Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Beating the Odds: Reality

It was my third visit this year alone. In May, it was cancer but we got it all. In August, at the end of my quarterly checkup, Dr. Nico said quietly there’s a funny area we need to take a look at-do a biopsy. In September the biopsy was done and two weeks later we still had no result. I left several messages for and he finally returned my call.



This is year 3 since my initial diagnosis but it keeps coming back. The first two years I had several clean quarterly checkups and only had to have surgery once a year, so I was confident that if I keep on top of it we can continue to catch it early, and I can sleep at night. After the first surgery I was really nauseous and felt like I was going to die for several days. By year two, I had discussed it with my doctor and the anesthesiologist and they now gave me anti nausea meds with made all the difference in the world during the days following the surgery.


Each time I prepared for an uncomfortable week in bed so I try to schedule mid week so I don’t lose much time at work. This time Dr. Nick said biopsy instead of surgery. This was a surprise. I had no symptoms at all, no warning. The tumors appear in my bladder and they have to put me out because it would be too painful to do under local anesthetic. The procedure involves taking the forceps and actually plucking the tissue from inside my bladder. He told me depending on what happens I might have to have a catheter in for a few days, but no way to tell until I’m out and he’s done with his job.


I discovered that the recovery from a biopsy is even more uncomfortable than surgery. Thank goodness for anti-nausea meds and Vicodin. I vaguely remember someone telling me “don’t pull the string” when I was waking up in the recovery room, but didn’t remember that until much later.


The greatest stress for me, as the patient, is that hospital policies will not allow me to drive or take public transportation home. I have to arrange for a friend or acquaintance to pick me up. On the morning of the procedure, I usually walk to the Coaster station near my home and take it downtown,then hop on the trolley to the closest station, and take a bus up the hill to the San Diego medical center. I’m not in pain until afterwards so it's just like any other day for me but with a bit more anxiety .


The procedure takes place but I wake up in recovery feeling a little sketchy but manage to pee so after calling my ride to pick me up. They wheel me down to the pharmacy and drop me off to pick up my meds. My friend shows up to give me a ride home, and she sees me standing at the pharmacy counter propping myself up with my elbows as I try to get someone to fill the RX before I get sick, and so that I am not taking up my friends entire Day. She has me sit down and takes my place in line, and when they finally call my name I switch places and she goes out to get the car.


I feel very fortunate that so far I haven't had to impose on anyone twice. The rest of the week flies by and I watch at least 20 episodes of the “Dog Whisperer on my DVR so I have been productive during this respite from work but don't think my boss will pay me for this knowledge. I am confident, however, that my dogs will thank me when I am transformed magically into a calm assertive leader.


Sometime during day 3 I take a look at the discharge instructions and note that I have an appointment for next week for ”stent removal”! Now that I’m thinking about it, I have felt much more uncomfortable this time, not in pain, just uncomfortable.


My only knowledge of stents was anecdotal, from my dad's multiple heart attacks. In my mind it was a grommet sort of thing, very similar to the tool that young guys use to stretch giant Ubangi holes in their earlobes. I am really perplexed and, for the life of me, can't figure out why I would have a stent. What the hell happened while I was out? Why didn't anyone mention it before they released me?


After several phone calls, I finally got through to my doctor who explained that the stent was to hold open the tube from my bladder to my kidneys so that I could pee, as this becomes inflamed during the surgery. He said they just leave it in a few days to be sure it doesn’t close up and cause other problems.


I went in to the office the following week, and checked in. Almost immediately a nurse came into the waiting room and escorted me to a room near the entry door. She told me it wasn’t necessary to get undressed, just to pull down my pants and lean back. She reached up and drew the curtain around us, I dropped my pants and leaned backwards over the tissue covered bed and in one quick movement she yanked the string and it came out.

Do you want to see it she said, and of course I said yes. It appeared to be a thin plastic tube about 18 inches long which apparently was coiled up inside of my bladder, and creeping through all of my internal bits and pieces leading to the outside world. You are kidding I said, no wonder I was so uncomfortable, and felt like I had put a tampon in the wrong way. Ouch. I was out of there in less than 5 minutes and back to work. Still no biopsy results.


When Dr. Nick returned my call, after several days, he told me that the lab technicians here in San Diego were not in agreement about the results of the biopsy, and that he had disagreed with both of them so almost 2 weeks ago they had shipped it to a hospital in Georgia where they specialize in such things. They usually got 2 to 3 day turnaround but no one had followed up, until I called. He told me that the controversy was over whether or not the cancer was invasive, but he hadn’t seen anything about my case that would warrant the use of that word. He explained that the biopsy technique could skew the results so the only way to prove it was a do over. So we booked it for October, after my birthday.


In October, I did my normal morning transit routine, and arrived at the hospital early. I couldn’t drink anything two hours prior to check in and they had no beds so I sat in the urology waiting room till check in time. Once I had a bed in the pre-op, and had changed out of my clothes and talked to every nurse on duty that day about one thing or another , my doctor stopped in to say hi, and then they turned on the drip, wheeled me down the hall, transferred me onto the operating table and the next thing I knew I was in recovery, a few hours later.


They called my high school friend who lived nearby and she headed my way. I managed to pee right before she called from the parking lot, so we just had to wait a moment for the girl with the wheel chair to escort me out to the curb. I was feeling OK right then although sitting was even more uncomfortable this time, and at least I figured out that once again the stent had become a part of my body for the next week at least.

I paid my neighbor to give the dogs a walk around the block that evening, and my friend Dana brought me turkey noodle soup and mashed potatoes from the cafĂ©. What a yummy combo! And a piece of pie! After eating something I took a vicodin and my antibiotic and went to sleep. This time my surgery was on a Wednesday, and by Friday I had confirmation from Dr. Nick that I was once again cancer free. I’m still trying to determine however if the surgery and the two biopsies and the doctors appointments, tests, and time off work was worth it. I guess if we didn’t take care of it none of the rest would matter.


I ordered a margarita pizza with garlic basil oil for dinner delivered. I even had a glass of wine, sent out an email to all my friends saying yeah! No cancer and had tons of attaboys in my inbox by early evening. For a couple of days I had noticed the stent string seemed pretty long on the outside of my body, so I had been very careful not to touch it, to sit carefully and do everything I could to forget it was there.


The pizza arrived and I ate it with delight, adding a salad to the fixins. I was watching shows I had taped on TV in the living room on the couch, when I felt the need to visit the ladies again, but it was like my youngest dog who held it until she couldn’t any longer, then let the flood come uncontrolled. Oh shit.

I vaguely remembered something in the discharge instructions saying if you couldn’t control this, you need to call your doctor immediately, so I did and they told me to come into the emergency room immediately. The emergency room at the San Diego Medical Center 35 miles away, not the closest emergency room. And they instructed me not to drive again.

Friday night 7pm who can I disturb for this stupid visit. I was not in pain, and figured out that the stent was probably just slipping out so it was hopefully time to remove it. Since I knew it takes just a second to do that, at least I shouldn’t be sitting around very long. I called my turkey soup friend, who is also the wife of a boyfriend from my 20s. She told me she’d be right there, and a few minutes later her husband showed up.

My friend is 60 something, and I am 59- we dated when I first moved to the area in the early 70s – almost 40 years ago. I knew his sister who is still around, his mother, who passed away years ago, and his younger brother who had died tragically. We had maintained yearly contact usually during the holidays, just a card, or a quick phone call. When I moved back to the states from overseas, I ended up living in San Diego just a few months before his wedding day- so he invited me to come, and his wife has allowed me to be part of their extended family.


I offered to let my friend drive my car so that if I leaked, it was my upholstery that would be disgusting. Since I’ve been weight watchers for years, of course my water intake is at least 3 times that of a normal human being, so by the time we headed for the hospital my flood had trickled to a drip, and the three beach towels I had folded up were more than adequate.

We drove down in silence with my thanks becoming repetitious and a bit irritatin, even to me.. He dropped me off in front and I went to check in while he parked the car.I know that he is very squeamish so I was actually surprised he volunteered to take me, since the swine flu epidemic was all over the news and hospital emergency rooms were usually full of people that were healthy.,..not.

I told them I had been instructed to come down immediately, and that the urologist on duty had already been consulted. They put a hospital bracelet on my wrist and told me to take a seat . A few minutes later my friend came into the room and sat down. We sat there for a few minutes, and he was very figity and finally asked if it would be OK if he sat in the car, and I said of course and laughed a little telling him I was surprised he even walked in the front door. He repeated his question to make sure I was OK with him sitting in the lot, and I encouraged him to do so, and that I would call him when it was all over.

A half hour later he brought me a coffee and a “reader” magazine then went back to the car. An hour later I was still sitting there and hadn’t been called. An hour and a half later I saw a nurse who took my temperature and blood pressure then sent me back out. During this preliminary exercise I told her, I thought we could just pull the stent and I’d be on my way, but she had to wait for doctor’s orders.

Two and a half hours later I was called in, this time with both the nurse from earlier and the doctor on duty, who was also a surgeon. I repeated my suggestion to pull the stent, and he agreed but first had to check with the urologist on call. I went back into the waiting room for the second time.

As I was walking back in, my friend came in to check on me. Before he could scoot out again, they called me back in, so I told him it should be just a few minutes now.

The doctor asked if I was comfortable having it removed in the triage area or if I needed a room. I told him we could do it in the waiting room if that was all that was available, so I pulled off my baggy pants behind the circular curtained area, he returned with the nurse, and two seconds later I was pulling my pants back on and heading for the parking lot.

On the way home I thanked my generous friend repeatedly for being there for me and my “pee pee” problem, particularly on a Friday evening. He pulled over, stopped the car and looked at me and said “You’d do the same for me” and smiled, and I responded “I would, you know that.”

And we continued back to my house, where he made sure I was settled before heading home to his lovely wife. I am blessed to have so many good friends.

copyright 2010 SharonJCorrigan



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