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[cancer] Zombie hair, and a Harkonnen heart plug - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2009-12-17 05:54
Subject: [cancer] Zombie hair, and a Harkonnen heart plug
Security: Public
Tags:calendula, cancer, family, funny, health, weird
I'm having another one of those days where if I woke up feeling this way, I'd go to the hospital. Ah, the joys of surgical recovery. At least it was day surgery, and I was fit to go home yesterday afternoon. For some value of "fit".

Yesterday I went in to have a port installed in my chest. [ Wikipedia ] Basically, this is a Harkonnen heart plug, pace David Lynch's Dune. The purpose of the port is to allow convenient access for chemotherapy infusions and related blood draws without further tearing up my already extensively scarred veins. I'm a hard stick on my best day, and the last 18 months of cancer surgeries, CT and PET scans and whatnot have made a hash of the usual entry points in the elbows, forearms and wrists.

We got to the hospital at the 8:30 reporting time, which then resulted in close to an hour and a half of loitering in a waiting room. Eventually I was called back to the prep area. shelly_rae went with me, later swapping out with both tillyjane and my Dad while I was in there. That involved all the usual stuff — vitals, informed consent, stripping to a hospital gown, all the usual random discomforts and indignities. The surgical resident who did the informed consent was pretty funny about it. We discussed the possible errors in the surgery (which is the whole point of informed consent), he said, "if you wake up with a drainage tube, we nicked your lung." I pointed out that I had a still healing drain wound in my left chest. He said, "then we're working your right side today."

Oh boy, a matched set! Luckily that eventuality did not come to pass.

They got me on an IV (always a difficult task, see above note), got the anaesthesia lady in to see me. She told me they usually use talking sedation. I asked how well that work when rooting around in a patient's neck, didn't people usually object? No, no, no, I was told. Well, not me.

The last thing I remember, thanks to the miracle of retrograde amnesia, is being wheeled into the day surgery OR area. It's much grungier than the OR I was in last month, looking sort of like Mad Max had opened a medical overstock warehouse. Somewhere near that thought, I lose the thread.

I woke up in Recovery, where they'd told me I wouldn't be taken. Much later, shelly_rae explained to me that the doctor had told her I'd moved too much while they were rooting around in my neck and so they had to take me deeper in anesthesia than usual for this operation. Hence the Recovery. Once again, they'd messed with my body positioning during surgery and the left rotator cuff was aggravated all over again. (Last month's thoracic surgery wiped out almost all the gains made in physical therapy this past fall.) It hurt more than the surgery site, and I was apparently being quite bitchy about it to the Recovery nurse. (Who, I hasten to add, was being quite nice to me in return.)

While I was still pretty confused I got taken from Recovery back to the prep/discharge area. There shelly_rae was allowed to join me. I recovered a reasonable amount of my mental acuity, enjoyed the nurses telling me how pretty my eyes and eyelashes were, and learned that I had "some blood" in my hair. (This after the resident had mentioned "minimal bleeding" expected during the operation.) In fact, once they realized it and lifted me up to look, there was so much blood on my hair and back that it was grossing out the nurses. That takes some doing.

As I am not allowed to shower til Friday, to allow for wound healing, there was no question of going home to wash my hair. One of the nurses suggested finding a salon with the head sink. shelly_rae called John, my stylist, who said to come in around 6:30, at the end of his day, and he'd help me out. The point of the late call was that washing out blood would require him to do a lot of extra cleaning after. As it happened, things were quite a bit more involved than anyone realized.

Dad drove us back to Nuevo Rancho Lake. At this point, I had a very sore left chest with limited range of motion from the thoracic surgery. I had a very sore right chest with limited range of motion from the port implant surgery. Though I was not terribly uncomfortable in any particular position, changing positions was pretty damned painful. Even a couple of Vicodins on board weren't helping much.

I took a nap, called calendula_witch, and generally laid around for a couple of hours, until Mom and Dad came back to fetch us out to go to John's salon. We'd decided to go eat first (I hadn't eaten anything for 24 hours except a couple of graham crackers in the discharge area), so we went for Mexican at the Hawthorne location of Cha Cha Cha. Then down to the salon.

Oh. My. God.

Having the blood washed out of my hair was one of the most humiliating, embarrassing experiences of my life. I'm not even sure I can explain why. Nobody, least of all John, realized how much blood was in my hair. Apparently it was scabbed through an area the size of my hand or more. The surgeons hit a gusher at some point in the surgery.

Even getting into the sink position was very difficult for me, though once I was in place it wasn't too uncomfortable. He gloved up, and with help from shelly_rae, got me shampooed thoroughly, for quite some time. Apparently the blood was separating in the detergent, so the red cells and the white cells were running down in different streams. I never saw it, but it was gross as hell. He had to wash me completely twice, at least thirty minutes at the sink, and pick through my hair at great length. The whole time I was about to cry, I was so stressed out and embarrassed.

Finally John got me up and into the cutting chair, where he combed out the last of the scabbing with a comb that he then had to throw away. That took quite a while longer, so that we were in the shop for over an hour. He blow dried me, French braided me, and sent me on my way, refusing any payment. It was an effort way above and beyond the call of either duty or friendship, as any rational person would have just cut the hair away.

Everybody came through for me yesterday, in ways both to be hoped for and unexpected. I am still boggled by the hair situation. shelly_rae got some photos, which I'll post later, but I don't think they do the visceral reality justice. Based on my blood-in-hair issues, I can tell you that when the zombie apocalypse comes, hair styling will be a critical skill.

Overnight I slept ok but not great — can't roll in either direction, so I'm stuck on my back like a turtle, which is decidedly not my natural sleeping position. Today I'm uncomfortable as all get-out but mentally alert, functional, and in the same low-grade surgical pain I've become accustomed to lately. No more Vicodin, no Dilaudid, so I get to keep my brain intact.

But wow, what an exhausting day. And such a fool I felt, for no good reason, when I was being cared for beyond reason.

I love my friends and family, but fuck cancer.

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CJ Marsicano (CJマルシカノ)
User: cjmarsicano
Date: 2009-12-17 15:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'll third that. On a still-running private staff e-mail group list that existed back when an old pro wrestling news site was in existence (which would date it at least ten years ago), anytime someone we admired contracted or died of cancer, someone will post "Can I get a 'Fuck Cancer!'?" and everyone else will follow suit in replies. It got even more poignant when, weeks after we had a get-together in Toronto for Wrestlemania X8, one of our own was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which he caught early enough and managed to kick its ass.
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Talekyn
User: talekyn
Date: 2009-12-17 14:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I second, or third, the "fuck cancer" at the end. I got off light with mine -- colon cancer caught very early, so both the surgery and the chemo (more for preventative aspect than anything else) went lightly -- but I have too many friends and relatives experiencing difficulties similar to yours, and I'm damned tired of it.

For what it's worth, I've added your name to the list of people my American Cancer Society Relay For Life team walks for; there will be a little felt cut-out person with your name hanging on our team tent in June.

Thanks for continuing to share your experience with us.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-12-17 14:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thank you, very much.
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Kari Sperring
User: la_marquise_de_
Date: 2009-12-17 14:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Glad to hear you're back. But sorry it was so excessive in so many ways.
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User: cypherindigo
Date: 2009-12-17 15:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Fuck cancer" - I want a special condom for that.

Rest and let your family take care of you.

I would have cried with my hair in that shape.
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kellymccullough
User: kellymccullough
Date: 2009-12-17 15:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't know if I've ever been quite so happy to be completely bald as I am at this moment. I'm really sorry to hear that the blood in your hair was such a brutal experience, but delighted that you have the people around you that you need to take care of it. My compliments and thanks to your stylist.
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mcjulie
User: mcjulie
Date: 2009-12-17 15:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I know the ordeal was painful and hideous, but somehow the story of the heroic hairdresser makes me feel good inside. Like there's a breakout Sundance movie in there somewhere.
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Elizabeth Coleman
User: criada
Date: 2009-12-17 16:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Ditto.
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kitlizzy: A-Stones
User: kitlizzy
Date: 2009-12-17 16:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:A-Stones
I cut my mid-back length hair to just longer than a buzz cut before my brain surgery, and it was still a complete mess for me too. I also had surgical goo and all sorts of god knows what stuck in it along with big nasty blot clots - and since I had a giant Frankenstein railroad track of sutures running across the top of my head from ear-to-ear, I couldn't wash it at ALL for well over a week.

I spent a lot of the time when I wasn't sleeping trying to pull out huge scabbed clots and what felt like dried rubber cement (it was too late to shave my head at this point, even if my vanity would have let me.)

Eventually I was ok'd to get my head wet, and I persuaded a nurse to try and wash/comb it out - but the dried goo was water resistant and we just couldn't make much of a dent. It just took time and a lot of picking on my part to get rid of it all.

They also didn't completely remove the plastic sutures from the surgery, and some of the dissolving sutures....didn't....so I was pulling thread bits out of my head for 3 months afterward. :(

The entire thing was humiliating and upsetting and disgusting, pretty much, yes.
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coreolis
User: curiositist
Date: 2009-12-17 16:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Having had a serious blood-in-hair experience back in the days when I had short hair, and having been several times at the health point of 'can't do for myself', I can only start to imagine how horrible that washing was for you. It's one thing to have someone do physical care for you when you're healthy. It is always humiliating to feel helpless and to NEED that same care. Which is, I've been told by several nurses, ridiculous on one level, but it's also absolutely TRUE. It's amazingly hard. **hug**

Your hairdresser is a seriously excellent human being.
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Gary Emenitove
User: garyomaha
Date: 2009-12-17 16:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
May I take this in a slightly different direction?

>>the miracle of retrograde amnesia<<

I have experienced this several times -- I go into surgeries all terrified and wake up later, remembering nothing. I asked my primary physician about it. He smiled and said only "Isn't that something?" (He says that a lot.) Apparently, medical types either don't want civilians to know about this Sekrit Recipe or are somehow afraid we'll get hold of the drugs and use them for Nefarious Purposes. However, I'm just certain that you've researched and found out exactly what drug does this and how it works, and I'd love to know more.
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Marty
User: martang
Date: 2009-12-17 16:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
sounds like a rough day. glad you made it through it okay. here's hoping things get better for you from here.
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crystalrmartin
User: crystalrmartin
Date: 2009-12-17 16:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
*Big non-pain inducing hugs* Your stylist is an angel. Your story has me crying, how touching is that? I fifteenth the Fuck Cancer! Keep strong, you've got a lot of love around you. :)
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scarlettina
User: scarlettina
Date: 2009-12-17 17:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Fuck cancer--amen, amen, amen! And bless your stylist for being a hero of the revolution.
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farmgirl1146
User: farmgirl1146
Date: 2009-12-17 17:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
While gross, it is interesting. Thank you for writing about it. Stress and physical exhaustion bring on many reactions, one of which is embarrassment, the other is barely controllable anger. Good for you to keep your wits about you.

I wish you fast healing.
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Evelyn
User: jaborwhalky
Date: 2009-12-17 17:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Your eating things loaded with Iron and vit Bs right?
If that much blood came out your going to need to rebuild it.
Drink water!

I know about the blood in the hair, when they took the tumor out of the back of my head my hair was so sticky and it took two hours to get it all out.

This is going to suck a lot but in a years time you will be good and just have some odd scars where you can tell people things like "Oh you should have seen the other guy"

HUGs!
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User: beth_bernobich
Date: 2009-12-17 18:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:blue woman
*offers much sympathy and gentle virtual hugs*
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