Waking up before 4 a.m. feels like a cruel joke. Not that I’d actually slept all that much anyway. Before these trips to the hospital, my brain can never calm down, so I just toss and turn all night instead. And as I expected, the night before my second trip to Cleveland was no different.
This trip, unlike the last one, saw my good friend Dan Wilcox subbing in for Nina. Last time, Dan loaned us his car, which was already incredibly generous of him, but now he was signing up to do this whole ride—literally and metaphorically—for no other reason than he had the week off and, allegedly, wanted to do a road trip. What I’m saying is, everyone should have a Dan Wilcox in their life because I can’t recommend it enough. But thankfully for Dan, he’d get a front-row seat to the most entertaining visits I’ve had so far.
Going into the day, I was booked for three appointments, one right after the other. The first person I met with was a vascular surgeon. His nurse had instructed me to get into a hospital gown, which I did, only for us to sit there and have a conversation while I was half naked. Very cool first impression, to be sure. Also, this guy basically told me that, if everything with surgery goes as it should, he’ll do absolutely nothing other than watch. However, if something were to go wrong, he’d be the one saving my life.
There’s a weird thing that happens in your head when you meet the person who may be responsible for making sure you don’t die during surgery, and it’s your brain immediately asking you if you can trust them. You look at this person you just met and size them up, asking yourself, “Is this the person I’d let take control in the moment where things could totally go haywire.” And in this case, my gut said he was the guy.
He went on to tell me that, in rare circumstances, the tumors affix themselves to the artery in such a way that the surgeons can’t remove them without doing severe damage to the artery itself. And if that’s what were to happen to me, he told me that he’d cut open my thigh, pull out a different vein, and then replace my carotid artery with that. I believe, in the medical profession, this is called “the old switcheroo.” He then told me that it’s exceptionally rare for this to happen, that it occurs less than 5% of the time, and he’s only had to do it about once a year during his career. It was reassuring knowing that, if something were to go horribly wrong, this man sitting two-feet away from me was the contingency plan.
He then asked if I had any questions. I only had one: “So…have you already done that this year?”
The second meeting was with the ENT, the person who would be handling the bulk of my procedure. He started by spraying some foul, metallic thing up my nose and then sticking a camera through it to get a look at my throat. From there, he went on to explain what exactly surgery would entail for me. He was also the first to note that, under no circumstances, will they be removing both tumors in one go.
He walked me through how they’d cut open my the side of my neck and peel that guy away, but that the surgery can really mess with your blood pressure, so removing two is totally out of the question. As I talked about last week, in some cases, this operation can trigger a heart attack, a stroke, or possibly kill you, so that didn’t come as a huge surprise to me when he brought those things up. But he made sure to drive home the fact that, in all his years doing this, he’d never once had any of those things happen.
He then covered my neck in goop and did an ultrasound, allowing everyone in the room to get a nice look at the inside of my throat. This was my first of two ultrasounds that day, and while the first one was quick and painless, the second went on for an agonizingly long time. It was made worse by the fact that the person doing it was also trying to get detailed videos and sound files, so for a full hour, I laid on a table and got to watch the blood flow through my neck and also hear what my blood flow sounded like. And while that sucked for me, Dan just got to watch it all, which I’m sure is exactly what he wanted to be subjected to on his day off.
But let’s go back to that ENT, the one doing the surgery. There was one part of the meeting that I felt was worth talking about, because he said that, when dealing with carotid body tumors, there are three treatment options:
- Observation: You leave the tumors in and they watch to see if they get bigger.
- Radiation: Stopping the growth of the tumors.
- Surgery: Dig em’ the fuck out.
It sounds like, in some cases, people have these things grow and don’t even notice them. Nothing feels off, and they just elect to keep them. Though that is not my situation, it sounds like, for the time being, we’ll be keeping the right one in and observing it. As it seems now, they couldn’t even tell if it was re-routing much blood flow from the artery, so for now, that guy will get to stay.
The bigger question is the one on the left side, the one you can feel bulging out a bit on my neck. Though radiation is an option, it’s not one they’d employ in my situation. Apparently this is the preferred method when a patient is older and, to be frank, doesn’t have much time left to live. It’s not a long-term solution, and it could also do damage to my throat and ability to speak, so that’s out.
So surgery is the play there, though the timeline is still kind of fuzzy. I’ll be going back out to meet with this doctor again (god, I really say the word “doctor” a lot in these) and then we’ll try to finally figure out why these are here, then I’ll have surgery in “one to two months.” As of right now, no one seems to know what caused this, though the current hunch is that it’s genetic. I’ll be curious to see if that theory bears fruit.
Looking at the options above, I could understand why someone would choose to not have the surgery. That shit’s scary, and to pretend that it’s not would be an outright lie. The ENT said that, if I changed my mind and didn’t want to do surgery, I could call him at any time and cancel the whole thing. And while it’s nice to know there’s that escape hatch waiting for me, I can’t for the life of me understand why someone would do that. I’ve put in so much time and energy, and to just wind up saying, “You know what? That’s too intense, I’m content to stay the course and just deal with feeling weird forever,” is something I just can’t do. I’ve come too far to turn back now.
Maybe this tumor will come out and I’ll wake up and still be in this foggy daze, but at least I’ll have tried. The thought that I’ve already lived my last good day is something I can’t freely accept, so I’ll do whatever I can to maybe have another one of those some time.