I had every intention of coming back here and updating as my recovery progressed. It obviously didn't happen. Things didn't go at all as planned and I have honestly been too emotional to relive it all. It was just too hard to think of going back there. I am finally feeling like it's time: time to look back and find a way to rejoice in how far God has brought me. I know He can use it to help others and while my memory is still clear, I want it in black and white for me to look back on and for my children. So, from the beginning, the morning of May 17, 2011...
We arrived at the hospital on time and were immediately taken back for preparations. They let me know that I was not going to get the privilege of a traditional IV. Nope, the surgeon had requested a "crowbar", as the nurses called it, just in case there were complications. A nurse from the ER was asked to come in and start it because none of the pre-op nurses had ever started one so large. The ER nurse had only done it once, on a severe abdominal trauma. Now, I have been through more than my fair share of IV starts, but this was unreal. I began to sweat and feel faint. Apparently, all the color drained from my face. They flipped me upside down and hooked me up to some cold air. Nope, not going to get this IV started. They decided to put a normal one in and start a central line on me once I was asleep. A central line is a catheter that goes directly into a major blood vessel. It can serve as an IV for the receiving of medicines, blood, and fluids, or it can be used to draw blood from. Mine was inserted just below my collarbone on my right side. I'd only seen these on TV and was not thrilled with the thought, but given the events to come, it turned out to be a Godsend. I was taken into an area where an anesthesiologist implanted an arterial line after the initial IV was in. This was a line put into an artery in my wrist to measure my blood pressure internally. I was then given a moment to say goodbye to Brandon and my mom and then on to the operating room.
There were tons of medical professionals in the room. Thymectomy is a pretty rare surgery and they were all pretty excited to get to see one. Mercifully, I was put to sleep pretty quickly. Surgery lasted only a couple of hours. The doctor updated Brandon, Brandon's dad, and my mom in the family waiting area. He had guesstimated from the CT scan and PET scan that the tumor was about the size of two fingertips. He said he was really questioning doing the surgery out of concern that he'd even be able to find the tumor without much digging. Well, as soon as my sternum was open, it popped up. In a matter of 3 weeks, the tumor had grown to the size of my fist and putting pressure on major blood vessels. He said he was immediately sure he had made the right call.
I woke up in the ICU in an unbelievable amount of pain. I was so unprepared for just how badly this would hurt. I had a hard time speaking, but kept trying to tell them it hurt over and over. The first couple of days are a complete blur. I remember being in pain off and on and really not liking my ICU nurse. That's about it. Surgery was Tuesday morning and by Thursday morning they were moving me to a regular room...ahead of schedule. Not long after being in a room, I began to run a low grade temp. They were concerned, but not overly. They wanted me up and walking and I did, although it was so painful. Thursday afternoon the surgeon came in to remove my chest drain. To say this is the worst thing I have ever experienced is not an exaggeration. Nothing can prepare one for what that feels like. Even now, I get nauseous just thinking about it, but it was one less machine I was hooked to. He said I would likely be released the next afternoon...way ahead of schedule! I walked, I coughed, and did everything they told me to do, in spite of the pain.
That night my friend, Kelly, stayed with me. We had a pretty nice night. I slept better than I had in weeks. About 6am, my mom called to let us know she was on her way to the hospital and to get our breakfast order. I spoke to her and then got up to use the restroom. Once in the bathroom, I began to feel short of breath. I was not thinking clearly or I would have called the nurse from there. Instead, I used every bit of strength I could muster to get back to the bed and pick up the phone. I dialed the nurse and said "need help" before collapsing on the bed. Kelly sat up to see me and ran to my side. My nurse and her supervisor were in the room within seconds. They immediately saw me and called a code. The supervisor came over to me and said, "It is about to get really scary. There are going to be lots of people in here doing lots of things to you. I need you to stay calm. We are going to help you." In no time, my room was filled with nurses, doctors, radiology techs, lab techs, and respiratory therapists. I looked at Kelly and thought I asked her to get to my mom before she saw the hoopla and to call Brandon. I know now I only gave Kelly a look and she knew what to do.
In the meantime, one nurse stood and held my hand while they attempted to check my oxygen level. My hands and feet were blue indicating they weren't getting enough to even check via normal means. They did a chest x-ray right there in the bed, hooked me to oxygen, and took an arterial gas (blood draw from the artery to check blood oxygen. Ouch!). I could hear my mom in the hall asking what was happening and the panic in her voice broke my heart. Something was definitely wrong with my lungs but it was unclear whether I was suffering from an embolism or pneumonia. They decided to take me to CT. As I was being wheeled out of the room, I saw my mom and Kelly. I'll never forget the looks on their faces.
Heading to radiology was like something from a movie. I was being transported in the bed by 3 nurses. They were running and yelling at people to clear the way. Scary. By the time we got there, I was nearly unconscious from struggling to breathe, even with oxygen. They put me into the CT scanner and then came the results...I did indeed have a pulmonary embolism in my right middle lobe, but I also had aspiration pneumonia (pneumonia from inhaling my stomach contents at some point after surgery). Either one of these is life threatening. The two together, nearly unheard of and incredibly serious. Just when I thought we were in the clear, the fight for my life really began...