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Sunday, December 21, 2008

'The End of the Beginning of the End,' With Apologies to Churchill

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
- Sir Winston Churchill, 1942

And so it was for me on Dec. 21, 2007, exactly a year ago today.

It was early that Friday morning, cool outside, but cooler in the first floor waiting room of Florida Hospital's main campus. Catherine and I checked in and waited. It seemed quite a while but in reality was only 10 minutes.

When they called my name, it was to go into another room to get the basics done, blood pressure, paperwork, that kind of thing.

Of course, it was the morning after my first-time use of my stomach feeding tube to take in "Go Lightly" to clean out my system. Thankfully, that tube allowed me to bypass my mouth and palate.

So I was ready. It was going to be, like Churchill's reference above, my last stand against esophageal cancer. An hour or two later, one of the finest surgeons in Central Florida, Dr. Joe Boyer (right, from the Florida Hospital Web site), was going to wage a blitz on my cancer and remove it, finally, from my body.

So from the paperwork, we were taken to another room, for some early preps. My chest was shaved, down to the wart near my right shoulder. I was placed on a gurney, wearing a surgical gown. Shivering from the nerves and chills of the sterile environment.

Then another ride, me on the gurney and Catherine riding in a separate elevator, to a staging room upstairs. There, the IV, main line and last good-byes would be completed.

Dr. Boyer popped in to offer reassurances. I had to sign more papers. Nurses joked. I joked. I don't think Catherine smiled too much, because she was more nervous than she let on.

We kissed and I think she was escorted to the waiting room. I counted to 10 but never made it past two or three, I don't believe.

That's all I recall from that morning, one year ago today.

And I'm sure a lot of what I do remember is wrong or fuzzy because they were giving me some pretty good drugs before the operation. I'm sure there was more going on before my chest was shaved, more in that communal prep room. The waits might have been more, or less, than I recall.

And when I woke up (Amen, I woke up!) I remember being alone, but that's because I'd awakened earlier to my family though I was still deep in a drug-induced state and didn't remember that encounter.

My first memory after the surgery was probably a day or more after my surgery. I don't remember several visitors who I know were there. Flowers left by my daughter's in-laws. Cousins who visited me during my hospital stay describing their earlier visit when I was in the ICU. I just don't remember that at all.

But I do remember the small TV in my ICU room needed to be pounded on the side to get the volume to work. I remember the tube coming out of my nose and connected to a suction. I remember that tube was stitched into my nose to keep me from removing it or to keep it from moving. I remember a visit from my family a few days after surgery in which I was bestowed with a curiously shaped Santa hat. I remember buzzing the nurses for drugs every two and four hours (four hours for the Percocet and two hours for the Dilaudid).

And now, a year later, it's hard to believe 365 days have passed. Much of the time was a drug-induced blur, but even since returning to work, the time truly has zipped by.

That last stand in the Florida Hospital O.R. truly was the beginning of the end of the beginning. And I'm up for the rest of the fight to keep my survivability numbers in the win column.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sigh of relief

I walked out of the office shortly before 11 this morning and the first thing I noticed was the sun. Warm on my back. Ahh.

An hour earlier, give or take, I'd made my tithe of three vials of blood and was waiting to see Dr. Lee Zehngebot. I'd arrived early, so I read my book and relaxed, if that's possible when you're waiting to see an oncologist.

So in the treatment room, Dr. Z walks in and sets me at ease. "The scans looked great." That's great news, coming up on a year after my surgery, which was a year ago this coming Sunday.

He was far more concerned with the state of the newspaper business. What would become of papers? Where are they heading? Did I see the New York Times' version prepared for the iPhone? (I did now!) We talked Kindle (from Amazon) and the New York Daily News (not doing as well as he'd thought) and the fate of the Sentinel (it's still going strong and will be here for some time to come).

I asked about my liver, since he'd mentioned it on the phone. His answer, "It looks funny. But it will always look funny." That's because my radiation treatments in 2007 cooked a portion of the liver, which we already knew. I didn't even crack my regular joke about that, you know, that the docs forgot the onions.

And I mentioned that my stomach is beginning to feel weird again and that I think I need to see Dr. Philip Styne once again. I can't quite say what's wrong, but I know something is. I'm not digesting as well as a month ago, so either the stricture is tightening again or I need another shot of Botox into the pyloric valve. Or both. Or neither. I'll call Dr. Styne later today.

I also need to see a cardiologist, he suggested, after I noted some discomfort from time to time in that area. He reminded me that just because I'm doing well in my fight against cancer doesn't mean that I shouldn't keep an eye on the other parts of my body.

So the bottom line is I don't have to see Dr. Z until the day before my anniversary in April of the coming year, with some CT scans soon before; I need to call Dr. Styne; and I need to get a cardiologist and get some tests.

Sun on the back; it's going to be a good day.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dr. Z comes through

Late Friday, Dr. Zehngebot called me while I was at work to ease my concerns.

So I didn't have to wait, and wait, and wait.

He said the CT scan I had Monday didn't appear to turn up anything abnormal -- I guess he meant abnormal for my abnormal innards. After all, my stomach is a fraction of its former size, some of it is used to replace a chunk of esophagus that doesn't exist any longer and all of this is practically in my chest.

He said my liver looks a little funny, and I think he was saying that because it looked "funny" after all of my chemo and radiation. The PET scan lit up the liver, but a biopsy cleared me for surgery. So, that's not much of a change.

In any event, I'll find out exactly what Dr. Z meant when I see him Friday morning. But he voiced no concerns about my condition as seen in the CT scan.

So that's another bit of good news going toward my one-year anniversary post surgery. It's so hard to believe it's been that long, and that's a very good milestone to almost have behind me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mr. Impatience

I hate waiting.

I really hate it.

Sometimes it stresses me out. Sometimes not so much.

So I had an CT scan on Monday in advance of my appointment with Dr. Z in a week.

I'm sure all is well -- I feel good. And I'm sure because no one has called.

If there was a problem, they'd call.


That's what I keep telling myself. And I know that's the correct answer. Still, when you're waiting things just don't come fast enough. It's like waiting for that damned bus that never shows up, or the subway train, or the McBurger and fries at a supposed "fast food" restaurant. It's never fast enough.

And so it is today, the end of the work week. No news is good news, right? I'm sure that's the answer. But I sure would love to hear it from the medical staff.

Monday, December 8, 2008

My Old Friend

I visited my old friend, the CT scanner, today (photograph above). We haven't seen one another since August, I believe.

I won't know what's up until I see Dr. Z next Friday. I presume he'll have all the results and that if something is amiss he'll let me know before my appointment.

I just love my time in the CT scan. You know, the yummy orange-flavored contrast drink. Mmmm. The comfortable slab. The iodine IV. Holding my breath in 10-second chunks.

But at least it's over and I'm back home.

The worst part -- honestly -- is the waiting.