Thank God That’s Over!
I have been thinking about what to write to tell about my experiences in the hospital. It was a long eight days. Some of them were spent pretty loopy yet I think I remember most of the time I spent there. I checked in Friday, the 17th. Did my pre-op stuff, at which I’m an expert now since that was my fourth time to go under anesthesia in less than a year. The surgery took ten-and-a-half hours. I vaguely remember getting back to the ICU afterward. My mom and Jake were there with my suitcase. They left and then I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t have my phone so I used the hospital phone to call Jake and he brought mine to me. Cliff came to see me. I slept.
The next day I woke up feeling totally drugged, thank God. I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t been I would have been screaming in pain. I had six drains – two under each armpit and two in my lower abdomen, underneath an incision that makes a smiley face starting at the side of each hip, further back from where your jeans seam would be on the sides. I had an incision on each breast – about an inch long from the side, then in a circle about the size of an areola, then another inch. Picture Harry Potter glasses with cleavage in the middle instead of a nose piece and that’s what my incisions look like. The inside of the circle on each breast is flesh from my abdomen, and instead of breast skin full of frankenboobies my breasts are now full of fat from my belly. Hence my belly button was removed and replaced back in the middle after they cut and stretched my stomach skin and stitched me back up. So yes, in a long and roundabout way I did get a tummy tuck. Don’t for a second be jealous because I would gladly have my old saggy boobs and stretch-marked belly back instead of going through all this!
The drains are plastic tubes with bulbs on the end that provide continuous suction. They are completely gross. They have to be “stripped,” which means that you hold tightly the part right where it enters the body then pinch the tube with your other hand and pull toward the bulb while compressing the tube. Then when the bulbs fill up you empty them. The ones by my breasts were small tubes, maybe ¼” in diameter, the two by my abdomen are bigger, almost as big as my pinkie fingers. They are stitched in to my skin at the insertion points. As much as I dislike them they are my friends because they drain off all excess cell waste from surgery (a.k.a. pus.).
The first couple of days are blurry. I was bedridden. Taking a lot of Norco. And I had a magic pain button that gave me dilauded when I pushed it (but not more than once in nine minutes). The ICU nurses were not stripping the drains like they were supposed to so the ones by my abdomen kept leaking at the insertion point and making a mess everywhere. I had some visitors, I think I remember who all came but I could not tell you what we talked about.
Sunday my platelets and white cells were low, which contributed to my feeling miserable. I didn’t get to leave the ICU. Monday there was no room for me on the surgical oncology floor so I stayed in the ICU that day as well. They took out the catheter and physical therapists came to get me up to walk. When they swung my legs around the side of the bed the drains leaked all over the place like I was having a baby and my water had broken. It was mortifying and of course the PT’s were both men. I had to stand there while the nurse cleaned it all up and the PT’s held my arms, my legs wobbling, holding six drains and a small bag holding a numbing medicine that was continuously going into my abdomen with a tiny catheter inserted by my right hip and taped to my side. I was wearing a hospital gown and nothing else, and we all know how private those are. Cancer treatment is even more invasive than childbirth, because at least childbirth is over in a day or two. Using a walker I walked out of my room and about five feet past. It was utterly exhausting. My legs were weak, and I could not stand upright because the skin on my front side is too short for my body and needs to slowly stretch. It hurt my back to walk hunched over. The effects of pain meds and ten-and-a-half hours of anesthesia left me achy and twitchy. I have to say, though, that my throat was not sore after surgery and my breath was strong. That anesthesiologist must have been really good because after previous surgeries my throat and lungs felt awful.
By Monday night my right arm had rebelled against IV’s. My left arm cannot be stuck because I have no lymph nodes in that armpit. The doctor didn’t want to use my port-a-cath for the IV so he ordered that I get a PICC line put in. A special nurse consultant came to put it in at about 10:00p.m. I had already had a sleeping pill and 2 pain pills but sadly was not asleep. She prepped my arm and put a sterile dressing over my body, then put some lidocaine in my arm and proceeded to put in the PICC line, which is a line that went into my vein in my arm just above my elbow and actually ended up in the same vein by my heart as my port-a-cath. I’m certain that I could not feel pain with all the drugs that I was on, yet I was very traumatized by the insertion of the damn PICC line. For one thing the nurse that came to put it in was like a young version of the crazy cat lady with poor social skills. Then she tried to get me to wear a sterile mask, which I promise you smelled like cat pee. Also she raised the bed waaaaay up in the air so that it would be at a good level for her, which I understand. But my poor drugged up self was completely freaked out being up high, covered with this sterile sheet and not knowing what all she was doing to my arm. I looked the opposite way and kept pressing that dilaudid button. If it gives you medicine it beeps once, if it’s too soon for medicine it beeps twice. I basically pressed that damn thing continually for the duration of the insertion of the PICC line, causing this awful beeping noise the entire time. As near as I can tell, the actual insertion is a three-part process. I remember feeling something going in my arm, past the muscle. Then I heard something that sounded like a drill and then she said, “OK now this is the big part going in.” The BIG part?!!? By the time she left I had had it. Two women came in with a portable x-ray machine to take an x-ray and make sure the line was in the proper place.
As I think I have mentioned, I was a little drugged up. So this is where it gets funny. The ladies came in laughing. They were petite and I perceived them to be little Polynesian women having a roving hospital party. One of them came to my bed and said, ”We’re going to lay your bed flat.” I told them no because I can’t lay flat. So they slid this (probably lead) board behind my back and took the xray, then slid the xray board out. When they left I told my nurse that if the PICC line didn’t work they were all fired and I was leaving. Then I called Cliff crying and told him that he was going to need to come pick me up because I was ready to go home and could we get margaritas on the way home. Smart man that he is he said of course he would come get me and take me for margaritas. Luckily the PICC worked and I went to sleep.
The next morning I awoke to Dr. Hotter by my bedside. He did his assessment; I can’t really remember what he said. But when he left I giggled because I realized that a hot doctor had woken me up. Facebook post from that morning:
Totally hot dr woke me up today just like in my dreams! Except in my dreams we are at a beach house and he’s naked too.
Later that day I got released to the 7th floor surgical oncology ward. Moving there from ICU is like moving from solitary to the general population in prison. There’s a window in the room that you can see out of from the bed and the bathroom has walls around it and a door. My male nurse that day was adorable. Facebook status after moving to room 712:
Jake Gyllenhall is my nurse on the 7th floor. I am not even kidding. Or hallucinating. Lordy!
I spent the next few days on the 7th floor walking a bit on my own with no walker, and watching a lot of TV. The day nurses were excellent, the night nurses were not so excellent. One told me I would be getting a shot at 11:00 in the afternoon. Um, okay. The same nurse didn’t give me pain meds in the night, so when I woke up at 4a.m. I thought I was going to die. One night nurse pulled on a stitch, pulled on a drain, tried to give me the wrong sleeping pill, and didn’t run the right labs, which caused me to have to get IV meds in the middle of the day instead of early morning, which meant that I had to drag the damn IV pole with me every time I got up for four hours. They did not endear themselves to me.
Thursday night I ordered a Gardenburger for dinner from the cafeteria. I took a bite and started chewing and then realized that it tasted wretched. I looked and saw that it was a turkey burger. When I called room service about it she said, “Well you didn’t say veggie burger, you said Gardenburger.” Turkeys grow in the garden? I was pretty annoyed. But Dr. Potter came at about 8:40 that night and that made it better. Facebook post from Thursday night:
Dr. Hotter came to tuck me in tonight. I think he has a crush on me. I mean, he did a few dr things while he was here but I think they were just an excuse to see me.
Friday came – eight days of being in the hospital were enough!! I got to come home Friday night. Audra came in town to take care of me. I am blessed with incredible friends. She drove me home – free at last!! Except that it took me quite a while to get up the stairs. Ouch! With over 37” of incisions on my body it was not easy.
Not easy, in fact, describes the last year. BUT that was the last big surgery on this mountain of cancer. A reprieve from surgeries is welcomed – I’m running out of body parts!