Thursday, December 03, 2009

thyroid surgery and The Prayer

About ten years ago, I noticed a growth on my thyroid. It was a benign goiter, and my endocrinologist left it up to me whether or not to remove it. Since it wasn't that noticeable and wasn't interfering with my breathing or swallowing, I opted to just leave it alone. Over the years, we monitored it closely, measured its slow growth, and biopsied it again. I always knew the day would come that I'd have to have it removed.
This past September, I was sick with flu-like symptoms, and when I recovered, I immediately noticed a golf-ball-sized blob on the side of my neck. Thinking it was probably swollen lymph nodes from my illness, I dismissed it. A week later, at the urging of Cara (who's a nurse), the insistence of Darren, and the counsel of two doctor friends, I went and had it checked out. Turns out, it was more of the goiter, which had exploded in size.
Suddenly, a bunch of little things began to make sense. I'd started snoring inexplicably, I'd become short of breath, I was constantly fatigued, I suffered "fuzzy brain", and my muscles ached. I chalked it all up to turning 40 and gaining weight; my internist explained that all these things could come down to one problem: I wasn't getting enough oxygen. The goiter had grown at such an alarming rate and in such a direction that it was shoving my trachea aside. It was also wedged against my carotid artery. The time had come. Surgery was unavoidable.
I was scared at first - I mean, who wants the neck sliced open, right? But after meeting my surgeon, Dr. John Crawford at Harris Methodist Fort Worth, I felt a lot better. His expertise in vascular surgeries gave me confidence, but it was his relaxed demeanor and jovial personality that put me at ease. I knew immediately that he was the right surgeon.
As the surgery drew nearer, I began to worry about being "under" for so long. Because of the intricacy of the procedure - having to work around the carotid and all the nerves in my neck - it was expected to take 4 to 6 hours. The night before surgery, I was listening to Andrea Bocelli's new Christmas album and wondered aloud, "I wonder if they'd let me choose the music for the operating room?" I was half joking, but the next morning as they prepped me for surgery, I heard myself ask, "Can I choose the music for the OR?"

One of the attendants said, "I don't see why not. What's your request?"
"Andrea Bocelli's new Christmas album," I answered, "But it's brand new. I bet you don't have it."
We have Pandora in this OR," said the attendant. "I'll see what I can find."
I'd already been given a sedative and was fading in and out.
Then I heard the music. It wasn't the Christmas album, but it was Andrea Bocelli singing something in Italian. I was happy.
"I couldn't find any Christmas," he said, "but hopefully this will do." Next thing I knew, "The Prayer" began to play.
As soon as it did, a tear escaped out the corner of my eye. I was too far gone to open my eyes, or to reach up and wipe it away. But it was there, and I felt it. This particular song has always been extremely special to Darren and me - it was given to us as a gift from a dear, dear friend (Sonny Tomme) upon Aidan's birth 9 years ago this month.

The anesthesiologist - or whoever had been talking to me this whole time - said, "You must like this one." I whispered, "It's my favorite."

"Well, that's too bad," he said, "because you won't remember any of this." And as I continued to drift off to neverland, it was to these words:

I pray you'll be our eyes
And watch us where we go
And help us to be wise
In times when we don't know
Let this be our prayer
As we go our way
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
To a place where we'll be safe.

I knew - I knew! - that this was God speaking to me, telling me to let go of the fear and worry, and that I would be okay.

Later, Dr. Crawford said that what was supposed to be one of his most difficult surgeries turned out to be one of his easiest. He was finished in just over 2 hours. Aside from having a hard time intubating me because the trachea was shoved so far out of place, and then having to locate a specific nerve that was playing hide and seek (the one that controls my vocal chords), everything went perfectly.

Even knowing ahead of time how large the goiter was going to be, he was still shocked to see it up close and personal. He took a photo and gave it to Darren afterward. (Click here to see the photo. It's kinda graphic, so don't click if you can't handle blood and guts!) I can't believe this thing was in my neck. No wonder I felt like crap for the past several months!
The scar is bigger than he wanted it to be, but to get the whole goiter out without damaging any nerves or vessels, it had to be this big. I'll admit that when I first saw it, I shed a couple of tears. But it will fade, and be mostly unnoticeable in 2-3 months. There's a lot of swelling around my chin and neck right now, and along the right side of my face, but that will go down in a day or two.
He was able to leave the left lobe of my thyroid, which is healthy and normal-sized. It will take over and perform normally for the now-missing right lobe, and all should be well.
I'm glad it's over. I can't wait to have my old energy back, and to be able to wear necklaces again!
My hilarious friends Darcie and Amanda named the goiter for me last month, and he's been known as Gaston ever since. "No one's slick as Gaston, no one's quick as Gaston, no one's neck is incredibly thick as Gaston's!" And they were quick to point out, too, that Gaston lost in the end. Good riddance, Gaston! :)