Feb 28, 2011

Surprise Hospitalization and Surgery Postponed

I noticed a few weeks ago that I had a lot of heartburn or acid reflux. On my birthday (2/13/11) we were having dinner at Brea and Eric’s house, which we do every Sunday after bible study. My heartburn was pretty intense that evening and I actually drove home quickly (they live around the corner) to get some chewable Pepto tablets. The tablets seemed to do the trick.

Later on that week we had to drive to MD Anderson in Houston for tests and scans to prepare for my surgery. On Wednesday 3/16 I had a CT where they inject a dye so that the blood vessels can be seen in the scan. In my case, an iodine based dye was used. When they inject iodine dye in someone, the most common side effect of iodine is a warm or "flushed" sensation during the actual injection of the iodine, followed sometimes by a metallic taste in the mouth that usually lasts for less than a minute. This was all true for me except that I also felt a very intense warming around or below the area of my heart. I’ve had a CT before and didn’t remember the feeling being that intense before, but I figured it was no big deal. The CT scan was done to map all the blood vessels in my brain for the surgery.

After the CT scan I had about two hours of cognitive testing where I had to remember words and groups of numbers forward and backward. I also had to think of words that began with specific letters and had to do some logic puzzles. These were all done to provide a baseline for before and after the surgery to see if any capacity was lost.

After the CT we met with the anesthesiologist, a very nice guy. He spent about an hour with us explaining the procedure and walking us through every step. He said that the surgery is planned to be about six hours. The first two hours will be taking me into the BrainSUITE operating room, anesthetizing me and cutting through my skin, skull and the dura, the tissue covering the brain. He said that during the next stage of the surgery I will be woken up and the surgeons will remove the tumor from my brain. Yes, that’s right… I will be fully AWAKE. Not in a haze, not kinda awake/kinda asleep, freaking AWAKE!! He said that they don’t want any drugs to inhibit me in any way. If something gets touched or whatever they want a real time 100% accurate reaction and description from me. WEIRD!!! They will also have the convenience of having an MRI machine in the BrainSUITE so that they can scan me to make sure they got everything before they close me up. When they are sure they are done, they will put me back to sleep, close me up and roll me into recovery. Pretty much all of the staff think I’ll be out of the hospital in 3-5 days. We will see about that.

The next day, Thursday, I had a regular MRI and also an fMRI or functional MRI. During the functional MRI they asked me to think of words that start with a specific letter but I was not to speak them, only think them. Then I would have to open and close either my right or left hand, then I would get another letter, then have to open/close my hand. I think we did this for three letters. We did some other similar tests and that was it. This was to map out in my brain where the area of my thinking during each activity was located. Apparently all the blood rushes to that specific area and they can see it on the computer screen. This will help the surgeons know where certain functions are in my brain during the surgery. They will combine all these scans together into 3D images so that the surgeons can navigate my brain properly and avoid critical areas.

After all of our appointments on Thursday we had lunch and again I felt like I had a bit or heartburn. That feeling stayed with me until I got home and I took some Gas-X before going to bed. I woke up Friday morning 2/18 and commuted to work (about 100 feet from my bed to the office… HA!) for a 9am start. But by 11am the pain in my chest was getting worse and worse. It felt like the pain was under my sternum in the middle of my chest. I told my manager that I needed to stop working and I called our doctor to see if they could get me in but the pain was too much and I asked Holly to call 911. The pain was in my chest and if it was my heart, I didn’t want to mess around. The paramedics and fire truck showed up about 5-10 minutes later and they stuck about 16 sensors on my chest, arms and legs and were able to rule out my heart. At that point the firemen left and the paramedics asked me some more questions. They suggested that with my pain and where it was located that they should take me to the ER, I agreed. Off we went to the hospital. The hospital was able to diagnose me with pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) within two hours of my arrival. I was told that they would like to admit me and that my treatment would be no drink or food until the doctor deemed I was well enough to go home. They also gave me some IV pain medicine to kill the pain in my chest. And let me tell you, the meds were great! They gave me Dilaudid, which is an awesome pain killer.

What does the pancreas do? The pancreas makes pancreatic juices and hormones, including insulin. The pancreatic juices are enzymes that help digest food in the small intestine. Insulin controls the amount of sugar in the blood. For more detailed info, check out MedicineNet. And I don’t want to bore you with all the details, but if you want to read more about pancreatitis, you can at eMedicine. The usual causes of pancreatitis are gall bladder stones and alcoholism. They ruled out stones with an ultrasound and I definitely do not abuse alcohol. But there is one possible cause: my anti-seizure medication. Before I could start the clinical trial at MD Anderson I was told that I would have to stop taking Tegretol-XR and would have to take Depakote ER instead. Well, if you read the drug label for Depakote at RxList, you’ll see that the third paragraph says Depakote can cause pancreatitis… BINGO! We stopped Depakote Friday night and went back to Tegretol. I ended up spending the whole weekend in the hospital hooked up to only an IV but began to feel better on Monday 2/21 was allowed to have chicken broth for dinner that night and then had cream of wheat for breakfast the following morning. I wasn’t taking much of the pain meds Mon and Tue so I was discharged Tue afternoon.

When I got home on Tue I weighed myself and I had lost seven pounds from not eating. I rested most of Wed and worked a few hours Thu and Fri. I felt fine over the weekend and was back to work today. Unfortunately, MD Anderson called me last week and told me that because of my hospitalization, they were going to have to postpone the surgery and reschedule it for late March. Since they do the surgeries on Thursdays, I think it will be on either March 24 or 31. So, maybe it was a blessing in disguise. I need to get back to 100% and although I feel like I am there now, the doctors are right. Plus, Holly and I lost a whole weekend of being able to do stuff and we have a lot of financial and paperwork to complete before then. Plus, I wanted to get our taxes done. So, we’re fine with that. The past few weeks have been a little nuts for us. Especially with Holly’s surgery, my hospitalization, can it get any crazier?!? Stay tuned to find out.
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