Navigating traffic in the Philadelphia area is about as easy as digging a hole in the sidewalk with a plastic spoon.
I was told to be at the HUP Admissions Office by 10 am. Charlie and I left the house around 7:30. I took notice that the sun was shining brilliantly despite the air being nippy. I felt queasy the entire hour-and-forty-five-minutes it took us to get there. The car ride was quiet and I felt tense. I kept thinking about whether I would come out of surgery, what the scar would look like if I did and how I would be able to get around once it was over. I longingly stared at the other drivers on the road drinking their coffee, dying for a sip. I had to fast and wasn’t permitted any java. How dare they swig away on their hot cuppa joe! Bastards.
We checked into the Admissions lounge and waited for about an hour-and-a-half before they called for me and escorted us to the family waiting area. It was like walking to the guillotine. Like being in a movie where the action is slowed down to add drama to the scene. But this wasn’t fiction on a screen. This shit was real.
The family room was rather institutional looking. Bright lighting, blue and white walls and an attendant seated at a desk in the middle of the room. I was happy to see there were informational televisions hanging in each corner near the ceiling. The tvs listed the name of any patients currently having surgery, the time they started surgery and their status (Ongoing, In Recovery, etc.; I happily noted none of them said ‘Expired’!). That way Charlie wouldn’t be wondering what was going on the whole time he sat there; he could just look up. It wasn’t too long before they called me back for prep. The nurse told Charlie they would allow him back in a few minutes. I walked with the nurse to my curtained off gurney. Her eyes were bright and kind; her wavy auburn hair pulled back in a ponytail. She exhibited signs of being thoroughly concerned with her patient – like introducing herself and asking my name, date of birth and if I had any allergies. I was relieved she was assigned to me and thought back to that hag from a month ago. She handed me a gown, surgical booties for my feet and the hottest ever surgical shower cap. I laughed at myself for the first time in weeks and couldn’t help but to think how great of a story this was going to make someday.
The nurse came back with an I.V. kit. Fuck. Why do I always block this part out? I told her I wasn’t good with needles. She said she would try my left hand first. She was skilled in phlebotomy and it wasn’t the worst thing in the world this time.
Charlie was permitted into the room, turned the corner and laughed at my drop dead sexy hat. He sat there with me for about 25 minutes, trying to make small talk, before they came to get me. I appreciated his efforts to distract me. The nurse showed up and told us ‘they’ were ready for me. She unlocked the gurney and wheeled me toward the anesthesia room. Charlie walked with me, holding my hand, gave me a kiss and a smile and said, “I’ll see you soon” before the nurse turned my bed into the room on the left.
That was when my alien abduction started.
Well, I wasn’t really abducted by aliens, but I’m sure it was as close as it gets. The room was bright and cold and there were about 7 people gowned up with masks and gloves and instruments in their
claws hands. It was very loud and I couldn’t focus on what any one of them was saying; just the cacophony of muffled voices. I think under different circumstances I would have found the scene to be really funny. Instead, I concentrated on not shitting my hospital gown. The anesthesia team leader asked me to sit up on a metal table facing her and I did as I was told. Someone else untied the back of my gown and prepped my spine for the epidural. I started crying and looked at the Lead in front of me. “I’m really scared” I whined. Her crystal clear blue eyes smiled at me and she said, “Honey, you’re going to be alright”. The needle was placed and drugs started. I felt myself fall forward and to the right. The Lead caught me and that was the last conscious thought I had.
Here’s what happened while I was out:
According to the surgical notes, I had an 8 cm Bronchogenic Cyst compressing many of my internal organs. It had adhered to my esophagus, my right pulmonary artery, the back of my left atrium (one of the heart valves) and “splayed” the back of both my lungs. I was intubated in the usual and customary manner and placed in the “left lateral decubitus position”, a.k.a. lying on my left side with my right arm propped in the air, like this:
I was catheterized, strapped in place and draped accordingly. Dr. Kucharczuk made a 1-inch incision through the fifth intercostal space (between my 5th & 6th ribs). Using electrocautery, he continued to cut through the layers of my muscle until he could get into my chest cavity. Retractors were put in place to hold the incision open while he removed the cyst. He identified the cyst and, for an hour, attempted to dissect it from the organs and vessels it had molded to. He couldn’t. At least not with a moving target. The decision was made to put me on a cardiopulmonary bypass machine. CPB for short. This means he, a Cardiologist and their surgical assistants hooked up tubes called cannula to both the superior and inferior veins around my heart and lungs to take over their function. The CPB would keep oxygenated blood flowing through my body while bypassing those two organs. He couldn’t do it through a 1-inch incision though. It took 12. A whole foot. Once the cutting was done, they held me open with rib-spreaders. My chest cavity was pumped with air to prevent infection. The cannulae were attached. In order to prevent brain damage, hypothermia was introduced – my body temperature was dropped to 84.2ºF by cooling the blood passing through the CPB machine. My lungs were deflated. Another tube was hooked up to my heart and a potassium solution was flushed into it in order to prevent it from beating. With my heart and lungs stopped, he was able to remove 95% of the cyst from inside my body. He had to leave 5% intact because it was inseparable from the back of my pulmonary artery. My body temperature was returned to normal, the cannulae removed, my heart restarted and my lungs inflated. Slowly, my body resumed its proper function in sustaining my life. They irrigated my chest cavity and a second, stab incision was made on my right front side to accommodate a chest tube. With this tube secured to ensure no fluid would accrue within the surgical space I was sutured.
What was originally thought to take 45 minutes and involve a 5-inch maximum scar became a four-and-a-half hour ordeal and left my upper body quartered.
Stay tuned for Part 8 in a few days…