Frankenstein’s Cancer

“Frankenstein”  that is the first word to come to the mind of Sophia.  I was sitting in the family room with a cloth over my head when the two girls came in to see Papa. day #1 post-op.  Since the tumor was only the size of a marble, they were not prepared sweeping length of my suture line.  It starts near the top front of my right ear.  It then makes a small detour around my earlobe before emerging again from the back of my ear descending in a large gentle arc toward the bottom on my neck, stopping just shy of the notch in my throat.

Even though I was in hospital 24 hours, it was termed an “outpatient surgery.”  I elected to be discharged on Tuesday after the Monday surgery.  I had the option of staying an additional day.  But I was able to swallow, I could eat, and my pain seemed well managed on just two pills every four hours.  Before I left the nurse cleaned dried blood from my sutures, adjacent skin, and hair.  This was after she pulled my J-P drain.  This stands for Jackson-Pratt.  At the very bottom of the incision before he closed up the surgeon placed a 8″ tube, the first 4 inches of it round, clear plastic.  The end of it was flat, white, and studded with perforations – kind of like the old fashioned flat hoses we used to gently water flowers in gardens.  The purpose of this one though is to drain, blood that is.  It is connected first to a collapsible clear plastic bulb as in a turkey baster, then on through more tubing to a suction head in the wall.

Over the past twenty hours it had collected 3-4 ounces of my blood.  In my own job at the bone marrow transplant center, I have occasion to “pull” central venous catheters.  Same principle – just clip a suture or two tying the tubing to the skin, then a brisk steady pull.  But when the flat part of the device was pulled through the round hole, I really felt it.

The surgery was remarkable really, both in its daring breadth but also in its seeming predictable every-dayness.  I had spent most of Saturday working in the cellulose-filled attic over the garage, pulling white and yellow electric cable to bring more power, light, and outlets to my workshop.  The work is messy, confined and tedious. You have to work a mask due to the dust and fiber.  I wear a flashlight on a headband in order to see.  This was a job I wanted to finish before my face was to be cut up.

Sunday was better, lazy like more Sundays should be.  Read the paper, wrote a new post for this blog, went to a movie with Tish, then out to dinner for a steak and shrimp.  Who knows when I will be able to chew so easily again.  The week before had seemed long, foreboding and grey – emotionally cloudy.  The weekend was like a calm before a quiet storm.

NPO – nil per os – nothing by mouth after midnight Sunday.  Slept in, took a shower, dressed and grabbed by identification before leaving.  One wonders though why a person might want to misrepresent their identify in order to have this done to them.  I drive,  Tish is too nervous.  That may not be true though.  Maybe she just wears her anxiety on the outside while I keep it subdued within.

We have a community nursing discussion page on the network intranet.  I post short essays periodically, especially when I think my employer might benefit my rather critical feedback.  I wrote last week about my impending surgery and medical leave.  One nurse wrote back that she rarely reads the forum but just happened to that day.  She works in pre-op at IU North hospital and would try to take care of me.  So there I was, laying in a gown in a business-like setting, a business inherently scary, and I have an instant friend and angel to care for me!

I do have an advantage here.  Knowledge is power and I do have knowledge of what is about to happen.  I can substitute anxiety with curiosity.  I can act pointed technical questions.  I can play an alternate role – not the helpless patient on a gurney, but rather a nurse on a tour of the OR.  The anesthesiologist has excellent bedside manner and a give him my complete confidence.  I have come to relish that quick, quiet moment of anesthesia.  That moment that creeps up so quickly and so quietly that it is impossible, almost by definition, to note the precise moment of its arrival.  If it is here, then you’re already gone.  The scrub nurse asked me if I had brought a good dream.  But this is the place beyond dreams.  It strikes me in that last milisecond that this place is more like … well … death …


About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.

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