Surgery, disappointment and more uncertainty.
The day of the surgery arrived, she was admitted, and we were escorted to the pre-op room, the last stop before the operating room. I accompanied her into the pre-op as I would every time she was faced with surgery in the coming years. I didn’t know what to expect when we went in, my only idea of a surgical prep room coming from episodes of one hospital show or another on TV, and as you might imagine, it didn’t look the same. The one thing similar was that it was all white and stainless steel, with nurses and doctors in light blue or light green scrubs, going about the business of preparing patients for their trip to the operating rooms. I don’t know how many OR’s they have there, but judging from the level of activity and number of patients in the pre-op, I knew it is more than one or two.
There, in that cool, sterile, brightly lit, noisy place we were taken to a curtained area that contained a bed, a minimum of privacy and Joanie changed into a gown. After she changed and got into bed, a nurse brought her a warm blanket as a defense against the cold. She took her blood pressure, and began the process of hooking her up to an IV, all the while making small talk to put Joanie at ease. You could tell she had done this before.
We met her anesthesiologist who explained what he would be doing, we met her nurse anesthetist who explained what her role would be, and then Dr. Carson came in and went over what was about to happen. Carson, basically went over what she had told us in her office. She also told us that there would be three other doctors involved in some way in the procedure. One was Dr. Cosin whom we had met, the other names we didn’t recognize, and I’m not sure it mattered anyway.
Joanie didn’t seem anxious, and if she was she wasn’t showing it. We had talked after her initial appointment with Dr. Carson, and she seemed to like and trust her, and was comfortable with her. That made me comfortable too. Even as a person with no medical training, I felt the comfort level between a patient and doctor was critical, and never more so than when the patient is dealing with a deadly disease.
They told us the time was near, and then came the favorite nurse in the pre-op, the nurse with the Versed. That is the drug that makes you forget you were even there, and it does work. The nurse gave her the shot of Versed, I squeezed her hand, gave her a kiss, and as her eyes began to glaze over and a relaxed look came to her face they wheeled her bed off to the OR. I went to check into the surgery waiting room and then go out for a smoke. It was going to be a long few hours.
Time, in a surgical waiting room slows down, or so it seems, and we knew about how long this procedure should take, assuming they do the radical hysterectomy. Should Dr. Carson make an appearance after a shorter period, we knew they probably didn’t do it. We were hoping that they would take the time they needed.
I wasn’t sure how much time had elapsed as I look back on it now, but I know it was no where near the amount of time they would have needed to perform the complete procedure, plus taking lymph nodes for biopsies. Dr. Carson came out, and we went to an ante room off of the waiting room and she told us that Joanie was in recovery, she had tolerated the procedure well, and they had removed 26 lymph nodes to send to pathology for examination to see if any cancer had spread. She told us they couldn’t do the radical hysterectomy because the tumor had moved off of the cervix, and though it had not reached the pelvic wall, there would not be enough of a margin to do the hysterectomy. I assumed that to mean a cancer free margin, but I really had no idea. Nor did I understand exactly what that meant, only that Joanie was going to be faced with another disappointment, something we had hoped we could avoid.
We were to learn at this point that treatment for cervical cancer, as I imagine it is for any type of cancer, is determined at this stage by centimeters and millimeters. It was hard to imagine how something so small could cause so much damage, fear and anguish, but it does.
Dr. Carson said Joanie would be brought up to room on 7C, the Women’s Cancer Center floor at the hospital after her time in recovery. I went out to have smoke, make a few calls back to Bismarck and begin to process what I had heard and try to anticipate how Joanie was going to take it, and what I would say to her. I didn’t have a clue.
When they brought Joanie up to her room on 7C, I went in and she began to cry, knowing that they hadn’t done the hysterectomy. The scene reminded me of the one in Dr. Bury’s office in Bismarck just a short 16 days before. I remember feeling how cruel this was, and so sorry for her, because I knew how much she had her heart set on getting this over and done with. It was not the last time I would have that helpless feeling, knowing there was nothing I could do but help her get through this.
Joanie was still in pain from the surgery at this point, so we didn’t talk a lot about what had happened or didn’t happen. Since she was to remain in the hospital for another three days or so, there would be time enough for that.
This was the first hospital stay in her life. My job now was to keep her company, keep her spirits up and in between her naps, go for walks on the floor with her.
The questions on our minds again were, “What happens next, and what do we do?” The answer to those questions would have to wait until we found out what the biopsies of the lymph nodes would show, and we wouldn’t know that until the next day.