JOURNAL: Last pre-chemo procedure completed

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Yesterday (May 14), I had my final procedure before beginning chemotherapy treatments on Monday at 9 a.m.

On Friday morning, they implanted a mediport, which is basically a long-term IV that ties into a major vein beneath my collar bone that will allow them to take blood samples and administer chemo without treating my veins like junky’s pin cushion.

The surgery was pretty harmless, so much so, in fact, the surgeon decided it would be best that I remain awake.

It was unlike the biopsy of the lymph node in my neck. For that, they first gave me as shot of Valium, which the nurse said would make be feel really loopy. It did. And they wheeled me through the hallways, which wobbled and burned with bright light, until getting to the even brighter light of the operating room. There I remember a brief conversation with surgeon, whose kind eyes peered between a blue mask and hat, before being told by the anesthesiologist that the switch had been flipped.

Shortly thereafter it was lights out. When I awoke, it was over.

No. For this surgery they gave me, what the layperson may refer to as, “I don’t care medicine.” Doctors may know them Versed and Fentanyl.

I remember clearly being wheeled into the OR. I moved myself from gurney onto the slab. The surgery involved using ultrasound equipment. On one of the televisions that would be guiding the catheter into my vein appeared my name: “Billings, Randall W.”

After placing oven-baked blankets on me, the surgeon’s assistants began prepping my neck and collar bone area for surgery. They wiped the area with an orange substance, then placed cloths around where the incision would be.

Before cutting, they built a tent with a blue cloth over my face, so I couldn’t watch what was being done. The nurse gave me several injections to make me not care, while the surgeon numbed the skin that would be sliced open.  She asked if I minded if they listened to music. I said I didn’t.

“Do you mind country?” she asked

“Not at all. I like all kinds of music,” I replied.

Throughout the procedure, I felt pulling and tugging while the surgeon cut a pocket on my upper right peck for the port and tunneled under my skin to thread the catheter into my vein. But that was all I felt. I remember hearing Phish’s “Sample in a Jar” and thinking, “cool.” I was in and out in no time.

The nurse who brought me peanut butter and Saltines during my recovery was very nice. He promised to tell my wife that I couldn’t do anything for 48 hours. That I must be waited on hand-and-foot. Have every need attended to, including being spoon-fed. I listened intently as he tried to sell her on it. I think he had her on the hook, until he broke out laughing while telling her that she needed to feed me. (Better luck next time, I suppose.)

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, they administered an EKG to get baseline readings of my heart, which the nurse said was “beautiful.” That same day, they took baseline readings of my lungs. Chemotherapy can adversely affect both the lungs and heart, so the baseline readings were important to track how they are reacting to the treatment.

They tested my lung function by placing me into this glass enclosure with a plastic-tubed apparatus that reminded me of a studio-quality microphone. For a moment, I mused that I was getting ready to lay down a vocal track on the next Napper Tandies song. I longed for whiskey, as I gazed out the window and took in the view of Parkside and the Back Cove, both of which appeared uncharacteristically clean and comforting.

On Wednesday, I had a PET scan, which took place in a trailer attached to the medical facility. I felt like I was boarding an airliner. I was shown to the back of the trailer where there was a large, leather recliner. I sat down and the doctor injected me with nuclear glucose. She turned off the lights and let me relax, allowing the injection to permeate my body. All around the room were warnings of radioactive material.

Shortly after dozing off, they moved me to the PET scan table on the other side of the trailer. There I slept for about 30 minutes, before being awoken and instructed to place my arms at my side. Since the table was no wider than my shoulder blades, they wrapped a large Velcro strap around my arms and torso, binding me to the table. It felt like a straight jacket, then I realized why they asked whether I had a history of mental illness.

A PET scan is quite different than a CT scan. The later takes only seconds and you must hold your breath while being run through a donut-shaped scanner.

If the CT scanner is a donut, the PET scanner is a Twinkie and your body is the cream filling. You can breathe throughout the scan, which is good, because it takes about 20 minutes. Since I had been sleeping for about 40 minutes prior to the scan, I pretty much slept through it. It was more of a meditiation actually, concentrating only on keeping the body as still, and the mind as calm, as possible.  Either way, the resting period was a blessing since, despite my love of Twinkies, I am not fan of enclosed spaces.

Now, I must admit, it is a relief to close this chapter, even though I know the next will be much more difficult.

On Monday, the real journey begins.

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This is me, not caring, after having my mediport installed.

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