northwestmagpie: (Default)
[personal profile] northwestmagpie
Wow.

Talk about a long wait for a happy ending.



Back in 2006, as I posted before, I was diagnosed with a lump on my thyroid, not-so-affectionately nicknamed as "Get This Thing The Hell Out Of Me," or GT3HOOM for short. Over the years, as I dealt with my mother's decline and eventual death, and the effects of the stress of being her sole caregiver on my own health, I continued to bring up the existence of GT3HOOM to my doctors in Phoenix. They kept telling me, "We want to wait until your blood sugar's stable before we operate."

What happened here in Washington has cemented my opinion that doctors in Phoenix are one dead patient away from malpractice suits, and I should never have moved my mother back there - or myself, for that matter. But hindsight is 20/20, and other factors than our health figured into the relocation.

I've been in Washington for two years now. I moved here because I have several friends in the Pacific Northwest, and because it is beautiful up here. Even though I live in Tacoma, which is somewhat gritty and rundown compared to Seattle, I love the place. I love Tacoma, which is full of character and liveliness without the snobbery and oh-my-holy-God prices you find in Seattle. (And I admit, there isn't that much snobbery in the Emerald City. Besides, most people despise the hipsters too, so there's that to build camaraderie.) I live five miles from Puget Sound; I can walk anywhere and reach a store, a market, a place for coffee - dear God, there really are Starbucks everywhere, more's the pity - or just someplace to roam. Walkability's high here. The thing that hasn't panned out, unfortunately, has been steady, dependable work with benefits, so for two years, I also went without my diabetes medication. I blamed uncontrolled blood sugar for feeling tired and rundown myself.

In April, I finally bit the bullet and went to a doctor to get my prescriptions refilled. That very evening, the doctor called and insisted - at 10 p.m. - that I get myself to the hospital E.R. due to elevated calcium levels. That in turn led to a diagnosis of hyperparathyroidism. GT3HOOM had grown by 1.5 cm; it was placing so much pressure on my thyroid that my parathyroid glands were out of control as well. So, surgery was scheduled for July 25.

I had to report for surgery at 6 in the morning. ::thud:: I don't do mornings. In fact, I'd just as soon that mornings wait their turn like everything else in the day, like mail that informs you you've got a refund coming, or your paycheck on the day when every bill is due. (Or for the line at the only decent place serving coffee - NOT Starbucks - to go down.) But I was already used to getting up early for work, so I woke at 4:30, bathed, and got everyone up to come with me to the hospital.

Oh, yeah. Let me explain about that.

Life at the Black Rose Bar & Grill is not exactly a solitary one for me. I live with Stefan, his adopted little sister Annika, her husband Jason, their boys Bean and the Frog, and our housemates Charles and Jessi. Stefan is currently working up in Alaska, and so couldn't come with me to the hospital; however, Annika insisted she was going to stay with me until I came out of surgery, and Charles and Jessi insisted likewise. I'm not good at arguing with people who insist they love me. I've got a spine of pastry cream as it is; when people tell me, "We're worried about you, hon, and we want to make sure you come through okay," I fold like a card table. Stiff, clumsily, and with a great deal of noise. ;)

So that morning, all of us piled into my car, and I drove us up to the hospital. I checked in, signed a paper stating I would be responsible for the costs (estimated at around $19K - that that figure didn't kill me at once is a testament to the much-larger student loan debt I've carried for years), and then was led to a room to change. As Charles, Jessi and Annika waited outside the bathroom, chatting about the upcoming Dragon Age release and various Mass Effect strategies (yes, I live with gamer geeks; I even sleep with one), I changed into a gown that, in my eyes, was a great improvement over the things I saw Mom wear the last six weeks of her life. Those were cloth, but hardly covered her in back, and she was a small woman. Here I am, weighing about 175 pounds at 5'6, and the gown not only covered my back, it wrapped around my side. I practically swam in it. If I knew a thing about sewing, and had a needle and thread, I could have made some dandy darts and tucks and made a smashing impression on the surgeon.

The nurse took my blood sugar, and it was up - 253. That's not good. When it's controlled, my daily blood sugar tends to be between 115 - 180. Still, there was no eating; I had to get on the gurney and be wheeled to pre-op. As I lay down, my housemates waved to me. "Bye! Good luck! We'll be waiting for you!"

"That's what I'm afraid of," I shot back, as the nurse wheeled me away.

Now here's where things become blurry. I remember chatting with the nurse who said she'd be part of my operating team. I remember being fitted with the I.V. shunt. And I briefly recall being introduced to the head surgical nurse. After that, I recall waking up several times after the surgery was done before I woke up for good.

Here's what happened.

Surgery went perfectly, according to everyone. The thyroid and GT3HOOM were removed; GT3HOOM was found to be full of little nodules, and benign. Three of the parathyroid glands were removed.

However, I was put under using fentanyl, which is a painkiller similar to opioids. It's quite strong. I am also over-sensitive to it, as the nurses tried several times to wake me up after surgery without success.

This frightened my housemates, as I would rouse to murmur, "It hurts, it hurts," gesture to my neck, and then sink back under. At once point, they said, I did this several times in ten minutes, prompting what I can only describe as an Aurora Greenway moment from Annika and Charles. Nurses promptly switched me to Dilaudid, and I finally was able to wake up and stay awake. My surgery was at 10 a.m.; I woke up completely from surgery around 1:30 p.m.

Once taken to my room, the nurses asked how I was feeling. Tired? Check. Happy, unhappy, frightened, in pain? Happy, but in great pain - my throat was killing me. And that's where the sole misunderstanding of the day followed. Thinking I was referring to my incision, the nurses gave me an ice pack to put on the incision, ice chips to suck on, and followed it all with a Dilaudid pill. I promptly went back to sleep for 3 hours. Around 4:30, I woke up, and the nurse asked again how I was feeling. My response? "Great! But my throat hurts." Again with the ice pack and Dilaudid. Ding! Down for another three hours.

When the nurse came in at 7:30, he asked how I was feeling. "Really good, and I think I could eat something . . . but my throat is killing me." He looked concerned and asked where the pain was. I said, "Right here, but it's not the incision. That actually barely hurts. It's inside, like the inside of my throat's really inflamed." I could see an entire candelabra of light bulbs go off over my nurse's head, and he got me a packet of throat lozenges. I went from, "I really don't want to swallow anything, and even water is making me choke," to "Hey, I think I could swallow food now."

Of course, I didn't get actual food. I got broth, apple juice (ice cold, which tasted so good), and a sugar-free Italian cherry ice. I never had any popsicle that tasted as delicious as that ice. I'm going to buy some later this month.

I slept a little longer, and then had to ring for the night nurse so I could pee. (Yes, I'm sure you really wanted to know that, too.) Actually, they were happy that I could urinate, and really pleased when I rang to do so a second time that night. After the second time, the nurse asked if I'd like to go for a short walk. I was ecstatic; you'd have thought I was a puppy, going out to the park for the first time. However, my walk was disappointing - a very short jaunt around the nurses' station, then back to bed. I was hoping to get a tour of the entire floor. My energy level was already back to where it had been two years before.

Morning came; another trip to the bathroom, more questions about my pain levels, and - as a reward for not getting sick even once during the night - breakfast that consisted of real, true food: bacon and eggs with wheat toast, fruit, and milk. I was in heaven. It tasted wonderful, which was even stranger for hospital food. And then I was told I could go home, so I called the housemates; I changed clothes, got downstairs, and found they were there waiting for me.

Ever since, I've had an excess of energy. Unfortunately, part of that is due to the fact that my contracted job ended when I went in for surgery - something that would be illegal if not for the fact that temporary employees are as easy to discard as Kleenex. I'm expending part of that energy to look for work. As for the rest, I've had to find something to occupy my mind and time, and most of that has been spent catching up on chores and small repairs around the house. Earlier, it was doing laundry and bagging clothes for Goodwill. Yesterday, it was fixing the shower door, whose rollers had gotten stuck and needed replacing. This weekend, I'm volunteering to work up at the Snoqualmie Fall Forest Theater, handling the box office duties for the Saturday & Sunday showing of "Oliver!"

Except for some residual pain where my glands used to be, my throat is healing nicely. The glue came off, the sutures are good, and the swelling is steadily decreasing.


So now for the next step: getting my diabetes back under control . . . and changing my careers, because office work has burned me out, and temping is for the birds. But more on that later.

'Night, all. :)
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