September 28th, 2007

With Julie in the hospital for her surgery, I’ll be handling the posting duties for a day or two.

We arrived at the hospital at 10:30 this morning per instructions to prepare for her 2PM surgery. Preparations included taking safety precautions (getting ID bracelets, several verifications of who she was and why she was here, marking the surgery sites, etc.) taking stock of her vital signs, and replacing her wardrobe with the latest in high fashion hospital gowns and support hose.

A gurney ride down to nuclear medicine was required so that they could inject a radiological tracer into each side. These tracers would be used later in the surgery to identify the “sentinel” lymph nodes on each side. These lymph nodes are the first ones to collect anything being carried out of the breast tissue, and therefore can be used to determine if the cancer had spread to other parts of the body. As Julie has said, while the loss of body parts is very unfortunate the real question in our minds was whether the cancer had spread, and the sentinel nodes would help answer that.

We were visited at various times by both of the two surgeons, Seth (a “doctor in training” that would be observing the surgery), the anesthesiologist, and of course the usual variety of nurses and staff. The visit from Seth really brought a point home to me, though. There was no practical reason for him to stop by. He didn’t ask any questions about her health or inform her of anything important she should know. Instead, the reason for his visit was to help put a human face on what could otherwise be a pretty intimidating situation. The visit from the surgeon served the same purpose, and part of the purpose of the anesthesiologist’s visit was also to let her meet the real, caring person that would be attending her. These visits weren’t about physical health, they were about emotional comfort, and I applaud the hospital for making that an important part of its culture.

Part way through the morning we learned that the surgery had been delayed until 3PM due to a prior surgery taking longer than expected. This increased the amount of “wait around” time on our hands — an inconvenience that was greatly eased by a visit from our long-time friend Shi-Yi. It would have never occurred to me that you can visit a patient before they go into surgery, but it did to Shi-Yi and we were certainly glad to have her there. Thank you, Shi-Yi.

Contrary to my expectations, they don’t give the patient any serious anesthesia until after the patient is in the operating room. This is another safety protocol. When the patient is actually on the operating table and the surgical staff is present, they check once more with the patient about who they are and why they’re there. I imagine it would be really difficult to explain to someone why a mastectomy was performed when an appendectomy was expected. I joke about it, but I appreciate the extra care the facility makes to be sure everything goes as it should.

Julie finally headed off to the O.R. about 3:40. The surgery was expect to last about two and a half hours, and at 6:15 I was meeting with the surgeon to discuss the results. She told me that the surgery had gone very well, but the really good news was that the sentinel nodes showed no indication of cancer. We’ll get a final pathology report around mid-week next week, but everything is looking very good and we’re very pleased.

Julie spent about 90 minutes in the recovery room before they moved her into a hospital room. I spent about an hour and a half with her in her room. The staff seemed very attentive. She was having some pain, and they were quick to give her something for it. She was drifting off to sleep when I left, but I still found it hard to leave. If I hadn’t had animals to attend to at home, I might have stayed the night.

Thank you all for your good wishes and thoughts. One thing we’ve really learned out of this is how truly lucky we are to have so many people who care. It means more to us than we can possibly express.


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September 2007

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