Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Twist of Events

Waiting for Vinnie's surgery was awful. The holidays were a struggle. (See Vinnie on the right on Christmas opening presents with his grandchildren.) Vinnie was so uncomfortable. He wasn't his usual funny self, his patience was a tad bit shorter, and he was tired. But eventually, January 31 came. We drove to Duke and signed Vinnie in for surgery. The waiting room was only supposed to have 2 visitors in it. It was crowded and there were four of us in there-my two daughter, one of my future son-in-laws, and me. We hoped the nurses would not ask some of us to leave. I had a bad feeling about this day but I didn't want the kids to know. I appeared hopeful, expectant, and very positive.

About an hour into the expected 6 hour surgery, we each began to confess that we each had a "bad feeling" about the surgery. We could not say why, or what we thought was going to happen, but we sensed it was not going to be as smooth as we were told it could go. Ten minutes after that, we were asked to go into a consultation room to get an update on how the surgery was going. It was not a good report.

The cancer had grown quite aggressively. It had destroyed too much of the uterer to save what was still a perfectly good kidney but without a uterer, it would have to way of draining. It had to be removed. So Vinnie would not get a reconstructive bladder; he had his left kidney removed, his bladder, prostate, and lymph nodes. The surgery took 10 hours.

Requests for prayer went out to most of our church family and the church members where we each worked, days before he went in for surgery. But this twist in events got urgent prayer requests sent out immediately. So many pastors and church leaders came to see us that afternoon! The funny thing is that not one hospital staff person said anything about the number of visitors we had there that day. They knew our beloved Vinnie was not doing well, that we were in shock, and that we were well loved by many. They even gave us access to the phone in the waiting room in pre-op until the call came that he was sent to ICU. We were finally able to see Vinnie nearly 12 hours later. He seemed barely alive, connected to tubes all over him. He didn't respond for days. It was scary. Once again I began to wonder if this what it would be like when Vinnie died, but it was not to happen now.

He was finally brought up to a room and we began the cumbersome task of learning to change the urostomy bag. There is an art to this task! It has to fit exactly right, the skin has to be completely dry (in an area that is not prone to be dry!), you have to learn to shave the skin without soap, lotion, or other products that can infect the stoma, and it's important to get a good seal unless you want to change sheets and wash laundry all day long. Right after surgery the stoma is at it's largest so it takes even longer to learn how to do it because the size and shape changes so much until it heals. Ugh! It was a frustrating task. One day I could not get it right. I went through all the remaining six bags and finally took Vinnie to the hospital to see the ostomy nurse to show me how to do it all over again. He went with a roll of paper towel on his belly! Oh my goodness. What a fiasco!

Even though we were told he'd be in the hospital for 10 days, Vinnie was sent home 6 days after the surgery. He hadn't been home two days and we noticed that fluid was dribbling down his belly from along the incision. When I took him to the ER, they realized that the stitches in the under layers of skin had come apart. He needed a third surgery! This time all the stitches had to be removed. He was sent home a few days later with a wound vac. A wound vac is a cumbersome battery operated vacuum that sucks fluid from a sponge system taped to the opening in the skin until the skin grows enough for the wound to close on its own. He could not go anywhere without taking the vac with him, and then either couldn't stay long or we'd have to find an electrical outlet to plug him into. He had to wear this thing for almost two months!

The spongy dressing had to be changed three times a week and each session took about an hour because it was such a large wound. I can still remember hearing the nurse saying, it's a pretty wound, Mr. Vinnie, a pretty wound. What? Pretty? It was interesting maybe, but pretty? Only a nurse could say that. Sometimes we'd get a different nurse. It was fascinating to see how differently each nurse repacked his wound. Sometimes the vac would get strange suction through the sponge, usually at night of course, and would make a lot of noise! That was so annoying and we'd get little sleep. It was like having someone trying to start up an old car right in the bedroom!

Winter is a hard month for me. I don't like cold weather. I don't like days of less sunlight either. And that winter was the longest of my whole life I think. I had to learn to change an ostomy bag, I had to take care of very sick man who was always in pain. And in the midst of all this, my daughters were beginning to think they should bump their wedding dates up! I had just started a new job just before Vinnie got sick so I was still working, taking care of Vinnie, and planning two weddings! We had to adjust to the fact that Vinnie would not get a reconstructed bladder and that life for Vinnie would never be the same again! I had no idea that January 31 would mark the beginning of so many twisted events - events that would not only change us forever but end Vinnie's just months later.

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