Friday, January 22, 2010

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: The Tumor Speaks

For months she’s been going on about me, and, finally, I get my say. It’s about freakin' time. Ever been the victim of online character assassination? Well that’s what’s been happening on this blog and I’m pissed off. But then, you’d be pissed off, too, if you had spent years curled up against a kidney. You know what they talk about, back and forth, the pair of them? Urine. Absofreakinlutely boring. All pissing and moaning and urea. Guess it could have been worse. I might have been curled up with the lower intestines. There’s absolute crap conversation, if you get my drift.

I’m not some lump. I’m a spindle cell schwannoma -- a spin-off of a special type of neuron. That’s right, I have a brain. Or I am a brain. I’m the one who got the math genes. That’s right, Lin, you coulda breezed through algebra in high school if you had bothered to say hi, how are you, how do I factor this second-order polynomial. But no, never even the time of day. Slighted. Not that I expect anyone reading this blog to get it, ‘cause you’ve all bought in to crap that’s being slung like hash at a diner around here.

Let’s recap what I’ve been called over the last few months. An alien evil twin. A stealthy little “mass” bastard. Fatter than Jabba the Hut. Great, I get called names by some freaking Star Wars geek. Ever think that they kicked the wrong one of us out? She didn’t like my weight? Maybe she should have cut out snacking. Call me a freakin’ Cheeto? I’m surprised she weren’t screaming for Dr. Chin to pull out his light f-ing saber. "Remove it before Thanksgiving we cannot. Arrangements around people with real problems like FREAKING LIVER FAILURE we must make.”

Anyway, like any of this is really news to the ex-landlord. Don’t let her fool you -- she knew I was down here even back when she was a teenager. Always could feel something, only now it’s, "Eeek! There’s a thing down there! Get it out! GET IT OUT!!" Like Brad Pitt wanting to forget his TV debut as a guest on Growing Pains. Or David Hasselhoff trying to get past playing a character called Boner in the 70's soft-core comedy porn Revenge of the Cheerleaders. (Though in Hasselhoff’s case, you could argue that things never did get much better.) The point is, you can’t walk away from your past, or erase it, even if you do have a zipper installed fore to aft and try yanking it out.

Well, chick, I’m gone and you got your wish, though soon you’re gonna wish you hadn’t, 'cause now all your parts are bouncing around, not knowing what to do. Who do you think kept them in line all these years? Your spleen and stomach? Constantly going at it. Constantly. It was like having that middle-aged couple next door to your apartment screaming and yelling and breaking things, then getting pissed off at you when you called the cops. I’m the one who kept them from tearing each other apart. You thought I was on an extended vaca down there? I was working on keeping your digestive and excretory systems from getting on your ass. Literally. Think it’s easy being squashed this way and that? Think you know what it’s like to be uncomfortable? Try having the whole mass of you sitting on your head. It’s no picnic.

And your surgical triumph? Pictures with Dr. Chin, acting like a QVC presenter, holding me up like I’m an object on display with the phone lines manned for the flood of orders. (Oh, and Doc, what’s with the cold hands? Jeez, get your circulation checked, OK?) At least Linnnnnn -- I lose track of how many goddamned n’s to add -- got her privates and the "girls," including the vaunted party boob, left politely out of site on the blog. Me? Everything hanging out. The frickin' nurse who took the picture didn’t even get my good side!

I’m done. I’m so done. Gone. Outta there and not going back. Play the parts referee yourself, girl. These days I’m a lot happier, in a jar, floating around -- got a view, finally, even if it is from a lab shelf. Yeah, the formaldehyde smells, but let me tell you, sitting by the kidneys was no bed of roses, if you get my meaning. This is like perfume in comparison. Hmm, think I’m ready for lunch. Where do I call for room service?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

While I Was Knocked Out Or Doped Up, The Ladies Kept Vigil

My Mom and Daughter reflect:

  • 5:00 p.m. -  Linda's surgery begins. I am sure God is sick and tired of hearing my constant and continuous prayers, but I keep them up non-stop.

  • 5:30 p.m. - Friend Lyndol makes me eat a fragrant bowl of onion soup--first food since 6:00 a.m. Yum!

  • 6:00 p.m. -  Nurse in the surgical waiting room gives me a number, just like a butcher shop.  Linda's surgery is the 45th of the day.

  • 6:30 p.m. -  Lyndol leaves and Linda's dear friend Toast (Dave) arrives full of funny stories about Disney "letting him go" after over 30 years. Toast buys me ice cream, Yum Yum!

  • 8:00 p.m. - Doors slam shut, alarms beep "red alert, red alert" over and over. FIRE! Nurse says stay calm, due to construction fires are common.

  • 8:45 p.m. - Dr. Chin says Linda did very well, and shows us photos of a HUGE red tumor.

  • 9:00 p.m. - Toast (suggests I follow him in my car) and leads me through multiple massive fire engines to the road home after l2 nerve banging hours at the hospital.

  • l0:00 p.m. - Crawled into Linda's bed at home which smelled sweetly of her. I was sniffed my her cats who wondered who in the world I was.

  • l0:l5 p.m. -  One last prayer. Thank you God for everything.

This empty room we were stuck in was not home. Enclosed in our glorified prison stood a small (very uncomfortable) recliner, a dresser drawer, a large window in the back wall and a huge hospital bed were she was now lying. The walls were chipping; the florescent lights would flicker on and off. And no matter how much we cranked the AC it always seemed so cold in the room.

So… dead.

As the days went by I would sit in my chair next to her bed and observe the nurses do their daily routine. They would burst through the large door on the opposite side of the room and without even the slightest acknowledge of my existence they would check her vitals. They would walk in and mumble a few words to themselves and then walk right back out without even a hint of a smile or a pleasant hello. They were strangers just getting their job done so that they could continue on with their lives and completely forget about my mother’s. Half of them didn’t seem to even know her name or even care enough to find out. Though my mother wasn’t really in shape to launch into an intellectual conversation a little compassion would have been appreciated.

Out of the dozens that entered our “lair” only one stood out as being an angel. Her name was Tiny. She was a beautiful Indian woman who wore every emotion on her sleeve. Just being in her presence could bring you back from the brink of depression. She was kind and good. Anything mom needed and Tiny was all over it like a bum on a ham sandwich. She would come into our room and encourage my mother to walk and eat and go to the bathroom by herself. Without Tiny I don’t think she would have recovered as quickly as she did.

Although most teenagers could never imagine sticking around to watch their mothers in such agony, I (on the other hand) had to be there for her. To tell her that the walls were not moving. That everything was not in a weird tint of red. That there was not writing on the walls. I had to be there whenever a pillow needed adjusting. Whenever she had a desperate need to press the “happy button”. I needed to be there whenever the lights were too bright or she just needed someone to hold. I had to tell her that I was here for her always because I was her only piece of home and she needed that. And I wanted to be with her.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rapid In and Out is not Fast Food, The Tumor Pictures

*If medical/surgical photographs alarm you or make you uncomfortable, allow me please to forewarn you.

Almost at once that week Dr. Chin had a cancellation. When I was called to see if I wanted the spot on his surgery schedule, I had one hand on my car keys and the other on the door. But I tamed my renegade impatience long enough shave my legs, wash my hair and wait for my pillar/rock/anchor/emotional gravity/best friend to arrive: Mom. (I know, I know. Silly vanity. But I considered it a courtesy not to present my naked anesthetized body clad in a layer of scratchy unsightly Sasquatch fur. I wanted to smell all soapy nice and look just a little like I care about personal grooming. Little did I know how little that means to anyone along the line.)

Mom did so well with the punch biopsy so I tapped her to be my Big Surgery Girl. Things were moving quickly enough now that we barely had a second to play The Glad Game as we navigated the suddenly molasses-slow streets to the hospital where we were to report to “Rapid in & Out” for surgery prep. And oh! We got a call saying that the surgery could even be moved UP and hour if I were ready…

As such I delivered myself up to the Hospital Machine and donned my snap-on ass revealing gown and Big Bird yellow socks with no-slip treads. I was invited to jump up on the hospital rolling bed and the surgery prep nurse installed an IV. I am really picky now about my IV’s since she spoiled me rotten. She numbed up my arm at the site of the needle stick and went deep to a gorgeous plump unafraid vein that didn’t roll or blow out. It was in just the perfect spot where no matter what position the crook of my elbow adopted, it never clogged up, never hurt. What a pro!

Mom brushed and arranged my hair in a high ponytail/bun thing and observed that it had been around 45 years since she had last fixed my hair. That struck a cord. I welled up.

We chatted, we listened to the little boy in the next curtained room fight the nurses at every turn until they gave him the happy juice and he giggled, we watched half-sedated adults roll by perched like Mardi Gras floats amidst their IV bags and other beeping flashing monitors followed by their surgical teams, we even napped a little. They took my blood pressure about 7 times. Yes, there was a delay. That's me ----> and part of Mom's boob. Blurry self-portrait.  Dr. Chin popped his head in a couple of times as he picked up his surgery subjects who were scheduled before me. We reviewed details and joked around about preserving my modesty in the operating room, (like I have any modesty left at all!) and then again he was off in the slipstream of his big surgery day.

After 4 hours of waiting, when Mom’s head tipped back and her eyes closed for a cat nap, I was surprised to find myself at peace. No fear. I felt every person who offered to hold my hand in spirit, offered to pray for me, was rooting for me to attack this thing and come through it successfully. Every person who ever loved me came to me at that moment and I felt mantled in warmth just like the lovely heated blankets with which they comfort you in the hospital.

Lyndol arrived, a wise spiritual woman and talented writer and director of plays, and her timing could not have been better. I was glad that Mom would have someone to lean on for a little when I went. And suddenly, rolling like a thunder storm, in swept my surgical team. The anesthesiologist was refreshingly direct and spoke of how he would have to tap a few more veins or even run a central line if I needed a transfusion. (Ooooh! A central line! I saw that on Grey’s Anatomy. Yikes!) He went about feeling my wrists and feet like a starving vampire for accessible blood vessels. A little tiny surgical nurse kicked the brake out from under my rolling bed and I reminded her: “Please take a picture of this tumor when it’s out ok? Dr. Chin says it’s ok.” And she laughed and said “Will do!”

“Ok, Linda here comes something to relax you.” “It’s about time I got the good stuff. Bring it! I love you Mom! Here we go…”

Speeding down the hall, rolling and my feet in front of me, Big Bird socks, double doors open, open sesame, magical, double doors again, blackness.

And here’s what they took out of me. 

Doesn't it look like that thing that chased Sigourney Weaver around in space?  See all that draped off area behind?  That's me in a supporting role with my anesthesiologist and a pal.  I think the other guy is suturing me up or something. 

Check out the size of that sucker.  And, hey look!  That's me sans draping back there.   They've flipped my boobs back to get them out of the way and have otherwise preserved  my dignity (read: covered my lady parts) with the clever camera placement of excised tumor with ruler.

Dr. Chin proudly displays the target which has been intercepted and extracted successfully.

Next:  Recover! I Dare You!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I Got The Guy Who Transplants Livers! I Win!

Testing. 1-2-3. Test. Test. (Thump! Thump!) Is this thing on? Ok, great. Thanks. And Happy Thanksgiving everybody! What? More like Happy New Year? Oh. Well, I’ve been away.

Who knew how long it would take for me to sit up, rub my eyes, and wonder what the hell happened?

What I do know: The mass/growth/tumor/parasitic alien life form is gone. It is out! Evicted! Sent packing! Kicked to the curb!
 What I didn’t know about recovering: A bunch. And maybe it was best I didn’t ahead of time.

Where did we leave off? Oh yes. The tumor is benign but still needing the boot.

Surgeon next -

I got so damn lucky to hitch my wagon to the local rock-star cutter who routinely transplants livers and kidneys here in Central Florida. Dr. Tom Chin. A man who really knows his way around the abdominal cavity and could probably differentiate a spleen from a liver by feel with his eyes closed. Here he is in full Master Ninja Surgeon garb ready to systematically untangle my necessary guts from the mysterious entrail-invading completely useless “spindle cell schwannoma” residing in my midsection.

After I harassed his staff into submission by calling about thirty times to score an appointment, we met in his office for a huddle on what it would take to make this surgery happen. He first struck me as one of those amazing Asian Zen-men, very serious, systematic and focused. His medical pedigree included a tony up-east medical school diploma and some pretty high-falutin’ award-y credentials. He quietly studied my “films,” and my file. And, to my complete delight did not baby me with medical double-speak. He cut right to the things that may prove most challenging “once we get in there.”

"It looks like this thing is pushing on your ureter and kidney. Might have to take the kidney if it is really compromised.”

“Ok. I get it. Although I’d like to keep the kidney if I could.”

“If it has infiltrated your vena cava, we might have to re-sect it which is complicated. May require some transfusion. Lots of vessels there.”

“Well, I have heard that the vena cava is much easier, less pressure to mess with than the aorta, so ok.”

He then felt my stomach for palpable evidence of something sinister hiding there. I swear the tumor sensed its doom and recoiled at his touch.

“What do you think Dr. Chin?”

“I’m just figuring out whether to go horizontal or vertical here.”

“Hey, my bikini wearing days are long gone. This mess goes from my ribs to my groin. Make yourself a hole and have at it. And when you yank this thing out, can someone take some pictures of it?”

And with that, it was “on.”

With a big smile, Dr. Chin said, “I can’t guarantee the quality of the pictures, like it might be a camera phone or if I’ll even remember because I’ll be in the zone. Y’know? But remind the surgical nurse beforehand and we’ll do it! Do you have any other questions?”

“Yes. Is this surgery interesting to you?”

I needed to know if the sheer rarity of this type of growth piqued his interest, made him curious, departed sufficiently from the routine to make him think “hmmmmm!”

“Oh yes!” he replied. That was enough for me. We shook hands on it.

Oh oh. This writer is tired, sore and must rest now, but the story gets good and there’re really cool pictures too! So look for it coming up…

Next: Rapid In and Out is not Fast Food