Sunday, September 14, 2014

Part One: Something Worse Than Cancer

On Saturday February 27, 2010 I finished my first round of chemotherapy. By the end I was pretty tired, but overall it went well and I only got sick once.

In the week that followed I had the worst insomnia. There wasn't a night all week that I got more than two hours of sleep in a row.

The night of Saturday, March 6th was different. I couldn't sleep, but I also could not get comfortable because of a cramping feeling in my left calf. I went downstairs early the next morning because I couldn't sleep. I wrote a caringbridge post, watched TV, and waited for the painful cramp to go away. By late morning, I was asking my dad to get the crutches from the garage because it hurt too much to put weight on my leg.

We called the hospital and they said we should come to the emergency room right away. Dad carried me to the car, then he, mom and I drove to Children's. I remember sitting in the backseat gritting my teeth trying not to cry out as the pain got worse and worse.

When we got to the hospital my dad carried me is inside. They took me straight back to a room. (One of the perks of having cancer is that you get a fast pass through ER.)

The pain was unbearable. I was asked what my pain level was from 1 to 10. I said 10, but it was probably more like a 13. I tried to hold it back, but every once in a while a scream broke through my gritted teeth. The doctors tried IV dilaudid (my usual pain medication) and it barely took the edge off. They tried it a second time with the same result. No one knew why my leg was in so much pain, which made it harder to treat. Eventually, after what seemed like hours, I was moved to the inpatient cancer floor. My mom went home to get us some things to spend the night.

For the next hour, my dad held me as I screamed in pain while we waited for the pain team to arrive. When they finally came, I think I straight up asked for morphine. Once they hooked me up to the morphine pump and gave me some other meds to relax, I finally felt relief.

My leg after the first surgery.
By the morning my leg had swollen up to the size of a grapefruit. The oncology fellow decided to call in surgical. After being seen by general and orthopedic surgical residents and fellows and attendings, the head of general surgery, Dr. Waldhausen, walked in the room. He made the final decision to take me to surgery immediately.

During the exploratory surgery, the doctors found that tissue in my leg was infected by necrotizing fasciitis, a deadly flesh eating bacteria. They removed as much infected tissue as they could in a process called, debrieding. Over the next several days I went back to the operating room several times for debridement and dressing changes. When not in the operating room I was in ICU hooked up to a rigorous course of antibiotics, bags of blood products (red blood cells, platelets and granulocytes) and morphine.

In the ICU - Check out that IV pole
By the end of the week it looked like the infection was clearing up and there were plans to close the incision. Friday night I started to feel hardness and swelling in my left thigh that was also very red. Another exploratory surgery found that the infection had spread to my thigh. The spread of the infection meant more operations to remove the infected tissue.

After 11 days in the ICU I was moved to room 3009, a.k.a. the "Sammy Loch Suite", where my mom and I would spend the next 30 days.

All told I was inpatient for 41 days, had 10 surgical operations including a skin graft, had countless blood product transfusions, a rigorous course of antibiotics, and finished my second round of chemotherapy.

During this time, I experienced boredom and restlessness as well as feelings of isolation and being very much alone. I will talk more about all that is my next post.                      

Mischief Managed,


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