Cancer Journal 4, 2019

This morning, we drove through pea-soup fog and darkness to the radiation therapy center, arriving just about the time the clean-up crew arrived. I much prefer to be half an hour early than 5 minutes late. Right on time at 7:15, the guys who do the work with the machinery and otherwise handle the radiation treatment invited me in to the treatment room. And, fifteen minutes later, the treatment was finished. Amazing!

We crossed the parking lot to the CHI St. Vincent Outpatient center and I checked in, an hour earlier than my 8:30 appointment time for day surgery to get a chemo port installed in my chest. Around 8:00 a.m., I was called in for a blood draw, which was accomplished by painfully stabbing me in the right arm, despite the process beginning with a painful stab in my left arm. I prefer pain-free single-stab blood draws. As I returned to the waiting area, my wife and I were asked to follow a young man into a “procedures” room, where he handed me a gown and a clothes bag and gave me instructions to remove everything and put it in the bag and put the gown on with the open end in back. He then left.

Before I could begin to do as he bid, a woman knocked and entered. She was carrying all manner of “stuff,” including three sealed bags in which antiseptic-soaked cloths awaited; she instructed me to use the three cloths as follows: wipe all over my front and back from my pants line to my neck with one cloth; wipe my arms with another cloth; and wipe my legs with the third. “Don’t wipe in on your hooha; it’ll burn,” she said. She also handed me a little sealed bottle that I learned later was full of orange antiseptic, along with a sealed plastic bag which held three q-tips. I was to dip one in the bottle and swipe it around the inside of one nostril, do the same with a second, and “dry” the nostrils with the third. Finally, she handed me a plastic-sealed toothbrush and a sealed bottle of liquid into which I was to dip the toothbrush, then brush my teeth and spit out the liquid. “Don’t swallow any.” After I finished all of that, she aid, I should put on the gown.

The woman then left and I did mostly as instructed, screwing up the “use one q-tip per nostril” part. About the time I finished, she returned, along with a nurse, and the two of them prepared me for the procedure. The nurse put an IV in my arm (no pain) and asked me a long list of medical questions. The tech did an EKG, put “leggings” around my calves to protect against blood clots, and gave me blankets. Finally, after about 20 minutes, they left (but not before an anesthesiologist came in, asked a few questions, and checked me over). And we waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. After well over an hour, I needed to pee. My wife went out looking for someone to help. Someone gave her a urinal. That worked. Finally, the doctor came in. He had lots of wrong information in his head about me. He thought my condition involved kidney cancer. He thought my doctor was someone I’d never heard of. Finally, he got it all straight. He assured me that the procedure would go well. Only 1 in 1000 of his patients had problems like a collapsed left lung. I did not inquire if I was patient number 999.

Not long thereafter, a different (much younger) anesthesiologist and a woman named Dallas came in and whisked me away to the operating room. The anesthesiologist told me I might feel a stinging in my arm when the sedation medication entered. I did. He said I might feel a stronger sting when the next medication entered. I did. Apparently, though, it knocked me out very shortly thereafter. The next thing I remembered was opening my eyes in the recovery room, coughing fitfully. A woman sat next to me and asked how I was doing. I told her I was reading a book called Cutting Remarks by a retired surgeon and that it was fascinating and absolutely riveting. Finally, they wheeled me in to another tiny private room and then ushered my wife in. We chatted off and on for 30 minutes until they told me I could get dressed and go home.

When we left the hospital, we drove across the street to Longhorn Steakhouse (I think), where we had lunch, then came home.

I was expecting very minor tenderness (because that’s what I was somehow led to believe I would experience) after the surgery. It is considerably more than mild tenderness. It is extreme discomfort. I’m typing this as I grit my teeth and wish I had some powerful pain killers. Actually, I guess I would rather not take them. I’ve already canceled my participation in tomorrow morning’s planning committee at UUVC and I’ve once again asked our friends to allow us to postpone the dinner we were planning for tomorrow night. I hope the tenderness/pain diminishes quickly and completely. I tell people I have an allergy to pain. I hope, especially, that by the time I go in for my Monday morning radiation treatment, the pain has subsided enough to make holding my arms in the required position on the table is not agonizing.

And, my friend Linda offered to drive me to the Tuesday appointment! If the tenderness hasn’t dissipated by then, I will take her up on it. I am so fortunate to have friends like her and the many others who have offered to do things for us.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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