Saturday, February 03, 2007

On the Other Side

After much jitter, and anxiety that the surgery might be postponed due to the cold I happened to catch just three days before, now on this day I proudly and safely stand on the other side. It's done! And might I add - fabulously done! Great job Dr. Li! Thank you so much.

The surgery proceeded as planned on January 31st. My friend Mark and I stayed at a hotel in Palo Alto the night before so that we didn't have to rush in the morning. At 8:15 am we reported to the Stanford Ambulatory Surgery Center 15 minutes early. Miraculously, my cold symptoms had lessened sufficiently. Even Mark, who'd spent 10 years as a medic in the US Navy, and worked as a nurse, was convinced that I should be ready to proceed. We did all the paperwork (one of the questions on the form was, in so many words - "in case of a medical emergency, would you choose to die gently, or be kept alive as a vegetable?". What a question for that early in the morning, huh?). Then I changed into a hospital gown and we waited in the pre-op area for almost two hours until Dr. Li and my anesthesiologist each came to check on me. The anesthesiologist I could barely remember. He'd called me the night before. That morning he showed up, listened to my lungs, checked my pulse, and said - ah, when it pounds that hard, you must be nervous! I'll give you something that will calm you down. Well, calm me down it did, alright! After he injected whatever it was into my veins, I barely stayed awake during the short trip from the waiting area to the operating room. The last thing I remember was Dr. Li asking me to scoot over to the operating table. I did, lied down, and blacked out promptly - after thinking "wow the operating room looked pretty crammed!", and "not as dark as I'd seen on TV!"

When I came to I was coughing/choking just a little. The first thing I sensed was Dr. Li calling my name and wiping my face, saying - "Kristen! You did very well! It went perfectly." Huh? What? That was it? How long ago was it? My thoughts had no lucidity. I felt extremely groggy and wanted to figure out how much time had lapsed before I regained conciousness. Four hours - it turned out that I'd been in surgery for four hours. They wheeled me to the ICU and kept me there for about an hour or so to make sure I remained stable. Then they wheeled me off to my private room where I stayed for three nights.

As they wheeled me to my room I heard Mark's voice nearby in the hallway and felt immediate relief. It helped so much to have a friend close by! I felt oddly energetic and stayed awake so we chatted for a while. Well, correction - he talked, and I motioned and listened. My jaws have been "wired" shut with rubber bands so I couldn't talk and risk moving my jaws prematurely. Mark bought me a notepad and a pen, AND a cute teddy bear with roses. :) At 8 pm he left when my friend Elaine arrived. She brought me tabloid magazines to help pass time and ease the pain. Elaine spent the night with me and slept in a chair - very uncomfortable! Plus, she woke up every time the nurse came in at night to give me pain killers and antibiotics. Poor thing!

In the morning Elaine left for work and I braved the day alone until Doug came at 5:30. Elaine had told me how "swollen" I'd looked before she took off, but I didn't appreciate the intensity until Dr. Li paid me a visit at 2 pm. As much of a veteran surgeon as he is, even HE chuckled when he saw my face. And after commenting on how I appeared to be more swollen than most people he'd treated, he broke into a polite, but hard-to-surpress laugh. Um, thanks! Oh well. I never fault a comical situation.... even if it's at my own expense. ;) On the flip side, Dr. Li reassured me that the surgery went just perfectly, and he was very happy with the results. That provided some great relief.... even though somehow I never doubted it would be a success.

The day shift wasn't exactly up to par, however. For instance, I'd press the nurse call button, they'd ask via the intercom - "What do you need?", and of course with my jaws wired I couldn't say anything except make noises - so they'd simply hang up on me, perhaps thinking it was a fluke. Argh! And all this happened even though I'd asked the nurse from the night before to make a note that I couldn't talk. It's funny in retrospect, sure, but at the time, it was infuriating. The only thing that brightened the day was the flower arrangement that Jackie sent me. She's such a sweet girl!

When Doug came that evening everything got easier. :) He was just such a great, caring friend! Well, a little groggy himself, perhaps. Because for some unfathomable reason, he'd thought he was taking me home that night! No way. I wasn't due for a discharge until Friday morning - and even that was delayed a day because of my condition. Silly Doug!!

However, he was a real trooper and stayed almost three full days through thick and thin - er, or maybe through gross (me, with a serious nasal congestion) and smelly (him, through three days of no showering). My friend Isabelle visited Thursday night and the three of us chatted for quite a while. She's the one that had recommended this surgery to me in the first place (she went through it herself about five or six years ago). We had a great time "partying" in my hospital room. As soon as she left, though, I felt the wind taken out of me and just crashed.

It was too much to see poor 6'4" Doug cram himself into two chairs and suffer through the long night. Luckily neither of us is overweight, so I invited him to share the tiny hospital bed with me. We managed not to crush it! Thursday night came and went without much ado.

Friday was a different story. After the quick shower in the morning, I felt dizzy and sick in the stomach, and had to lie down immediately after coming back to my room to let it pass. Dr. Li came to check on me again, and suctioned my nose because I began to have trouble breathing through it (and my jaws were "wired" shut!). Unfortunately that problem came back with a vengence at around 7 pm. Breathing became so unbelievably difficult, because my nose was terribly congested and my jaws wired shut, that I experienced my very first panic attack, and thought I was going to die. To be perfectly fair, the two nurses there were not very helpful. The student intern was alright. But the other one was patronizing, telling me that my oxygen intake was at 97% so there was no serious concern. How dare she!! Could she not see how much struggle I was going through just to get some air? I held Doug's hand and before I knew it, tears came running down my very puffy cheeks. Long story short, after about an hour of fear and struggle, my breathing became easier. But, I suspect it'd be a long time before I forget about this particular night.

At 2:30, or 3:30 in the morning neither Doug nor I could sleep so we took a stroll in the hospital instead. It was of course very quiet.... and even serene in a way. We looked through all the paintings on the walls.... and walked through the different corridors. I knew I was getting stronger because standing for an extended period of time didn't make me sick and dizzy anymore.

So this morning we packed and left for home! I had no idea how good it would feel to be home again. But it was definitely relaxing... and helped ease my breathing. How ironic that even though I had JAW surgery, my nosal congestion and breathing became the #1 issue and concern in the immediate recovery period.

I took some snapshots of my face. It is still very swollen.... but the swelling has gone down quite a bit. Spent some time doing before and after comparisons.... which you'll see very shortly!

1 comment:

Daniel said...

Hi! My name is Daniel, and I had e-mailed you at your yahoo address (kristenchat) concerning your blog and your ordeal with the surgery. I also had the same "type" of surgery on January 25th, so we're both kind of heading through this together. I joined the yahoo group and learned of your blog, and it's been a wonderful help to me and my experience so far.

Thanks for doing this!

PS- I had the same exact panic attack!!! Wierd!