[decided to share this in two posts because of how much there is to share and how long it takes me to type with this ridiculous cast!]
Where to even start this post, I do not know. The nasty, gory stuff is probably the most interesting so I’ll indulge that curiosity first.
But first, here is picture I snapped with my hot nurse right before being wheeled away to the operating room. Camilla is SUPERWOMAN. She “slept” at the hospital every night with me and kept me as calm and comfortable as possible. Since coming home from the hospital on March 13th she’s been a nurse 24/7 by changing bandages, carrying me from the bed to the bathroom, managing my feeding tube, and grinding up and administering medications every four hours.
And just to repeat what I’ve said before, I hope that no one reads this post and leaves with feelings of pity. The point of writing so openly about our story isn’t to fish for sympathy. The reason for continuing to blog is to accentuate the Light that shines brightest when enduring challenges, and to inspire us all (myself included!) to TRUST GOD no matter what. I just wanted to reiterate that point in case this post comes across as pretty miserable. It has been a miserable two weeks post surgery, no question. But things are looking up and we will come through this chapter of the experience stronger and more dedicated.
This was a tough, complicated surgery. When they wheeled me into the operating room there were about a dozen nurses and surgical assistants buzzing around the room with my two regal surgeons prepping themselves, one of whom was actually reviewing some notes on what looked like a very worn text book. It took the two surgeons and their teams six hours to harvest a free radial flap from one arm and a bone from one leg and graft all the tissue through micro vascular reconstruction into the part of my face that is was damaged from radiation treatment. There is a metal plate in there somewhere too, and another skin graft from my thigh to help cover everything back up. All that plus 50-60 staples and I was pieced back together.
Coming out of the operating room, both surgeons talked with Camilla about how well they felt like the surgery went. I’m sure they try to share positivity and encouragement with every post-op discussion; however, one of the surgeons made an emphatic point to us as he visited me in the ICU last Sunday. He said:
This procedure went exceptionally well. With all the complexity there are usually aspects of the surgery that aren’t totally smooth. Not this one. It all went perfectly. It was like I was being guided through the operation by a Higher Power. It was a very memorable experience.
Ten days later I was getting the staples removed and one of the nurses in the OR that night confirmed she had the same feeling when she said
That was a cool night…everything just seemed to come together so perfectly.
A huge break for me was that when the surgeons got in to cut away the disintegrated part of the mandible, it had not progressed as much as they feared toward the front of my mouth. So instead of cutting from the mid-line of my lower jaw and removing exactly half of the teeth on my lower jaw, they removed from the canine tooth backward (only 4 teeth). I have been quite preoccupied with the aesthetic impact this surgery would create (missing obvious teeth in the front of my smile, lopsided jaw shape, future dental / denture issues). But for right now it looks like the impact overall on those things will be minimal (I’ll eventually get 4 dental implants on my right side to replace teeth removed but none are visible).
the breathing tube
Like after last January’s surgery, I was left sedated and intubated through the night even though the surgery ended by 10 pm. My first 10 hours of consciousness last January were unbearable because of the breathing tube. This time I barely remember the experience. The first 7-8 hours of that day are so hazy that I only slightly recall when we took the tube out. Were it not for the video Camilla took you would have a hard time convincing me it ever happened. This was probably the biggest miracle of the hospital stay for me.
intensive care unit
Pain management has been the big challenge this go around, and it started right when I came out of sedation. Because I’ve been taking pain killers regularly for six months for the jaw necrosis, a normal cocktail of ICU narcotics didn’t really do much for me.
And I suffered.
I couldn’t communicate and I was irritable and antsy and, honestly, I was in borderline agony most of that first afternoon. By that evening I was basically defeated. I couldn’t imagine going through the night without getting some relief. I told Camilla “I quit” and she consoled me and assured me and calmed me down. At one point I took a whiteboard marker I’d been using to scribble primitive communications with my un-bandaged left hand and I threw it as hard as I could against the wall when a nurse finished telling me there wasn’t really anything else they could give me to alleviate the pain. I broke down into tears after the episode and tried to mumble an apology to the nurse for loosing it.
I was broken.
Camilla kept working with me and coaxing me onward and comforting me and distracting me. By 10 pm we asked a close friend of ours to come to the ICU to pray with us and give me another blessing. It was the same friend who popped into the ICU last year during my lowest moment on Day 1. Prior to this surgery I had requested from him and my other friends that no one visit me in the hospital. I wanted time to be alone and just with Camilla this time. But this good friend hustled to the hospital at a moment’s notice and breathed peace and comfort into the room via a priesthood blessing I felt more than heard.
Not sure how but the sun rose the next morning.
the remaining hospital stay
By Sunday afternoon (three days after surgery) they transferred me from the ICU to a normal hospital room. By this time the unbearable pain had reduced to mostly a constant discomfort and occasional breakout pain. Most of the discomfort was from laying / sitting in a hospital bed on my 145 pound boney butt! I mostly survived in 3-4 hour increments. I would get pain meds and spend the first hour mostly comfortable in a recliner chair. As I got restless in the chair I would transition to the bed and sleep for 1.5 to 2 hours. Then I would wake up and spend the next 45 minutes to 1 hour gritting out the increasing pain until 4 hours were up and I could re-medicate.
On Monday my surgeons came to check on me and I told them how miserable I was and that I really felt my recovery would go smoother if they released me to go home. Since we were already experienced with the feeding tube, pill crushing, and bandage rotation plan from the previous year, the doctors acquiesced and gave me release orders for the next day, Tuesday. I was elated, but also a little nervous about keeping up with everything. In Camilla we trust!
I’ll wrap up this first part of the post and describe the next week of recovery from home in the next one. Suffice it to say, the 5 days in the hospital was tough. Was it tougher than expected or tougher than last year’s surgery? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. It was in the same zip code. A zip code we’d been in before. Camilla and I know our way around. We know the path, and thankfully we know The Guide.
“I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” – Jesus
the next post will have 5-10 days of recovery and some thoughts on principles from this talk called “Waiting upon the Lord” by Elder Robert Hales