Sunday, September 11, 2011

Forms of Pain and Hope

Here we are, ten years after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, on our country.  For the past week, two themes emerge in the news coverage every time we look up: pain and hope.  Embedded in these emotions are resilience, survivorship and faith in better times ahead.  These concepts hit pretty close to home for me as I watch the coverage of the 10 year anniversary while recovering from a more extensive lung surgery than I had anticipated.

Because my lungs and medical history are so complicated, my surgeon proposed a lung resection (cutting out the entire mass), rather than an open lung biopsy, as I mentioned in my last post.  This would allow the pathologists to rule out leukemia, the first cancer (ACCB), the CMV virus I had twice, Graft vs. Host Disease which I finally fought off after 4 rounds, and figure out which of the several dozen possible infections had taken over my right lung.

I am so glad to have been scheduled for Friday, September 2nd, rather than Tuesday, September 6th.  I was released from Hackensack University Medical Center that Tuesday, and now I'm that much further from the long days of my Labor Day weekend.  If there is one constant in the universe, it's that nothing is ever simple with me.  Because my 7 a.m. surgery was delayed till about 4 p.m., Mary was able to make it from Pittsburgh in time to tell me, as I woke up in recovery, that all went well and my surgeon was very happy.  After removing the entire mass, which was the size of an orange (!), he reported that no cancer was found and it was definitely an infection.  We were all pretty sure that this wasn't cancer, but still, no cancer!  The events that followed only make for a good story, in light of the big picture.  But a story is still a story. 

I was doing so well after the surgery, I was sent to a room rather than the ICU.  The next morning when the nurse helped me into a chair, things went south.  Now, some of you know that I have fairly low blood pressure, and I faint easily.  I warned the nurse that I was getting dizzy and nauseous and down I went.  I fainted twice, and at some point, my heart stopped for 3 seconds.  I woke up to 10+ people working on me, and a high speed dash to the ICU, during which, as warned, I tossed my cookies. I felt as though I was living a scene from Grey's Anatomy.  After receiving all kinds of treatments, tests and machinery hook ups, the "episode" as it came to be called, was topped off with having the giant sticky pads slapped onto my chest "just in case they needed to use the paddles."  Of course I was fine within an hour or two, but I had sealed my fate.  I was confined to a small ICU room for the next three days, unable to get out of bed without a massive production of machinery management.

In the meantime, I struggled to deal with pain of the surgery and the chest tube that was sewn into my side for three days.  These problems were somehow worse than the left lung resection I had in 2006 to remove three of the ten masses that were found to have metastasized from the first cancer, ACCB.  (Ah, you forgot that this is all a repeat performance, didn't you?)  In 2006 I was a lot stronger, had a normal immune system and weighed at least 20 pounds more that I do now.  I suppose that explains it. 

The other issue was the puzzle to diagnose this infection.  Ruling bad things out provides tremendous relief, but there are so many possibilities as to what the mass actually contained, I now have to wait for more tests to come back and cultures to grow.  While in the hospital, precautions were taken, on the very small chance I may have something infectious, and as Betty noted, "this is turning into an episode of House."  Best case scenario:  I have something that requires no more treatment, and the surgery removed the problem completely.  Worst case scenario:  I have something that may require a bunch of medications for 6 months - 2 years before this is finally over.  In any case, treatment is not urgent, especially since the mass was first detected in May, so I'm just concentrating on healing from the surgery.  (Honestly, I have little choice in that regard.)

As I tend to the wounds from my latest battle, I am humbled by the courage and strength of those still struggling with the pain of 9/11.  Pain and hope come in many forms and we are all warriors at one time or another.  My heart goes out to all those whose lives were destroyed by the attacks 10 years ago -- those who survived, those who lost loved ones, and those first responders now dying of cancer who have become invisible to politicians refusing to protect their medical needs, insulting their sacrifice and their faith in a system they served with loyalty and dedication.

Perhaps we can take this weekend's lessons to celebrate the good that comes from tragedy (as it always does) and pledge to right the injustices that still linger.  Pain and hope.  There's no escaping them.  Thankfully, we have control over how we respond to them.  I marvel at the human spirit that binds us as a people to protect each other in times of crisis.  Here's to that spirit. 


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