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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.

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