Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Step Away From The Mouse

The value of good girlfriends cannot be underestimated. Two nights before my ovaries/fallopian tubes/uterus surgery, my friends came over to keep me company and share some laughs. I baked a most delicious cake in the shape of a uterus, complete with gummy worms to represent the fallopian tubes and cupcakes topped with M&Ms to represent the ovaries & eggs. A few glasses of Champagne later, I open up the "Fuck the Hormones Basket O' Goodies." Screw you, Menopause! I'm getting some presents: Pocket Rocket vibrator, K-Y Jelly, soft washcloth (for those pesky night sweats), and a couple of other fun treats. Thank you, ladies!!

Meanwhile, I put my basket o' goodies on a low shelf in my home office located just off my bedroom. A few days after surgery, I am hanging out in bed when my 5 year old, who is rustling around in the office, comes out with the Pocket Rocket in his hand.

"Mommy, what's this?"

Without missing a beat, I say, "Honey, put that down. It's something for Mommy's (pause) computer."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fipple and Other Fun Words

I want to start a running glossary list of all the new and extremely fun BRCA and BC words that Tasha and I have learned and/or made up:

Anything with the word "Foob" means Fake + Boob. Foob. Say it loud and proud!

2.) FIPPLE. This is like Foob, but for nipples. Fake + Nipple = Fipple. Fipples give visual closure to the Foobs.

3.) PIE CRUST FOOB. Well, this is when you sometimes get an unfortunate and annoying complication of a Foob settling in a weird way, creating dimpling that looks like a pie crust freshly made with thumb prints in it. Replacing the Foob implant with a nice new one a little bit larger resolves the problem.

4.) ANGRY EYES. A la Mr. Potato Head. For those who have upgraded and gotten larger Foobs than pre-mastectomy cup sizes, there is an interesting side effect when the Fipple is added. Fipples are located below the original mastectomy scars. The scars look a lot like eyebrows (at least until they fade) and the Fipples look a lot like eyes. Thus the rather disconcerting "Angry Eyes" effect.

5.) APPALACHIAN MOUNTAIN BOOB. This is when surgery/radiation makes the boob look like what happens to the tops of mountains in Appalachia. Easily explained with a slash motion of the hand. Not to be confused with the "Hiking the Appalachian Trail" concept.

6.) AQUARIUM BELLY. After a hysterectomy, the tummy swells up a lot and makes many sloshing, gurgling, bubbling noises. Looks and feels like a 55 gallon fish tank is lodged in there. Especially noticeable in bed when turning over from back to side.

7.) FAT-N-SURLY. This is another name for the drug Tamoxifen, which is used to treat and prevent breast cancer. In addition, "Fat-N-Surly" is a good name to describe pretty much how all women feel after surgery.

I know there are more definitions out there. Feel free to add.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Garden of Pharmacological Delight

Having major surgery means you get to try out lots of different types of drugs. Legally. Percoset, Vicodin, Oxycontin, all the big boys. Unfortunately for me, painkillers make me nauseous and shaky. Dammit! I think it would be a lot more appropriate and fair if I got a huge buzz from painkillers. Right? I mean, recovery would be a whole lot more fun.

Now, if only my doctors would prescribe some morphine for me to take at home. I could not believe how RIDICULOUSLY EUPHORIC I felt my first night after surgery on that stuff. After settling in to my bed, the nurse placed a little joystick (aptly named) in my hand, with a button on the top. "If you feel discomfort, just press the button and you will self-administer morphine."

Me (rapidly pressing the button over and over again as though I'm playing Space Invaders, and YES, I recognize that referencing Space Invaders completely dates me since this is only relevant if you grew up in the 70's): "Um, I assume you have this rigged up so I don't accidentally overdose myself?"

Nurse (curtly, perhaps?): "Of course, you can only receive a prescribed amount."

'Nuff said.

Basically, I hit that button regularly all night long and experienced moments where I was completely one with the universe. I figured out how to achieve world peace. I understood calculus. I came to terms with my feelings about my mother. I haven't felt like this since the Dead show at the Meadowlands in '89. WHEEEEEEE!!!!!!

Ah well. Short lived euphoria in the garden of pharmacological delight. Now it's back to reality and a bit of ibuprofen now and then.

Monday, February 15, 2010

No Foreign Objects

As I am getting ready to leave the hospital post ovary/fallopian tube/uterus removal, the PA (Physician's Assistant) comes in to walk me through all of the details I need to know. I get a nice little checklist of medications, when I have to come in for follow-up appointments, rules about no lifting, rules about no exercising, etc.

My favorite part of her speech comes next. She takes a breath, and then like an auctioneer at an antique show, gets right into "There can be nothing in the vagina for 6 weeks, no douches, no tampons, no foreign objects (WHOA, HANG ON FOR JUST A MINUTE-- I want to interrupt and ask exactly what kinds of foreign objects other women thought might be a good idea to insert after surgery but she is on a roll so I am going to hold my question until the end), no sexual intercourse, did I mention no sexual intercourse for 6 weeks." Then she looks at my husband, Jeff, and reiterates loudly "NO SEXUAL INTERCOURSE FOR 6 WEEKS!!"

I am quietly giggling to myself. This is like 8th grade health class. I suppose Jeff and I should be really clinical and mature, since we are discussing post surgical restrictions and all, but it feels like a lecture from a very stern pro-abstinence Sunday school teacher. Jeff doesn't even know where to look. "Great, OK then, I'm going to just pull the car around and I think we're all set. OK, thanks, perfect."

I never did get to ask about the foreign objects.

The Art of Communication

I like surgeons. I've gotten to know quite a few this year, and in general, I find surgeons to be a straightforward, no bullshit, cool, confident, highly skilled, competent bunch. They fix people! It's totally impressive. I've been in the business world for about 20 years now, and I can say that working an Excel spreadsheet just can't compete with neatly slicing a person open, removing an offending part, and then sewing the person back up. Lots of times in one day, even!

However, there is one area where I would argue that former English majors and MBA types can teach MDs a few things-- the fine art of communication. I want to take a moment to share some actual phrases doctors have said to me this year:

1.) You have a lovely thorax.
2.) You could become hirsute.
3.) We will get you a larger size. We really don't make implants in your size. (Gulp. Really.)

I'm going to elaborate on each one, because each one, in my opinion, is so damn funny.

Pre-mastectomy, I am sitting in my plastic surgeon's office discussing the upcoming procedure. He has some kind of senior resident visiting patients with him. We talk about implants, how they will be put in, what kind, what size, etc. The resident peers closely at my torso and says, "I think you will get a great result because you have a lovely thorax." Thorax? What am I, an insect? Why would you say THORAX?? That is just bizarre.

Pre-sub total hysterectomy (now that's a fun cocktail party phrase), I am sitting in my gynecological oncologist's office after the exam. I have a list of questions for him regarding side effects of going through menopause at the ripe old age of 39. I want all of the options and the various pros and cons, kind of like a female anatomy decision tree. He is very obliging and we start to walk through different scenarios. We get into sex drive and how that could be impacted by hormonal changes. I ask for some possible solutions, and he says that adding testosterone can increase sex drive (yep, any teenage boy overdosing on testosterone will certainly agree). But then, the kicker-- he musingly states, "But you could become hirsute." I can no longer focus on anything he is saying. It's like the Charlie Brown teacher... "wha wha wha wha, wha wha wha." Background noise. Did he really tell me I am going to become HAIRY?? What, so my choices are smooth skinned and sexually disinterested, or hairy and horny? Holy crap.

Again, pre-mastectomy, sitting in my breast surgeon's office (he does removal as opposed to reconstruction). He is the ultimate no-nonsense guy. Right to the point. He looks at my chest and says, "Well, we will get you a larger size because we really don't make implants in your size." I pause, considering. A few thoughts go through my mind:
1.) Of course. Makes some kind of weird sense. Why the hell would anyone go through all of this surgery just to reconstruct an A cup? A cups are barely even visible.
2.) Followed immediately by...why the fuck not? I happen to LIKE my A cups. They have served me well over the years. Great for jogging. Nursed two kids. Why would anyone presume that I would choose to "upgrade" and get a bigger size?
3.) Then followed by... sigh. Of course. I'm going for the upgrade. Who am I kidding. Am I selling out in some way by going for Big & Bouncy B cups? Eh. I have "foob greed."

Anyone else have some crazy doctor stories to share?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Night Nurse

This anecdote has been percolating for 10 months, ever since I got my double mastectomy in April 2009. Despite the potent morphine & anesthesia-induced haze during the night post surgery, I remember the details vividly. In fact, the inspiration for this blog directly resulted from My Night Nurse story (thanks, Jill, for pushing me to write it down!).

To set the scene--
I never had any major surgery prior to the mastectomy. I did talk to my doctors, friends, family, women who have gone through the procedure, as well as checked out community message boards to figure out what I should expect. Apparently the night after the surgery would be pretty rough. Best to have someone with you to keep you company and be your advocate.

My mother-in-law, Lisa, with whom I am very close, persuaded me to get a private night nurse. This way, my husband could stay home with the kids and I would get lots of proper medical attention during the night. And I did. Lots of attention. So, so much attention. I am curious if anyone else had an experience similar to mine. Read on.

So, I am squared away in my hospital room, after the hideous transition from gurney (which takes you from recovery) to bed. No one really explains ahead of time that you need to move yourself onto the bed. Without using your arms. After much shrieking and flailing and cursing (from both me and the two hapless techs tasked with moving me), I am situated. Poor Jeff, my husband, was convinced that they dropped me on the floor. Wisely, they wouldn't let him witness the transfer.

The Night Nurse (NN) arrives. She is very experienced and has been a nurse for over 30 years. Great. Jeff heads out & NN gets to work. She is busy. Folding clothes, taking out trash, bustling around the room. I just want to sleep. There is constant commotion. Moving chairs. Rustling papers. Adjusting blankets. I think, "Lady, I need to SLEEP." Finally, I drift off.

Only to be awakened by NN less than 1/2 hour later. Bright and cheery, "Let's get you to the bathroom." We make the trip to the bathroom. Back to bed. Takes a good 20 minutes. Then, "Shall we try the breathing apparatus?" What. The. Hell. But maybe she knows best. I breathe in to a plastic tube that measures my lung capacity or something. "Now for some juice!" I politely decline and firmly close my eyes. "Umm, Nurse, I am ready to sleep now."

This goes on ALL NIGHT LONG. She is constantly waking me up to do this or that. Is this NORMAL??? I have no idea. But here is the crowning moment of my experience-- at 4:45am, NN peers over me. I open my eyes and there she is, inches away. "I think you are ready for your Sponge Bath!" She is positively giddy.

Me (groggily): "What time is it?"
I peer out my window, where it is pitch black outside.
NN (brightly): "4:45am! I think you will feel SO much better."

Me: "No thanks. I just showered 15 hours ago."

NN: "Oh, but you will feel great after a sponge bath."

Me: "Really. I don't want one."

NN (cheerful as could be): "Let me get you ready for your sponge bath!"
And proceeds to busily bustle around the room, getting all of the items organized.
I guess I am getting a sponge bath, goddammit.

Sure enough, NN gets to work. And let me tell you, attention was PAID. To. All. My. Parts. I know I was whacked out on morphine, Percoset, anesthesia and a bunch of other hardcore drugs, but this was ridiculous. This lady was thorough. I wonder to myself whether NN knows Maria, the Brazilian waxer at the local spa. That kind of thorough. And really, does anyone actually need a sponge bath before 5am?!

NN (sweetly): "There. All better?"

Me (shell shocked): "I think I am ready to go back to sleep. G'night."

There you have it.