Monday, April 16, 2012

Unsolved Mystery and a Fire Averted

I’ve never been good at solving mysteries.  My last post included what I thought was the source of that chronic four month old cough:  an endopulmonary lesion.  The doctor said it was "a flap-like piece of tissue that was partially blocking a vital airway."  Although the pulmonologist was able to push this lesion aside with his scope, he said that doing nothing could cause an obstruction that may lead to infections like pneumonia, and that it had to come out.  He referred me to an interventional pulmonologist who could surgically remove the "flap" with a laser.

Off I went, to yet another surgical consult.  The surgeon, a well respected doctor from Sloan who recently moved to Hackensack’s Cancer Center, was all business.  It was clear that he thought very highly of himself. 

While filling out the surgical consent form, he casually mentioned that this procedure carries a “slight risk of an airway fire.”  I fought hard not to burst out laughing.  “Did you just say ‘fire’?”  Without looking up he said, “Yes.  We may have to inject oxygen, since we’ll be breathing for you.  With a laser procedure, injecting oxygen could cause a fire.”  “So then don’t do that!”  I could hear my voice getting shrill.  “Oh, it’s very rare.  But if it does happen, it could be life threatening.”  “No shit.”  I wasn’t laughing anymore.

“Well, could you keep a fire extinguisher handy?”  I was trying to get this guy to crack a smile, which may have calmed me.  No luck.  “Like I said, it’s very rare.”  “Look,” I said, “I need to be able to yell at the Springsteen concert five days after this surgery.  Will I be able to do that?”  “Yes.”  Still no indication that a human being was inside the form of this doctor.  I looked at the resident for help and he just smiled weakly.

I decided to go on vacation before the procedure, just in case things went south.  I spent a week in Arizona, finally able to check in on my father for the first time since I relapsed.  He's in a nursing home in Phoenix for dementia, and my mother, sister and I were able to celebrate his 89th birthday with him.  He recognized all of us and is just as sweet as ever.  I helped my mom and Lynda with some appointments and errands, and got together with several friends.  Then I was off to Alabama to surprise my grandaunt for her 90th birthday.  Mike and Belinda, from Williamburg, VA, met me in Birmingham and Karen, in from Rockville, MD, drove us all to Tuscaloosa.  When Aunt Amy opened the door, I thought she was going to fall over.  It was great fun, and as you can see, she's quite the partier.

Within a week of returning, I was in the OR, praying for a complication-free surgery.  Thankfully, I didn’t wake up in the burn unit, and all went well.  I was relieved I didn’t have to title this post, “Fire in the Hole!”  The odd thing was that Mr. Personality didn’t find anything to remove.  He said that there were no obstructions and that my airways looked “pristine.”  He saw a slight protrusion of cartilage and took a biopsy, then called it a day.  With no abnormalities, he said it was unlikely the surgery would improve my cough.  All that wasted stress about a fire and my cough wasn’t going to improve?  “What about that flap of tissue the first doctor saw?”  He literally yelled at me, “Stop calling it a flap.  There is no flap.”  The plot to this still unsolved mystery thickened when, once the effects from the procedure subsided, my cough was actually better.  It’s now almost entirely gone. 

I’d love to get the two pulmonologists in the same room with each other, but since I’m better now and there’s no longer an imminent danger, they’re too busy with sick people to investigate what the heck happened to me.  All that matters is that my airways are fine, my cough is better and the Bruce concert was over the top fantastic. 

It was a milestone for me to see Bruce live again.  I was first diagnosed with AML a couple of weeks after I saw him perform at Giants Stadium, just before it was torn down in October 2009.  During the next year, I wondered if I’d be here to enjoy another tour.  Listening to him that night, seeing how much joy and hope we can give each other, I marveled once again at the gift of life and the unsolved mysteries that turn out okay in the end.