three-year anniversary of tumor

Today marks the three year anniversary of the surgery that restored order to Nate’s life. Three years! 

At the one year mark, I spent some time reflecting on all that had happened during that whirlwind month in 2010. And every year at this time I feel the same wave of thankfulness when I think about what could have been. So now, for what is becoming somewhat of a tradition, the 10-episode drama of what we lovingly refer to as the summer of tumor. ;)

part one

In May, 2010 Nate started having pain in his abdomen. He rarely mentioned it and never complained, so I was surprised when he made an appointment to see the doctor- the first time he’d see one in maybe four years? The doctor thought it might be an ulcer, but suggested a CT scan to make sure it wasn’t his appendix. After the scans were taken, the doctor called and referred him to a specialist because a baseball size mass was found.

On Saturday, May 22, we walked into the office of the “specialist” and panic set in- the racing heart, butterflies, shaky hands. Because said “specialist” turned out to be the waiting room of an oncologist filled with sick patients in head wraps and hats, waiting for chemo. I was transported to several years earlier when my little sister had regular visits with an oncologist, wore head wraps and hats, and sat in waiting rooms for chemo.

Dr. O was nice enough but she was about as confused as we were about what the mass was. She threw out some possibilities, one being lymphoma. Lymphoma?! No way was this happening. Yesterday Nate was fine and life was normal.

The oncologist explained nothing more could be done until a biopsy was taken of the mass. The receptionist tried to tell us it would be several weeks before the hospital could get Nate in. What on earth was this woman thinking? No way were we about to wait that long. I cried on the drive home.

We hibernated the rest of the weekend. Blew up an air mattress in front of the TV and watched back to back episodes of Bones for several days straight. Temperance Brennan & Seeley Booth were a sweet distraction (they will forever hold a special place in my heart).

Nate started making calls Monday morning. The insurance company, the hospital, back to insurance, back to the hospital. A biopsy appointment was set for that Friday afternoon (Memorial Day weekend). The first round of waiting began. It was a weird week, mostly made up of going through motions of living, eating, kind of working, and sleeping. Nate was somewhat upbeat- but he’s pretty steady under stressful situations in general.

Allison brought over several meals without us asking. She just knew I wouldn’t be walking into the kitchen. This was Al’s first gift of total love-and-loyalty-in-crisis.

Biopsy day. We got to the hospital and Nate checked in. He was prepped for the procedure and my good friend, boss, and pastor, Richard, sat with me in the waiting room. He was facilitating a wedding that weekend and had other important things to do, but chose to drive the 40+ minutes to sit with us. Another good friend, Allison W. brought me lunch and sat with me for a while. Both were so comforting and so appreciated.

With the biopsy finished, our friends took off and we sat in recovery waiting to be released. Nurses told us Nate had some internal bleeding and would need to stay an extra four hours for observation. I can’t remember how we passed the time, but it felt forever long. Twenty minutes before we were to be cleared to leave, (4:45pm), things. got. crazy.

Nate started having crazy pain in his abdomen- worse than he’d ever had before. Worse pain he’d ever felt. Period. He could barely stay on the bed. Something was wrong and he needed help, but no one was around. It was a Friday, a holiday weekend, and the biopsy/outpatient unit was about to close. A nurse finally came and said she’d page a doctor and try to get him cleared for morphine. We waited and waited and waited. It got so bad, Nate could no longer think straight. It was bad and I was scared.

Turns out the nurse typed the doctor’s name into the computer wrong, so the request was never sent. An hour passed before Nate was given morphine that barely took the edge off and lasted maybe fifteen minutes. I think he also had two additional CT scans during all this. Each came back inconclusive, but something was definitely wrong. By this point, the unit had officially closed and was virtually empty. I’d never felt so helpless before. And I had no idea that feeling would continue for the next five weeks.

Finally, someone who seemed to know what they were doing materialized. A nurse recognized that something was indeed not right and pushed to have him admitted overnight. Nate was wheeled upstairs to a private room in his hospital bed, with me following behind. The pain would not let up.

I was still not sure what was going on and didn’t want to bother anyone, but that didn’t matter – Allison came anyway.  She walked in the room, hugged me, and told me another very dear family friend, Nancy, was sitting in the waiting room. My mom (in Indiana) had called her, and I’m still amazed she chose to drop everything and drive thirty miles on so little information. Little did we know she’d become such an important part of the time spent in the Phoenix hospital.  Nancy knew so much more about hospitals (and being a patient in one) than I did, and she advocated like crazy for Nate’s pain management.

I can’t paint an accurate enough picture of what Nate went through that first night. His body was in so much pain, it shook out of control. When the shaking started, there was this moment. I was alone in the room, standing next to his bed, feeling the crazy helplessness, and beyond scared. Everything in me wanted to run away. The walls were closing in and I needed to get out of that room. I needed to find someone else who could actually do something to make this better. But I also immediately knew in that moment it had to me, and that I was going nowhere. I laid myself over his chest, kind of pinning his shaking body to the bed. And I whispered in his ear that I loved him, that I was so sorry, and that it would be okay. And I silently cried and cried (but he didn’t see that part because I had my face buried in his neck). Mercifully, he remembers very little of that first night.

I think a lot was probably going on behind the scenes- Allison making phone calls and Nancy talking with nurses. Shannon and Jason brought me a bag of things to stay overnight (I love you guys- not sure I ever thanked you for that).

Eventually, all thanks to Nancy, Nate was put on a pain pump of Dilaudid (seven times stronger than morphine). He had to be hooked up to monitors so they could make sure he didn’t stop breathing. When his breathing got too shallow during the night an alarm would go off and alert his nurse. Eventually they put him on oxygen to help with this, and he finally got an hour or two of sleep. Around three or four in the morning, I sat in a chair looking at him, hooked up to all kinds of machines, and felt a horrible dread twisting my stomach in knots and making my chest so tight, it was hard to breathe.

I sent a text to Adam in the middle of the night, who was flying in the next day with his bathing suit and sunscreen, ready for a week of fun and catching up. I sent a text to Neville, too, but I have no idea what I said. I’m pretty sure it sounded desperate.

Part two here


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