Saturday, May 9, 2009

You Can't Spell "Extraction" without "Action"

In fact, you could say that extraction is extra-action! You'd be mocked for your inane word play, but you could say it. And it might adequately describe my last few days. I should also note that my mother came to LA from New York last week, and she's been a saint and an incredible source of support. I could not have gotten through all this without her. And she brought my camera from home, which is how I'm able to pictorially document my most recent elopement and my procedures below.

As I mentioned at the end of "Cinco de Mayo Clinic!," my doctors altered their game plan slightly, and on Thursday they implanted the temporary, external pacemaker.
Thursday after the first procedure. Temporary pacemaker on my left neck, incision on my right, where they initially attempted to put it. I like the symmetry--it matches the hospital bracelet on each wrist. Note how the telly box sexily hangs in front of my genitals.

Yes, that's a pacemaker. Watch out John Connor, here I come.

Sometimes you just have to laugh at life. Unfortunately, this cartoon doesn't help at all.

But Thursday was really just a warm-up for Friday: the extraction of the old pacemaker and its three leads. I outlined the numerous serious risks of this surgery in "ID, Please," so I won't repeat them here. But I will say that I was incredibly anxious.

Thursday night, after the implantation of the temporary pacemaker, the surgeon who'd be performing the extraction came to my room to talk with my mother and me. I'd been warned he had a gruff bedside manner, and that he would mention the chances of my death "five times a minute." But he actually seemed quite pleasant, and didn't fixate too much on the odds of my demise. Instead he fixated on how delicate and complicated the extraction can be. He reiterated what my cardiologist had said: with open-heart surgery, you want to be as fast as possible to get the patient off bypass quickly. With lead extraction, you want to be as careful as possible. So, he said the extraction would take at least four hours, but could easily go ten. He added that he was performing a similar operation in the morning, and would likely not get to me until early afternoon.

My mother and I were left to contemplate all this in our own ways. Since I was NPO (from the Latin nil per os, "nothing by mouth") after midnight, my mom went to Westwood to pick up Italian food for dinner. I had about 4 lbs. of delicious pasta. I even had some beer. Then Mom and I retreated to my room and talked until 3:00 am. At 5:30 a care partner woke me up and declared she had to give me a sponge bath with antiseptic soap before my surgery. I tried to inform her that my surgery was not until early afternoon, at the earliest. This led to a series of nurses coming in and out of my room every few minutes to announce that my surgery was in fact scheduled for 9:00, and the OR wanted me there at 8:30. "Fine," I said, "and why do I have to have this bath at 6:00 am?" I convinced the nurses to wake me at 8:00, which they did. They taped up my various bandages and exposed bio-computers to keep them dry, and then I showered. The antiseptic soap was viscous and red, and I felt like I was bathing in blood, which was nice before surgery.
Sissy Spacek gets ready for her surgery.

I was all shiny and clean and ready to go by 8:25. Which was great, because they didn't come get me until 4:00 pm. But I have to thank the nurses (and whatever idiot they say they spoke to in the OR scheduling room) for giving Mom and me an entire day of constant anxiety. Each time there was a knock at the door, I thought, "Here they come. Now I'm going to surgery." I was able to nap intermitently, but my poor mother was too anxious, too focused on her mama-bear guard duty (a role she'd perfected by the time I was a toddler).

But of course, eventually I got taken down to the OR. I was surprised to see windows lining the hallways. Somehow it defied my expectations of cavelike sepulchral operating rooms. The anesthesiologist poked me several times trying to get his IV in. In fact, this is a fun little game I've established with nurses and phlebotomists, as well. My arms have more tracks than the 1, 2, 3 lines (little shout-out for my New York homies!), which is ironic given that I've got an IV into which I could easily shoot heroin. Shortly thereafter, I went under.

I returned to consciousness in the OR recovery room, and a few minutes later my mother joined me. I was drifting in and out.
In the recovery room. I actually felt worse than I looked.

But with a Wolverine-like healing factor, just moments later I was giving the thumbs-up with a look that said, "Join me for a cocktail, won't you?"

I soon got turfed back to my room, where my mom stayed by my side as I continued my crisscross journey through consciousness. I was lucid enough to speak with a few doctors who came to check up on me and inform me how well the procedure had gone. And I was lucid enough to speak to my father on the phone. But I wasn't lucid enough for the Rubik's Cube contest I'd foolishly entered for that evening. But if losing a Rubik's Cube contest was the worst thing that happened to me yesterday, then yesterday was a really good day.
Frighteningly, this is just the opening contest. The real contest starts when the giants come out and compete to solve the huge Rubik's Cubes that these nerds are using as tables. The victor then eats the puny nerds. Why on earth did I ever want to be a part of this thing in the first place?! My God, what was I thinking...

I was allowed only Oxycodone or morphine. Morphine's always made me feel dizzy and nauseated, so I chose the pill. Which made me feel dizzy and nauseated--and did nothing to address the considerable pain I was in. But I was able to eat most of a tuna sandwich, and a few of the cookies Mom had bought. She slept in my room for the second night in a row.

This morning wasn't great either, as the pain at the incision was pretty bad. Worse still, it's upsetting to discover blood stains in your underpants and realize they came from your penis (presumably from the catheter). Peeing was incredibly painful, too, but became much less so over the course of the day.

My mom and I ate lunch in the cafeteria, and I spoke with Katy, all of which helped me feel like I was recovering well. Now I play a waiting game and hope that my blood cultures come back negative, enabling a safer implantation of the new pacemaker, possibly within a week or two. There's a slim chance I could go home for part of that interim period, but I won't hold my breath. Hopefully, however, with yesterday's success, I'm at least out of the woods.

And I always like to end on a humorous note:
Ha ha ha ha ha!

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