The Problem With Elbow Celebrity… (Part Two)

…is you kind of forget the rest of your body is attached. And whatever fate happens to the elbow? It happens to YOU.

*If you missed my elbow’s 15 minutes of fame.

My first visit with Dr. God:

Typical exam room, if we ignore the stunning photographs of men and women free climbing. Little rocks like El Capitan in Yosemite.

Free climber credit
copyright: Corey Rich

I’m distracted by the free climbing photos.  Free climbing: a human with talc on their fingers and good climbing shoes, going up, oh I don’t know, a granite slab the size of two Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other.

To get an idea of scale:

The yellow dot is a helicopter.  about an inch about are two small bumps.  Those are tents (portaledges)  specifically made to dangle off a sheer cliff, so you get a good night's sleep. Since you have at least 5 more days to go...
The yellow dot is a helicopter. about an inch above it, on the rock face, are two small bumps. Those are tents (portaledges) specifically made to dangle off a sheer cliff, so you get a good night’s sleep. Since you have at least 5 more days of climbing to get to the top. If the weather holds.

See? Distracted. El Capitan is one of my favorite rocks. We visit Yosemite often.  Why would a neurosurgeon have free climbers in his exam room?

Enter Dr. God.

I don’t want to talk about the lump.  I want to know about the photos. It would be impossible for a surgeon to be a climber (one look at a climber’s fingers and you understand).

My ability to ask intelligent questions when denial is already onboard, and I’m flummoxed by photographs of climbers? Out the window.

He jumps into the gap.

“So! Hi. I’m Dr. God.”, big, honestly friendly smile, “whatcha got there?”

I like him immediately. He wants to know the answers to all kinds of unreasonable questions I never considered: when did it appear? How fast would I say it’s growing? Does it roll around, or is it immobile?

“Uh”, I say.

“Results are back from the MRI”, he says, “it looks like it’s growing on an offshoot of the Ulnar nerve.”

It really is on the last nerve of my funny bone. Oh. My. God. That’s hilarious!!

He rolls the lump around as far as it will roll. “Does this hurt?”

“Nope”, I say.

“Any numbness?” he continues.

“Only if I do this?”, I say, holding my arm up in the air. I add, hoping to show I’ve paid some attention to myself, “…but I have to hold it up there for a while.”

“How long?”, he asks.

“About now”, I reply.

Nice.  That was all of two seconds. Could I look ANY more moronic? NO.

“Here’s what I think we should do…”, he says, conversationally, “I want to take a deep tissue biopsy of the lump. It’s surgery, we knock you out. We’ll biopsy it while you’re on the table, and if it’s cancer, we close you back up.  If it’s not cancer, we take it out.  If we just want to be extra super SURE it’s not cancer, we close you up, and send the sample to a special lab for extensive testing. Then if it comes back benign, we reschedule another surgery, go back in and remove the lump.”

What I hear: “lalalalalalala TWO SURGERIES  lalalalalala”.

What I deduce from what I hear: Any surgeon who says “super sure” while describing their surgical plan, is a keeper.

Oh, whoops. He’s still talking?

“I called a surgeon friend at Sloan-Kettering. He’s the head of Surgical Oncology, and I ran it by him. Sent him the MRI and Ultrasound. He thinks we’re on the right track. I think we should just go for it.”

His tooth twinkles reassuringly.

I do not want to know the worst case scenario. I want the Disney scenario. I search for a reasonable, but innocuous question.

“What is it?”, I ask, finally, “a tumor?”

“I don’t know”, he says, “Probably. Could be cancer, could be benign.  We really won’t know until we get in there. I’m hoping it will be a benign nerve sheath tumor.  If that’s what it is, you will probably lose feeling in your arm here…” he taps my forearm, “and depending on how invasive the roots are, you might lose some function.”

That’s the Disney scenario? I rearrange the songbirds and ribbons. Numbness? Fine. Loss of function? I can ride Hudson one-handed. Better than it not being benign.

I’m onboard. I nod.

“Okay. That’s all doable”, I say, making him a very relieved surgeon.  I’m not going to freak out.

I get it, suddenly. We’re free climbing here.  No helmet, no ropes, no clips. Nothing but his incredible skill, good shoes and a chalk bag. He’ll get in there, follow the best route he can find, and follow it to its hopefully butter cream outcome.

(I resist the urge to tell him my “frosting tumor” theory.)

“Why can’t you just take it out?”, I say, “I mean, you could just take all of it out and then biopsy, right?”

He breaks eye contact with me, and backs away. Folds up my chart. Moves to a chair on the other side of the room. WHOA. What did I do?

There’s a long silence.

In a slow and deliberate tone, he says, “If it’s cancer, we can’t take it out.”

Can’t?

“I guess you should know”, he says, unhappily, “it’s a possibility you’ll have to face.”

I wait.  He folds his arms and becomes very still. “We would close you back up, and tell you to go live your life. There’s no survival rate.”

WHAT?! I feel FINE. What does “no survival rate” mean? A month? A year? He sees all this go across my face. In that moment, I felt really bad for him. Who wants to be the person that has to say this?

Then I see a hopeful thought go across his face.

He brightens up. Uncrosses his arms, smiles kindly. “That’s the worst case scenario. Probably not what’s going to happen. But, you do need to be prepared. You know, if that’s where we end up, I could buy you some time.  I can remove your arm.”

REMOVE MY ARM?

~~~~~~

Outcome: I have both arms! 

While it was shocking to go from “hey look a lump!” to “one-armed Jane” in a single sentence, the tumor ended up being the no-way-do-you-have-this, impossibly rare, non-cancerous wacko tumor. Thank you, God. 

I found out later (when he threw himself on me post-op in a giant bear hug, crying.) he was fairly certain it was cancer. Thus the call to the expert at Sloan Kettering. 

The tumor grew from a single cell that lost its marbles, and multiplied like crazy, a very fast growing tumor mostly on the nerve sheath. Even more lucky? The tests couldn’t show exactly where it attached. Once inside, he found instead of being on the ulnar nerve, it was growing on a small branch of the radial nerve. That’s the nerve that sends messages UP your arm, not down to your fingers.

The ONLY removal side effect is occasional..wait for it…waaaaait for it…put down hot beverages…

armpit numbness

…until the nerve regenerates. Of all the terrible things that could have been, it only left me a little numbness in my armpit. If I’d been asked where I’d choose to be numb, it would not have occurred to me to think “I know, let’s go with the armpit!” while cataloguing body parts as locations for potential numbness.  

I have angels, with a terrific sense of humor, watching out for me.

(El Capitan with no gear.)

Snore-A-Long: It’s a Guy Thing

The doc calls out, after the nurse waves me to the surgery waiting room, “See you in 4 hours!’

Four hours?  I can handle 4 hours of imagining Shaun’s knee near a reciprocating saw, right?

Um. No. I will surpass “train wreck” and go right to “please sedate me soon” status within an hour.

I wobble down the unnaturally bright hallway.  An open door leads invitingly to a windowless, very dark, unlit room.  Oh. Shaun has the first surgery. No one else is here yet.

There’s a dirty bundle linen wadded up on one of the chairs. Blech. I calm myself. Ohmmmmmm. Surely no orderly would leave Ebola infected linens lying around?

Note to self: buy purse large enough to hide industrial-sized can of spray disinfectant.

I walk in. The dirty linen is wearing a baseball cap and snoring. I don’t turn on the light. Poor soul has probably been up all night waiting on a surgical outcome from the emergency room.

I scan for a seat at a reasonable distance from the snoring linen.

That’s when I realize a total of five men are sprawled, draped and squashed around the room, all sound asleep, on what amounts to deluxe bus stop benches that the hospital is trying to pass off as sofas and chairs. (They’re padded! They have backs!)

I wedge myself into a dark corner, in one of a handful of “chairs”.

They are all snoring. Loudly. Emphatically. It’s an Opus of snoring. A remarkably harmonic symphony of snoring. It’s snoring as Wagner would have composed. It’s Ride of the Valkyries snoring. This has to be the work of Mr. Chips.

I try not to worry about Face-Plant guy. He’s sleeping face down, in a sort of road-kill position. Is it possible to be dead and still snore?

I sit quietly, lulled by Guy Snoring.

30 minutes go by before I realize I’m NOT ANXIOUS. This is so unexpected, I’m shocked to find I’m amused.  The Guy Snoring seems to have a serene, calming effect on my nerves.

Dear Universe,

I apologize for thinking you forgot me on the humor-front. This is awesome!.

Love,
Jane

I email a description of this epic cacophony to Daisy and Bella. They’re already at work. (Frankly, there’s probably a pre-arranged plan for how they are going to share tasks in The Great Jane Surgery Meltdown.)

Jane: You are so never going to believe this.

Bella: ?? Everything ok?

Daisy: There’s no way she could have died already.  What?

Jane: I’m fine. I’m in a dark waiting room.  There’s five guys sound asleep.  One looks dead, but he’s not.  They are all SNORING.  Loudly. Zzzz’s to the nth power. It’s so…relaxing

Bella: Bwahahahahahaha. Yeah, guy snoring is pretty soothing.

Daisy: Jesus. It could only happen to you.

It’s so totally cool: I don’t need redirection, damage control, or a blanket fort!

I selfishly pray they have four more hours of sleep left in them. I relax, open my iPad, and  begin to kill zombies.  Life is good. Nothing like a zombie with a pat of butter on its head.

I’m defending my roof from giant zombies with flamingo crossing sign clubs,

pvz_2ndrunllbb

as three women arrive to shake awake three of my symphony members. I manage not to stomp my foot: hopefully they have good news about their loved one?

In moments, there are 4 guys in various stages of waking. Dang. Wait…wait…face-plant-is-he-dead guy is going to sleep on. Relief. Still snoring.

They talk quietly in Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish, but I understand enough to know they are discussing getting something to eat. The talk veers into stuff I don’t understand, except for the word ‘hospital’. It gets quiet. It’s clear they are waiting for an update from staff.

The room feels elevator-sized with eight people not sleeping. We all look at the door. Avoid eye contact. Lone snoring fills the air. I go back to silently killing zombies.

Music. Someone brought a radio? It’s playing softly, but distinctively. I cheer up.  Thank the Universe again. Because it’s Mariachi music. (Trumpets! Violins! Harp! Guitar! Guitarron! Vihuela!) It’s happy.  It’s cheerful.  It’s completely out of place.

Enya would have reduced me to a sobbing mess.  Mariachi?  Bring on the pinata, and pass the paper plates.  Frankly, it’s as good as five guys snoring.

Mariachi.  The perfect anxiety antidote.  It goes pretty well with killing zombies too. I love it when The Universe decides what I need.  I rarely get it right.

How has The Universe surprised you, in your time of need?

The Argument Against Little Green Men

Shaun had her knee replaced.

I asked the Universe for patience, faith, steady surgical hands, good thoughts, prayers, and (please, please, PLEASE…) humor.

The Universe spun its wheel, and we landed the winning Power ball Lottery Number for all of the above.

Bing bing bing bing bing!

Amusing event #1: Good Little Lemmings.

Alarm at 4 am. Arrive promptly at hospital at 4:45 am.

At her pre-op appointments, Shaun was sternly told three times she MUST be in hospital pre-op room at 5 am. They also made her sign and initial a sheet of paper stating the same. They left a phone message reminding her: 5 am…or else. (Ixnay on the surgery-ay.)

We wait in the dark lobby under the watchful eye of a security guard with a soft spot. He didn’t want to watch us dripping in the rain on the other side of the glass. Outside the locked hospital. The locked hospital with the locked pre-op room. That opens at 6:00.

Okay, maybe I should have been a bit more specific with The Universe on what is ‘humorous‘ and what is: ‘do you think they disinfect these chairs?’

Amusing Event #2: Highly Caffeinated, Enthusiastic Surgical Team.

Shaun is barely settled in her pre-op curtain-icle. I get to go back with her. Within minutes, a bunch of eager, tall, slender people in green scrubs flock and flit around her gurney. Introductions are cheerfully made over the sound of surgical gloves being snapped on. I’m strangely self-conscious of my sweat pants and bed-hair. It’s like some sort of macabre early morning cocktail party. Why didn’t I dress better? Put on make up? Use deodorant?

They are all so…cheerful. They look like happy kids milling around a school bus on field trip day.

The anesthesiologist chooses this moment to say to Shaun:

“Huh. Weird EKG in your chart. You got any heart problems? No? Have you ever died under anesthetic before? No?” Looks around.  “Okay, we’re good to roll people!”

As an after thought, before walking out of the curtain-icle, he says, “Don’t worry, if you die, well just resuscitate you.” He pats her hand indulgently. Gifts her with a practiced smile.

Before the anxiety building in my body can form into something as solid as words (“Weird EKG?! WHAT WEIRD EKG??” pause “Wait. Have you ever died BEFORE?”), the green suited people put green gloved hands on the gurney rails, and start moving her quickly, as if this were an emergency. Possibly they felt the anethesiologist had just turned this is to a critical situation, and they were trying to save all their lives.

A nurse waves me in the direction of the unlocked doors: “Surgery waiting room, out there, on the left.”

Shaun is rolling in the other direction, to toward the doors with pass code locks. The nurse bends sweetly down over Shaun’s head. It’s clear she’s about to impart something comforting. I feel relieved.  A little too soon.

What she actually says, with a lilting bounce: “Let’s go! Time to cut you open!”

Mayday! Mayday! I can’t process that…I’m still stuck on…weird EKG and casual have you ever died under anesthesia before? 

Shaun glances, pre-op drug-befuddled, at me over her shoulder: “…cut you open? Gah. ME. They mean cut me op…”

And the door slams shut after her.

The Universe is definitely messing with me.

There are no little green men with sharp implements, bright lights, and a gleeful lust to slice open a  human body.

We had it all wrong.  They’re tall.

And they look just like us.

It Came From Outer Space

If we were fit, freshly showered, wearing clean clothes, and bothered to slap on some makeup.

General Update with Weird Fish Photo

FYI, this is just an  update. (Think station identification.) There’s no good writing below, and nothing particularly amusing or interesting.  Feel free to ignore if  you are in need of a humor fix.  No offense taken.

Some recommendations: a particular non-horse related favorite of mine is Listful Thinking.  For a horsey fun fix, Haiku Farm is a good choice. Carnival of the Horses is up at Equine Ink too.

Go. Have fun! Having fun is never wrong here. See? Here’s a fish that had surgery.

(Zemanta automatically searched photos it thinks match my blog topic, below is the top match.  Who am I to argue?)

Fish, post-surgery, with Helpful Arrow:

This doesn't even look like Shaun.

The Update:

Shaun’s surgery went incredibly well.

The surgeon was positively beaming after it was over, when he came to talk to me.

Now we’re in the harder part, where it hurts a lot – A LOT – and she has to not only deal with the intense pain, but make it worse on purpose.  Surgery was yesterday.  She was walking today (right before she passed out).

If everything continues on the excellent (if horrifically painful) physical trajectory, she is way ahead of schedule in recovery.  I can’t imagine what this would be like for someone ON schedule, if she’s considered far ahead.

I asked the Universe (fine, I begged the Universe) to help me keep my sense of humor before we went into this, since I’d seriously misplaced it along with any shred of perspective for such a long time. (As you know!)

I was kinda anxious that the surgery/recovery intensity would push me over the edge, and I’d hit that humorless bottom again. And be depressing. And needy.  And whiny.

Ha.

It’s true.  Ask and ye shall receive.

The Universe has been delivering hilarity in spades, even in these circumstances.  (I wrote it a lovely thank you note.) I was forced to email Daisy and Bella from the waiting room while Shaun’s surgery was in progress, because the situation was so weirdly funny.

I was afraid I was going to burst out laughing in front of the exhausted and terrified people also waiting to hear what happened with their family member.  Laughing would have been so unkind.  Lucky for me, Bella and Daisy were at work at 6 am, so I could get it out quietly, in email. They are my go-to tech support for humor management.

As soon as I get some sleep and we get Shaun home, or almost home, I hope to share some of it with you, if I can convey how funny it was.

I sure hope these weren’t, “I guess you had to be there” experiences.

Keywords: (so I don’t forget what I want to relay: hurry-up-and-wait, snoring, surgical glee, Mariachi, pigeon Spanish, green legs and ham, undiscovered harmonica talent, Standing Wrap/standing applause.) Can you believe all this in just two days?!?

Due to illness, surgeon emergency, etc. Shaun’s surgery was rescheduled 3 times.

So happy it’s no longer looming. Third time was the charm!

The Waiting Room

Our beloved family member had surgery on Monday, and it went very well.  So well, in fact, we had to sit on her to keep her from, oh I don’t know, GOING SHOPPING.

If I had to condense my part of the experience it would go something like this:

worry worry worry

anxiety worry worry fear worry

is that food? no? I should eat anyway worry worry munch munch worry

worry I know! I need a slab of cake worry worry anxiety munch munch worry

Oh no! my pants don’t fit sob rend worry worry anxiety I bet what I really need to do is eat more to ease the tension worry worry worry munch munch munch

stuff patient in car worry FEAR worry worry worry

drive worry worry “oh for heaven’s sake, don’t drive past the hospital!” disgust

worry worry worry

This is my brain on “Oh No, A Surgery!”

I thought once we arrived, it might get easier.  I’ve noticed stuff gets easier once you pass the point of being capable of action. (It’s difficult to snatch the patient back once they’ve been whisked away to pre-op.)

I stare around the waiting room.  At first, nothing registers, except it’s pleasant.

Then I panic. Oh God.  The waiting room is pleasant to the point of soothing. There’s the sound of a fountain trickling, the lighting is fresh feeling.  Plants flourish. The walls are a muted make-everyone’s-skin-look-good pink, more suited to a spa or dermatology office. There’s a sculpture.  A book of patient poetry.

The chairs are clean.  Soft.  Pastel printed. I clamp my hand over my mouth.

SHE’S GOING TO DIE!

No one puts this much effort into a hospital waiting room unless soothing relatives is an absolute requirement.

Last year, when the doctor expected an ‘outpatient procedure’ to be in and out, she did almost die. The 15 min procedure went on for 2 hours, then 3, then 4…I had to stop looking at the clock.

I had waited perched on an ancient coffee-stained sofa, wedged in a dark hallway corner. Daisy and Lily both came after I called them in a panic, when the 2 hour mark passed.  We alternated standing and sitting. A large nurses station, populated with harrassed, annoyed nurses, was positioned between me and the operating room doors.

No fountain. No plants. No mood lighting. No magazines at that hospital: they did not expect any problems.

I look up from this memory in horror.

A nurse smiles at me soothingly from the beige-pink counter.  “She’s going to be fine”, the nurse says, with true compassion.

I have to get her out.

The nurse sees my escalating panic and misreads me, saying “She’s already in surgery, don’t worry, she’ll be out in fifteen minutes.”

Thought 1: NO! Not FIFTEEN MINUTES?

Thought 2: Where the heck is the cafeteria?!?

Post-Op: she’s fine. It only took 13 minutes. In at 7 am, out at 10:30 am and driving home.  Crossing my fingers for the next surgery.

I really have to find a better way to deal with stress.

For those of you who are not hard-wired to eat in times of stress, what helps you cope?