Thursday, October 13, 2011

Part 5 – Surgery

Continued from Part 4

The surgical team came to get Dad very early on the morning of the day of the surgery.  The technical name for his surgery was a biopsy and debulking; the neurosurgeon wanted to get a sample of the tumor for diagnosis and remove as much of it as possible, which he said would relieve many of Dad's symptoms for the time being.  We had tried to get as much information as we could about what to expect so that we could be as prepared as possible for just before, during, and after the surgery, but many of our questions had gone unanswered and at that point we were all just fighting off sheer panic.  It was like that saying about the appearance of a duck:  we were calm and in control in front of Dad but paddling like hell beneath the surface just to keep afloat.  My mom, my sisters, and I made a pact that we would not cry in front of Dad before the surgery; our strategy was to exude calm confidence around him so that he would take that with him into the surgery. 

Right after they entered Dad’s room in the ICU, the surgical prep team very quickly disconnected the wiring that was hooked up to the monitors, hung the IV bags on the railing and unlocked the wheels on the bed, and rolled Dad’s bed out into the hallway.  “Tell your family goodbye,” the surgical nurse told him.  Fortunately, he was facing away from us at that point because with those words we were all fighting back tears with all of our might.  Whether it was intentional or not, though, Dad was casual; he gave us a wave and then started chatting up the nurse about how he thought it would be a great idea if hospital patients were allowed to have dogs sleep in their beds with them.  "I could have my dog Buddy right here with me," he told her, as he patted the empty spot in the bed by his legs.  

I remember watching his bed be rolled to the end of the hall and then turned so that he was out of our sight.  My eyes filled with tears that I couldn’t stop from spilling over.  I wanted to run after him and say, “STOP!  This is all a mistake!” or at least to give the surgical team a pep talk before they cut my dad’s head open.  I wanted to control what was happening, but there was no control to be had.  I turned to go back into his ICU room and was dumbstruck by the emptiness; I hadn’t realized that they would take him and his bed out of the room that now had almost nothing left in it.  It seemed so harsh, so foreboding, so threatening, and so sad.

My mom, my sisters, and I gathered our things and headed to the ICU Waiting Room, where we had been assured a phone call would come to let us know when the surgery had started and to update us every hour while it went on.  We were on High Guard; our stomachs were in knots as we paced and fretted over the next several hours.  It slayed me that we didn’t even know where in the hospital Dad was during that time; we had been directed to wait in that particular waiting room and so we didn’t even know on what floor the OR was located.  

It was the only period during the time Dad was sick that we had nothing to enter into the Notebook.  Time seemed to move at the pace of a snail, with one desperate hour dragging into the next.  One of my brother-in-laws set up the Care Page so that we could more easily update friends and family members on what was happening, and we tried to create an entry in the waiting room while we waited on an update on Dad, but the Internet connection and the cell phone signal in that part of the hospital were awful.  Actually, it was pretty symbolic for the way the communication between the surgical team and us was going – it was spotty and sporadic at best.

Waiting in that ugly, cold room that day, there was a tenseness that did not go away.  It was just too difficult to imagine what we could lose and so we only dealt with it in bursts.  We took turns holding it together and falling apart; I am sure that in my pacing I covered at least five miles within the walls of the hospital that day.  The sense of desperation and dread were palpable.

The phone in the waiting room did ring many times that day, although not all of the calls that came were for us.  We would literally jump out of our seats each time it rang; I am certain I broke my personal speed record each time I raced to answer the phone.  The updates were all sparse but good; things seemed to be going according to schedule even though for those of us waiting time seemed to be almost standing still during those hours.  Finally, at 1:15, the voice on the other end of the line told us the surgery was over; Dad was in recovery and the neurosurgeon would be up soon to talk to us.  We breathed a collective, tentative sigh of relief. 

However, for some reason the neurosurgeon didn’t appear until 4:15.  An hour before that, I had gone back into the ICU to ask Dad’s nurse in there to call and see what was wrong.  She reported that Dad was off the ventilator but still sedated and that she didn’t know why the surgeon hadn’t been up to see us yet.

When he did show up to usher us into the Room of Doom (You know you’re not going to get GOOD news when they take you in THERE!), he told us that Dad did indeed have the most aggressive and most difficult to treat type of brain cancer and that the prognosis was not good at all.  He told us that he had “managed to remove 80% of the tumor" and said the remaining part was “buried too deep in the brain.”  He offered us the name of a colleague of his, an oncologist whom he said was active in many clinical trials.  I wrote down everything in the Notebook and, when I had run out of things to write, I fell apart.

Continued here… Part 6 – Standing By

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