In the past couple of postings, I’ve tried to show you the short but exhausting unfolding of the discovery of my kidney cancer. I wish it has the grand scale of a trip to OZ but it is just me dealing with something that has to be dealt with. Except for the glorious time spent with my niece at her wedding in Disney World, it was definitely an intense undertaking.
I was not happy about losing a kidney. Knowing that you can live a full healthy life with one kidney notwithstanding, I still was unsure about how this would play out in the future. Though this was offset by the confidence I have in myself, my family, my friends, and my medical team, it still is a daunting thought.
You’ve read the run-up to the operation. Now it’s time for the Grand Opening of my abdomen to deal with this.
One quick note: kidney cancer affects too many people and is serious as hell. It is not pretty, it is not fun, and it can weigh on both your own mental state as well as those around you.
However, as with any adverse situation, the humor has not vacated your life, your funny bone is not cracked, and you don’t have to dive into solitude to deal with this. I pride myself on trying to temper my experiences by making sure I don’t go so dark as to miss all the life in me and around me. So, remember that my blogs are humorous because life always contains it, even in some dark times. You just have to look at it.
One more note: this blog is MY experience. It is not meant to be a guide or the bible on how to deal with kidney cancer. It is simply how I myself deal with it and how I understand it. I have only been at this three months. I’ve still got a lot to learn.
Also, I love Lankenau Hospital. I would recommend it to everyone but that would mean I want you to get sick, which I do not. I may find fault with certain things there, but blame it on the Percocet… or just general crankiness.
To start with, meet my medical team. I’m not quite sure what the doctor in the bottom picture did for me other than probably “inspect” my hospital food and take any good gifts I got from friends while recovering.
Surprisingly, I actually slept the night before the operation. This was a good thing because I had to report for surgery at Lankenau Hospital at 6AM. Lankenau is kind of my legacy hospital. I was even born there in 1955. They still have me coming back. My favorite part of the hospital is the main lobby. They have a “ghost piano”. There is a great grand piano that no one sits at yet songs come out of it and the keys move. You may call it a player piano, but player pianos would be found at the old SHAKEY’S PIZZA restaurants, not in a fine hospital. Spooky.
I checked in on the 4th Floor and wound up in prep room 6. I’d like to say that breakfast and a newspaper were waiting for me. Instead, it was a paper gown, some sterile body wipes, and those rubberized safety socks that never go on right and never stay on straight. I got myself ready and laid down on the hospital bed. Comfortable it wasn’t, but the IV the nurse started soon took care of that. They also offered what I thought was a vacuum cleaning but it was actually a heating hose to warm me up since the operating room was kept cold.
I was then visited by 126 different nurses, techs, Doctors, and anesthesiologists. I answered most of the same questions 126 different times. Then, about 7:35, I was taken for a ride to the operating room. By this time, I was fairly mellow, semi-aware of what was going on but still a bit overwhelmed by all the activity. I did see one doctor lay out what seemed to be an entire medical supply store stock of operating instruments. I had never seen so many in one place.
I saw my surgeon off in the corner of the room. He looked all doctor-pumped, which was good. They slid me onto the table and spread my arms out so I couldn’t accidentally punch them. The gas mask was placed on my face and I counted backwards from 100. If I made it to 99 before I zonked, I’d be surprised. I’d tell you more about what went on in there, but you’ll have to wait for the DVD.
A quick aside: I had my tonsils out when I was nine. I distinctly remember going into the operating room and having the gas mask put on my face. I started counting backwards and magically, all the doctors and nurses turned into balloons and floated away. I think. No such luck during my kidney surgery.
I woke up in recovery somewhere around 2 PM… I think. There was a clock in the distance but it was spinning like a bad exercise class and I can’t vouch that it was even a clock.
Doctors and nurses kept coming over and doing things and conversing. I think I tried to talk with them but they are smart enough not to converse with someone coming down from anesthesia and going up on morphine right away. Finally, they started to ask questions as the anesthesia wore off. I answered as best as I could but with a bone dry mouth from the breathing tube, it was hard. Manna from heaven arrived in the form of foam “lollipops” dipped in water. Not fancy but so welcome.
The foam lollipops lead to ice chips. The ice chips lead to me being rolled down the hall to my new spacious semi-private room. Actually, the room was pretty nice for whatever I remember about it. I was lucky to get the window part of the room, so I could keep the nasty fluorescent lights off during the day. I could also see the rain I was avoiding and daydream that I wasn’t in the hospital.
My sister Julie and my brother Joe were waiting for me, or maybe waiting to see if the kitchen would accidentally send up a tray. No such luck for them. The rest of the day was actually not too bad, at least that’s what I remember. Yes, I had a catheter in so I peed freely and thankfully successfully. The good news was that my urine seemed to be fine. I got my morphine shots and later those wonderful Percocets. I even got a clear liquid dinner, but I honestly don’t know if I ate, drank, or inhaled it. There is only so much chicken broth one man can take.
I even had a quiet night. Then Friday came around. Friday announced itself with major gas pains (ewwww). By major, I mean superbowl sized gas pains. This was accompanied by the effects of the anesthesia wearing off and what was described to me as color changes, mood swings, and hellfire. I simply had a horrible day.
I needed to pass gas, which is extremely hard to do after anesthesia. It is also essential. That was obvious. I felt like I was John Hurt’s character in ALIEN when he became father/mother to the beastie. I tried to walk, but the first time was a total fail. The nurse told me to keep my head up and my eyes open. Man, these nurses were tough! Finally, I took another shot and made it into the hall.
Walking the hospital floor is very surreal. You at least get out of the room but you enter a bustling world of activity that you can’t yet comprehend. You balance on a rolling IV stand and try not to look like you are naked under that flimsy gown, which you are. You look out the back window at nothing in particular but you try to talk about it with your nurse profoundly, anyway. Other patients walk by. You acknowledge them without realizing that the walk is not a social event for everyone.
The main problem with these walks is that you can’t go too far. You can walk the length of the floor and walk it back the other way. You can attempt to look into other rooms to see who else is there and looks worse than you do. You can admire your rubberized bootie socks which now seem to slip off with ease.
You try to have a conversation with the nurse walking you but you realize that small talk is hard on Percocet. At least small talk that makes any sense. You make the lap and then back to your room, wanting to lay back down but realizing it is better to sit up for a while, even with the accompanying pain.
About that pain. The pain from the incision was different than my previous surgeries. Many kidney cancer surgeries are laproscopic, with a robot assist. Mine was started that way, but had to go old school because of the size of the tumor. After the operation, the surgeon came out to my brother and sister to update them on the progress. He mentioned that the tumor was 30 cms. That is one big mama. It would weigh almost 5 pounds. When they told me, I heard it as 30 “pounds” and thought that the quick weight loss was bonus and also maybe they should call the news and have them cover this amazing giant tumor.
To get it out, my surgeon had to “tear me up” in his own words. They had to open me up and cut through abdominal muscle from my belly button to almost the middle of my right side. It was a huge tumor. Then they had to poke around with the robots. So, while I usually feel the skin incisions, the muscle cuts feel different. The pain is more of a pressure and a pull, not an ouch. It actually felt like less pain than I expected. I was even able to get out of bed without my usual post-surgical yelling. No, it wasn’t pleasant but it wasn’t debilitating.
Saturday was better as the gas pains subsided and I actually passed gas. I announced the passing of gas on Twitter and Facebook to the “delight” of my sister. Sorry, sis. I farted and it felt great. At least I kept the arrival of the first poop to myself.
I did some tests which came back clean, which made me happy. I calmed down and even had the catheter removed. That’s always fun. I peed as well.
Sunday brought what constituted great news. My doctor said I could have solid food! This would be the first solid food since Tuesday night. Lankenau Hospital is trying to upgrade the options for the food and have gone to a “Room Service Just For You” concept, where the patient phones in what they would like to order from an expanded menu and it is delivered in 45 minutes. They say. Most of the time, it was more like an hour and a half. Good idea, not so good execution. I am going to recommend that they guarantee 45 minute delivery or your operation is free.
Sunday also saw visitors!!!! Bernie Valente and Bob Hanson, who have not changed since Villanova in the mid 70’s, came up to see me. Man, was that great. The best was that Bob had knowledge of the restaurant industry and was able to talk with my sister about the restaurants that she used to work at that they both knew. The food sounded so good. Then I looked at my “Room Service” meal. A bit of a stepdown.
Monday came, and with the sun came my doctor, who said “You are discharged”. I got my instructions and my clothes lept out of the closet and onto me, much like the Ghost Piano plays magically in the lobby. A couple of the nursing supervisors who had seen me the previous Friday were amazed at how much better I looked than Friday. But of course I looked better. I was going home to my family and my doggies.