Today was a day of great import. Or maybe just a day of great port. (tee hee) As I sit here typing this, there is a plastic catheter weaving its way through a large vein in my freshly shaved chest, directly into my heart.
Do you know what this means? I’m done getting needles stuck into my veins! Secondarily, it also means that I’m ready to begin chemotherapy, which will kick off bright and early tomorrow morning.
But that will be tomorrow’s story. Today, it’s all about the port. Theresa and I arrived on time to outpatient services, but the hospital was apparently experiencing a lot of emergencies today, so the check-in process ended up taking about a half hour. We proceeded to same-day surgery, the site of my neck biopsy a couple weeks ago. It felt a little like I was filming a movie and the surgery scene needed to be reshot: same pre-surgery staging area, same gown, footies and shower cap to wear (well, not the exact same, that would be disgusting), same IV in the same hand and same nurses.
After searching for a vein for a good while, the nurse got the IV in without a problem. The problem started when the anesthesiologist came by and started trying to convince me that the full, general anesthesia I had requested was overkill for such a minor procedure. Everyone I’ve talked to who had a port inserted told me that they were put to sleep for the duration. When I thought about being at all aware while doctors carved into my chest just below my head, I agreed that I wanted no memory of that. Even my oncologist told me that I would be put to sleep! Nevertheless, the anesthesiologist insisted that the hospital does 10-20 port insertions per week and that both the smallest, weakest child in the world and the Guinness World Record’s oldest living woman both received ports last week at this hospital and were not put under for it. I stuck to my guns, however, and he agreed to debase himself and give me general anesthesia just this once.
The resident came in next and informed me that she would have to shave my chest in order to put in the port. I joked that she could shave a Cubs logo if she was feeling artistic. “Well, I’m a Cardinals fan,” she replied. I’m doomed. We had the familiar discussion about what type of anesthesia I would have and she wished me sweet dreams. I told her I would dream about the Cubs in the World Series and she said that’s probably the only place I would see it.
A fresh-faced child entered the room next and told me that he was a medical student who would be watching the procedure and just wanted to introduce himself. Please watch the Cardinals fan.
The surgeon finally arrived and told me that everything would go well and that there was absolutely no reason for me to be put under. Sedation would do the trick. You’re not being put under. I’m not sure why this had to be such a fight, but I continued to demand my right to be unconscious. She eventually relented, but I think it was only because it was time for the surgery.
Another nurse arrived to drive me down the hallway to operating room #6. I slid from my cart to the operating table and then the fun began. My arms were first put on boards to my left and my right. As the anesthesiologist messed with my IV, the resident started shaving my chest while the med student collected the hair by repeatedly lashing me with a piece of tape. Meanwhile, the nurses tied my legs down (flight risk?) and put these massagers on my calves that served to stimulate the muscles so I wouldn’t get blood clots during the surgery. They then tied my arms down at my sides and the anesthesiologist slid a mask over my face and told me to take deep breaths. Eventually the air turned foul and I don’t remember much after that.
“Why are we giving him general?” someone asked. “Because I’m a wuss!” I yelled through the mask. That’s about the time that I stop remembering anything. Apparently there was even more discussion of this, because the surgeon told me afterward that they asked me yet again what I wanted and I said “I don’t want to feel anything.” I don’t remember saying that and I don’t know why they would ask me for my medical wishes after they were already sedating me. There’s probably a lawsuit somewhere in there.
I awoke in the recovery room, where the resident told me that everything went perfectly and wished me well in my treatment. I think I actually did dream about the Cubs, because I had Someday We’ll Go All the Way inexplicably stuck in my head. I started chatting semi-coherently with the recovery nurse and she told me that my voice reminded her of an actor that she couldn’t place at the moment. I noticed that my voice was much scratchier than it had been before surgery and that my throat felt raw. “George Clooney?” I guessed. No, it wasn’t him. She said she would probably be awake all night Googling to figure out which actor it was. Fun for some…
My attention soon turned to a semi-conscious elderly man on another cart that had just been wheeled into the room. “You’ve got a catheter in your junk,” said the male nurse pushing the cart. “That’s why you feel like you have to go to the bathroom. It’s in your bladder.”
I immediately felt a rush of gratitude for the easiness of my procedure…and the fact that he wasn’t my nurse. The recovery nurse that I had for my neck biopsy walked by and actually remembered me. “Weren’t you just here?!”
Eventually they wheeled me back to the pre-surgery staging area and transferred me into a chair. My left side felt a bit sore, but not terribly so. The real pain was in my throbbing throat, which apparently came from the type of equipment they had inserted to keep my airway open. Serves me right for demanding full sedation…
The nurse fetched Theresa and brought me the usual buffet of graham crackers and apple juice. After a few checks of my blood pressure, I was allowed to go home. There’s still a bandage on my port, so I haven’t actually seen their handiwork yet, but I can see that it’s slightly raised and I’m constantly marveling at the fact that something is poking into my heart right now.
While it’s easy to be sarcastic about all of these medical procedures and the various personalities I’m encountering along the way, it’s impossible to not be wowed by modern medicine. Before Lumpy arrived, I had no idea that there were so many procedures that were guided by radiology–allowing doctors to put a needle in a precise spot on your bone to grab some marrow or to guide a needle directly into a specific section of your heart. I’m in awe of what was done to me today and the fact that I’m already back in my house binging on Netflix a couple hours later.
As usual, I know that all the prayers helped me to remain calm and guided the hands of all who worked on me, so thank you very much for that. It’s hard to believe that I will finally be starting chemotherapy tomorrow. Chemo has been on the table since I was first diagnosed, but there seemed to be so many things to do before I would actually be sitting at that table. Now I’m tucking the napkin into my shirt and getting ready to dig in. While I’m still feeling uneasy about how my body might react to the treatment and what side effects I might have to endure, it’s exciting to know that I’m actually about to start fighting the cancer and eradicating it from my body. Let’s get it started!