Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Little Bit About Me

Recently one of my favorite bloggers, Theresa of This Mom Blogs, underwent surgery, and admitted to some nerves. One of the things that she mentioned was the fact that the surgery was being done at a teaching hospital. I commented in order to reassure her, telling her that two of my childhood surgeries were done at a teaching hospital, and my care was excellent.

The interaction got me thinking, and I decided to share with er my medical history. And since I'm going to be sharing anyway, it might as well be with my entire blog audience. I've alluded to it in the past, so now I'll come clean. My mother reads my blog, she can correct any discrepancies in my recollection of events.

As I said in that previous post, I was a very sick child. Over the course of the first six or seven years of my life, I was in and out of the hospital numerous times. I contracted just about every childhood disease then known to man, including some that aren't that common. I had mumps, measles, and rubella. I contracted a croup that caused my throat to swell so badly that a tracheotomy and an oxygen tent were necessary. Another time when my mother took me to the emergency room, the doctor who examined me called over a group of residents, showed them my symptoms, and told them how rare it was for such new residents to get to see a classic case of scarlet fever so early in their careers. We have somewhere a photograph of me as a boy, barely older than a toddler, standing in a hallway and looking back at my own butt, bare because I've lost so much weight, my pants won't stay on. My family was not entirely sure they weren't going to lose me.

Time and time again, they would take me to the doctors, and the doctors would treat whatever ailment I currently had. But it wasn't until I was almost ten that one of the doctors, a "Young Turk", just out of residency and feeling his oats, decided to ask "Why is this kid always sick?" He ordered a battery of tests (some more unpleasant than others -- more on that later), and the results revealed something most interesting. My left kidney was severely underdeveloped, and there were problems with the valves leading from my kidneys to my bladder. The doctors deduced that this was reducing my body's ability to flush toxins out of my system, and that this was weakening my immune system. It was decided that the defective kidney would have to be removed, and the valve between my right kidney and my bladder repaired.

As providence (or luck, for you agnostics & atheists) would have it, the man who was at that time the world's leading nephrologist, an Egyptian doctor named Tanaka (I think), was in the United States for an extended stay, and agreed to take my case.

The surgeries would be performed at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco. To this day, despite the politics of that town, this fact alone retains for it a special place in my heart. They took place a couple of months apart. The first surgery would correct the valve, the second would remove the bad left kidney.

The staff at the hospital was fantastic. They went to a lot of trouble on a daily basis to make sure we were as comfortable, or at least comforted, as possible. The hospital was a research hospital as well as teaching, and almost all of the other children in the pediatric ward were terminal. Of course, I didn't realize it at the time. The nurses in particular were amazingle compassionate and professional. Two stick out in my mind -- Dave, the first male nurse I ever met, and Jackie, a large African American woman who exuded motherliness that could be seen from space. The doctors explained each procedure to me and my parents ahead of time so that nothing would be unexpected -- it was all frightening enough, adding surprise to the mix would have been awful. We were allowed to raid the kitchen for anything our doctors said was ok to eat. The day I left after my second surgery, one of the nurses offered to make me a milkshake, and I told her I'd have it later, only to be rerleased before I had it.

The surgeries went well, and I have few memories of the days of the surgeries themselves, but the two I do have are vivid: I remember my anesthesiologist, a Samoan mountain named Tony, putting the mask on me and having me breathe deep and count dwon from ten. I never made it to 1 as he began spinning above me, then dissapearing at the end of a tunnel into a technicolor psychedelia. But I wasn't scared -- when a man who looks like he could play linebacker in the NFL tells you you're going to be OK, you know you're going to be ok.

But when I awoke, that's when I got scared -- I was in the ICU post-op, but I didn't know where I was, and I was a wake for quite some time before anyone noticed I'd come to.

After the surgeries, I had to have a catheter interted into my lower abdomen to drain fluid. My body didn't appreciate this procedure, and tried to reject the catheter throughout my recovery. The doctors told my parents that what their 10-year-old was experiencing every 10-15 minutes for a week or so was almost identical in location and intensity to severe labor contractions (no wonder then that I was all for TFR getting an epidural when she had The Lad), and there was only one drug that was effective in easing my pain. That's how we discovered that I'm allergic to codeine. At one point in my recovery, I was placed in a wheelchair and taken to a classroom where a tutor tried to help me keep up on my schoolwork. She sent me back to my room after one of my contractions freaked her out -- apparently I reacted to it so violently that I had all four wheels of the wheelchair in the air at once.

Eventually I did recover, and my health has been normal ever since. I did have to go back for some follow-up tests a couple of years later, and was supposed to continue to do so until adolescence, but they were the most unpleasant of the tests I mentioned before. Remember, this was in the days before MRI, and the only way to look inside me was by using old-fashioned X-rays. The problem was that they needed to dye my bladder and kidneys. The dye couldn't be injected intraveninously, and it couldn't be ingested, or it would not concentrate in my kidneys. It had to be BACKED into me -- I'll leave it at that. The experience was so traumatic that my mother decided I was not going through THAT again.

And so that is my medical past. You can see why I am a fan of teaching hospitals, and why to this day I adore nurses.

My mom came through, check out the comments.

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