In the vein of no coincidences…today is the 12th anniversary of the accident that almost took our lives when Brooke, Miller and I were run over by our car, an accident we were not supposed to walk away from. By the grace of God we did.
Saturday Sept 7th, 2013. I am discharged from MD Anderson, the lung cancer removed. A chance incidentally finding of a cancer that would have gone undetected and then most likely killed me. Survival rates for stage II-IV lung cancer are dismal.
I have lost all track of time. The last few days have been a blur, blending together, contracting and expanding. At times it seemed as if I was making great progress, moving through the post-operative stages well. And then a setback. Usually accompanied by significant pain.
Since Wednesday I have had one singular focus, to get discharged as quickly as possible. As I mentioned in my previous posts hospitals are not my favorite place. Brooke aptly described yesterday as a roller coaster. So many ups and downs it was hard to keep track. At 8:15 on Friday, after a chest x-ray, I had a sudden onset of the worst pain I had felt since the surgery. It was as if a hot sharp knife was being stabbed into my upper back. Even after several quick IV doses of narcotics it wouldn’t go away. I was concerned it meant we had had a setback, some degradation of the incisions, or worse. In fact it was my body still awakening from the heavy surgical anesthesia, I was starting to feel the tube in my chest. When they transported me for the x-ray the chest tube aggravated the lining of my chest wall. So what was awful pain was actually a good sign. Symbolic of this entire journey, that the pain was a pathway to healing.
As the day progressed we received better news. The chest tube would be pulled out, a major step towards discharge the following day. An RN from the surgical team came to perform the procedure. Sonia, a skilled RN on Dr. Swisher’s surgical team. Another one of the many angels who labor 12 hour shifts at MD Anderson in service of others, all with the singular mission of helping people afflicted by cancer. She has been on Dr. Swisher’s team for 6 years, and from what we can tell works continuously. She has been a big advocate and source of support over the last few days.
A few days in the hospital really makes me appreciate the work of nurses at all levels. The doctors may be the stars but the nurses are the foundation of this institution. I have been blessed with amazing care from two nurses in particular, Haril and Teny. MD Anderson veterans and both unbelievably skilled and kind.
At 4:00 pm Sonia showed up to take out the chest tube. As she was prepping we talked to her about the surgery. Brooke asked if during the operation, when they confirmed it was cancer and that the lymph nodes were negative, do they give a little cheer? She said that in fact they did. Especially in my case, because if the lymph nodes were positive that would have dramatically changed the course of the operations duration and complexity. We asked her what the cancer looked liked and she said my lungs were a healthy pink and then they saw the cancer, it was a deep dark purple, puckered, and necrotic, about the size of a quarter. In total they removed clean boundaries around the cancer and removed approximately a 3×3 inch section of my lung.
She then asked me to take a big breath let it out and then take another deep breath, and then I felt the chest tube slide out. It was the most incredible sensation of relief I have ever felt. A full somatic relief. I was literally on a high for hours afterward. We asked her to show us the tube. It was stitched into my back, a foot and a half long, and ran along the inside of the lung next to my heart and up into the apex of my left lung. Brooke and I were shocked to see that much tubing come out of my lungs. Immediately after the tube was removed the entire pathway of the tube went numb, zero sensation. It is still that way 24 hours later. They assured me it was normal and would resolve.
I slept peacefully Friday night, completely unattached to any machines, back in control of my body and on greatly reduced pain medications. With a clear chest X-ray on Sat morning I was scheduled to be discharged, 3 days after being admitted into the hospital. On to the next phase of healing.
I awoke Saturday am just before 7. Brooke arrived shortly afterwards. We walked the ward for almost 40 minutes, making our rounds, chatting, thankful that the end of this phase was in sight. The digital board had me listed as discharge pending. Brooke waited while I went for my last chest X-ray. I was gone no more than 20 minutes and came back completely exhausted. I collapsed into bed and was asleep in seconds. When I woke again 1.5 hours later Brooke told me we were good to go, she had packed everything, and there was a wheel chair waiting. I was happy to be leaving, yet I could not believe how tired I was, completely exhausted.
As we departed Brooke shared that she and the nurse had been talking while I slept. It was clear to her that I had put a lot of energy into getting to today’s milestone, and now came the let down. She thought the exhaustion would be catching up with me, and I would be really tired for quite some time going forward. If today was any indication she was right. Stage II of the recovery, the healing sprint is over, and the marathon has begun.