Do you think you know how your day will go? Don’t count on it. We truly never know how a day will unfold. And for me, one who enjoys making plans about making plans, this is a harsh reality.
I wanted a second opinion for my tongue cancer diagnosis and treatment. After a multi-day delay, the oral surgeon — the one who actually performed the original biopsy — refused to give me the needed referral, which I personally think is lower than low. My local primary care provider, however, was exemplary and quickly accomplished the task.
November 4, Friday: Laura and I went to the University of Iowa Health Center (Iowa City) to meet with their cancer team for a second opinion. Through simple miscommunication, we were not set up with the doctor I needed to see, but as it turned out, he was exactly the right one for my current circumstances. He is a medical oncologist, known for taking a lot of time with his patients. I was the last appointment for the day, and by the time we met, it was already past official business hours. Still, we were unrushed and we worked through everything that needed to be done that he could do. All of the paperwork to transfer pathology reports and such was completed, yet all the while the doctor kept looking at my neck and asking questions.
It finally came down to his most important question: “Which emergency room are you going to go to tonight?”
I finally was understanding that everything I was feeling, the extreme swelling, the pain, the headache, the “unwellness” of it all, were really symptoms of a very serious situation. After some discussion about which emergency room was in my very near future, we opted to stay in Iowa City, even though we knew the wait would be long. It was, after all, Friday night.
The doctor encouraged us to grab a quick bite to eat, which we did, then we went to emergency. It was several hours before I was seen, nearly Saturday morning before my name was called. The friendly resident arrived in triage, took a look at my neck, and began removing the Steri-Strips that were still attached to my sentinel node biopsy site. By about the third strip removal, he said a quiet, “Oh, my,” and I could tell from Laura’s wide-eyed shock that something serious was going on.
Warning: There’s messy medical stuff ahead.
I felt the drainage begin…then continue…and continue. Purulent draining, they call it. Simple removal of Steri-Strips caused the flood gates to open. Medical staff sprang into action. Multiple blood draws and drainage samples were taken for cultures. Lab results reported an elevated C-Reactive Protein at 23 with white blood count of 22.
Next up, the urgent CT scan of the neck showed a large “collection” of nastiness which was against my right common carotid artery and jugular. This scan was taken after over 30cc was already drained.
November 5, Saturday: The ENT doctor was consulted and around 3:00 AM, I was transferred to their care. IV antibiotics were pumping into my arm and drainage continued. Sometime after that, the decision was made that surgical intervention would be required. Now we wait for an operating room to become available.
It was about 10:00PM before surgery began, and it took a little over an hour to reopen the original incision site and drain and clean out the abscess. Sutures replaced the ones that were removed a week ago, and a penrose drain was added to help the cause.
When I awoke in recovery, a nurse was asking me if I knew where I was. My answer was a clear and emphatic, “I have no idea!” I mean, really. I went to sleep with a dozen people buzzing around and woke up in a different place with one nice lady next to me. Then I realized what she was really asking, and I politely told her I was in recovery in the hospital. Her eyes smiled, and she asked if I wanted my glasses back. Back? Apparently, I was awake a few minutes earlier, and flung my glasses across the room. Well, now. That was unexpected! I behaved myself after that, and sometime in the wee hours of Sunday morning, was moved back to my room.
Laura was there, praying and waiting.
The next few days settled into a routine of IV antibiotics every few hours and frequent blood draws. Even though I was told that a second “intervention” might be needed, or the abscess could begin again, the numbers were looking good and I was responding well to treatment.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, on Friday I had left John at home while I was going to a simple doctor appointment. He was now home alone for several days. Laura frequently called to check on him. I asked my friends Bonnie, Stephanie, Kathleen, Don and Nell to all go by and visit John, which they did. John was very anxious but all things considered, was fine.
November 8, Tuesday: Since we do not have cable TV at home, I took advantage of my time in the hospital and found the Hallmark channel to be a very pleasant companion. By Tuesday, however, I was ready to leave both the hospital and the Hallmark channel.
I found the physicians, nurses, support staff, everyone, at UIHC to be exceptional. They were patient with my questions, kind, respectful, and helpful in every way.
November 11, Friday: An appointment in Galesburg was to be my pre-op History & Physical for the upcoming November 21 surgery in Peoria to remove more tongue with those pesky not-clear margins. However, because of everything that had happened, and still taking oral antibiotics, I could not be cleared for surgery. The good news was this newest lab work showed my numbers within normal limits.
What’s next? I truly have no idea. This neck abscess was a real plot twist, and a scary one at that. I’m not even sure that it is all behind me yet, but will find out more about it soon. Will I have the surgery in Peoria as scheduled? Will the infection be cleared up enough to even have surgery? Having to delay the surgery is a very difficult thing for me to deal with emotionally. There is a lot at stake. Help me, Jesus.