Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Grateful for a 'Pain in the Neck'.

What's on the list today? Two things. Pinching myself for all I have and organizing a celebration dinner for two.

A year ago, March 30, 2010, on a gray, drizzling Northwest morning, I nervously drove my husband Kent to the hospital. No, thankfully we were not racing to ER, but for surgery that had been scheduled.

Here's the story. He had been complaining of a stiff, sore neck. Not terribly unusual - it had been an on-going issue. Finally, he makes an appointment with a chiropractor. The day of the appointment, the doc sends him for x-rays. He returns to the chiropractors office, x-rays in hand, gets a good crack, and feeling oh-so-much better, he goes back to work. Done. Pain gone.

A few hours later, Kent receives a call from the chiropractor stating "the radiologist has found a large mass in your chest - you need to contact your primary care doctor immediately"! Somewhat panicked, he called our doctors office and explained the issue. Our doc's gone for the day but a new physician could see him later that evening. What doctors keep such late hours?

Terrified - we go in together. She was young and delightful and we felt in good hands. She quickly viewed the films and said, "These are not chest x-rays. Your chin could be in the way, or it could be the way the x-rays were taken. Let's get some better pictures"! However that very evening the office x-ray machine was undergoing it's own bit of scheduled surgery and wouldn't be available until the next morning.

We're back first thing the following morning for additional x-rays. Our regular doctor is in and he along with the doc from the previous evening review the new films. The next afternoon we are on our way to see a radiologist for a cat scan. Yes, there is a mass. However instead of being visible from the outside, this out-of-control alien has invaded Kent's throat and potentially his chest.

The radiologist performed a immediate needle biopsy. He feels the mass is Kent's thyroid gland gone crazy! He's 90 percent sure it's a benign goiter. But to cover his bases, he suggests alternate diagnoses like lymphoma, thymoma or carcinoma. The biopsy is sent to the lab with results not available until the next week. We're like deer in the headlights! We head home to wait it out, terrified of what's to come.

What's next? A call from the radiologist - the biopsy was negative! No cancer!! You could have heard our hoops, shouts and collected sighs of relief from across the country!

The next step? We're off to see the ENT (ear, nose and throat) surgeon who will remove the tumor. We visit him and after the examination, he refers Kent to a thoracic surgeon. He feels the tumor is unusually large and he wants another opinion. Uh-oh!

The next morning we're off to see the thoracic surgeon. He reviews the x-rays and reports, examines Kent and afterwards we sit down for a serious chat. He feels there is more than one tumor, it very likely is wrapped around Kent's heart and despite the earlier biopsy and lab results, he's not ruling out cancer. The previous evening's joy, quickly turned to terror once again.

We knew surgery was inevitable but instead of a relatively common procedure to remove the thyroid, we're now facing potential, full-on, crack open the chest surgery. Basically, beating heart surgery without the heart being the issue! Neither surgeon could give us an answer to the size or extent of the tumors until they were able to get in and see what was going on. We schedule the surgery.

As I sat in the family waiting room a year ago today with two amazing, kind friends, we nervously watched as a big monitor would inform us when Kent was headed to recovery. If the tumors came out easily, the ENT surgeon could handle it and the procedure would be over in a couple of hours. If the tumors were close to his heart, the thoracic surgeon would have to get involved. Two and a half hours in, I receive a call from OR. The ENT surgeon is done, the thoracic surgeon has taken over. My heart sinks.

Long-story shortened, after an unanticipated extended stay in the hospital (too long of a story), plus an intense first week home, followed by five weeks of serious recovery and a year's worth of tinkering with thyroid medications, my husband for the most part - has recovered. A few weeks after surgery, he was  walking the  the dog, a few weeks more, took his first hike, by mid-summer he was out there waving a stick over a high-mountain lake.

The tumors, (yes there were more than one), a big 'ol sucker in his throat that nearly closed his windpipe - plus three 'satellites' that surrounded his heart, were all thankfully benign. No wonder I was smokin' him on our evening walks! The surgeons said he was more than just a little lucky he'd not suffered a stroke! And the pain in his neck was most likely due to the size of the tumors which could have potentially been growing for years!

I know it was fate that took him to the chiropractor.

So today, yes, my list is short, but more important than ever. The first item; I quietly thanked the 'powers-that-be' and the two surgeons who saved my husband's life. The second; tonight as we sit together for dinner on the anniversary of that terrifying day, we are able to celebrate all we have and all that is yet to come.

I am humbled and will be forever grateful for that 'Pain in the Neck'.

1 comment:

  1. What a year you have had! You must be so relieved it is over. My best wishes to your husband! I am so glad that he is doing well.