As of my blog readers know, I had a health crisis earlier this year. My doctor discovered a three centimeter lump in my thyroid, a size that indicated it might be cancerous. The details can be found here and here.
Three centimeters is huge for a tiny gland like the thyroid and can cause all kinds of problems such as difficulty breathing and swallowing. Surgical removal was strongly recommended and it was approximately three months from the time of discovery to get to the surgery date. It was a day I was greatly looking forward to because it would be the end to a traumatic episode and it coincided with the publication date of Flower Among the Ashes. I decided during the time when it was toss-up if I had cancer or not to publish the novel before November. So I moved the deadline up slightly to the night before surgery, October 27th.
I think that by focusing on Flower Among the Ashes I was spared a lot of anxiety in the days leading up to the surgery. Thyroid removal is a common procedure, usually done as an outpatient and normally has a relatively short recovery time. There are risks that come with any surgery. The big one is that since the thyroid sits close to the vocal cords a person can have temporary or permanent changes to their voice or be rendered mute. I wasn’t too worried as I didn’t give myself time to dwell on the negative. I had a book to finish proofing and get published. I had been working on the Tales of Remnas for more than two years but I didn’t have the courage to go public with it before now.
That is not to say that things went off without a hitch. My surgery was originally early in the morning and I had to be at the hospital for my intake at 7AM. Something happened at the last minute and the intake and surgery was pushed back by an hour and a half. I thought that was going to be rough as I had been told that I could not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before and that meant I would be dying of thirst by the time they got around to putting me under. Surprisingly, I was not bothered all that much by not being able to drink or eat the next morning and I slept easily, not staying up much later than I normally do.
I think the worst part was the wait after I got to the hospital. I had to sign many forms and shuffle through several different departments before being admitted to the outpatient wing. I had a blood draw and then was hooked up to an IV to get some fluids, had to go over my medical history with five different nurses and doctors. It gave me pause when I met with another specialist who had been brought in to specifically monitor my vocal chords and surrounding nerves during the surgery. I had the impression from my meeting with the surgeon at the beginning that this was going to be a very simple, low risk, and routine operation, but I suspect that the size of the lump may have made the surgeon reconsider this. At the consultation I brought with me a picture from the first ultrasound. The specialist who performed the fine needle biopsy had a more sophisticated machine and according to her, the lump was slightly bigger than what the original diagnostic suggested. The surgeon probably realized that after obtaining the file from the endocrinologist it was prudent to take more precautions. There was a lot of waiting after that.
Finally, the surgeon and anesthesiologist came in. They shot a sedative into my IV port and it burned going in. I thought my hand had caught fire. It worked fast. Two minutes later I could not see straight. The world blurred. They wheeled me into the operating theater and put an oxygen mask over my face. I remember breathing in and staring at the light overhead and then I was gone. The next thing I was aware of was waking up in recovery. It hurt to swallow and a place at the top of my chest ached. I wondered why an ice pack was sitting on the place my chest meets my neck. I expected the surgical wound to be higher across the throat but they had cut high on the chest and moved up into the throat from there. The wound was held together by a thick layer of surgical glue.
The first thing my nurse asked was if I was nauseous. When I said no, she asked me into I was in pain. My throat and chest hurt so I said I was and they gave me something in my IV to make it more bearable. I really wanted to sleep but they needed me to stay awake in case something in my condition changed. The next thirty minutes were critical. If I showed signs of complications or adverse reactions to the medication, I would not be allowed to go home that day. I vaguely remember the surgeon coming by to give me the good news. They had taken all they cut out, the left side and middle portion, and ran a complete biopsy on it. No trace of abnormal cells. It was a goiter instead of a tumor. I remember being relieved. The original biopsy came back clean as well but it was only a few samples. I knew that anything short of testing the whole mass was not definitive. At the time, that was not an emotional battle I was ready to fight so I tried to ignore that, but this was the proof I needed to finally stop worrying.
I spent thirty minutes in recovery under constant monitoring. My lack of nausea was a very good sign which got the ball rolling for my discharge. Through observing other patients it seems that it is very common to have a bad reaction to the drug cocktail they use to put you under. The lady across from me had a partial mastectomy and came out of it feeling dog sick. As I had never heard of a mastectomy being anything less than excruciating, I felt terrible for her when they told her they had to get the nausea under control before they would give her anything for pain. Someone else further down kept making sounds like they were either coughing up a lung or trying to throw up and their stomach didn’t have anything to expel.
I got go home about an hour later making my total stay at the hospital about eight hours. That was when the worst part of the recovery began. I was starving but could not swallow without pain. I tried to eat soup but it was just too uncomfortable. I had filled a prescription for pain meds and I didn’t realize until a few days later that they were the reason I felt sick any time I tried to eat. It’s not a pretty thing to feel hungry, know your body needs food, and have your body react badly when you try to feed it. I didn’t sleep much that night. I had to lay flat on my back, elevated, and I couldn’t get comfortable enough to sleep for more than an hour at a time.
Luckily, I felt good enough the next day to swallow without great discomfort. The second day was the last time I took the pain killers as the pain from the wound became manageable after that. It was also the day I discovered they were the source of my nausea. I took one dose after midnight that first night and was able to drink protein milk and the next day without issue. I took my next pill shortly before lunch. I ate mashed potatoes or I tried to eat mashed potatoes. They made my stomach cramp up. That was when I made the connection. Once I got over my stomach troubles, sleeping was the big thing. My wound was held together only by glue and I was afraid that any stress on the area, anything that might cause the skin around the incision to stretch, would end up tearing me open. I couldn’t sleep long each night out of paranoia that my head might loll to the side, pull the wound apart while I slept and I would wake up covered in my own blood. That didn’t happen, but I was sleep deprived for close to a week. The next week I went to my post-surgery examination and was given a clean bill of health to return to my day job, resume all normal activity, wash off the glue and start living again! I was happy to have the lump gone, my ebook published, and to have peace of mind again.