There is no way for me to make this any kind of coherent post, as I have a real lack of coherent memories over the past two weeks. So, quick snippets of things I remember happening, or at least that I think I remember happening…whether they really happened or not, I don’t know.
First, something I do know for sure. I had surgery on Monday, May 20. Two surgeons over 10 hours. First surgeon removed a large mass from my neck that consisted of live tumor, dead tumor, infected tumor, and some tissue around the margin. Lost: complete larynx. Airway to my mouth. And, well, tumor. Second surgeon took a big chunk of muscle and skin off of the top of my right thigh and grafted it into the big chunk of nothing that had been my throat. This was the long part of the surgery. The tissue had to be reconnected to enough of a vascular network to live. Seems arteries are easy, but veins are not. Especially small veins. Apparently I have tiny veins.
Not too bad right after surgery. But, the grafted tissue in my neck could not drain quickly enough to keep good blood flow. Without good blood flow, the tissue dies. Then, have to try again with tissue from another limb. You’ve only got so many limbs, so that cannot go on forever. For the next few days I was treated to heavy blood thinners and leeches. Yes, I did say leeches. For a few days they kept up to 3 leeches per hour connected to my neck. I had to have 24/7 attendance by at least one, usually two nurses.
Now it get fuzzier. Between the blood thinners and the leeching, I was losing blood faster than I could keep up. Flashes of being stood up next to my bedside, blood rolling down. Knowing that I was passing out, but not being able to communicate it to anyone. A larynx is useful for that, but mine was gone. Fading in and being back in bed with 10 medical staff around me asking if I could hear them. They’d called the crash team. Not code…heart hadn’t stopped, but my blood pressure had gone to 50/30. I remember that happening 4 or 5 times. They tell me it was closer to 15-20 times over 3 days.
The feeling from my side was of not being able to get enough air. I could breath. But still I felt like I was suffocating. Everything greying down to a tunnel. Then, the crowd around the bed.
So, now in addition to the leeching, which had to continue, the started pumping in units of blood. Red Blood Cell count was very low But, that isn’t the whole story. In addition to RBC, blood carries plasma…liquid that carries the RBC, nutrients, and other stuff you need to stay upright. Even with my RBC back in safe zones, I couldn’t stand up…total volume was low. But, you can’t just shove in a bunch of saline. You have to keep critical chemicals in balance. Calcium. Sodium. Potassium. Others. Mine were low across the board, so spent days, now, being leeched, thinned, pumped up with RBC, saline, calcium, sodium, potassium, glucose, lactose, all trying to balance keeping my blood volume up, keeping my chemistry within a good zone, getting enough blood volume so that when I stood up, there was enough blood pressure to keep everything going.
Most of the time flat on my back in bed. I could usually reach the TV remote, and kept it going on something all the time, even when I wasn’t really aware. With everything happening all the time, I didn’t sleep for more than a few minutes at a time for over a week. Every time I would doze off, it would feel to me like everything was dropping too fast, and I’d startle myself back to awareness. Even with the painkillers, I was not comfortably numb.
Slowly, though, things are getting better. Today, I am still in the SICU, but waiting for a regular ward room. No more leeches for the past couple of days. I took myself off of all painkillers yesterday (other than Tylenol). Have been taking either hydrocodone or oxycodone every 6 hours for a week. Most of my pain has been in the back of my neck. The two tendons that you can feel running up the back of your neck for me felt stretched to the point of snapping. I also had 4 drains going into my neck. When they drained the right side it would do something to that tendon that would put me in level 8 pain for hours with the meds. I’m down to just the drains on the left side (which also happens to be the side with the worst circulation).
Anyway, was talking about pain and taking narcotics for a week. Cutting it off is causing me to have some jitters…restless legs, twitches, sleeplessness. But, I can even tell now that it is better. I’m taking some antianxiety meds to help, and will start to taper those off, too. Don’t want to go home with any bad habits. Well, any bad habits I didn’t have before all this.
Today not much pain…certainly not enough to need the dope. I’ve been out of bed all day, and stand up/sit down a couple of times an hour. Walked the halls (supervised) for a few minutes. Ready to get to the next steps.
Still have to watch the neck. I could need more surgery if the graft doesn’t finish healing in. I need to build my strength back up. Mostly right now I want to get something that I can use to communicate with faster. I’ve been using my phone to swipe messages to nurses, doctors, visitors. But that is so slow. I know speech therapy should be coming to see me tomorrow. Maybe I can get something going quickly.
So, that is it for now. Like I said, coherence for this post wasn’t even an option…I usually reread/edit before posting but I’m going to let this one go out unedited. Just about ready to do another stand up and might go ahead and sit back down in bed.
POSTSCRIPT: After writing and posting this, I looked back at my blog and saw the other three post-op entries I’d written. I have absolutely no memory of writing those. Nor of the 2nd surgery I talked about. Probably just as well that most memories of last week were wiped.