Thursday, March 11, 2010

"No hot food, sandwiches, or popcorn in the waiting area"

I did a double take at the warning sign in the surgery waiting room. At first I thought I was delusional beacuse I had been up since 4am, but then I looked again and the sign really did say "No hot food, sandwiches, or popcorn in the waiting area."

Folks, this isn't the movies, but I would love to hear the back story to what prompted the popcorn warning; does anyone else find this funny?

I guess that is the general theme of the day of Eric's surgery, "does anyone else find this funny?"

Cancer licks. Surgery is scary. Pre-op areas are crowded and depressing. Waiting areas are tense and tend to have limited reading materials. Seeing loved ones chopped into and doped up is heart breaking. This all is a recipe for a really awful day, so Eric and I took it upon ourselves to intentionally find the humor in any and every situation.
Our day started with Miles's own personal cheerleading session that disguised itself as blood curdling crying a few times in the middle of the night. What a thoughtful child. I didn't get to ask my husband to whisper sweet nothings into my ear all night so I could remember the way he talked. Instead, I was hooked up to 9 week old as my husband chair surfed in Miles's room. The humor in this situation is that...wait, there is no humor in our house between the hours of 7pm and 5am.

We planned to head to Emory for our 5:30am same day surgery call, but were a little late in getting out of the door as Eric lost his glasses. He has never lost his glasses before. Of all days, really? The humor is more situational here--not "ha ha" funny. Right before we left, I whipped out my pricey strand of pearls Eric gave me for one of our Christmases (since his diagnosis, I had already been wearing the matching pearls he got me for our anniversary years back) and slipped on his wedding ring. No metal during surgery. And no Lance Armstrong wristlet. Nothing says cancer like pearls, no? I also put on my TEAM HEINTZ Northface top and Felix wore his (Miles's old) organic TEAM HEINTZ onesie. I didn't have time get something screen printed for Miles. I will have to do that soon. He is an integral part of our team! I was hoping my request for a TEAM HEINTZ hospital gown would come through. I'm sure if Oprah had tongue cancer, she would get a personalized gown.

We got to pre-op and were surprised at how many people were there waiting. After reading Anderson Cooper's bio on Wikipedia on Eric's new phone, we were called back by our pre-op nurse. We actually were collected as a group of 5 patients and support persons. As such, we got placed next to a woman who was having surgery that I don't think she wanted anyone else to hear about. But we did. We laughed that you sign all this HIPPA privacy paperwork, and yet there is this tiny cloth curtain separating us from the woman getting infected mesh removed from her...let's just stop right there.

Quickly we brainstormed the various ways pre-op could be improved and made a pitch to our pre-op nurse. I think she was almost convinced. We will be submitting to Emory Hosptial shortly:
  • Normal saline IV should be buttermilk pancake flavor
  • Installation of dentist office posters on the ceiling. (I remember the ones at my hygentist's office; it was the history of dentistry in cartoons. That, and I believe when I was really little they also had a poster of a fluffy kitten pouncing on a yellow flower--clearly a "throw down" (as Bob Deysher refers to freebies) from a Scholastic book drive after you have purchased $15 in books and a Highlights magazine subscription.)
  • Manis and pedis should be offered to all patients, and their 1 support person
  • The blue berets for the hair should have sizes
  • Option to have a foam roller for under the knee, or ability to put in a request that during surgery the circulating nurse would use "the stick" on the patients leg muscles
  • A running TV loop of Save By The Bell (SBTB) episodes--specifically the Zack Attack broken leg episode. Eric and I commented how Zack's hospital stay was a far cry from ours.
To keep the mood light, we just started throwing jokes around to anyone who would listen. Unfortunately, we forgot that anesthesiologists and surgeons don't have senses of humor. Although they could certainly afford to by them, they apparently they don't have time for them.

Eric and I had discussed the possibility of Skyping during surgery. So I took it upon myself to pose the question to Dr W.

Ali: "Do you have skype in the OR? Like, could you put a camera on your head so I can watch the whole thing?"

Dr W.: (silence)


Eric: "Perhaps there is a viewing panel at the top where you can eat junior mints."
This Seinfeld reference was lost on everyone in the room. And if it doesn't resonate wtih you here, I have no interest in retelling the episode. Google it or something.

Dr W: "You don't want to watch your loved one be operated on."

Ali: "Speak for yourself." I thought, do you know how many ingrown leg hairs I have removed from him during his running/cycling days?

Dr W pulled out his marking pen.
Eric: "Perfect, green is my lucky color."
Dr W: "Sorry, it's actually purple. The outside is just green."

ouch. Strike 2.
Dr W drew on his cancer tongue and then wrote in huge letters on his neck, YES. I've heard about surgeons operating on incorrect body parts, so I guess this was a good idea. I just thought it was funny.

Eric got a shot of some happy juice cocktail and the anesthesiology resident wheeled him out of  pre-op. I was a little nervous because she kept bumping into things with the stretcher. If her driving was any indication of her anesthesiology work, I needed to find a lawyer fast. The next thing I know, the nurse is shuffling me into the waiting area and Eric is heading back into the land of make believe. WAIT! I needed to say good-bye. On TV the farewells are much more dramatic and drawn out.

Ali: "Can I give him a kiss?"
Nurse: "Oh, sure!"
Eric: "No tongue babe, I don't want to give you cancer."
Ali: "ERIC! Please watch out for my husband. He's cheeky."

And then we waited. I had guests visit, Eric's parents chill with me in the popcorn free zone, and a trip back home to see Miles, Felix and my breast pump. It really didn't go by as slowly as I had thought it would. The surgeon came out and said that things went exactly as we had talked about:
  • 15% of the tongue removed. Clean margins. Tongue cancer was completely taken out.
  • All lymph nodes on the left side are gone. They were swollen, but could be residual from biopsy. Path report forthcoming (we hope in a few days)
  • Scope procedures did not show any secondary cancer
And Dr W said he would heal well. That his being a teacher will force him to use his tongue and promote healing. That his hospital stay would probably only be 3 or so days. And that he looked pretty good. Not too bad! Kinda sexy neck scar, no? We haven't really seen the no longer cancer tongue, but he had minimal bleeding.

We are all anxious to get the path results of his nodes--please keep your fingers, toes and eyes crossed that they are favorable.

And so the recovery began and continues as I finish this post. He is finally talking a fair bit and just sounds like he has a mouth stuffed with marshmallows. He moved from morphine to a percocet/tylenol cocktail and is on 2 antibiotics. The only tenuous moment was when he got up for the first time to go to the bathroom, got all sweaty, felt ringing in the ears, and was about to pass out. His systolic blood pressure was only 60! they quickly got him back to bed and luckily since then has been fine. Today he even ate (correction, swallowed) lasagna and ravioli. Essentially, he can eat it if it doesn't involve any chewing. And another funny thing--Eric totally has his own mouthfrida! If you are not a regular blog follower, this is totally flying over your head at 30, 000 feet, but Eric has this suction tube to clean out his mouth of mucus, blood, ravioli remnants, gremlins, or whatever else is hiding in his oral cavity...and it totally reminds me of an electric nosefrida. I told Eric I could "mouthfrida" him at home with our nosefrida. I think he threw up a bit in his mouth. And then used the electric mouthfrida to remove it.

He's had a steady stream of visitors, which is helpful because after Saved By The Bell is over at 9am, the days are really LONG. I haven't really been able to spend quality time with him as I am on Mommy duty. I am really torn--really struggling because I want to be there for everyone as much as possible. I want to provide stability and normalcy for Miles and Felix, but also stay with Eric 24/7. Eric and I did talk pre-surgery that my first role would be to care for the kids. And the truth is that as a nursing mom of a newborn, I am controlled by my mammary glands and cannot spend much time with Eric, unless I set up the milk shop at the hospital (hello nosocomial infectious agents!) or parking lot. I am so glad that Eric's parents are here to stay with Eric, but do find it hard at times to not be the one there with him.

Let me end by saying that I am so far behind on personal correspondances and hope to spend the next 2 weeks regaining composure and control over our lives. Blanket thank yous are not usually the way I operate, but THANK YOU world. Because I truly feel like the world is supporting us right now. Like, instead of free Tibet bumper stickers, I'm going to start seeing "We love you Eric" ones. This has been a circus, and sometimes I feel like the incompetent ring leader. Driving home from the hospital today, I had to call my mother to get me through the drive because I thought I was going to either pass out or fall asleep. Days are long over here. Especially as Miles is now getting up multiple times a night, starting his day at 5am, and I am still doing the colic dance with Felix for hours a night. But I tell you I would do it all again and again for the rest of my life if it meant that everyone in my family is/will be happy and healthy. And Miles grounds me as multiple times throughout the day, he'll just blurt out, "My Da-dee!" It was the first thing he said to me as I pulled him out of his crib at 5:30am, "DADDY!"

Finally, my brother Seth sent me this phone picture yesterday. Our family and close friends in Atlanta are all wearing Livestrong wristlets (I use that term to make it less gendered) until Eric is considered cured of cancer--may be a good 5 years. Therefore, we may be wearing these longer than many first marriages (at least in Hollywood.) (PS--I have quite a few left if anyone wants one!) For some reason, seeing my brother wearing his wristlet made me cry at the hospital when I received it. I cannot quite place the emotion(s) that lead me to tears. But the question is, does it really matter?


  1. WOW- so much stuff here that i can relate to. Don't know when to start -- maybe Goldberg's on Sunday am? :)
    I think Micah is missing Eddie, he keeps carrying his socks around (this is a game they play, Micah will steal Eddie's socks and Eddie runs after him saying 'hey you took my sock! i'm going to have cold feet! HEY!!!'...Micah giggles and runs away till Eddie catches him and then erupts in laughter)...anyhow he's carrying around socks and Eddie's shoes too! and tonight he wanted to sleep with one of Eddie's dirty socks...sigh...of course I let him.
    Kudos to you in the max for taking the time to blog even with a tiny one keeping you up at all hours and a little one keeping you running. My sincere respect to you, you are the queen of Mommydom!

  2. Hello Ms. Heintz, you dont know me and neither does your husband but i ran at berkmar where he used to teach 4 years ago and ive heard so many good things about him and only wish for the best to come and everything is great, its great to hear his is doing alright and so is the family. Ill be coming to Marist on Wednesday for a meet and maybe Coach might be there, which i hope he is, but other than that i would love to wear one of those livestrong bracelets if you have any left. Hope Coach does well, Take Care


  3. Alison, where to begin? I love the way you write. We at the DiIorio household are so happy that Eric made it successfully out of surgery and has begun the process of healing and kicking cancers you know what!
    The beginning is so hard; adjusting to your new life, managing the house, being there for the kids, supporting lose yourself and what you need. What takes your place is a shell of a person who cries all the time, wants the world to stop (because that is what the world is supposed to do when your life is in turmoil), and would love nothing more than to stay in bed for a week, alone w/ nothing on your to-do list.
    I PROMISE you, life does begin to resemble itself with a little thing called cancer added in.
    As I have said before, get it all out - cry, scream, beat a pillow, just get it out - FEEL.
    You are doing a great job. It's hard to be all things to many people all of the time. Eric will be home soon and your boys will adjust and sleep.

    I wish I could help you out w/ those babies of yours (no milk left, but I am a great soother). For now, know that I am thinking of all of you and wishing for ease.

    Love Sara

  4. Hi Ali and Eric,
    Loved the visit this week! It was sooooooo glad to see you both and see the worst is over.

    It sure was de ja vous all over again being in the E wing in room 904 since Bob had spent over a dozen times in E wing on the 6th, 7th and 8th floors last year. Who knows. I think his total time on the E wing cancer floors in 2009 was about 100 days or so.

    You all looked great and the hospital food, as usual, looked lame. :) Did I ever tell you about the pea and pop-tart dinner they served Bob once? Eeewwwww!

    We'll stop by your house so Bob can give you a big hug too.

    luv ya guys!

  5. Missed seeing you post on MDC so I came over to your blog. Praying for you and your family. I enjoy reading about your adventures and appreciate your humor :) hope your husband is recuperating quickly and glad you are surrounded with love! Thinking of you!