04 December 2014


Oh my poor neglected blog!  I really have had so much to say, but very little energy and heart to put into writing.  The good news is that will be changing soon.  My job situation has changed and, I'm excited to report, I will have more time to really and truly focus on ME.  You have no idea how thrilled I am about this!  It must have been the right time to do it because everything fell into place.  I really do believe that for everything there is a season, just like the song says.  This is my season.

Looking forward to letting it unfold!

09 August 2014

Recovery Means Relax

Coloring is very therapeutic!

Three and a half weeks ago, I had major abdominal surgery.  My friends and co-workers gave me crayons, coloring books, movies, books, and puzzles to keep me entertained during my recovery.  I thought for sure that I would do all those things plus start and finish projects on my never ending To Do List.  What I did not realize was that recovery was not the same as a staycation.

While it appeared that I was healing from the outside, who knew that I had to consider what was happening on the inside.

Yes, Marji, the surgeon took a few things OUT of you.  This required CUTTING your tissue which is connected to your body.  You are alive and you bleed, remember?

Oh yeah...  I was forgetting about being human and my close call with cancer.  I had pushed aside thoughts of how big of a deal this really was.  After all, my surgical wound had been healing nicely.

I got a little cocky.  I fancied myself to be the overachiever of recovery from surgery.  Accepting invitations to dinner, a concert, trips to the dog beach, I convinced myself that these were not body-stressing activities.  Quickly, I was reminded that this was not the case.

Just as I thought my healing was progressing, approximately an inch-long section of my incision closest to my belly button developed some redness and started oozing a small amount of thick, white fluid.

Oh crap...  Not a good sign.  Infection?  Possibly.  Ugh.

I don't know what did it.  Was it taking my pup Maggie and her BFF Lucy to the beach a few times this week?  Maybe when I was cleaning up around the house, I overexerted myself.  Or have I been sleeping on my belly and not realizing it?

Whatever the cause, it is glaringly apparent that I am not relaxing as much as I should be.  Since becoming a nurse, it hasn't been easy for me to do this.

Oh, why are we nurses such bad patients?

In a few days, I will see the doctor to see what he has to say.  I am sure that he will read the guilt plastered on my face.  He will make me eat my words from last time when I commented on how well my healing was progressing.


01 August 2014

Post Op Notes

I could have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and wasn't.

My surgery could have been worse, but it wasn't.

I could be going through chemo and radiation right now, but I'm not.

For the last few days, these thoughts have been on repeat in my head.  It has been two weeks since my surgery and only now can I truly appreciate what just happened to me.  Immediately after my operation, I was more concerned with managing pain and what meds I should be taking, getting in and out of bed to go to the bathroom, and eating enough fiber so that it wouldn't be painful to do so.  Now the thoughts of my near miss of a cancer diagnosis weigh heavily on my mind and heart.

"You have been given another chance," one of my aunts told me.

So true.  But I am uncertain on what to do with such a gift.

It is easy to spew out a list gathered from the best self-help, inspirational websites...

Laugh more.
Love more.
Work less.
Do what you love, the money will follow.
Dance like no one is watching.

But what does that mean for me, I wonder.

Is this what happens when one makes a narrow escape from something terrible?  Maybe.  But it's not such a bad thing to take inventory of my life.

Recovery from surgery is going to take several weeks, enough for me to start figuring out how to make most of every moment going forward.

And the journey continues...

31 July 2014

Nurse Becomes Patient

The alarm on my cell phone called out to me as for the last four years.  It's 4:30 A.M.!!!  Get out of bed!!!

It wasn't that hard to wake up.  I'm not sure if I even slept through the night.  Was I nervous?  Sure.  But this wasn't the type of nervous that I usually feel when I am minutes away from performing on stage or when I have a job interview.  This was different.  The direction of my life would be impacted by what the surgical team would find when they opened me up.  It could go either way... 

I put on the clothes I had laid out the night before on the floor of my childhood bedroom, chosen in anticipation of wearing a patient gown and goofy no-slip socks.  On the other side of the house, I heard my parents getting ready.  They were as nervous as I was.

No one said a word during the car ride to the hospital.  It was silent except for the Everly Brothers singing Bye Bye Love.

There goes my baby...  With someone newww...  She sure looks happy...  I sure am bluuuuuuuue...

My stomach growled at me having been "NPO" (nil per os, nothing by mouth).

Easy girl, I thought tapping my belly, this will soon be over.

* * * * *

Like many hospitals in the Metro area, "South Side General" (SSG) was expanding their campus.  As a result, what used to be was no longer.  There were new entrances that replaced old entrances and walls that were not there before.  Although my mother has been a physician at SSG for a long time, even she was confused with all the changes.  We spent part of the morning wandering the hallways of the Ground Floor, debating on the best route to get to Elevator D.  This was not a calming experience.

I knew my family was nervous, but all I could think of was myself.  I was about to get cut open, something that I've seen happen to other people time and time again.

We found our way to Same Day Surgery.  I waited in line while other patients checked in.  Looking ahead, I could see the clerks go through their routine, explaining where they needed to go next, etc.  I recognized that this was something they did every day, much like I did in my job.  As a patient, this was anything but routine for me.

After the clerk went through her schpiel with me, I made my way back to where a nursing care tech (NCT) led me to the room where I would change and get on the patient cart.  Earlier, my mom had offered to come with me.  I said no.  I didn't want my nerves to get the best of me and then, knowing myself, I would take it out on the people I love the most - my parents.

I tried my best to relax and be a good patient.

Silly girl, you don't get any extra points (or extra drugs) for being a good patient.

Once I was comfortable on the cart, the NCT came back and requested a urine sample.  I shuffled my way to and from the bathroom, with my no-slip socks on, trying to hold the back of my gown closed.  It wasn't hard.  The gown was so big, I could have wrapped it around myself twice.

A nurse came in to register me in the system.  Her interview questions were familiar, only this time I was the one who had to answer.  Simultaneously, a familiar face, Mario, another NCT, arrived to draw my blood for additional testing.  I knew him from when I used to work there several years ago.  He made me cringe, not just because he was terrible at blood draws (you should NEVER wiggle the needle around while it's in the patient).  It was mostly because he started interrogating me about ex-boyfriends while searching for a good vein.

None of your beeswax, you tool!  Would it be against protocol to tell him to shut the f*ck up?  This is not helping me relax, douchebag...

I was thankful when his incessant verbal and physical poking stopped.  Good riddance!!!  My parents and aunt were finally summoned once the nurse was nearing the end of her list of interview questions.  Why she saved this question for when my parents were in the room, I'm not sure.

Nurse:  "Do you drink alcohol?"
Me:  "Yes."

There was a look and head shake in disgust from my father.

Nurse (chuckling to herself): "Every day? Weekly? Rarely?"

Here we go...

My father shot me a disapproving glance as I answered, "Weekly."

He frowned.

Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone...

I remarked, "You know, I am 45 years old and a nurse.  I'm lucky I don't drink every day with this stressful job.  But I guess you have to be a nurse to understand."

Big grin from my fellow nurse.

If only the regular folk could understand what it takes to be one of us.

After a visit from a resident, the surgeon, and the anesthesia team, plus a small dose of the magical drug called Versed, I was off to surgery.  I was grateful to former co-workers who agreed to be part of the surgical team that was going to take care of me.

The only thing I remember about surgery was entering the room and seeing my friends.  Then it was good night, Marji.

I woke up in the post anesthesia care unit (PACU), still fuzzy from the anesthesia, and snuggled in warm blankets.  Once I was more alert, I was transferred to Phase 2 of the Same Day Surgery unit - where I had started my day.  My parents and aunt joined me there.  I don't remember much of the conversation, other than it was done, everything was good, and it would be a while until I was transferred to the floor.

* * * * *

Once on the unit, I was more awake.  I lifted the blanket and my gown to take a look at the incision.

Hmmm...  Much smaller than I thought!

The resident stopped by to check on me.  Then she gave me the good news.

"We took out the mass which was very big - three times the size of your kidney - as well as your right tube, and part of your right ovary.  Your uterus and left ovary were left intact.  We also biopsied the surrounding omentum (fatty tissue).  Everything was benign.  No cancer!"

She smiled and added, on a less serious note, "You are the happiest patient I have ever seen waking up from general anesthesia."

Apparently, after the breathing tube was taken out of my mouth, they said, "Wake up, Marji!"  I opened my eyes as if completely awake and smiled.  Everyone in the room laughed and remarked that they had never seen someone wake up after surgery like that before.  I asked if surgery was done and they said yes.  When it came time to transfer me to the patient cart, they told me they were going to move me to another bed.  I said, "OK, I'll help!"

* * * * *

I spent two days on the unit, visited by family and friends, and then finally discharged to go home with my parents.  Overall, everything fell into place.  It would not be until several days later that I would realize exactly how lucky I was.

23 July 2014

Prepped and Ready

"I saw my doctor and surgery is next week Tuesday."

I stood in my manager's office and nonchalantly uttered this frightening information as if nothing major was about to occur.  Working at a Level I Trauma Center has taught me to keep my cool when things feel out of control.  I was merely....staying cool.

M's eyes started tearing up.  She was not just my manager, but my friend as well.

Oh crap...  I can't fall apart now...  No...  Not gonna do it.

She hugged me and reassured me that I had her support.  I was relieved to hear it, but weight of what was about to happen to me kept me from breathing easy.

* * * * *

Preparations for my leave of absence had already started.  The entire leadership team was ready to cover for me.

"Don't worry," they said.

Before I knew it, the week of work was over and my leave officially began.

* * * * *

My luggage lay on the floor of my bedroom while I piled clothes and toiletries on my bed.  It felt strange to be packing for something other than a road trip or a flight out of the city.  Business or pleasure?  This was definitely business - as in the business of staying alive and healthy.

Please, God, let me wake up from this crazy dream...

Alas, this was real.  Too real.

When I finished gathering my things for a couple nights at the hospital and a two week stint at my parents' home, I stuffed Maggie's toys, food, and treats in a shopping bag.  Thoughts of how long I had to be away from my pup was more than I could handle.

Finally, the tears came.

I don't know why I held back from crying for as long as I did.  I've never faced the possibility of having cancer before.  The fact of the matter is that there is no right or wrong way to handle serious news.  I remember how hard I cried when I heard the news of a close family friend's death.  Finding out that my boyfriend of two years had been cheating of me during our entire relationship left me tearful, hurt and angry, but determined to leave him in the dust.  And I can recall how I put on a brave face when I found out my mom had a stroke.

So here I was facing the possibility of cancer.  It wasn't a diagnosis yet.  I still had a chance.  There was still hope.

I don't deserve to fall apart when I've seen others courageously face a cancer diagnosis, I thought.

I quickly dried my tears and finished cleaning up my home.

* * * * *

Maggie was dropped off at my cousin N's apartment, familiar territory for this Labbe.  She was excited to visit her Tita and Tito.

On my way to my parents' house, I picked up two bottles of magnesium citrate as part of my prep for surgery.  All day, I was on a clear liquid diet and then my gastrointestinal tract was cleared with the magnesium citrate drink.  While I felt lighter and skinnier, I still would never choose to do this on purpose!

I wished I could fast forward to the day after surgery.