Today (Thursday as I type this), after ten years, I finally set foot in a theater again.
“Have you not seen a movie in ten years?” one might ask.
I have seen tons of movies – just not on the big screen. The last movie I watched in the theater was Julie & Julia, back in 2009, not terribly long before the second cancer diagnosis in 2010.
Since that time, I have not been in the theater because I didn’t want to be That Person, coughing and hacking and ruining other peoples’ experiences.
So what, you ask, did I see today to break myself back into an actual movie at an actual theater? This one, from John and Molly Chester:
If you have the chance to see this on the big screen, you should. The cinematography is exceptional and the time lapse parts are stunning.
If you have the chance to see this on the big screen, or even if you wait for it on a smaller screen, be sure to have some tissues with you if you’re a crier. There are just enough sad/reality parts to generate some tears if you’re that sort of person, but these parts save the film from being the sort of wide-eyed, hippie “we’ll create a farm and live in harmony with everything!” nonsense that causes people to go into any agricultural pursuit as if nothing bad ever happens. It does.
That said, the film does serve as a kind of call to action, for people brave enough (or foolhardy enough) to get their green thumbs growing, even if not on the scale the Chesters did, and without the investor that made their move possible. The story relies on the hope and (non-religious) sort of faith that it can be done, with some patience and with an acknowledgement that we can’t always control every little thing. We can help, though, and in the end, although nature is what it is – sometimes overwhelming, often confounding, and a tad like a rebellious teen – our dropping of a stone in a small, still lake has just the sort of ripple effect that’s needed for both nature and ourselves.
We had to say goodbye to Sir, AKA Mr.Big, the rooster.
He didn’t start big, of course.
But he grew up into a fine looking rooster.
That’s him at the rear, watching over the girls.
And that’s him thinking he’s the master of the world because he figured out how to get on top of the IBC tote we have on the outside of the pool fence at the corner of the house for rain catchment off the roof.
Unfortunately, Mr Big got too aggressive with anyone other than me, and sometimes even with me, so he had to go. I had been planning to cull him for the stewpot for the dogs, but as it become clear it would be a bit before I could physically take care of that, we decided to just give him away to anyone who would come get him.
One of my sisters put him on craigslist, and it didn’t take long for someone to claim him.
As it happens, the very nice guy who came to pick him up raises his own chicks, and Mr Big is quite…active with the ladies. We do not raise our own chicks here, so basically the only thing he was doing at the ranch – beyond having the amazingly fleeting sexy funtimes with the girls (seriously, chicken sex is done in under 60 seconds) with zero babies produced, and being equally amazingly annoying to the girls and to us – was taking up space, eating, and pooping. That’s kind of a no-no on production sites. What’s interesting is that the guy does not raise chickens to eat – they don’t do meat chickens except when they’re culling. But they do raise quail and rabbits (for eating and selling) and baby chicks (for selling). Interesting what you learn about folks.
So Mr. Big is off to have fun with some new gals and has (for now) escaped the stewpot. Things are a lot calmer in the chicken pasture here now that he is not out there trying to run interference.
WARNING: IF YOU’RE SQUEAMISH AT ALL ABOUT MEDICAL STUFF, YOU’LL PROBABLY WANT TO PASS BY THIS ONE. THERE ARE MANY IMAGES OF THE POST-SURGICAL PROCEDURE KIND IN THIS POST.
It’s been a month since the Big Op (plus five days, but who’s counting?). For those of you perhaps just stumbling across this because you went of googling for oral (or tongue) cancer or lung cancer or dysphagia or laryngectomy: the Big Op was the total laryngectomy. Not that the others were a piece of cake or pie or whatever it is you like to eat. I like to think of it as the bastard child of the two cancers, the surgeries, the radiation, and the chemo. Like a giant hippie commune lovefest gone horribly awry.
In any case, the reason for the laryngectomy, officially, was due to a dysfunctional larynx and unmanageable aspiration. That it, the original radiation effects, plus the ongoing effects – because radiation is the gift that keeps on giving – resulted in my larynx neither opening nor closing properly, which affected speaking but (more significantly) was causing me to aspirate crap into my lungs, which in turn created opportunities for pneumonia to get going. Which it took. Between December 2015 and January 2018 I had pneumonia 13 times, five of which landed me in the hospital for at least a day, and one of those landed me in the hospital for eleven days – and I came out of that one at 92 pounds and with a feeding tube.
I’d had a feeding tube before, way back in the beginning. That one I had for nine months-ish. I’m heading into year three with this one.
Part of the impetus for having the total laryngectomy was that even though I was not eating by mouth any longer, I was (and am) still producing quite a lot of mucus in my facehole. Because it’s thicker than saliva, it is both more annoying and harder to swallow, thanks to the dysphagia. The problem is that when you combine this with a dysfunctional larynx, there’s a pretty good chance of eventually suffocating in your sleep and/or inhaling a plug of mucus and suffocating before help can arrive. Enter the total laryngectomy, which separates the trachea and esophagus, giving you one tube for breathing and another for whatever is going on in your mouth.
I put my new ENT off for almost a year on this. Finally, I gave in to what really was inevitable: the problems I was having would only get worse over time, and would likely end up killing me.
On April 26th, I went in for surgery. It took about six hours for the actual surgery: the creation of the permanent stoma, the removal of the larynx and associated structures, the harvesting of a flap of skin from my left thigh to recreate the (now missing) parts. I was in the ICU directly after surgery and for about half a day before they moved me out to the oncology floor (Baptist – Weaver 7 shoutout!). Post surgery, with the stoma, the drains, and the arterial and venous monitor wires on the rebuilt flap (the bulging right above the stoma is the rebuild – swollen and bruised) to make sure the blood supply was ok. Staples along the neck, and stitches in the stoma.
Then, as right now, I have a larytube in the stoma. It’s a fairly short tube, held in place with an oh-so-fashionable collar.
This is how the tube looked the first time they pulled it out to clean it: nasty crap from the stuff that made it down into my trachea while they were working. When I cough, the stuff gets caught in and on the tube. It looks much better these days, with the worst of it when I get up in the morning (and it isn’t bloody and nasty like this, but more clear). I clean several times throughout the day.
That will stay in until things have healed enough that I can move to a base plate – a sticky “plate” with a hole in it that goes over the stoma. With both the larytube and the base plate, there is a button filter called an HME that sits in it. HME stands for heat/moisture exchanger, and is meant to recreate the functions your nose used to perform: filtering and warming/cooling the air you’re taking into your lungs.
There are some complications that can pop up post-surgery, and I’ve had one, although it has not been the usual type: mine is coughing. Yes, you’re supposed to cough to bring up any crap that’s in the lungs, and I had a fair amount of that early on, which required that I clean the tube anywhere from three to six times a day. Sometimes so much/so forceful it would come through the tube and jam up the HME.
But mostly, I have a dry cough. Normally, this would be a shoulder shrug, but what started to happen was a separation of the rebuilt flap from the skin of my neck at the top of the stoma. The pressure from the coughing hammered up against that area and air would just rush right up, further separating the two. This is at the worst. Still fairly swollen, but at least I had my stitches and staples out by this point.
Not a good thing, all that air – and sometimes painful. The more that opened, the more the top of the larytube wanted to ride up into the trough there – which in turn made the bottom of the tube rub against the front of my trachea where it extended down. Coughing causes it all to move, creating even more annoyances.
Right now, I have a piece of hydrafera (an antibacterial spongy thing) taped across the top of the stoma so the top of the larytube rests against that instead of riding up into the trough. I’m trying to control my coughing – not to allow it to really devolve into a full on fit. Not easy, but it beats having further complications in my neck, which I don’t think can really handle it, given all the things it has had to endure over the past 14 years.
I go back on the 4th of June for another followup, and hopefully by then the top of the stoma will be healed enough that I can go back to the base plate instead of having a tube in my trachea. That would be progress.
Also in progress: I continue to sip water as I can. It is getting easier to do so, and this is slightly promising. The next challenge will be able to figure out how to crank my jaws open again. Now that I am not talking at all, I’m finding that my opening is slowly closing in on itself and my jaws are tighter than ever. It’s a shame there is no real research being done on trismus. I can’t imagine I’m the only one out here with this issue.
Onward we go. Because there is no alternative to not, is there?