[cancer] Zombie hair, and a Harkonnen heart plug

I’m having another one of those days where if I woke up feeling this way, I’d go to the hospital. Ah, the joys of surgical recovery. At least it was day surgery, and I was fit to go home yesterday afternoon. For some value of “fit”.

Yesterday I went in to have a port installed in my chest. [ Wikipedia ] Basically, this is a Harkonnen heart plug, pace David Lynch’s Dune. The purpose of the port is to allow convenient access for chemotherapy infusions and related blood draws without further tearing up my already extensively scarred veins. I’m a hard stick on my best day, and the last 18 months of cancer surgeries, CT and PET scans and whatnot have made a hash of the usual entry points in the elbows, forearms and wrists.

We got to the hospital at the 8:30 reporting time, which then resulted in close to an hour and a half of loitering in a waiting room. Eventually I was called back to the prep area. went with me, later swapping out with both and my Dad while I was in there. That involved all the usual stuff — vitals, informed consent, stripping to a hospital gown, all the usual random discomforts and indignities. The surgical resident who did the informed consent was pretty funny about it. We discussed the possible errors in the surgery (which is the whole point of informed consent), he said, “if you wake up with a drainage tube, we nicked your lung.” I pointed out that I had a still healing drain wound in my left chest. He said, “then we’re working your right side today.”

Oh boy, a matched set! Luckily that eventuality did not come to pass.

They got me on an IV (always a difficult task, see above note), got the anaesthesia lady in to see me. She told me they usually use talking sedation. I asked how well that work when rooting around in a patient’s neck, didn’t people usually object? No, no, no, I was told. Well, not me.

The last thing I remember, thanks to the miracle of retrograde amnesia, is being wheeled into the day surgery OR area. It’s much grungier than the OR I was in last month, looking sort of like Mad Max had opened a medical overstock warehouse. Somewhere near that thought, I lose the thread.

I woke up in Recovery, where they’d told me I wouldn’t be taken. Much later, explained to me that the doctor had told her I’d moved too much while they were rooting around in my neck and so they had to take me deeper in anesthesia than usual for this operation. Hence the Recovery. Once again, they’d messed with my body positioning during surgery and the left rotator cuff was aggravated all over again. (Last month’s thoracic surgery wiped out almost all the gains made in physical therapy this past fall.) It hurt more than the surgery site, and I was apparently being quite bitchy about it to the Recovery nurse. (Who, I hasten to add, was being quite nice to me in return.)

While I was still pretty confused I got taken from Recovery back to the prep/discharge area. There was allowed to join me. I recovered a reasonable amount of my mental acuity, enjoyed the nurses telling me how pretty my eyes and eyelashes were, and learned that I had “some blood” in my hair. (This after the resident had mentioned “minimal bleeding” expected during the operation.) In fact, once they realized it and lifted me up to look, there was so much blood on my hair and back that it was grossing out the nurses. That takes some doing.

As I am not allowed to shower til Friday, to allow for wound healing, there was no question of going home to wash my hair. One of the nurses suggested finding a salon with the head sink. called John, my stylist, who said to come in around 6:30, at the end of his day, and he’d help me out. The point of the late call was that washing out blood would require him to do a lot of extra cleaning after. As it happened, things were quite a bit more involved than anyone realized.

Dad drove us back to Nuevo Rancho Lake. At this point, I had a very sore left chest with limited range of motion from the thoracic surgery. I had a very sore right chest with limited range of motion from the port implant surgery. Though I was not terribly uncomfortable in any particular position, changing positions was pretty damned painful. Even a couple of Vicodins on board weren’t helping much.

I took a nap, called , and generally laid around for a couple of hours, until Mom and Dad came back to fetch us out to go to John’s salon. We’d decided to go eat first (I hadn’t eaten anything for 24 hours except a couple of graham crackers in the discharge area), so we went for Mexican at the Hawthorne location of Cha Cha Cha. Then down to the salon.

Oh. My. God.

Having the blood washed out of my hair was one of the most humiliating, embarrassing experiences of my life. I’m not even sure I can explain why. Nobody, least of all John, realized how much blood was in my hair. Apparently it was scabbed through an area the size of my hand or more. The surgeons hit a gusher at some point in the surgery.

Even getting into the sink position was very difficult for me, though once I was in place it wasn’t too uncomfortable. He gloved up, and with help from , got me shampooed thoroughly, for quite some time. Apparently the blood was separating in the detergent, so the red cells and the white cells were running down in different streams. I never saw it, but it was gross as hell. He had to wash me completely twice, at least thirty minutes at the sink, and pick through my hair at great length. The whole time I was about to cry, I was so stressed out and embarrassed.

Finally John got me up and into the cutting chair, where he combed out the last of the scabbing with a comb that he then had to throw away. That took quite a while longer, so that we were in the shop for over an hour. He blow dried me, French braided me, and sent me on my way, refusing any payment. It was an effort way above and beyond the call of either duty or friendship, as any rational person would have just cut the hair away.

Everybody came through for me yesterday, in ways both to be hoped for and unexpected. I am still boggled by the hair situation. got some photos, which I’ll post later, but I don’t think they do the visceral reality justice. Based on my blood-in-hair issues, I can tell you that when the zombie apocalypse comes, hair styling will be a critical skill.

Overnight I slept ok but not great — can’t roll in either direction, so I’m stuck on my back like a turtle, which is decidedly not my natural sleeping position. Today I’m uncomfortable as all get-out but mentally alert, functional, and in the same low-grade surgical pain I’ve become accustomed to lately. No more Vicodin, no Dilaudid, so I get to keep my brain intact.

But wow, what an exhausting day. And such a fool I felt, for no good reason, when I was being cared for beyond reason.

I love my friends and family, but fuck cancer.

4 thoughts on “[cancer] Zombie hair, and a Harkonnen heart plug

  1. Upside to bad experiences: you now know exactly how to write the scene if it ever requires a bloody haired character. I’ll be over in the corner cheering you on, with pom poms.

  2. Sän says:

    Mari has a good point. You have to use the blood-in-hair details in a book at some point! Bonus points if she’s Tuckerized as a cheerleader during the fictional debacle.

  3. Jan says:

    I am a cancer survivor but have not gone through anything like you are going through. My heart felt for you from your description. You do have beautiful hair. My healing energy will be sent to you

  4. Anima says:

    No fun at all. I hope you can keep your strength up Jay, and notice improvement of *some* type daily.

    On a barely-related note, am I the only one that caught themselves mentally combining Santa and the Baron Harkonnen? Floating through the sky, cackling, trailed by an army of elves in black PVC gear and green-lit faceplates.

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