The Hospital Experience

Someone asked me the other day if I believed in God after all this and I said no. Sheila said the reason why she asked was because a lot of people would be unable to get through something like my ordeal without a lot of faith. I said I got through it because of my sense of humor. She said (for she was from Ireland) that humor is how the Irish deal with tragedy.

Some of the lovely side effects from the Decadron (which is something like 80 times stronger than the Prednisone) are weight gain, swollen joints, moon face, papery skin, and acne. And sure enough I got all of those side effects. For one thing, it was like hitting puberty again--mood swings were included in that list of symptoms. I also was ravenous all of the time--I would wake at 4 am and be starving and stagger to the kitchen to cram three or four bowls of cereal down, before breakfast a few hours later. I gained 30 pounds in two weeks, and continued to gain another 20 after the surgery. My hips and thighs look like I have been attacked by a lion--long vertical tears in the epidermis.

At one point, we went out for all-you-can-eat sushi, and it was one of the few times during those two weeks that I was really FULL. It was 30 bucks a person, which for sushi is quite reasonable. We waddled out of the restaurant, so full that once you stood up you couldn't sit back down. It was me and Billy-Bob and Rich and Anita and Paul and Jill, and soon after we went there the restaurant stopped doing an all-you-can-eat thing. Coincidence? Hmmm.

I was debriefed in between my first hospital stay and the surgery, and one of the things the doctors did was minimize the seriousness of the operation, which to me is the wrong way to go, because I spent those two weeks eating and not really worrying about this life threatening operation I was about to have. In some ways that was good, but it also meant that 5 months later, I was still contending with the 40 pounds I put on, and I was unhappy about being so fat. I know, don't worry about the whole body image thing, but I went from being 130 pounds my entire adult life to 175 or so. Plus my skin ripped (thanks mom for those good German peasant stock hips and thighs) all over my thighs and butt and hips, where it tried to stretch but failed and the sub derma ripped instead. As Billy-Bob said to me at one point, " Your butt is ruined." (A real classy guy.)

Anyway, I had to show up at the hospital at 6 a. m. on May 8 because surgery started at 8 o'clock and they had to get me prepared and everything. I don't remember actually going into the operating room--all I remember is the setup where I met the anesthesiologist, in this little pre-surgery room with about a dozen other people being prepped for surgery. There was even a woman afterwards who wanted to know if I remembered any of the surgery. I suppose it was because I was under for so long--14 hours--that they wanted to find out if I had any memories of coming out from under the anesthesia. Oh--and I also remember that the assistant anesthesiologist had trouble finding any veins for the IV, which proved to be a harbinger of my stay, since at one point we ran out of veins in my arms and had to go to an IV in my foot, meaning that all my usable veins were blown out from overuse. The neurosurgeon, Dr. Levy, kept coming out during the 14 hours of surgery to give everyone who was waiting (Billy-Bob, my mom and dad and sister, and my sisters girlfriend) an idea of how things were progressing.

The tumor was the size of a golf ball (5 cm in diameter), if not a little larger, and was the second largest the neurosurgeon had seen in the 14 years he had been doing surgery. It was an acoustic neuroma, which is basically the sheath of the seventh nerve swells up and grows out of control. Benign, luckily, but the didn't know for sure until they had operated and sent tissue samples down to the lab while surgery was going on. The doctor had to take that nerve, which controls balance and hearing (on the right side), which is why I was so dizzy after the surgery (and still am, a little, but the other ear will supposedly learn to compensate for the lost balance.) There was also a second tumor on the nerve that feeds the whole right side of my face, a small one, which they burned its blood supply so hopefully it will die, or at least not grow anymore. The right side of my face is paralyzed now, though I have gained some tone since it happened (at first I looked like a stroke patient.) It feels like just having gotten back from the dentist--Novocaine city.

The doctors had "promised" that one of the side effects from surgery meant that I would be dizzy, and sure enough I was. It was like having the drunken spins without all of the fun parts of being drunk. I was taken down to intensive care after the surgery was over. I remember bits and pieces of being in intensive care, such as my mom being there, and Billy-Bob ( we told the nurses and hospital staff that we were engaged so that he would have a say in what was happening to me), and my sister. I also remember a friend of mine coming to visit me--he had just gotten back from visiting family for a month in India; his name is Sunny, and he came into intensive care with all of these neat gifts he had gotten me...I could barely move or see and I was trying to admire the earrings and other stuff he got me.

I remember him going, "...and here I thought you would like these--they're tiny silver teapots..." holding each pair up, waiting for me to admire them.

In retrospect it was rather funny, considering I had just had major surgery and was barely conscious.

At one point I was so dizzy that I opened my eyes and found myself stuck to the wall, with everything rotated accordingly. This was when they had moved me out of intensive care to a private room. It was kind of cool being stuck to the wall, just dangling there but in bed, and I remember thinking gee, this would be really cool--like an acid trip--if it hadn't lasted so long, which made me scared.

Billy-Bob and my sister Amber both told me that I spent most of my time laying there saying, "Oh, oh, oh, I'm spinning." I also was experiencing a feeling of constant deja vu, for more than ten minutes at a time, which was also really surreal and irritating, because I knew everything that was going to happen next. Amber came out from California with my family to be there while I had surgery, and she ended up catching a cold and not being allowed to see me without a mask on--and then she ended up passing out because she was breathing so shallow through the mask.

Oh--I almost forgot--they had put in a catheter for during and after the surgery, and let me tell you something about catheters: NEVER pull on them, because they are held in by some sort of liquid and tubing, and pulling is a Bad Thing. Also I got my period the day after surgery, and had to be given a sponge bath more than once! Ick! It was bad enough having to be cleaned by someone else, even worse to be that dirty.

I was in the hospital for about a week, then I went home. Then things got really crazy because I slipped into something called "Steroid Psychosis" due to the megadoses of steroids I was given before and after the surgery, given to shrink swelling of the tumor to make it easier to remove and to lessen my headaches. Then the fun started. Extreme sarcasm there. Luckily I can't remember much of my last visit, because it was pretty unfun.


Next chapter: The Steriod Psychosis