Wednesday, July 11, 2012

High Dose Radiation Interstitial Brachytherapy - Vaginal Cuff

Nurse Kari and my friend, Cassidy, at the Radiation Oncology department at St Joe's Hospital in Denver
That title is what they wrote on the wrist bracelet to make sure they actually performed the correct procedure on the correct patient. They could've also just said: space age vaginal torture.

Remember how I said in this post that I was going to have these three surgeries that I dared you to Google? Well, I've suffered through all three of them now and I'm here with my recap for your reading pleasure...or pain. I guess that depends on whether or not you're a Stephen King or a Christopher Moore kind of reader. Okay, it also depends on how much comic relief I provide here.

Here's how the typical brachytherapy party in my pants went:

I check in at the hospital at 5:30am and get taken to the pre-op holding area where they make me take all of my clothes off, check my vitals, give me an IV and go over my life story. I also meet the whole OR staff at that time. My doctor also comes and writes that long ass description on a bracelet and puts it on me so he does his job correctly and I don't end up with a 2 for 1 procedure that day or go away minus 1 limb or organ.

I go into the OR at about 7:30am and they send me to lala land for about an hour so I don't freak out from all of the crap they're doing to my body. I wake up in recovery with a sore throat from the breathing tube or a tube in my nose that they haven't pulled out yet, a really dry mouth and my legs strapped into some stirrups up in the air. After they're sure I can breathe on my own, because the pain meds tend to make that stop, they send me down to Radiation Oncology where they have about half a dozen people scrambling around me to give me a CT scan to see exactly where the needles the size of dry thin spaghetti noodles are placed in my pelvis. After that dose of radiation I go into the torture....I mean treatment room where Jeff the radiation therapist attaches a bunch of long tubes and wires to the Tardis (that's Dr Who's time machine) carburetor in my vagina. While this is happening there's also a physicist named Hank or David actually creating a treatment plan with my doctor (Brandon Patton MD, not Who) and Kari, the best RN ever, makes the whole thing as painless as possible. Her job is the most difficult of all; and not always successful.

Once the treatment plan is complete and my legs have been rearranged about ten times by Jeff and Kari because I'm incredibly uncomfortable (I know. Unbelievable, right?) and Kari has given me as much of that pain medication that makes me hallucinate as she can, they are ready to perform my treatment. It's probably about 11am now.

The giant metal door closes me in the room alone to protect everyone else from the high doses of radiation and my treatment lasts about 5-10 minutes. The giant door opens up and they all come back in, wave a Geiger counter over me to make sure I'm safe to be around and they start breaking the whole thing down. The tubes get disconnected and Kari pumps a bunch of pain meds into my IV. As soon as I feel them take effect I tell the doctor (again, Patton, not Who) and he literally yanks the Tardis carburetor from my vagina. It seriously feels like being raped and stabbed in the vagina. And the much blood. Oy, but I'm off track here.

Once they slow the bleeding I am taken out of the stirrups and I can turn over on my side. After awhile Jeff and Kari help me sit up and get dressed...and give me all the water I want since I haven't eaten in about 36 hours or had anything to drink in about 12. A good friend picks me up and takes me home and I sit on the couch for the next 2 days while the pain and dopiness wear off.

Like I said, that's the typical version. The first week was pretty painful because I didn't know what to expect and Dr Patton actually told me it would feel like ripping a band aid off before yanking the torture device out of me. Needless to say, I firmly corrected him on that perception. Don't worry, I apologized the next week. Then he suggested for the second surgery that I get spinal anesthesia because it would help the pain. Not.

The spinal wore off right after the CT Scan so I spent about 2 hours in the most excruciating pain I've ever had to endure. The pain meds would wear off after about 5-10 minutes because they just weren't strong enough to compete and I could actually feel the needles in my lower back. They felt like a hot poker in my back the whole time. Then...the headache.

The next day I developed a headache and was told by Kari to go to the ER on Thursday because it might be from a spinal fluid leak from the anesthesia. I was told at the ER that I had a migraine and was sent home with a prescription that didn't really do much. Good thing I only paid $4 for it, huh? That headache was the worst I've ever had and lasted almost 5 days. The only relief I got was lying down. Every time I moved it felt like my brain was bouncing around in my head. When I went in for my last surgery I described it to my anesthesiologist, Dr Fritz, and she confirmed that it was indeed a spinal fluid leak and was pretty livid that the ER didn't call her to fix it. Needless to say, I didn't let her give me another spinal after that. So I got another general for the last surgery. It actually went well too. I had minimal pain and didn't cry the whole time. Yay! 

Now I have to wait for my follow up appointments to find out if the torture was worth it. It should; each of the 3 surgeries administered about the same amount of radiation as all 28 of my external beam radiation treatments combined. That will be in August. Why do they wait so long, you ask? They have to give the tumor enough time to pack its bags and vacate the premises.

So I'll wait patiently and try to not go (more) crazy while waiting and wondering and I'll keep everyone posted. When I know something, you all will.

And by the way, I've added a Paypal donate button to my home page if anyone wants to help me with my medical bills and living expenses. Thanks in advance.


Anonymous said...
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Joseph said...

I must thank you. I was researching online, gathering lore to better understand the possible post-op issues that might arise with my wife's recent hysterectomy. It looks like she was very fortunate, and the cancer cells present were all located in her uterus, and are now, of course, gone. Seeing that you are a Sci Fi fan, you would likely have had the same reaction I did to the equipment used for her procedure - it was done with the "Da Vinci" robot-assisted laporoscopic surgical system...about which I can only say WOW! But I digress...

I had entered the phrase "vaginal cuff" in the search engine, and thanks to your Dr. Who reference: "Jeff the radiation therapist attaches a bunch of long tubes and wires to the Tardis (that's Dr Who's time machine) carburetor in my vagina" among all the images of surgery and cut-away views of reproductive systems, I was surprised and amused to see the good Doctor standing there in front of a familiar police box!

Thank you for that needed moment of tension-cutting levity!

Ginger Cooke said...

Hello Joseph,
I apologize for not responding to your comment sooner; it didn't show up in my notifications. I'll have to check my settings.
Anyhoo, I'm glad your wife is doing well and that I could help bring a little humor to your situation. My aim is to inform those who may have to go through this and if you get a little giggle then that's good too.