The World from a Hospital Bed
I last 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.