The Hospital: Day 3

July 21, 2005

Each day becomes a bit clearer than the last, opening up entirely new revelations. Mostly of pain, because I tell you what, it’s amazing just how involved the neck muscles are in even the tiniest bit of movement. It’s like when I used to do squats when working out because they involve so many different muscles. The next day, even though you might consider the quads to be the only muscles worked, it’s an overall ache that greets you.

The nursing staff was waking me up every four hours for vitals, and every six hours I was receiving an IV of antibitioics and fluids. The morphine self-administration was also still attached. I was grateful for all of it. One thing I did finally notice on the third day was pressure cuffs on both legs. These would pump and then deflate every 30 seconds or so. I hadn’t noticed them before, even when they had to be removed so I could shuffle to the bathroom and back. Their purpose, I was told, was to help ensure that I didn’t wind up with any nasty blood clots in my legs, since I was fairly motionless the first few days.

I had noticed a couple of tubes in my chest connected to plastic drainage bottles. Like the leg cuffs, these were designed to empty any gather blood and fluid from my left chest to avoid clots. The tubes were inserted near my left clavicle – that’s the collarbone, for those not up to speed on their anatomy. We had a bit of an issue with the drains, or at least the bottles: for some reason where they joined the tubes, the seal was not tight, and the bottles were sucking in air. This meant they would reach their capacity, mostly of air, long before they reached their capacity of fluids which the staff would measure before emptying. Solution? Whoever was hanging around in my room would release the air from the bottles, or the staff would do it during the evenings if no one stayed.

Sounds easy, right? It was easy – for them. For me, it was another ride on a weird pain express. As they released the air from the bottle, and reclosed it, it would suddenly start pulling from whichever tube it was attached to. This resulted in gurgling in my chest which was strange enough, but it also resulted in pain as the pressure evened out once more. Felt a bit like an alien was about to pop out where the drains were.

I spoke to one of the doctors this day. Well, to be honest, he spoke, I croaked, but we managed to communicate nicely. He told me what they’d done during surgery, now that I was coherent enough to understand. My family, of course, knew all about it. They had removed part of the tongue on the left side and sent it to the pathologist for a read while they opened up my neck. They did remove the lymph nodes on the left side, along with part of the nerve, part of the muscle, and part of the jugular. All of that was the reason my left ear felt so huge even though I couldn’t feel it save for pressure when it was touched. It also accounted for the horrendous weakness in my left shoulder, the numbness on the left side of my face, my inability to pull back and down the left side of my mouth (as for a wide smile), and the pain that circled around to the left rear of my neck and up into my head. The incision itself ran from just behind my left ear down to the left clavicle vertically, and then horizontally from slightly under my left jawbone and across my next to just past the right of my chin in sort of a half circle. My sister counted the staples for me: 32. And here I thought the answer to life was 42 all this time. While they were working on my neck, the results came back from the lab: missed. So they went back into my mouth and took more of the tongue further back and also some pieces from the back of my throat in the tonsil area. The second time was the charm, as the margins came back clear. So they sewed me back together, unhooked my chin from whatever they had holding it (I had three little punctures in my chin, as if I were a fish that had been hooked), and sent me off to recovery.

The food choices were still liquids. I’ll say right here that I didn’t care for lukewarm Boost in its can, but I managed to take down about half of it each time, mostly to please my mother. Jello was still dicey, but the soups were ok, if rather bland. It’s a hospital, what do you expect?

By late in the afternoon, we’d all agreed that I could get up out of bed and sit in the chair for a bit, and as long as I was moving around nicely that the leg cuffs could be taken off. That made it ever so much easier to move around nicely, so it was sort of a self-fulfilling thing.

Due to the continuous vomiting, we also decided to switch from morphine to another painkiller, which would allow me to better abe to keep down the fluids I was taking in. They detached the PCA and we went with Roxicet, which is oxycodone and acetaminophen (Tylenol). Every four hours, the staff started nudging me to swig back a dose. Administration was rather interesting: I couldn’t lean my head back in order to drink the entire thing from the dosage cup itself, so they loaded it into an oral syringe and I was able to take it about 1/4 teaspoon at a time, still swallowing quite a bit of air along with it. Cherry flavored belches. The new drug did take the edge off the pain, but nothing could touch the headache that was with me constantly. Solution: motrin. From another syringe. That dulled the headache a bit. There was still no comfortable position to sleep, but I slept a lot anyway.

I received flowers from several people, and I’ll thank them right here for that. They leant a bit of color to what otherwise was you standard beige hospital coloration (which includes the patients, mind you).

One last story for this day: on the first day, one of my aunts brought in a smiley face balloon. The standard yellow colored, big happy face type. It had a small weight on the bottom of the string to keep it in one place, or at least from floating off to join its other helium-filled buddies at some secret hideaway, and it was in front of the small closet that was across from the foot of my bed. During the evening on day three, I had awakened for some reason not related to the staff wrapping a blood pressure cuff around my arm or taking my temperature under my armpit. As I opened my eyes, trying to recall exactly where I was again, the balloon swayed in a slight draft. I swear the thing looked like one of those evil smiley faces, with the canted eyebrows, and in the dimmer light of the room at night, it looked like it was winking at me. At first, I couldn’t figure out what was going on, and it was a little upsetting. But as things cleared, I realized it was just the happy balloon, greeting me from its post as it kept watch over me. That allowed me to fidget around in a vain attempt to find a comfortable sleeping position and then drift back off to sleep until the next scheduled something or other.