Tourist Info Desk

Welcome to Fernweh, a blog concerning the (mis)adventures of one Fulbrighter during a year spent in Europe teaching English.
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Monday, June 20, 2011

Es ist so weit/It's time!

June 14th, 10:10 pm

Ah, here we are again. Here I am spending another night at the Waldklinikum in the cot by the door, headphones in, with Hamlet keeping guard over the bed, waiting for surgery. I've just taken a nice long warm shower, since I don't know when I'll get another chance.

Today was unexpectedly stressful; we arrived at the hospital at half past ten and the ping-pong began. It began with the paperwork and blood samples with a couple of very cheerful and friendly nurses. After waiting a bit (and being a little irritating) we got a meeting with the head doctor, who explained what they were expecting and intending to do. Then it was off to the anesthesiologist, who could barely speak English and yet tried to explain to us the various risks in English, although we had read through them in English already. After some more waiting, we went in to a speech therapist, who determined that my speaking, eating, drinking, swallowing, and all other functions were completely unaffected by the mass. We grabbed a surprisingly tasty lunch from the cafeteria, then it was off to the neurologist, who yet again confirmed that everything seemed completely normal; then finally, at 3:30, after another meeting with the head doctor, we were done.

The two meetings were the doctor were of course full of warnings and worst-case scenarios, since they have to plan for all contingencies. Plan A is to remove the tumor internally, through the mouth; if the initial incision is inadequate, they may also have to cut into my velum, which I really hope they won't do. Plan C, though, sounds worse; they may have to cut under my jaw and get to the thing from the outside, avoiding lovely things like the carotid artery and salivary glands and the nerves that move the tongue. All sorts of terrible scenarios were presented to us, and every risk examined from every side. The appartus used to hold my jaw open could damage my lips and teeth. My jaw might be dislocated and have to be put back into place. I might need blood if someone really screws up and nicks a vein. They might have to insert an interal line through my arm and thread it through the vein to my heart. If things really go pear-shaped, they might have to do a tracheotomy and punch a breathing hole in my neck, like a smoker.

I really shouldn't let my imagination run away with me, but I can't help imagining coming out of the anasthesia tomorrow like waking up out of the Matrix, with tubes in every oriface, whimpering and confused. I know for a fact I'll have a feeding tube in my nose, which is somewhere on the well-known continuum between "Dude, that's so cool" and "That is not going to be even vaguely comfortable."

The thing that bothers me most about this at the moment (outside the obvious pressing issue of surviving) is the various effects that the operation could have on my ability to produce language. My velum, lips, teeth, tongue, and throat are all involved, all of which are passive or active articulators and therefore directly involved in my future career as a student and teacher of language.

But speculation and worry are as pointless, as the Sunscreen Song says, as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. ("The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind--the kind that blindside you at 4pm on an idle Tuesday.") By the time I post this, the surgery will be over and most of these questions will have much surer answers. I shall defer asking them, then, until I have to. In the meantime, I'm going to watch Dara O'Briain for a bit and wait for my brain to slow down, and then I'm going to try to get some sleep.

June 15th, 10:10 pm

I feel like a starfish: my stomach's on the outside.

The surgery went off surprisingly well; all those worse-case we-might-have-to-cut-your-neck open scenarios were entirely unnecessary, and instead of the forecasted four to six hours, the operation took less than two. For the second time in just more than a month, I drifted out of anesthesia, feeling like I was slowly being pushed ashore by fitful tides. The day was mostly uneventful after that; I slept mostly, listened to my mother read to me and watched some movies.

The big problem right now--or rather, what I like the least--is the long white tube taped to my nose that goes through my nasal cavity and down the back of my throat to my stomach. As you may imagine, this does not feel good. In fact, when I swallow, the left side of my throat (where the tube is) hurts just as much as the right, where the actual incision is. Hopefully they'll remove the tube tomorrow, since all they've given me is tea anyway...although I'm not looking forward to the extraction itself. (Do they believe, like Bethany, that tea is a magical cure-all? Seems like it...) Dang, I'm hungry.

Anyway, I'm going to try for some sleep. The sooner unconsciousness comes, the better.

June 16th, 8:58 am

Well, during the night I got to experience what it's like to be fed tea with a syringe through a tube in my nose. It's not altogether a pleasant experience, but luckily it's one I won't be repeating for a while, since they took the tube out this morning, much to my relief. As anticipated, the moment of extraction was awful; imagine throwing up a slug through your nose--er, actually, no, don't do that. Anyway, my throat's still sore, but with the tube out I feel much better; I don't have to expend so much energy trying constantly not to gag.

I keep finding little things--abrasions on the inside of my jaw from the jaw-holdy-openy dodad, sore muscles in my neck, swollen lips. Also, my uvula (the dangling bit in the middle of your throat) has taken a beating and is quite black and blue, which makes pronouncing the uvular R a bit tricky.

But--and I should have mentioned this before--for the most part I feel great. The surgery went well, like I said, so they didn't have to incise anything besides the capsule itself, and the thing just came right out. (I have pictures!) So as I predicted, all those worries about waking up mute or unable to pronouce certain consonants were pointless; besides some soreness and awkwardness swallowing, I feel pretty normal and rather good.

I'm waiting now for my mother to come so we can walk around a bit. If I move well, I can take off the TED hose tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm watching music videos and eating ice cream--they like me here. :D

June 17th, 10:03 pm

Yet another day passes in idleness in the forgotten forests of Gera. I didn't mention that yesterday two representatives from the hospital chain's marketing team came to talk to Mom and I for a few reasons. First, because the tumor itself is so weird; second, because they wanted to play up the joint surgery between my HNO doctor and a spine surgeon from Heidelberg; but third and most amusing, I am apparently the first and only American they've ever treated here.

This explains much more fully the total amazement and confusion I encountered when I came here the first time, and while they're not exactly giving me celebrity treatment (what passes for "vanilla soup" here has almost the exact consistency and texture of raw eggs, except vaguely and unenthusiastically vanilla flavored), they do sneak me an ice cream now and then. I made the appropriate noises about how great the hospital is (I'm still hoping to get out early, after all), and the photographer staged a picture of my doctor looking down my throat with a metal tongue depressor and then asked me to smile. They didn't show me the resulting picture, but I'm sure I look like they had a gun to my temple just off-camera. (For the record, they didn't.)

I finally managed to hook up the Internet today, but then my computer ran out of batteries, so all this will finally be posted later. I have a new roommate who snores with gusto, so sleep seems unlikely at the moment. The last IV line was removed today, so maybe I can wheedle my way to an early release tomorrow. It's so frustrating to just sit in this place and watch the last days go by.

So, quick news summary: I'm doing fine. The throat's sore, obviously, but it gets better every day and the pain meds mean it hurts less than your average sore throat. I'm otherwise healthy and mostly happy. The news today was that the preliminary examinations of the tumor led to the conclusion that it's definitely not maglinant; what it, in fact, is, remains to be seen.

P.S. Did I mention I had pureed veal for lunch today? :S

June 18th, 8:47 am

Well, I was hoping they'd let me leave today but no dice. Sounds like tomorrow will be the day instead. I'm thinking Mom and I will just bail for the day (they don't ever bother to keep track of where we are anyway) and go shopping and stuff, and I'll come back later and pretend that I was following the rules. I feel great; I haven't taken any pain meds since yesterday morning and the pain is almost negligible. I've just spent too much of my life in this hospital and I'm past ready to be gone.

June 20th, 12:53 pm

Welcome back to Stadtroda! I got out of the hospital yesterday and strolled around Gera with my mother. Today, after a nice cup of coffee at my favorite coffee chain (Coffee Culture FTW!), we've arrived back in my complete disaster of a room. We've got to do some grocery shopping, then we'll be off to see the bees!

It's less than two weeks now until I depart. The time is getting close to get a visa extension (the suspense is killing me!) but the post-Germany trip is the stuff of daydreams and I really, really hope it works out. Considering that my flight home leaves from Lisbon, I'm not sure what I'll do if they don't let me travel.

I'm generally feeling great, except that this morning I verschlucked one of those foul-tasting antibacterial pills and scratched the back of my throat, so I've been gagging all morning. Other than that, swelling's down, healing's going well, and I'll be back to normal in no time, minus one Überraschungsei. Still no definite news on what exactly it was; maybe they'll tell me when I go get the stitches taken out later this week.

Thanks to everyone who's been praying for me, sending me support, asking about me, and keeping me in their thoughts. I love y'all!