There are a few groups of people I’ve always found a little bit quirky: Engineers, Goalies, and Surgeons. The Engineers and Goalies in my life are going to get off easy today, because I’m going to share a story about the surgeon, and surgery resident who performed my second biopsy. This was the surgery that ultimately determined the type of cancer I had. It baffles me how I have this platform where I share experiences about this whole cancer thing, and I somehow haven’t shared this story. It might be because I almost have a hard time believing that it actually happened.
I want to preface this story by saying that I was lucid while all of it was happening. Because the tumour was pressing against my heart and lungs, the anesthesiologists were very worried about causing a heart attack or further interrupting my breathing, so I was wide awake for the whole surgery. To this day, I’m not certain that the surgeons knew how wide awake I was.
The biopsy took place in mid December because my first biopsy failed. They wanted to try taking cores of the biopsy with a large needle (which I was also awake for) rather than doing an open surgery. This decision was made to avoid the possible complications I mentioned before. The goal was to make an incision between my 3rd and 4th ribs and dig out enough of the tumour to get a good idea what we were dealing with. They had to be minimally invasive because too much swelling in the area could have caused an obstruction in the blood vessels feeding my heart or lungs. The doctors weren’t sugar coating things for me… this was sort of a big deal.
On the day of the surgery, I changed into my gown and got wheeled through the different wings of the hospital to the OR. There I met the surgeon and the surgery resident who were going to be performing the surgery. They took me into a large room with an additional 5-10 people who were going to be helping with the operation. The preparation for my surgery included covering my face with a sheet. They told me this was so that I wouldn’t have to see the incisions, and just incase I had to sneeze or something. They told me the operation would take about 25-35 minutes, to stay very still, and someone started with the local anaesthetic.
While the surgery was going on, I trying to be as still as I could. I was just listening to the nurses chit chatting, and the various sounds associated with the surgery (trying not to think about what was actually happening).
Suddenly, I felt something on my face. The doctor had to put down one of his instruments, and didn’t think to use the table. Instead he used the little indentation made by my brow ridge and my cheek.
Then it happened again a few minutes later!
I thought to myself “Ok, this is a little weird but it’s fine. If they are so focused on the surgery that they’re using my face as a table, I’m OK with it”
More chit chatting, more buzzing and sizzling sounds coming from the surgical instruments
Then they started reefing on my ribs from the inside. Maybe they were trying to spread them so they could get in there, but the force was almost lifting my upper body off the table. I guess the surgeon needed a little more leverage, so he placed a hand on my covered face, and used it as a counterforce to pull on my ribs! My face was covered by the sheet, but my eyes were wide open and my face was being smushed between the surgeon’s free hand and the operating table!
Now I’m starting to think this probably isn’t normal. Maybe they’re used to their patients being totally unconscious for this surgery and they just forgot I was awake… I started thinking about ways to let them know that I’m awake and listening to and feeling everything they do. A little motion of my head probably won’t do the trick, I’m sure unconscious people do that all the time. I’ve got to ask them a question.
My first thought was to ask “so how much time’s left, guys?”, but I didn’t want them to feel rushed! I want them to take their time and feel no time constraints or pressures at all. Maybe “so is it normal for your patients to be awake on the operating table like this?”, but then I didn’t want them to feel awkward about using my face as part of their rib-crowbar.
Just as I was thinking about how to formulate a completely inconsequential question I heard the resident say “This part always makes me nervous, do you want to do it?”
The surgeon responded nonchalantly “no, you should do it”
So there I am lying half naked on the operating table, surrounded by people. There are two dudes digging around in my chest cavity, and I for some reason feel self conscious because I’m eves-dropping on a conversation I shouldn’t be hearing. On top of that the surgical resident is about to do something that “makes him nervous”…
This is when the anesthesiologist bailed me out, at least that’s how I perceived it. He said “His heart rate is elevating, Andrew are you feeling OK”.
“Yeah, I’m feeling great, but I could use a sedative or something to calm me down”
That’s when I learned why so many people get addicted to Hydromorphone… the next hour or so was absolutely delightful, and the surgery turned out to be a success.
The moral of the story: Opiates fix everything.
The last month hasn’t been all doom and gloom. Amanda and I took a road trip to Colorado, and we also spent a week in Arizona!
On Friday I will be having my second last treatment!
So it goes.