On March 11, 2014, I had surgery
to treat Papillary Thyroid Cancer at Royal University Hospital (RUH) in
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (Check out the backstory in my first post, “Mr. Chuck D
& Me”). The procedure not only involved a thyroidectomy, but a right side
lymph node dissection as well. I want to write about the hospital experience
to: a) inform anyone who may go through a similar surgery (I didn’t really know
what to expect, so maybe this information will help the process a little); b)
Give a few insights into the process, specifically what I saw during my time in
the hospital. I’ll admit that I can think of things I’d change, and the tone of
this blog may come across as being negative at times, but I guarantee that I’ll
end on a positive! After all, the care that I received was excellent, and my
wife and I see this surgery as an opportunity for renewal—a chance to start
fresh with a clean bill of health.
Before the surgery, I had to go
to two pre-op appointments: one with my family doctor, and another at the
hospital. Since I was lucky to get my surgery booked to take place 10 days
after the diagnosis, I actually completed both appointments on the same day. My
wife, Jenn, and I found that both of these appointments put our minds at ease
about what to expect before, during, and after the surgery.
The hospital visit only took about two hours to complete, and most of
that time was spent waiting. After registering at Admitting, I completed a
blood test and had my vitals checked—something I would get extremely used to
over the next week or so. I was told that because of my good health, I didn’t
need to have x-rays or an ECG. We then met with a nurse who asked a lot of
general questions about my health and outlined the procedures for the days
leading up to the surgery, the day of the surgery, and a bit of information
about what to expect after leaving the hospital. I was given two sponges to use
in the shower on the two days prior to the surgery, and a general information
booklet. A meeting with an anesthesiologist confirmed my clean health record
and that everything on the day of the surgery would be relatively routine.
My family doctor admitted that
our visit with him was a bit of “red tape.” I just needed to obtain my physical
record, so he asked me a lot of questions that had already been covered at the
hospital, checked vitals again, gave me the paper to take to the hospital on
the day of the surgery, and then I was on my way.
Getting ready for the surgery was simple, but there were a
few things that I had to do:
Cut off solid food at midnight the night before
No alcohol for 48-hours prior
No Omega oils (this is a blood thinner)
Use the cleaning sponges twice
Pack an overnight bag
Leave jewelry and money with someone else
Day Of the Surgery
6:30 am: Check in at admitting
6:30-7am: Change, check vitals, sit in waiting room
Just after 7: moved to a pre-surgery room with a few other
patients. Seeing these other people who were going to get opened up just like
me was quite surreal. This was actually something that bothered me a bit about
the process. Each patient met with a surgeon and anesthesiologist separately,
but these meetings were all conducted in one big room. Hearing what everyone
else was going through seemed too public considering the severity of some of
the procedures being discussed.
8ish: A nurse walked me to Operating Room #4. I jumped up on
the table, got the meds flowing, heard the surgeon say my name and the
procedure (for a recording, I imagine), and then I drifted off.
1:45pm (I think): This is the first time I remember seeing
the clock. I was awakened in the Recovery Room. I was asked about my pain
level, and I was glad they did because I was definitely uncomfortable. I
reported an “8,” got some morphine, and then drifted in and out for the next
hour. My surgeon, Dr. Christian, came and talked to me to tell me that
everything was a success and that he had met with my family. He was also happy
to hear that I had my voice; this was one of the possible side effects of the
surgery since the thyroidectomny was so close to my vocal chords. However, the
risk was less than 1%.
2:45ish: I was moved to the Observation Room. The nurses actually forgot to inform my
family (haha), so I was left in the hallway for a bit so that everyone could
come and see me.
The Observation Room Experience:
I was in this room for about 20
hours or so. Honestly, this was the toughest time in the hospital. I mentioned
how the pre-surgery meetings lacked the privacy that the patients deserve;
well, I had no idea how much I would value my own privacy after the Observation
There were six patients in this room, separated
by curtains, with the eyes of nurses on us constantly (for good reason).
On a night that I really wanted to sleep, I couldn’t.
Let’s just say that I got to know the other strangers in my room extremely well
without saying a word to any of them. I heard things, saw things, smelled
things that I never want to experience again. A very loud patient next to me
was moved out after 1 am, and replaced by a patient that the staff kept saying
“shouldn’t even be there.” He was in bad shape, and had to be awoken every 30
minutes or so. Needless to say, sleep was hard to come by.
I got to shower the next morning. Again, the
walls of privacy came down quickly with this experience. Nevertheless, it’s
amazing that no matter how difficult it was to actually complete the task, the
shower was unbelievably refreshing. Discovering things like how I had been
prepped in the operating room and finding a patch of dry blood on the back of
my head were things that I didn’t expect. It was also very awkward, and
slightly painful, to handle the two drains that I had at the base of my neck. All
in all, this wasn’t a spa treatment, but it was refreshing!
Another aspect that was a bit shocking was the
size of my scar. Since the lymph node dissection was required, the incision ran
horizontally from the left side of my Adam’s apple to my right ear, and then
vertically toward my ear lobe. The 45 or so staples caused discomfort, and the
procedure caused numbness that I am still experiencing as I type this two weeks
after the surgery. I was told that the numbness will eventually go away, and that
it was caused by work being done around nerves in my neck. I’m still not used
to barely being able to feel the right side of my jaw and the bottom half of my
I had some devices on my legs that pulsated
regularly to help with circulation. These were removed after my first night.
I only experienced nausea after taking my first
Calcium supplement. It wasn’t pretty. I’ll leave it at that.
Sidebar: patients and visitors should have
limitations on cell phone use in these rooms. When I was fresh out of surgery
and trying to sleep, hearing personalized ring tones and loud conversations
didn’t help at all! Why aren’t there any
rules in place for this?
When I checked into the hospital,
I requested a private room for a $120/day fee. Unfortunately, the facilities
weren’t available so I was moved into a semi-private room. An older lady and I
shared the room, and two other people also called the room home at separate
times over the next two days. The fact that there were more than two people in
a room only designed for two showed me how stretched our hospital facilities
are. I hope the Children’s Hospital will alleviate some of this pressure.
Anyways, I was quite comfortable
in this room, and the procedures were routine:
I ate regular meals. I should mention that the
Chief Resident was disappointed to hear that I had only received Jell-O for my first
meal. He wanted me on a regular diet right away. This was a pleasant surprise
since my radical surgery was focused around my throat. Although, I had to
change my eating habits because the staples made repeated chewing painful.
Also, I found that I was only comfortable swallowing small bites of food or
sips of a drink at once.
My vitals were checked regularly and my blood
was taken a couple of times a day. Checking calcium levels was very important
after this surgery.
I got up to shuffle around for some walks
whenever I felt like it. It was a bit awkward to be carrying around my two
drains and being a little hunched over, but the air in the 5th Floor
Atrium was a nice change from what I was becoming accustomed to.
I stayed in this room for two nights. We were
originally expecting one, but it was decided that my drains should be kept in
for an extra day, and then some time was needed to monitor how I’d react after
they were removed. I was nervous about the removal process, but it only took a
maximum of ten-minutes, and it wasn’t very painful.
My pain was managed mostly with Tylenol.
Measuring my pain on a 1-10 scale was a difficult process since the cluster
headaches that I’ve had since grade 10 have built up an extremely high
pain-tolerance. I’d say to the nurses, “I’m at a '5' right now, but that might be
someone else’s '8'.” Does anyone know how these discrepancies from patient-to-patient
are dealt with?
Chief Resident came on his rounds on Friday morning, I found out that I could
go home. Even though I knew it was coming, I was so relieved to get the news
and to hear that everything was progressing as it should. When he left, I put
on my headphones just as Curtis Mayfield’s “So In Love” started playing on my
IPhone. It was one of the most joyous moments of my life. Maybe that sounds
like hyperbole, but that song just seemed like the only song that should have been playing at that moment. The groove,
the organ, the horns, the space, the honesty of the lyrics: “So in love. You do
so many things with a smiling face.” That first line got to me when I
considered all of the stress that my wife had put up with over the few days
that we were there.
The Positive Ending that I Promised!
I have a
profound respect for nurses. Teachers and nurses always seem to share a mutual
appreciation for each other’s professions—perhaps it’s the multitasking and the
long hours, but the most significant common ground has to be in the personal
touches that excellent professionals strive for. The RN’s, staff, and nursing
students who cared for me made me feel secure and comfortable throughout the
entire experience. Esther, Amber, Paul, Grant, and Ben are a few of the names
that I can remember of people who went out of their way to make me feel like I
was their only patient.
despite some of the uncomfortable moments, I can’t say enough about how
grateful I am to be Canadian and to have access to our health care system. I am
going to live a long and productive life because once I received my diagnosis I
received efficient and personalized care for a grand total of $0 out of my
pocket (with the exception of parking fees for my visitors). This is something
that I will never take for granted.
Take a listen to Mr. Mayfield in order to solidify that positive vibe...