Friday, July 31, 2009

This Chapter Is Closed!

It's been quite a journey so far. I think I'm going to close this chapter that ended with the operation. Fun things continue to pop up, mostly catheter removals and re-insertions (3!), and on going digestive problems. The catheter is gone! My continence is more or less intact, and erections remain to be seen or dealt with. But I survived. I may start this up again if there are any more unforeseen developments and I will definitely crank it up again once my radiation treatments start. It's my public service duty!

Mostly, the response I have received to this blog has been wonderful. It kept me going in many ways, and it was great therapy for me to write this stuff down. It really was a crazy road I went on and if anyone out there has to do the same at some point in their lives, I hope this will have been of some help. Realistically, I don't think I was the normal case. If I had a nickle for every time a doctor or a nurse said - "It's not uncommon for this to occur, but it's not the normal reaction", I'd be a rich man.Very rich.

I have learned so much in the last couple of months! Some good things and some unsettling things, but it's been quite an education.

A few people found the descriptions too detailed and graphic. is reality. Unfortunately, practically every issue that popped up was about the penis, bowels, rectum, gas, constipation, bloody urine, erections (and lack thereof) etc......,. But again, that's the reality of prostate surgery. It ain't pretty. Just be glad I didn't write about the day I woke up with a horrifically swollen and disgustingly discolored penis! This phenomenon occurred on a weekend so I had to describe all of this to an advice nurse - "My...that is interesting. I'll call the urologist that's on-call and call you back."
She did, and by luck of the draw it happened to be my urologist! His reply was - "Tell Mr. Ray that this is completely normal, and to not be surprised if it moves down to the scrotum, and that there is no need to take any Valium!". This was special in many ways. I guess it is well known throughout my whole medical organization that I'm a very stressful patient and need to take Valium "as needed". Great. It also would have been nice to have gotten a...heads-up....on the brutalized pecker syndrome. Oops, another graphic story has leaked out!

I have learned that I must be a terrible patient! I swore I was going to be a good one, but failed miserably. My pain tolerance is way lower than I thought it was going to be. I hurt like a mofo! Not from the incisions (I actually only took one Darvocette once we got home), but the stomach cramping, the gas, the constipation and the freaked out bladder were mighty painful. I literally chewed on towels in the bathroom and broke down in tears many times. Then my hyper-stress would kick in and I was a goner. This resulted in many e-mails and calls to my doctor and/or advice nurses. I know I have been through a lot, but while not uncommon, I don't think this was the norm. Stacey hesitated in telling me this, but during our first meeting with the surgeon, he asked me what I thought my pain tolerance was. I told him I thought it was pretty high. At that point, he made eye contact with Stacey and she was shaking her head (out of my line of vision), wordlessly telling him the opposite. She was dead on. Of course.

Nurses are truly a gift to mankind. Doctors get the spotlight and try to cure you, but it's the nurses that can actually help heal you. I love them all. They are empathetic and helpful. They are calming and nice. They all need a raise, which brings up one of the most stunning discoveries I made in the 2 days I spent in the hospital. Due to our current economic woes, there could be a whole lot fewer of them to help patients like me, in need of their comforting and helpful presence and skills.

I actually saw in real-time people's jobs get axed. A young woman made an appointment with Stacey and I to train us on catheter care at home. A few hours after we made the appointment, she called and told us that her job had been eliminated! Not to worry, though - the nurses were more than qualified to teach us, (which they were). Yikes! Several nurses were a bit edgy, wondering if they would be subject to lay-offs that were happening at other hospitals. We saw a room (many times during the 24 hour fart-march) of abandoned equipment with the words "Does Not Work" scrawled on them. Bottom line - less people working means less people with medical insurance. Less people with medical insurance = less people going to doctors and medical centers for treatment and care. I am not smart enough to have any sort of answers for this, but something is very wrong here. These are folks that can cure, heal, take care and comfort us, and now there are fewer of them. It's very basic. Something has to change.

But the most important thing I have learned through all of this, is that love and support are the things that really heal you. I have been blessed with the most wonderful wife in the universe. If it wasn't for Stacey I would probably still be in the hospital trying to pass that damned gas. She has been there every step of the way, from changing my catheter bag to listening to me fall apart. She "talked" our cat into a state of unprecedented good behavior. She missed a lot of work, and always got me to the doctor's office, the hospital and even the Emergency Room on time. She never complained about by foul moods and anxiety. But the thing that really blows me away is this: She's still here.

My brother and sister had my back on all of this, from getting free second opinions from one of the foremost medical centers in the world, to actually checking out the robot that sliced and diced me. They stayed positive, they listened and they encouraged. One of the most important things they did was to convince me to not feel guilty about putting Stacey through all of this by simply stating: "That's what people in a good marriage do."

I am still overwhelmed about the love and good thoughts I got from friends, close and distant. The generosity that has been sent my way has been unbelievable. I feel like I'm the luckiest man in the world. My heart has been enriched, and ultimately that is the thing that will heal me.

Love. Plain and simple.

I am humbled. We will kick this cancer's ass.

Friday, July 24, 2009

I'm Walkin'

Stacey says the first thing that I said after waking up from the surgery was "Alright! I didn't die on the table!" I then told my nurses that I loved them.

I am real hazy as to what was happening after that. Stacey told me that the surgeon told her that it went well, lymph nodes looked clean, I lost very little blood, but unfortunately he couldn't spare one side of the "boner" nerves - apparently there was a soft, sticky part of the gland that they were attached to. With that, my chances of getting an erection has now been reduced from about 60% (the surgeon's record) to about 20%. Ok, fine. I've said it all along - preserving the boner was not my priority, but I wasn't happy that the numbers have now changed.

I remember moving my legs to make sure that I now didn't have "Accidental Clown Leg" and they moved just fine! I don't think I mentioned this earlier, but I had to sign off on a second procedure the surgeon wanted to perform. It's called a lymph node dissection, and what happens is that after the prostate is removed, he wanted to take 10 sample lymph nodes from both sides of my groin area. He would dissect them, get a pathology report and if no cancer was present in these (the most likely ones to initially go bad), we could pretty much rest assured that the cancer has not gotten into my lymphatic system (which we don't want at all!)

But there are risks.....The first risk is just the usual "You might need a lot of blood if I accidentally nick an artery" Ho-hum. But the second risk is much more interesting!
There would be a small chance that he could damage a nerve that CONTROLS THE INWARD MOVEMENT OF MY FREAKIN' LEG!!!!

Ok, let's reassess the risks - incontinence, erection dysfunction, bleeding profusely, and now leg movement....WTF! Ok doc, I'm gonna mull this one over. Which I did, and with the advice of my very smart brother (risk is really small) and further discussion with the surgeon (only one case in the 90 he has performed and that one healed itself within a year) I signed off on it. My buddie Murphy came up with the insanely funny name of this syndrome and I'm really glad I don't have it!

I was rolled into the Recovery Room which consisted of about 10 beds, most of which had those curtain-type things you can pull around for some privacy. In the center of the room were nurse stations. Fortunately, I had a private corner room which actually had a door on it. The door mostly stayed open, though.

Once in the room, I think they let me sleep for a little and attached automatic compression leg...warmers..on each calf. This is to prevent blood clots which are not a good thing to get. They would constrict off and on which was a weird feeling, but it didn't bother me at all. What bothered me was the 24 hour death march the nurses soon forced upon me.

During the surgery, I was on an incline with my head pointing down. It gave the surgeons the best access to my innards. They also pumped my abdomen full of air/gases. Most people have little problem releasing these gases by walking around a little.

Not me. So I had to walk. For about 24 hours. It sucked.

So there I was, soon after major surgery, pushing my IV and catheter around on a pole. I saw patients arrive and leave. I saw about 3 or 4 shifts of nurses come and go. I saw a man that had the same procedure as mine get up, power walk a lap or 2, then dress himself (including putting on his own damn shoes), and leave. There were no windows so I had no idea what time of day or night it was (though there were plenty of clocks, all in military time).

Nothing was leaving my body. My stomach was bloated and distended which hurt my incisions (6 in all - 3 small ones on my left side, 1 on my right along with a drainage tube, and the largest incision underneath my bellybutton.). The nurses administered pain medication when I asked, but unfortunately the good ones (narcotics) were constipating, which is something I really had to avoid due to extensive and delicate needlework holding my vital organs together. I also learned that there is no medicine that can ease the pain of gas. It was all up to me.

Obviously I had plenty of time to get to know some of he nurses. They were all awesome, and they did their best to help me through this. I found the ones that I could joke with, and through all of this we could find reasons to laugh. Of course most of this had to do with my inability to fart, but farts are always funny. My favorite line I heard was "I hope I'm not behind you, when you do pass the gas, Mr. Ray!" It was funny, but also pathetic in a way. I was on this endless and tiring mission to rid myself of this damned gas, walking in circles forever, feeling about 90 years old. God - all I need to do is fart.

Stacey was in and out. She took Jennifer back into San Francisco, then went by our condo to check on Dexter. It was much more pleasant to be on the "Fart Watch Walk" with her by my side.

But as time moved on, it started to get less and less funny. The pain was building, as was my abdomen, as was my stress level. Nothing was working. I received a call from the doctor and I told him that in the past (if I had gas that was a bit stubborn), I would just walk around, massage my belly, do a deep knee bend and let 'er rip. He was not too terribly impressed. I asked him if anything could be put up my rectum to help release the gasses that seemed to be knocking on the door, and he responded that at the moment, my rectal walls were too thin to do anything invasive, without potentially terrible after effects. Keep walking.

I soon received a visit from his assistant. He told me that the doctor had to move my bowels around a lot during the surgery due to some adhesion problems (?) and when bowels are moved around that much, they can get temporarily paralyzed. Sweet.

I found it ironic that I could deal with the pain of stainless steel surgical blades, slicing and dicing my insides, but I couldn't handle the pain of....air.

Keep walking.

I was so exhausted by this point I could barely move, but I trudged around, enviously eyeing patients that were blissfully sleeping. I would wonder what each one's problems were. Some were obvious like he poor man with 2 broken legs, or the lady with an eye bandage. Some were mysterious, like the man that was brought in lying down on his belly. But no one else was walking. Just me, and at times with Stacey by my side.

Suddenly there was a new nurse in our ward, and I told her of my problem. She was a no nonsense type that looked over my chart, and seemed a bit upset that some of the nurses had been giving me morphine. At that point, she just took over. Gave me a drug that let me sleep for a couple of hours. Another nurse brought in a roll away bed for Stacey and we both got some much needed rest.

After that, we continued our walk and finally....I gave birth to Fred the Wonder Fart! Once he appeared, more were to follow. Stacey and I cheered and high fived each other. The nurse that was now on duty congratulated me. I apologized to the sleeping patients, even though they all seemed to have slept through the event(s).

I'm free. Free at last.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I Might Have To Do What ?

Ok - I've settled down a bit....

My doctor called me and we talked about why I required my catheter to be put back in. Turns out I have hyper-continence* ! This should not alter the positive outcome of my bladder control that we were all so happy about last Friday. He said that they used to leave catheters in a bit longer, and that I probably just wasn't healed up enough for its removal. He didn't mention why they now like to get them out sooner, but I will just assume it has something to do with the general state of affairs with our current health care system: "Get 'em in, get 'em out. You are healed!"

I am scheduled to get this one out on Thursday, but he told me that I will be trained on self-catheterization if this problem happens again! WTF!

Whatever. My ever shrinking little buddy has taken a lot of abuse as of late, so I'm not too worried about screwing this up if I do need to do it myself. I will assume I should do this sober.

* Stacey swears that at this point, my doctor is just making this stuff up to help settle me down!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Break Time

I feel the need to step away from all of this for a while.

But I am going to finish this story in it's natural progression because I need to and want to. The response I've gotten from this blog has moved me very much and I want others to discover what it can be like in going through something like this, but for the moment it is consuming me, and frankly, I have had a series of setbacks that have been disheartening and are starting to wear me down.

I'm still pretty damn sure I'm going to have a positive outcome, but I think it's important that you see another side of me - one that just can't find a witty way in describing what's it's like to have to go to the emergency room (as I had to yesterday) to have my catheter put back in.

It seems that I am now ending up on the wrong side of the numbers that my doctors have telling me to expect. Before the surgery, my biopsy gave me a Gleason Grade of 3 + 3 = 6, which translated to an 84% chance that the cancer was contained in my prostate. The pathology report after the surgery upgraded those numbers to 3 + 4 = 7 which means that the cancer was not contained and cancer cells were discovered in my bladder and seminal vesicles. And while these are still the slow growing cancer cells, I will need to have some radiation treatment once my bladder and continence issues have healed and been sorted out. There was some good news though - the lymph nodes were all clean.

We had an idea that something like this was going on right after the surgery when the surgeon told us that there was a soft spot on one side of the prostate and that he could not spare all of the nerves that are responsible for erections. Again, my numbers before the surgery were that I had a 60% chance of erections, now that number is 20%. I am aware that I made a big deal that this would not be a big deal, but the cumulative effect was not a good feeling.

I also had to stay in the hospital for an extra day because I could not expel the gases in my abdomen that had been pumped into me for the procedure. While not uncommon, it is not the norm and required me to basically walk in a loop around the recovery ward for 24 hours directly following the surgery. That is not an easy thing to do.

On Friday, I was delighted when the doctor removed my catheter and discovered that my continence was intact. Phone calls were made, modest celebrations occurred, but by the next day, the pain in voiding my bladder was so intense, the whole thing shut down and I couldn't void at all. To the emergency room we went.

I feel my dignity has been stripped away - I'm fucking sick of dealing with bowels, stool softeners and tubes up my penis and everybody and their mother (including my wife) either looking at my naked body in this condition or dealing with tubes and bags hanging off of me.

I plan on not referring to any of this on facebook anymore. I'm shutting that hospital ward down. If anyone wants to follow me through this, I welcome them here at Po'buckra (damned appropriate name, by the way), and while the positive and wonderful thoughts that came my way there are greatly appreciated and helpful, I want to use that site for things other than a Gil has cancer site. I hope you all understand.

I will get through this. Stacey will get through this. We will all get through this. I love each and everyone of you, but I need some down time.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Danger! Danger! Will Robinson!

When the alarm clock went off at 3:45am on the morning of my surgery, it didn't feel anything like Christmas morning!

Here it was: The Big Day. A surgeon, a team of anesthesiologists and a robot were going to try to heal me, and I woke up with a splitting headache. A very bad one, too. Great.

With my head pounding, I went into the bathroom and did the enema thing. I'll spare you too much detail in the visuals, but I will say that it did not help my head much (though my butt took it like a champ...). I then had to shower using antibacterial soap. We don't normally keep that stuff around, but we found some stinky hand soap in a pump bottle that would have to do.

The headache was buggin' the crap out of me. At this point I could not take anything for it, including water. I was getting pretty agitated. This is not starting off so well.

We piled into Stacey's car and headed out to Walnut Creek, which is about 25 minutes away in normal traffic. At 4:45 we were surprised that there was as much traffic as there was, but it was not a problem. We found the hospital, parked, and went to the surgery department. We found it strange that no one seemed to be anywhere at the hospital, but found where we needed to be, signed in and sat in the waiting room as Stacey rubbed my neck and shoulders.

Slowly, the hospital started to show signs of life. A person came to us and took us into a large room to prepare for the surgery. I took off all of my clothes, put on the hospital gown and laid down on a bed. A nurse approached and after confirming my name and what was being done to me, put barcoded wristbands on me. She then commenced to shaving my lower abdomen. I was wondering what and how much they were going to shave down there (mostly from the bellybutton down to the top of the pubes - I'm not a very hairy guy). I was a bit surprised she used an electric shaver, and I was very surprised that it tickled me to the point of laughing! Even through my awful headache!

After all of that, I became ground zero for anyone with a needle to stick into my arms. First, a male nurse came to draw blood. I've had a lot of blood drawn through all of this, and his hurt the worst. The dude just sort of slammed the needle into me and started draining my much in demand blood. Next, a very down-to-business nurse came to insert the IV. I've had plenty of those before, but this one really hurt. Stacey said the needle was shockingly large. That poor little port into my life systems was going to get a workout in the next couple of days.

From here on, my memories of what went down may be a little vague. I can't believe it was over a week ago!

The surgeon stopped by and was concerned about my headache. Maybe he thought I was stroking out or something, but no - I was just being me... I'm sure the combination of stress, fasting and dehydration were the evil bastards hurting my head so much. It was at this point Stacey confirmed what I had been saying ever since meeting the surgeon: He looks, speaks and has some of the same body movements as my ex-Game Theory bassist/madman - Gui !

I'm like, totally...doomed.

I was rolled into a hallway outside of the operating room. I believe it was here that I parted with Stacey (I don't remember if Jennifer was there). This was the moment I had been dreading and I was unsure as to how I would deal with it. I mean, it was possible that I would never see her again. I bucked up, shed some tears, kissed her, squeezed her hand and off I went.

I now realized my damned headache may have been a blessing in disguise. It was really hurting, but it also must have distracted me from the reality that I was now about to be put to sleep, and a surgeon and a robot were going to invade my insides and hopefully cure me of cancer without compromising my bladder control, ability to have boners, and perhaps most importantly of all - not giving me Accidental Clown Leg.

As I was rolled into the operating room, I requested to see the Da Vinci. I had seen pictures on the internet (there are also actual YouTube vids up of the machine in action, but I avoided those like the plague), but they really don't do it justice. It's larger than I thought and very sci-fi with spider-like movable arms. Good Lord! I also realized that the surgeon will be nowhere near me during the fancy part of the procedure. Once he pokes enough holes into me to get the instruments in me laproscopically, he will then return to the Da Vinci station and it is from there that he will hopefully use great skill and precision to chop this diseased crap out of me.

Before anything got underway, the surgeon stopped all of the action and talking and sharply announced: "Time out". This was another confirmation that the right guy was getting the right operation by the right people. We all confirmed, I was put to sleep, and the last thing I remember was an oxygen mask being put before my face.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Prep Schooled

Ok, I think I'm ready to keep going on this sucker. There are plenty of thrills, chills and excitement up ahead!

Prepping for the surgery was sort of a 2 part process. Neither very pleasant to deal with, but deal with you must.

The first part of the prep was pretty creepy and a big fat reality check. I'm going to be different after the surgery. Some of the changes could possibly be permanent, but the odds are that these changes will just be temporary, but they will be there, waiting for me once this stuff has been done to me.

I'm grateful they gave me instructions on all of this. There are a lot of angles to consider. For instance: 10 days after the surgery, I will have my catheter removed. Even though I have been ferociously doing my Kegel exercises (3 sets of 30, holding each one for 3 seconds, per day), I will probably have very little or no bladder control.....yet.

What that means is that last Sunday, Stacey and I had to go shopping, and while drug stores are generally not a very fun place to shop at to begin with, it sucks extra hard when you're buying adult diapers and pads. But there they were! And there we were, rummaging through the different choices and figuring out the correct sizes etc...Good Lord!

I just had to keep taking deep breaths and quietly (at times not so quietly) repeat our "safeword" curse/mantra. We figured it all out, and now we were ready to move on to part 2 of the prep stage: Buying very cruel liquids and enemas that will blow out my bowels til they're clean as a whistle, Homer! This is actually a very important step - if the rectal wall accidently got punctured during the surgery, a cleaned out system could help prevent some very serious damage control.

Ok, off to the stomach aids aisle we went, merrily skipping along and humming sweet tunes. First off - Fleet Enema. No problem, been there, done that. Most men my age have probably dealt with these before if they've dutifully gone in for the sigmoidoscopy that all men should have at 50.

Next is what I affectionately call ass blowout juice. Excuse the graphic and juvenile choice of words, but that's what it does. It's called magnesium citrate and comes in 2 delicious flavors; lemon citrus and a fruity berry flavor. Lemon citrus it was, and if you ever hate someone enough to do this to, it really would make a good mixer for gin.

Shopping complete, we head on home and were delighted to find out that our friend Jennifer will indeed be able to accompany Stacey for the surgery! I eat my last solid foods for quite a while, have a couple of beers, take a valium and go to sleep.

At 10:00 AM the next morning, I drink the bottle of ass-blow. From here on I can have no more solid foods before the surgery. (I'm glad I went over the instructions because I had it in my mind that I was to do this at 10:00pm, which could have been disastrous!) I thought the effect woulda kicked in a bit sooner, but it really ran it's course over several hours. It certainly blows you out, but there's no real uncomfortable cramping. It just....blows it out your ass!

I drank lots of water, had some approved clear jello (why anyone considers this food in any form is beyond me), and some broth. It's strange not to eat for a day. I didn't like it.

The surgery was scheduled for Tuesday morning at 8:00 am, which meant that Stacey, Jennifer and I had to leave Albany around 4:45am so we could be admitted to the hospital at the required time of 5:20am!

Off to sleep we went, excited as little children on Xmas Eve!


Monday, July 6, 2009

I'm Off To See The Wizard!

Holy cow...tomorrow's the big day! Excuse the haste in this post, but I want to get caught up with all of this.

The Test
I cannot believe that I left out the punch-line in my last post, regarding the psychological test my doctor gave me! Once the 9 question test was completed, he hit a few buttons, and the computer came up with my results:

"Moderately Depressed"

Boy, was I ever disappointed!

But I don't want get too harsh with this doctor, he was just doing his job the way he is supposed to do. I have learned a long time ago that psychological treatment is best handled by psychologists and psychiatrists.

The Surgeon - Stacey and I met the surgeon a couple of weeks ago and had a pretty intense hour-long meeting with him. He explained everything, and as I have quickly found out, doctors and surgeons like spending a lot of time explaining what can go wrong. I suppose they have to, and that's fine, but he was also very optimistic about my outcome due to these 3 things:
1. I'm healthy (except for the cancer, of course..).
2. I'm relatively young.
3. I'm "skinny" (which should come in handy for my bladder control getting back to normal - less weight pushing down on my newly remodeled bladder sphincter).

I made it clear that my priorities are this:
1. To live.
2. Bladder control.
3. The erection thing.

The nerves that control erections are on both sides of the prostate gland. If the gland is smooth and clean, his chances are much better to be able to spare those nerves. If there are cancer cells outside and on the gland, the nerves could be "stuck" to the gland making the job much more difficult. Another factor is this thing called margins. I think that means if the cancer cells are very close to the wall of the gland, there could be problems sparing those nerves.

He spent a lot of time on this, and I tried to tell him that the erection thing really isn't a huge priority with me, but he insisted, telling me that he's actually seen marriages end and men becoming very depressed if there's no more boners.

If those nerves go bye-bye, there are many options that can help get those erections back. The most unsettling one has got to be self injections directly into the penis! "It really doesn't hurt".

Stacey and were both impressed with this guy, and I feel like I'm in good hands. He knows his way around the Da Vinci, and he's younger than I am, which my brother says is a good thing - probably has more experience than someone my age with video games!

The Love
I have been overwhelmed with good wishes ever since I went public with this. Family, friends, musicians, acquaintances, not so friendly friends, people I haven't spoken to in 35 years, and complete strangers have taken the time and effort to wish me well. I cannot believe how fortunate I am to be loved by so many. I thank you all - it is really helping me get through something that I was programmed most of my life to believe would be the absolute worst thing that could ever happen to me.

Boy, was I wrong.

I love you all.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Sister Iodine and the Nine Step Plan

The next test was the pelvic scan. At times I kinda glaze-over when the doctors are telling me about all this stuff, but I think this was to look for trouble in lymph node land. Whatever, they said I needed it so I went.

This time I was not in a very entertaining mood. The stress was really taking hold in my fragile little nervous system. Much of it had to do with work. I'm going to be out of commission for 6 weeks! Panic had set in with the powers that be, and I had to quickly write lots of procedures and train a bunch of people that really don't need the extra work load, on how to do my job (which I've done for 26 years!).

Anyway, this particular set of radiologists were all business. I was in no mood to joke around, and I could tell they weren't either. So lets just get it done.

"Mr. Ray - have you ever had an iodine injection?"

"Well, we need for you to sign this consent form".

"Because some people have a bad reaction to it, and it may make your heart stop - but don't worry...we will closely monitor you, and if there is a problem we can roll you right on up to the emergency room."

Where do I sign?

She told me that I would experience 2 things - first, I would feel a very warm sensation spread throughout my body (...ok), and then I would get a rather strong metallic taste in my mouth, but that would quickly dissipate. (...not so ok).

I laid down on the table and they inserted an IV into my arm (at this point my poor little arms were beginning to look like a junkie's arm) and they took a few scans of my pelvic region without the iodine. Then the tech released the iodine.

I've never injected recreational drugs into anywhere on my body, but I thought that this must be what it feels like. Immediately, a very pleasant warm rush spread throughout my entire body. It was very strange feeling. Seconds later, the metallic taste came into my mouth and all pleasant sensations were now quite gone. It was terrible - sorta like chewing on aluminum foil, but not quite. I have never had this sensation before. Fortunately, it disappeared after about 30 seconds.

They then scanned the region again. The purpose was to get a contrast of what they scanned before. It was over in about 5 minutes. I sat up. Took a deep breath, and went back to work. No drama this time, and no extra pictures were required.

The next day at work it all started to come down on me. I was a wreck. I could barely move a muscle. My body ached and my brain was feeling pretty fried. I just couldn't do much of anything. While I know I do not handle stress well, I wasn't sure if this was just another example of my body dealing with all of this, or if I was getting sick (lots of swine flu warnings at the hospital), or if I was having a bad reaction to the iodine.

I left work, went home and slept. I felt a little better that night, so I went to work the next day. Same thing happened. Something wasn't right.

I called radiology and asked if this was a normal reaction to having iodine injected into one's body and was told that is wasn't, most of it flushes out of the body pretty quickly (instructions were to drink tons of water afterwards - which I did) and if I felt like I was getting sick, I should call my primary care physician.

So I did, and was told I could come in later that afternoon. (I've mentioned this before, but with the economy and unemployment being what it is, I've discovered that fewer people seem to be going to doctors, so appointments are amazingly swift!).

A nurse came in to take my vitals and asked why I was there. I told her my symptoms and that I needed to find out if this was a real physical illness or if I was just having a meltdown. She told me that she was a cancer survivor, and informed me a little bit about her situation. She then said that it's a very normal emotional reaction to have breakdowns dealing with this stuff. Right at that moment I was overwhelmed with her insight and care, and started crying.

She knew. Now, I knew. This is going to be a really tough thing to go through.

I thanked her and she left. At that point I felt there was no longer a need for me to see the doctor, but I stayed. (Why not? I have way surpassed my insurance deductible - it's all free from here, baby!)

The doctor entered and I told him that I thought the nurse and I had figured out what was happening to me, but to please go ahead and check me out. I find it very disturbing that most doctor visits (esp. with primary care doctors) seem to mainly consist of the doctor typing and staring into a computer screen. Uh, hello? Could you please take your eyes off the computer and look my way and maybe even touch, tap, or feel something on my body?

I think I now understand my cat a whole lot better.

He does listen to my heart, taps a few things, but by now he is also getting the picture that my problem is more emotional than physical. I've been there and done that, but here was a new doctor. Glad to meet ya!

He really doesn't know much about my...colorful past with doctors and emotional problems - I was officially diagnosed with "agitated depression" nearly 15 years ago, so I couldn't get too mad at him when he decided to pull up on his computer a 9 question psychological test to give me.

I really thought I had been kidnapped by aliens at this point, but I remained calm and answered the questions as truthfully and as patiently as I could.

The questions were pretty standard ones:
In the last 2 weeks, have you had trouble concentrating at work-
a) not at all
b) some of the time
c) frequently
d) all of the time

It mostly went like like, pretty basic and obvious stuff, but the final question got me. Do you feel you've let your family and loved ones down?

That one hurt. I fell apart.

He handed me some tissues and informed me that he thought it might be a good idea to change up my anti-depressant meds to something with more anxiety reducing effects. I gently, but firmly told him that I trust my psychiatrist (who is outside of this health care organization), and that I thought messing with these drugs - this close to my surgery - may not be a good thing, but I would call her and ask.

The next day he e-mailed me and told me that I was right, we shouldn't change anything right now and to take Valium as needed. Good. And I do!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Through A Scanner Darkly

Once the biopsy confirmed the you-know-what, more tests were ordered. The first one was a bone scan. God - just the name gives me the willies. Apparently, if the prostate cancer is gonna spread, it will more than likely go to the bones or the lymph nodes. The thought of cancer being in one's bones is just down-right upsetting to me. Bones! I had a workmate die of prostate cancer cause it got into his...bones. Don't wanna go there at all. Please, Lord - don't let it be in my bones.

It was a 2 step procedure, and fortunately my workplace is just a 15 minute drive to the hospital. That's positive, right? (I keep hearing that keeping a positive attitude with health problems is a good thing - it is required!)

I went to the hospital for step # 1, in which I get an injection of some sort of radioactive whatever in my arm. I don't know if it really is radioactive, but I'm sure this is stuff you don't want to leave under the sink with an easy-open lid on if you got kids or pets. I was extra lucky because an intern was going to be the one administering the poison into my veins!

He was nervous, so I felt the need to help make this guy relax so I went into my washed-up-entertainer-from-the-Catskills mode. The jokes were on, and so was I!

I could hear him and his mentor doctor rummaging around in another room for the correct toxic juice and needles to slam into me. The doctor corrected him verbally a couple of times, so as I was waiting and hearing all of this shit I started entertaining whoever was in the room with me. Before long I actually had a small audience and the jokes were going over well!

The intern came in with the syringe and started to prep my arm for the injection. A couple of false starts - fine - we all gotta start somewhere. I kept running my mouth and at one point I asked the intern if he was OK with me doing my bit. He liked it. Then I thought I'd better ask his doctor-mentor if I should shut-up, and he was fine with the show, so I continued.

But then I felt cold liquid splash onto my arm before the needle went in. At that point I looked and noticed that the poor intern had all sorts of...stains on his lab coat. I settled down, so did he, and the magic medicine entered my vein.

I left and went back to work. In 3 hours I was to come back for the scan. No problem.

The intern was still there, so he had me go to the restroom and make sure my bladder was empty. Fine. He then had me lay down on a table and he and another tech started to set all of the computers, scanners, and whatever. Unfortunately the intern couldn't quite get the table working right. It was supposed to slowly move through the..circular thing as it scanned my bones.

Finally the intern fixed it, and off to scanning I went. It took about 20 minutes for my whole body to go through. Knowing the importance of positive thinking
I imagined a beautiful picture of my fresh and clean and wonderful skeletal system from head to toe. I relaxed my breathing and felt very new-age and beautiful. Not a hot-spot to be found in these bones!

When the scan was done, I stayed on the table as they had a doctor go over the images. Against my better judgement, I looked over at a computer monitor and there it was: My Skeleton! Holy shit! Looks just like a skeleton! Not wanting to look too closely, I turned my head back and waited.

The intern and tech came back in and said "The Doctor would like a couple of different angles of your head and neck." need to panic. Stay calm. Shit.

This time, the scan was just a couple of minutes long. I tried my best to not imagine those dreaded hot spots in my bones, but I don't think I was too successful. All bets are off at this point. Breathe, Gil, breathe.

They then disappeared for another 5 minutes. That's a long 5 minutes if you ask me.

"Mr. Ray - The doctor would like for you to go to X-Ray for a couple of pictures of your head and neck area."

OK. I'm done. It's in my head and neck area. No positive thoughts were within 20 miles from me. Don Rickles has left the building. I was an old, brittle, beaten cancer patient. How do I get the hell out of here?

Somehow I was able to stand still as the 20 year old tech X-Rayed me. I had nothing to say. I left the building and walked to my car. I'm fucked.

Remember the waiting game that doctors put patients through? Well, 4 days later I finally get an e-mail from my doctor: "Your bone scan is fine Mr. Ray. You just have some degenerative arthritis in your neck."

That night I raised a glass (or 4) to arthritis. Probably the only person in the world to do that.

Viva Arthritis.

I think my stress level probably compressed my poor little cancer ridden prostate into a diamond that week. I'm going to be rich!