July 27, 2005
Time for the de-Frankensteining of my neck. We head to the doctor, who cheerfully starts plucking staples (32!) out of my neck. He says the incisions look good, takes a look at my tongue, bends my head this way and that. Overall, things have gone very well. They also have the pathology report back from the tissue removed during surgery: two positive lymph nodes, as we knew from the scans, and the margins were clear on the tongue and throat tissue, with a note that there was some perineural invasion. The second doctor (the resident) is quick to point out that this is from the tissue that was removed – there is no real way to know at this point if any further invasion is present. They recommend that we go back to our radiation oncologist with the report to see what he thinks as well, just to have our bases covered.
From just beneath my left eye all the way down the left side of my face to just below my left clavicle is numb, as is my left shoulder. At the same time, there’s a sort of tingling I can feel. The doctor says this is normal, as it’s a result of the trauma from surgery as well as due to the nerve and muscle portions they had to remove. He tells me I have to start doing some exercises to bring that side back up to strength. Easy for him to say, since I feel like someone has been taking batting practice at that side of my body. But I tell him I will, and I have been trying to lift my arm to shoulder level anyway, so it’s all good.
My only problem at this point is a huge knotted area in my neck, just to the right of my windpipe. I suspect this is due to a rather severe coughing fit I’d had two nights previously, where I foolishly tried to send some water down the wrong hole, and I feel like I’ve pulled something. He tells me not to worry, it will go away on its own. He tells me that he’s switching me from the Roxicet to Tylenol with Codeine, as the former makes people feel too dopey to do anything. This is true, at least for me: the only thing I want to do after getting dosed with it is sleep.
That night, I notice a rather putrid smell. At first, I think it’s the shirt I’m wearing. It’s one of The Boy’s that I’ve borrowed, as it’s a button down, short sleeved shirt, which is much easier to get in and out of than my standard uniform (t-shirts). I tell my mother that the shirt smells. She points out that it did come out of my brother’s room – we laugh at this, because, well, he’s 19, what do you expect? I tell her, though, that quite frankly, it smells like shit. She’s sitting in front of me, and tells me that one of my incisions is weeping and little, and I should be still while she catches it.
As she’s wiping it, moving up my neck, I realize the problem is not the shirt: it’s me, or rather the ooze from the incision, that smells so horrible. I’ve just oozed onto the shirt, which is making it smell just as bad. We keep wiping it as it comes out, and each time I get a fresh whiff of it. Finally, I have my sister bring me a mint teabag, which I hold under my nose to drown out the smell from my seeping wound. My mom tells me we’ll call the doctor in the morning before she heads off for her own checkup, to see what they have to say. With that, I settle into my recliner with a towel near my neck to catch ooze and a teabag under my cheek to catch a more aromatic aroma. Must have looked a sight.
July 28, 2005
I am still sleeping when the doctor’s office calls. My sister catches the call, and tells the office we can be there in 20 minutes. She packs me off into her car and off we go. When we are pulling into the parking area, my mom calls and we tell her what’s going on. Since my sister has to go to work very soon, my mom heads toward the office as well.
Into the office we go. The doctor comes in, accompanied by another doctor who is visiting this morning. We tell the doctor what’s been happening since the previous night after the staples come out, and he takes a look. After snapping on a pair of glove, he hooks one finger into the horizontal incision (the one that’s weeping) where it connects to the vertical incision (which is healing very well), and pulls it open. The entire incision. With some large gauze pads in one hand, he then pushes on my neck, squeezing out pad after pad of gunk. All the while, I was thinking that I should have taken some of that Roxicet before coming in after all.
During this time, my mom calls my sister, asking her where we are, as she’s walking in the door right no. My sister – who at one point wanted to be a doctor – tells her we are in the exam room and describes for her what the doctor has just done. This, of course, freaks my mother out. My sister tells her she can just stay in the waiting room, but naturally this is not acceptable to my mother, who pops in. Fortunately for her, most of the goriest stuff is over, because she certainly would have puked or passed out if she had seen what had happened. She’s perfectly fine at handling other peoples’ grossness. But her own kids’ nasty wounds? No way.
Between the pain of the (now open) incision and the knot in my neck, which he was pushing on, and the smell of what was coming out, I thought I might pass out. I was sweating as if it were a hundred degrees inside the office rather than a balmy seventy or so, and managed to stutter out my impending fainting spell. They tilted the chair back and finished the neck press before waving some smelling salts in front of my nose.
The doctor then packed some kind of antibiotic dressing into the open incision. To me, it looked like a giant tapeworm, as it was a long, flat strip of fabric-type stuff. While he’s creating more supernovas of pain in the wound, he’s telling us that not only is it an antibiotic, it’s also an irritant, designed to force the body to try and reject it by pushing it out and healing up – sort of the same concept as an oyster and a grain of sand.
He tells us to come back the next day so he can check the wound and redress it, then sends us off.
July 29, 2005
Back we go to the doctor. He takes off the dressing, pulls out the packing, and takes a look at the wound. Another round of pain. He says the wound looks good, and that there is actually no infection there. Most likely, he says, we probably had a little pocket that had a bit of fluid built up. A little? To me, it looked like my chest drains when they had gotten full. But he’s the doctor. He repacks the wound with the tapeworm, then dresses it, and tells us he wants to see us on Wednesday. Today is Friday. What about changing the dressing? Well, someone will have to pull out the packing on Saturday and then just redress it with gauze alone, and then change the plain dressing each day after that, so it can continue healing from the inside out. Who will do that? We nominate my sister, the once-future doctor. She doesn’t know this yet, but she’ll be thrilled with the opportunity, considering she wanted to watch everything he was doing when he ripped open the incision in the first place.
He wraps me up, and we’re off once more. The wound is terribly painful, and throbs with every heartbeat. I count myself lucky that there’s no infection, however, which could have landed me right back in the hospital. Who wants that?