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[Cancer]

[cancer] Surviving the trip, surviving the hospital

Tuesday morning getting to the airport was tough. 205 was all but closed down by multiple accidents. Mom drove me on surface streets. As I was checking in at the airport for my nonstop flight to DCA, the flight was cancelled. Literally while I was at the counter. So many flights were being cancelled due to the East Coast weather that the best rebook I could get was the same flight the next day, Wednesday. This would have put me at the NIH hospital at 7 or 8 pm the evening before my surgery first thing the next day. Given that I had a schedule of pre-operative testing, that wasn’t going to be very practical. I would lose my surgery slot and have to reschedule everything, probably weeks down the road.

Mom drove me home again, while I texted and emailed with various folks. Donnie Reynolds was offering to drive me to NIH in Bethesda if I could get as far to the east as I could, but coming from the west, Memphis was the closest airport that wasn’t being shut down. Then my friend Gray Rinehart Facebook messaged me that if I could fly into Raleigh-Durham, he could drive me to DC Wednesday morning.

Even that was cutting it too close for comfort, but Donnie was willing to fly to Raleigh-Durham and drive me overnight.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t get anyone at NIH on the phone due to so many offices being shut down with the weather. After consulting with Lisa Costello and Dad, I made a command decision to buy the stupidly expensive and completely unbudgeted one way ticket to Raleigh-Durham, arriving at 11:40 pm Tuesday night. (The same night I was supposed to check in to the hospital around 7 or 8 pm.)

I flew. Donnie caught up with me in Dallas, where we ate Monte Cristo sandwiches at Bennigan’s, then we flew on to Raleigh-Durham. The woman on our row was struggling with a panic attack after boarding, to the point where the flight attendant was obviously considering putting her off the plane rather than risk an in-flight emergency. When we got to Raleigh-Durham, we were stuck on the plane an extra ten minutes because the jetbridge had frozen and could not be moved up to deboard the aircraft.

Donnie and I got my luggage with the help of the world’s worst wheelchair attendant, then picked up the car he’d rented. He drove us from there to Bethesda, which took about five hours even in the teeth of the dying storm. I slept perhaps three hours of the trip. We arrived at 5:30 am, Donnie dropped me off at the hotel, then turned around and headed back to Raleigh-Durham.

I woke up Lisa and Dad, we got sorted out, and headed to NIH around 6:30 am.

The morning was confusing. My hospital admittal orders were dated Tuesday 1/21, and it was Wednesday 1/22. The admitting department couldn’t do anything until someone from the research group changed the paperwork. So I went to my CT scan appointment, as well as getting some bloodwork done in phlebotomy. We went back to wait some more, and were eventually admitted.

After going upstairs to my ward, in a shared room two-bed room, I was told I also had a chest x-ray and an EKG required. Meanwhile, a parade of people came by to see me.

The two immunotherapy doctors handling my case were very glad I’d busted my hump to be here today, as it kept from having to cancel me and reschedule down the road. The social worker called to tell me a room had opened up in the on-site family lodge. Lisa and Dad went off to deal with that. One of the immunotherapy doctors and the Principal Investigator came by to talk about my blog and discuss how I could talk about the study, and whether I would like to be part of an article about the study. The two immunotherapy doctors came back by to talk about the surgery the next day (today, now), which has definitively been planned for my right lung. We discussed the pros and cons of the approaches, and why they’d settled on this one. Essentially, a sufficient amount of tissue to be harvested without the potential entanglements of scarring and adhesions which my left lung would likely present. They will attempt a VATS (laparascopic) approach first, with open thoracotomy as the fallback. Someone from the publicity department came by to have me sign a model release. The Principal Investigator came back with a publicity team to do a photo shoot of he and I for that NIH article. The immunotherapy doctors came back to discuss post-operative timing and TIL growth. The head of thoracic surgery came by with some of his team to review tomorrow’s procedure and have me sign the informed consent forms. One of the thoracic surgery research nurses came back to have me sign some more consent forms about blood transfusions and so forth.

All this while I’m running on three hours of sleep after a travel day that was over twenty hours long.

On the plus side, we had a very nice dinner at Pizzeria de Marco. (I got a hall pass from the hospital to go out.) On the far more plus side, the procedures are going forward as originally scheduled, which makes it all worthwhile.

But whew.

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