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Saturday, January 04, 2014
What in the living HELL was that? 2013 was the year of flip-flops, healthwise. Consider this: I was in the best physical shape of my life, carrying on a daily yoga practice as I strove to complete a 365-day challenge. The end of my challenge was to be May 12, 2013. By late April, I was a little tired here and there, but since I was teaching, practicing daily, circuit training 2-3 times/week, I thought I was just overdoing things a little. Here's how quickly my life changed:
Thursday, April 25/13: The only bad thing that day was catching hell yet again from a yoga studio owner who's infamous for overreacting. This time I had, in her eyes, neglected my front desk chores. [Note: details here would be foully boring. I caught hell which I didn't entirely deserve. Carry on.] Later that afternoon I went to another yoga studio to teach a double, returning home at 9:40 pm, starving for dinner.
Suddenly, mid-supper: abdominal discomfort. Not again. My earlier, somewhat stressful event and my late night had me hungrier than usual, and I assumed I had eaten too much yet again. Now to wait for the inevitable chuck before balance could be restored.
Except it never came. I felt worse and worse as the abdominal pain grew. I could feel the stress growing as peristaltic contractions came on. Back and forth I went from my bed to the bathroom, confusing the poor old dog. Finally, at about 4:00 a.m., I realized this wasn't going to pass. Finally I phoned 911 for an ambulance. By this time I was ashen, sweating, shaking, and in terrible pain.
Saanich Peninsula Hospital: I'm in the Emergency Department when I start to become a bit delirious. Get snapped at by a nurse for groaning too loudly. [Note: this was the only nasty interaction with medical staff over the next two weeks. Bitch.] Morphine: thank you, God.
By 8:30 a.m. I'm able to make a couple of phone calls. Bettina, dear friend and hero, agrees to take care of my dog. The studio owner who'd scolded me was an absolute soldier when she found I couldn't teach my two Friday classes for her. My dad was worried, of course, but glad I was getting medical help.
CT Scan: internal hernia ["Petersen's Hernia," for you general surgeons out there]. Danger level: high. I didn't know that when the surgeon told me. I thought, oh well, hernia. I'll have to get that seen to before too long. "We're going to operate as soon as possible," said the surgeon, "this afternoon or earlier. You'll be transferred to Victoria General Hospital -- they're better equipped for this type of procedure." I am high, yes, but still manage to post on FB that this is going to mess up my yoga challenge. Priorities, Janey. Two incredibly nice paramedics take me over to Vic Gen in an ambulance. I remember looking at the trees of Saanich Peninsula as we drove, quietly saying goodbye to them. At this point I knew I was dying. I knew.
Surgery took place approx. 4:00 p.m. I came to about 6:30 a.m. on April 27, in the ICU. Still had tubes down my throat. Could not focus my eyes for anything. Met a true angel, Jeanne (pronounced "Jeannie"), my nurse. She told me what was going on, why I was in ICU: my hernia operation had gone reasonably well, but when the surgeon (not the same one I'd met at Saan. Pen.) closed the stem-to-stern incision, Compartment Syndrome unexpectedly arose. The intense swelling of various organs and tissues cut off the blood supply to other organs. Apparently I came so close to dying that the ICU nurse phoned the yoga studio owner to see if she could contact my family. I had given my own number as my emergency contact. Well, I was high, you know. Dr. T., my surgeon, had to reopen me to get the swelling to come down. I was in ICU with my open abdominal cavity covered by an adhesive sheet of plastic. I stayed in ICU for three days. At one point I had a hallucination that I was leaving my own body, revolving upside-down as I rose above the bed. This scared me enough that I briefly woke up enough to reassure myself I was still alive.
Transferred to the gut ward on Day Four. Gave my love to Jeanne and meant it. She was unbelievably kind and healing. On the gut ward, I met more amazing humans: Karen, Renata, Judy, almost too many to remember. I spent 10 days in hospital altogether, visited by family and friends and realizing how incredibly lucky I was. My cousin Maryann picked me up when I was discharged. Despite getting back on my feet well before expected, and surprising my surgeon so much by my physical abilities that he wrote "Making a remarkable recovery!" in my file, I was weak, stiff, and exhausted.
Two months passed before I could take yoga again. Then, in mid-July, I had another visit to Vic Gen with a partially obstructed gut. Yes, once again I'd eaten a bit too much, and one part of my small intestine adhered to another part, causing eerily familiar discomfort. This time I drove myself to the hospital, meeting one of the coolest people in BC: Dr. Tam, who's the concert master of the Victoria Symphony as well as being an emergency physician. He admitted me and I spent the next two days in the hospital, medicated, until my gut unclenched. Note to self: stop it with the overeating, toots. Knock it off.
Fast-forward four months and change. Thursday November 21, 2013: I'm again in trouble with the same studio owner; in fact, I've been fired. What else that's been going on is that I'm sick again. (I was fired because, in my illness, I'd let my cell phone battery plotz, I'd missed a class, and the owner was phoning me repeatedly to see what was wrong. My lack of response infuriated her, and I was too out of it to apologize/explain competently, so was summarily canned.) Why sick? I'd eaten a pear and apple a few days previously, and had been feeling bloated and cramped ever since. Must be a compaction of some sort, I guessed, figuring it would pass on its own. [NOTE TO SELF: YOU ARE NOT MEDICALLY TRAINED. STOP GUESSING ALL THE GODDAMN TIME.]
Friday November 22: yep, still in a lot of pain. Only able to sip water to which I've added a bit of sugar and salt. Saturday, Nov. 23: I bend down to put shoes on prior to taking the dog for his morning walk, and my stomach presses against my thighs in a way I haven't felt since I was hugely, morbidly obese eight years earlier. I take a look at my profile: yep, that's some serious bloating, babes. Perhaps a doctor? Drive myself back to Emergency. This time I am waiting in Triage when a doctor comes by, recognizes me, and says to the nurse, "Bring her back." I'm in Emergency within 10 minutes, and enjoying pain relief within the hour.
Reviewing my file, the on-call doctor orders another CT scan, which shows a blockage of sorts, so a visit to Radiology for a contrast dye scan is ordered. "They just want to make sure it's not, you know, a tumour or anything," says my ED nurse (whose name I've forgotten, but who was also stellar). I remember thinking, yeah, cancer. Like I'd be that lucky. [NB: I've had a few death premonitions this year, post-health-crisis, and have also been battling the old demon, depression. I knew I wasn't a suicide risk, but I confess that I was hoping it *was* cancer at that stage, because I did want to be dead.]
"That's funny," said the Radiologist. "The contrast dye isn't getting past this thing." I find out that surgery is going to be inevitable. I'm back on the gut ward, waiting to hear from the surgeon when he's going to operate, and contemplating the deja vu. Meanwhile the surgeon, Dr. Bieberdorf, phones my nurse and says he wants me back in Radiology for a sigmoidoscopy. I meet this unbelievably handsome, superbly muscled surgeon later that afternoon in Radiology. Of course I'm still high, and together Dr. B. and I calmly watch the probe's progress onscreen. Healthy pink gut until the probe rounds the sigmoidal bend: then frayed tissue, cloudy fluid, and one hell of an ugly protrusion. Dr. Bieberdorf: "Yes. Well. That's cancer." Jane, equally matter-of-fact: "Oh, yes?" To myself I thought, "Well, you got your wish." I didn't feel stress of any sort, and was in fact most relieved when the doctor told me he'd get me into surgery that night.
This surgical experience was nothing like the one in April. Waking up from the anaesthetic, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. The pain was gone! Cancer, right. But no cramping! Thanks to my relatively good physical shape, I was on my feet within eight hours, and on solid food after two days -- once again blowing away expectations among the medical staff. I stayed in the hospital for another few days to get stronger and to get acquainted with my new plumbing: a colostomy bag. This is supposed to be temporary, but it's the only part of my recovery that isn't textbook perfect. My stoma is an innie, and affixing the bag isn't easy. At any rate, I also felt quite ill on the day I was originally to be discharged, so was grateful to the Enterostomal Nurse who kept me on the ward for another two days. Monday, December 2, was the day I went home, after (at last) the lab results came back from the mainland. Dr. B. explained that my tumour had been completely excised, along with approx. 54 lymph nodes. Nine lymph nodes were affected. This put me at Stage III.C, and I was a little dismayed by it. (Yes, even though I'd been a deathmonger earlier, seeing the cold facts did scare me. So there: I'm still human.) Next steps: a few weeks recovery, meeting with the oncologist, then chemo. Sometime in the future, my colon will be repaired.
Once again, I was overwhelmed not only by luck, but by my feeling of intense love and joy. Several family and friends visited me in hospital, and online I've been regularly buoyed by friends around the world. As I said on Christmas Day, this is joy in the present tense. This is continuous wonder.
UPDATE: I met my oncologist, a kind and courtly Egyptian gentleman named Dr. Kotb, on Christmas Eve. My chemo started on Friday, December 27. I'm on IV Oxaliplatin, and take Capecitabine in pill form twice daily. Two weeks on medication (the IV only on the first day), and one week off, for the next six months. I've been going back to the gym for modified circuit training, and as soon as I can trust my ability to seal a goddamned colostomy bag so it lasts more than a couple of hours before blowout, I'll be back at the yoga studio. So heads up, cancer. It is *so* on. [Note: my dad, who's had a 7-year battle against melanoma, is unbelievably supportive. Nice to have one's pa as a cancer buddy. My online pal, Bill Barol, brilliant author, is another cancer survivor whose experience has become a guideline for my own.]
So far I've just been finding the chemo side-effects (and the colostomy) extremely funny. In so many ways this cancer has been extremely liberating, and the cancer perspective cuts down on a lot of pointless thinking and fretting. The most unexpected side effect of chemo? Ravenous hunger. I eat frequently, because I don't just get hungry, I get MOFO hungry. As in, if I don't get something to eat in the next five minutes, one of you motherf*ckers is going to die. Anyway, 2013? Alive alive NEARLY DEAD alive alive NEARLY DEAD AGAIN alive alive. Cancer, schmancer. It's like you think I'm scared to die or something. Feeb.