Thursday, May 31, 2012
Surgery. What a whirlwind tour THAT was, but fascinating all at the same time. Getting up at 4:30am, checking in by 5:30, meeting with the doc one last time at 6:30, then being stripped down and taken into pre-op all before 7; the Mayo seriously is a well-oiled machine. One of the surgeons warned me that pre-op would be like being in the NASCAR pit with everyone doing a million things at once to prep me to go, and she couldn't have been more right. Fascinating. Almost a week later, I still have the 'tattoo' of the surgeon's initials to say I was officially ready to cut open. Apparently, Sharpie has found its way to be used as an official medical tool.
As I was signing my life away before the start of the procedure, I had one surgeon ask me very seriously if I accept getting a blood transfusion if needed. I said, "Of course...I agree to whatever you see fit to keep me alive! My only request is that you give me the right type of blood. No mixing that up, now!" I chuckled, and I think it took him a sec to notice I was trying to make light of the situation. But then again, I suppose you don't have too many jokes flying around at 6:45am right before surgery. Looking around the pre-op room, there was a dozen or so more gurneys getting prepped to go, and no one looked like the joking type. Everyone was at least twice my age and looked miserable. I was hoping I would at least find the young guy I saw at my MRI to assure me I wasn't the only 'kid' there. No show. According to how this tumor works, though, I'm about 30 years too early to have this, but the surgeons all showed their thanks for my 'under-aged-ness' along with the fact that I was under 250lbs. I can only imagine how much easier I just had made their jobs.
From pre-op, I got rolled into the OR where I was chatting away with three lady surgeons about France. They stuck me with and IV and some cold fluid started trickling in, right after getting my permission for an epidermal in the spine. I said yes yes yes! Anything to forgo pain, and they laughed when I told them a quote from a girlfriend who recently told me, 'this is the time to forget everything you learned in DARE.' Say yes to drugs! Next thing I know, I was back in the pre-op room feeling nauseous and being told to sniff something alcoholic to ease the swimmies. Little did I know, a good 5 hours had already passed.
The doc originally said he figured the procedure would take anywhere from 4-6 hours, and if there were any complications, he'd be out to discuss this with my folks before proceeding. My parents were prepared for at least a solid 4 hour wait, so when they were met by a nurse telling them to follow her, they said there was a feeling of sheer terror. Shit, what had gone wrong! Was I dying? Oh no, the doctor just wanted to say they were all finished, and the other surgeons were simply doing their final stitching. The job was easier than expected, the tumor was cut out, and no other major organs or arteries had to be touched. Again, the best news ever. They, now, only needed to wait for me to wake up so I could be moved to my hospital room.
As for the rest of the hospital visit, you got the main gist from Adam, so I won't go into much detail there, but man, is it good to be home again. Last night was the first time in over a week I didn't need to wake up to an alarm clock or another nurse coming in. For most of the stay, I was woken up about every two hours to take meds or check my blood pressure or something. Now the real healing can begin.
Besides a constant ache throughout my body, the sheer pain when I chuckle (which can be deadly around my family), or my extremely slow movements, most everything else physically is feeling back to normal-ish. The queezies have gone away, and I thank the lord for my lack of a hangover sensation coupled with my achy body. At least now I can sit around and read or watch TV without feeling like I'm going to vomit....which btw, hurts like hell after having your whole stomach ripped apart. And don't even think about crying either. That hurts even more than laughing. I can't even imagine handling all this as a little kid where this whole situation would probably have me in painful tears over everything.
So here I am now with a new scar to sport as well as a revised belly button. I've always had an outie, but before the procedure, it started swelling out even more. Turns out, the docs found I had a hernia in that spot, so they did a bit of stitching that's made it more compressed. They joked this was the 'plastic surgery' part of the procedure, and that my bill for $6000 would be in the mail shortly. Ha. So weird. But anyways, here's the real quiz for you all:
My incision runs down the middle of my stomach, around the belly button, and just a bit further on.....sooooo, how long do YOU think the scar will be? You can round to the nearest 1/4."
Monday, May 28, 2012
Thank you to all the friends and family who sent flowers. They really do help brighten the room! We had to hunt down some boxes to move the "green house:"
As we pulled up the car, we took a moment to check out the big stained glass window. (This is the desktop background on all the computers throughout the hospital.)
And so, with little effort, Bridgette has made her way back to the hotel room for some more relaxation in a comfy bed. If no problems arise before tomorrow, she'll be back in Springfield before she knows it.
So early Saturday afternoon, I was accompanying Bridgette on one of her walks down the corridors, as she fought off the shivers and dodged gurneys and nurses. We found that one hallway has a little extra heat near the windows, so that served as a nice goal for the walks. On our return, however, the Sharkeys appeared out of nowhere to greet her with hugs and flowers. We all walked our way back to the room, where Bridgette's exhaustion required more napping.
During that sleep, Jess and D showed up, too, so we all had a few hours of hanging out in the waiting room, catching up, until Bridgette woke up. Once that happened, she still was feeling crappy, so we decided to let her nausea meds kick in while she slept a bit more. Luckily, by the end of dinner, I got a text that the nausea had passed, so Bridgette was able to spend some real time chatting with the friends before they made the trek back to Illinois.
In case a rough night was ahead, I decided to crash in the hospital room. The sleepover was mostly uneventful; no ghost stories, video games, or eating s'mores. We were both spent after the friends left, so sleep came around 9.30pm (how incredibly exciting of us). The cot here was surprisingly comfortable, and both Bridgette and I think the blankets here are magical -- somehow thin and light, yet cozy and warm. At midnight, a nurse came with pain meds, and at 4am, another to take blood. 6.15am: the doc for a checkup, and finally around 8.30am, nature was calling. We started the day with yet another walk down the corridors to the comfy, warm hall with the windows.
Thankfully, today's nausea is more under control, and Bridgette has been able to keep down not only tea and crackers, but even a bit of scrambled eggs and French toast. Go, team! She's been sleeping a ton in between walks, snacks, bathroom breaks, and a little reading time. We (and the docs) want to be sure everything is under control with her digestion before we leave the hospital, so no definite end in sight, yet.
As I write this, she's sleeping, the parents are close by, and we're all relieved today is another "easy" day. Time passes strangely here: strangely fast, considering we're all doing mostly a big heap o' nothin'. We're all proud of how strong Bridgette is, and we can't wait to get her back to Springfield for some R&R without nurses waking her up every 4 hours. No offense, RNs out there.
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Sorry, no puns or jokes for this post: Bridgette has left surgery with no complications and things are looking very good. We expect her to be out of recovery soon.
Here's contact info once she gets to her room. Looks like at least a few days in the hospital.
It really did feel like summer here, and to celebrate my last night of double-kidney-ness and a scar-free lifestyle, we went out for drinks, appetizers, and a great dinner at a local wine bar we discovered our first visit here. Ironically, we noticed that the guy sitting behind us at dinner was the same guy ahead of me for my MRI appointment. Seriously, what were the odds of that? Is this town really that small?
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Thursday, May 17, 2012
This afternoon was my first consultation with the doc referred to us by the surgeon in Springfield, so the four of us made our way into the grand lobby of this world renown facility...yes, it was awesome. Not a skimp on any of those finishes! This place truly felt high class, especially with the pianist playing somewhere in the background. Up until this point, I had kept my cool, but now I was starting to get nervous again. At least the piano music helped ease the nerves a bit.
We checked in, wandered our way up to my appointment, then met with our recommended doc. But alas, after looking at my scans, him and his colleagues had a different theory about what this might be, and what this might be was not his specialty. Great : / So he immediately set up an appointment for me to meet with another doc who, ironically, is the husband of a family friend of ours. What were the odds? So back through the hospital we went to another floor, another waiting room. About an hour later, we met with this doc who had already set up a consultation for the following morning for the doc of his choice, the guy who would actually be doing the surgery, I suppose? I still don't know why we couldn't have just skipped this step and moved straight to the surgeon, but maybe it was because he knew who we were and knew we were coming, yada yada. Who knows. At this point, we are all just going with the flow. Long story short, though, all my scans and test results were reviewed, and once again, the docs praised the French for such clear pictures. No extra scans have been ordered as of yet. What we did find out, though, was that this could be one of three things: a Wilm's tumor (a childhood tumor), a retropertioneal sarcoma, or some sort of kidney cancer. No matter what it is, the kidney will have to come out, but until we know what it is, we won't know the proper procedure to take it out. The first two options might involve some sort chemotherapy perhaps beforehand (?) while the later may take me straight to surgery to dig it all out? I don't remember all the details, but this is the first time the doc has called for a biopsy to really determine the fate of the next few months of my life.
We asked how long until we know what the game plan will be and the doc's answer made our hearts sink. Tomorrow will be consultation #3 followed by the biopsy. This will take at least 24hrs to get the results, then, wait...oh, the doc to do the surgery won't be in all next week. So now we're looking into something closer to Memorial Day weekend. For all we know, we might be heading home tomorrow being forced to wait some more.
Up until now, things have all been fairly cool, and the term tumor has become no biggy. But now that we're introducing words like cancer, oncologist, and chemotherapy into the vocabulary, things are sounding a lot scarier. One step at a time, I suppose, and come Friday, we all can really determine how worried we all should be.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
So here we are, rolling along 74 West, on our way up to Minnesota, listening to some classic rock. For those concerned, neither of the above pictured people are currently driving; we have Bridgette's parents playing chauffeur / chaperon for this road trip. None of the four of us has visited Galena before, so that will serve as a nice midday stop, though I'm not sure if we'll spend more than enough time to get a bite to eat and have a look around.
Thank you to everyone for your support and encouragement as we continue this adventure to Rochester. We have our first consultation at the Mayo tomorrow afternoon, so no news, yet.
We've been blessed with abnormally gorgeous weather in Springfield, so our first week back in Illinois has been very vacation-like ... except for the numerous calls to the insurance company, doctor consultations, and attempts to distract ourselves from Bridgette's unwanted baggage. We've found a great use of our time in hunting down wedding reception sites in Springfield: maybe a vineyard, maybe a golf course, maybe a brand new park... such suspense! We'll need to lock something down soon because weekends are already filling up for next summer. And we thought we were on top of this game.
Bridgette also left me home all alone the other day while she joined her ladies for a day out dress-shopping. You can imagine my extreme, unbearable disappointment for not being allowed to partake in that. Instead, I holed up in a cafe to attend to some much-neglected emails, and to do a little tuxedo / suit shopping for myself. At the moment I'm leaning towards some nice suits for my men rather than traditional, overpriced tuxedo rentals. Besides, I'm well overdue for a new outfit.
The rest of our time has been filled with lots of family (thank you to both my parents for spending a few days with us "down south"), food, walks in the park, and general R&R. I think we're all, especially Bridgette, ready for the next step.
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Monday morning...the doctor-ness fired up again. The majority of the day we spent either waiting around for the appointment, waiting at the appointment, or talking with the insurance company about the procedure. We're crossing our fingers there won't be any hassle, but who are we kidding. It's America, and it's health insurance. There's sure to be a fight somewhere along the way.
The meeting with the doc that morning went fairly well, and luckily he knew a snippet of French (at least a good 3 years in high-school's worth) that allowed him to interpret the radiologist's report...or at least get the gist. He also added that, thankfully, the CT scans were done very well, and that we wouldn't need to redo any of this at the moment. High fives to the French. Unfortunately, though, he told us that a tumor of this sort was not his forte, and that I would need to be shipped out for the procedure. Oh, my heart sank, but I was thankful he was truthful with us about his own hesitation. His top recommendation was for a colleague of his up at the Mayo Clinic who has spent his career on this exact sort of thing. That made me feel a bit better, but I was still in shock, like, whoa, the Mayo? That's serious stuff...like the major leagues of hospitals! Sounded scary, but also a bit high class, ha. Within 15 min of our exam, we had an appointment set for next Wednesday up in Minnesota. And now we wait.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
Friday, May 4, 2012
Last Saturday, we noticed that there was a strange swelling on my right side. I thought, hmmm, maybe this is just some aftermath from all the antibiotics? There was no pain, no health complications, just a strange firmness.
Monday - nothing had changed and I started to get worried. I called to make another doc appointment, but alas, she wasn't available until Thursday. I made the appointment anyways, but asked a friend for another recommendation. She gave me the name for her doc, and here I sat dreading to have to talk to yet another secretary over the phone in French. (and believe me, I'm not the only one scared of using the phone. A french friend of mine, who's English is amazing, once told me that's her biggest fear at work was answering the phone...considering she didn't know if she might just have to spit out her English. Oh the dread of not understanding and being misunderstood! We joked that we should call each other just to practice, ha). Long story short, I didn't understand a word the secretary said, and finally she spit out a bit of English telling me that all new patients had to call the doc's cell to speak directly to her. Huh? Ok. So I did just that, and (in English) she flat out told me her schedule was too busy, and that if I was already seeing someone, then I needed to stick with her. Well F that. I felt like I just got slapped in the face. We then decided to drop in on my doc the next morning sans appointment.
Tuesday - Oh guess what, it's a national holiday so everything's closed. No doc was in. Step two, walk to the nearest hospital and see if we could see someone. This local hospital (guess is was more of a private clinic?) was closed. We again got some more advice from a friend as to where to find an 'urgent care' kind of facility (located in an actual hospital) so we headed there and took our place in the waiting room. About an hour later, we entered a small office and battled our way through explaining the whole situation in French. I'd been practicing everything in my head over and over, but when it was time to speak, it all got flubbed up. And man did this woman speak fast! If felt like utter failure, but we got the point across. She gave me a check up, then even called some other docs who worked in the hospital for their opinion. Nobody knew. I'm thinking WTF. She said the only way to know would be to do another blood test and get an ultrasound.
Wednesday - Back to the lab for more blood and urine tests. This place was easy. They spoke slow, and now I knew the routine...though there was some miscommunication about peeing in the cup. The directions sounded different this time, so I got confused. Turns out they needed me to wait a bit longer since I'd just recently peed, so they actually let me take the cup home for me to bring back later. You'd NEVER be allowed to do that in the US! Then the ultrasound. We were sent to a private hospital, just a mere 5 min walk down the street (seriously, the convenience is simply astounding!) and waited our turn to be called in. By the way, up to this point with all these visits, we had never had to fill out any paperwork whatsoever. So unlike the states. We would simply check in, wait our turn, then pay. It's kinda amazing. The other twist to all this is that I'd been meaning to send in my passport to get renewed so I'd have it back in time to travel home for the summer. I had a bad feeling about doing this before the exam (not like I'd ever needed to show ID up to this point), but something in my gut told me to hold on to it. I thought I'd postpone the post office visit until after the exam. Long story short, I actually did need to show my ID this time and I thought, holy crap. Close call! Adam and I were then brought into a room with a friendly radiologist who gooed me up and started the doing the 'échographie' (seriously, we've had to learn the most random vocabulary from this whole experience). We were both thinking, sheesh, we are NOT supposed to be having our first ultrasound experience together like this! I could only understand about a quarter of what the guy said, but the things we did understand were words like, voluminous, mass, kidney, bad, urologist. Then we were told to go back to the waiting room. I didnt know what the hell was going on now. Were we seeing another doctor? The secretary then called me up, said something I didn't understand about an appointment, then handed me the phone....ahhh! the phone! Guess I was making an appointment for something. Turns out it was for a CT scan the following day. The visit with the local urologist came about an hour later. We were so confused. But ahhh, finally, a doc who spoke English! He said whatever I had probably needed surgery to get it out, but the CT scan would tell a better story. So we went home anticipating yet another day of tests and the final say on what we should do.