Thursday, May 30, 2013
It is the evening of the day. There will a thousand more evenings, and a thousand more days, but this evening, I have been told I am cancer free. I’m both grateful and wary. I have discovered that these tricky cells have an amazing ability to hide from plain sight, and then reappear, a neat and disconcertingly nasty magic trick. Three times, a surgeon has told me that surgery to remove this tumor or that patch of tissue has been successful. I have also been told, three times as well, that the cell mutation had returned.
On the sunny afternoon of this latest intervention, I lost count of the medical personnel that came by my pre-op bed.
The first was a middle-aged Asian nurse with a strident command of English. She muttered at the computer displaying my medical records, shouted two or three times to unseen staff, then looked at my arms and mumbled, “Bad veins… Bad veins…” But it might have been, “Vad beins…”
The second was not properly a medical person. His name was Jack, he wore a well-trimmed navy blue one-piece coverall, and he ran a mop down the hallway and under my bed. He grinned and flashed a V-sign, which unaccountably made me feel better.
Then came two more nurses, a sort of Abbott and Costello team, who spoke about me as if I weren’t there. “His blood pressure is sort of high,” said one. The other agreed. I refrained from asking if their blood pressure might be elevated if roles were reversed. The shorter one told the other I should put my surgical shower cap on. They were in agreement on that as well. I asked if I might delay this until I was wheeled into the operating room but both were insistent. I put the cap on and took it off as soon as they left. None of the other people who saw me seemed offended by this.
There was a pre-pre-anesthesiologist who told me the pre-anesthesiologist would be along any minute now, which was an obvious falsehood. There was a nurse who walked by my bed, turned around and yelped, “Back! Back!” while making strange shooing movements with her arms. It took a moment to realize she wanted me to slide up into my bed as my feet were hanging off the mattress. She adjusted the bed to lower my butt, raise my feet and make them higher than my head. When I said this was not a comfortable position, she got sort of miffed.
The pre-anesthesiologist arrived with the anesthesiologist whose cell phone rang four times in six minutes. A second anesthesiologist came and gave me papers to sign. I told her I wanted to avoid opiates which generally do not agree with my lifestyle and she said this shouldn’t be an issue.
Then I waited, and waited some more, and some more. A nurse came and inserted one IV in my left hand and another in the crook of my right elbow. Another nurse looked on. A third one put the cap back on my head. Jack returned with his mop and bucket.
Each and every one, save Jack, asked me the same questions: Name, age, allergies, what was I here for, name of my surgeon, my primary doctor, did I suffer from sleep apnea, was Latex a problem, was I feeling all right? (“Just peachy, thank you!”). Each and every one wrote something on a clipboard, entered some information on the computer.
The surgeon arrived to tell me what was planned. He did not use terms like “slice and dice,” which I appreciated (another surgeon, talking to an acolyte just before I was to be operated on a year ago, used the term ‘butchered.’ This was not reassuring.)
There were more people who gathered round; more questions, more answers. Someone patted my shoulder and the world went away.
When I came to about two hours later, a statuesque young nurse with a Colgate smile asked how we were feeling. Trying to impress and amuse, I said something like, “Me, I’m ok. You, I don’t know.” I am not at my best post-surgically. IVs were removed. So was the surgical cap. I kept the little tan sock booties with the rubber treads on the bottom because, who knows, things like that can be useful around the house.
A week later, the body still hurts but the spirit is good. I’ve been told it will take about a month to properly heal internally. In August, another procedure will reveal whether, this time, the bad cells have taken the hint and stayed away. Let’s hope so.