the best and most intricate treatment plans do if you’re going to go get hit by a truck?
My son has a funny line about trucks too. Last year, I sent him info on what his life insurance benefits would be just in case I get hit by a truck. His dry, one sentence e-mail response was priceless.
Stay away from trucks.
Well, this sucks. Yet, it could be so much worse! I’ve been diagnosed with what appears to be early stage stomach cancer. It sounds awful, I know, but it doesn’t feel that awful on this end.
The immediate big freak-out when a doctor suggests you have the Big C is primal: Oh jeez, how much time? So getting a pretty substantial hint that what I have is actually curable is just fine, thank you very much. I’ll get through surgery, maybe a little chemo, have a real crappy 6 to 8 weeks and then get on with it.
That’s the plan anyway, though no one ever knows what unintended crap lies out there. For example, my very excellent doctor suggests there is a possibility that treatment for a cancer I beat 14 years ago, may be the culprit today. I got a lot of radiation for a bout with testicular cancer back in 1999. The tiny little, 2cm tumor currently residing in my tummy may be the price paid for a cure nearly two decades ago.
But fight, I must! I really do love life a lot.
Unlike Japan, by the way, stomach cancer sufferers in the United States don’t get diagnosed until its too late most of the time. In Japan, stomach cancer is more prevalent so they screen the general population and nip the cancers in the bud as soon as the first signs show up. Some Japanese surgeons are so talented, experienced and meticulous that they can narrow in on and remove specific numbers of tiny, individual lymph nodes without damaging surrounding areas. They are the rock stars of the kind of gastric surgery I’m facing here.
Fortunately and ironically, I had an operation just last Fall for a perforated ulcer that introduced me to the wonderful world of intubation, liquid diets (terrific for weight loss) and Dilaudid (best pain killer ever). When they did an endoscopy to check things out a few months later, they found that little 2cm bump. Just like the Japanese would do in a regular screening.
So if we’re keeping score here, I get radiation treatment for a cancer I beat 14 years ago and it turns out to have potentially given me a cancer that was found last week because I was lucky enough to have developed an ulcer that nearly killed me last year. I knew God had a sense of humor- but that’s kind of dark even by Tim Burton standards.
Anyway, the only thing keeping me from taking a trip to Tokyo is Georgetown University’s Vince Lombardi Cancer Center and Dr. Thomas Butler, my kind, funny, smart, wise physician with the Virginia Cancer Specialists group. I trust these guys to fix me up in a way that preserves both my dignity and my health. They’re smart and they get it.
Let’s do this.