Warning: This post gets just a little graphic when discussing the details of my surgery.
As I mentioned in my last post, I was scheduled for surgery at the end of June to remove the cancerous tumor in my leg. I thought the couple of you who were interested might want an update.
(That’s gentle sarcasm, by the way. I was blown away by how many people commented, posted, and e-mailed with their kind thoughts and well-wishes. I’ve tried to take a pretty equanimous approach to this whole cancer thing, but when it gets overwhelming I take comfort from all the wonderful, generous people who have sent their support.)
So. The surgery went well. I was in the OR for four or five hours with an orthopaedic surgeon (Dr. Jones) and a reconstructive surgeon (Dr. Klein). The tumor was larger than they expected – about 6 inches long and roughly oblong – and Dr. Jones had to remove not just all of my sartorius muscle but also pieces of other muscles as well.
Although the plan was to do a wide-margin incision – where they cut a decent distance around the tumor in order to make absolutely sure they got everything – Dr. Jones ran up against tendons and nerves and things and had to cut a bit closer than he liked. Luckily, lab tests of the excised margins came back clear, though – meaning that he did get all of the tumor.
And oddly, the size of the tumor actually worked well for closing up the wound. Instead of needing to do a flap (i.e. move other muscles around) and a skin graft to cover everything, Dr. Klein was able to more or less stitch me right up. Let’s hear it for avoiding a skin graft! I will have an impressive scar, however. The hideous-looking incision runs a full 12 inches down the inside of my left thigh, from a bit below my groin to just past my knee.
I also have two holes an inch or so away from the top end of the incision where the tubes for the Jackson-Pratt drains go into my leg. These are pretty clever little devices, basically just a plastic bulb on the end of a flexible tube. They drain fluid from the internal site – in my case, where my muscles used to be – via a combination of capillary action, gravity, and primarily suction in order to help keep swelling down and speed healing.
As useful as they are, though, the drains are less than fun. I don’t mind emptying the fluid a couple times a day – although Eric shudders whenever I talk about what he calls my ‘blood bags’, they really aren’t that disgusting. No, the problem is that there are plastic tubes, each about a centimeter in diameter, sprouting directly from my flesh. My poor leg keep trying – and failing – to heal around the insertion points.
It wasn’t too bad at first, but ever since I got tangled up in the tubes and inadvertently pulled on one it feels like someone stabbed a pen into my leg … and keeps twisting it. Last week, Dr. Klein removed the upper drain. With luck the lower drain can come out next week. In the meantime, there is Vicodin.
Other than the drains, I haven’t had much pain. And I’ve been flat-out amazed at how quickly I’ve gotten function back. When I left the hospital, I was technically able to walk (i.e. limp-shuffle-limp) with the aid of a walker. Two weeks later, I can sit, stand, and walk more or less normally. My knee is still a little stiff but that’s more swelling than anything else. And I have to be careful not to stretch too fast in the wrong direction or I’ll tear the incision. Overall, however, the remaining muscles have taken over for my missing muscles without too much fuss.
So I feel pretty good, all told … almost. Because the fact is, no matter how much I want to get back to my normal life – to drive, to work, to shower (and did I mention I’m not allowed to shower until the drains are out? I am so sick of sponge baths!) – whenever I try to do these things, my body tells me “No!” in no uncertain terms. I get tired. I get lightheaded. I break out in a cold sweat. I pass out.
Yesterday evening, I decided to seize my recovery by the throat and coerced Eric into helping me shower. Good thing he agreed to help, too, so he was on hand to get me to the bed when I collapsed.
And it’s not just the “big” things like showering or the disastrous trip to the store, either: everything tires me out. Even this post has taken me days to write. I can’t sit at my computer desk for more than about fifteen minutes before I start feeling lightheaded. Speaking of which, I think I need to go lay down for a bit …
I am so frustrated by my limitations right now. Incredibly happy to be in one piece and presumably healthy, but so incredibly frustrated. Eric keeps pointing out that it’s only been a few weeks since a pretty major surgery, but man – I just want to be able to stand up long enough to shower.
Ah, well. At least it’s getting better. Maybe by next week I’ll have enough energy to play WoW …