Thursday, October 16, 2008

It's My Party, and I'll Cheat If I Want To

I'm sure this is cheating, but what the hell, it's my damn blog.

For the last 3-4 months we have been dealing with some family crises here in Miko's world. We found out my father had esophageal cancer, then two weeks after that, found out my MIL in Sweden had a recurrence of breast cancer. (I know, right? I guess we're riding the Grandparents hard and puttin' em away wet.)

Anyway, I discovered this ethereal world of the "World Web Internet Computers and Such", can be pretty cool. A bunch of people I had never met, from the group blog I joined, would check in on Dads status with some regularity. I wrote the following for them, 'cause updating individually would have busted the 'puter. I like the way it came out, so I am copying it here. If you have already read it again!

To catch you up on the back-story (imagine this scrolling across the screen a la Star Wars). We found out about 3 months ago my father had a tumor in his esophagus. The good news is he was scheduled for an endoscopy due to a long history of Acid Reflux, so the tumor was found before symptoms showed. Usually, once the symptoms (cough that won't go away, trouble swallowing) appear, there is little medicine can do to save the patient. Dad was seen by two of the top cancer hospitals in the world (Foxchase in Philly and Sloan in NYC) and the course of treatment was set at 1 week of chemo/radiation (in-patient), 3 weeks of radiation (out-patient), another round of both (in-patient), then a month of recuperation and finally a major thoracic surgery at Sloan to remove a piece of his esophagus. The expectation is this would completely cure him.

(OK, all caught up? Stay with me, 'cause this fucker is about to go off the rails, plus I get some funny one-liners in soon...)

Dad checks into the hospital on Monday, August 25th to begin his 1st round of Chemo and radiation. (That's right, I said August 25th and he is scheduled to get out tomorrow on October 3rd, it's called foreshadowing...see what I'm doing here?) That week was what you'd expect; he was tired and a little sick to his stomach. My daughter got to visit, and when I was visiting him, walking around the hallways of the Oncology ward, he told me that while she was there, the hospital brought in a women to play the harp. I stopped him with my arm, right in front of the nurses station, and asked "Dad, this is important. Were you the only one who could see the lady with the harp?" The nurses heard, and one spit her soda on the floor, and the others laughed out loud. Dad laughed so hard it caused a coughing fit. Walk over. Seriously though, a harp? On the Oncology floor? WTF?!

Saturday Dad is released, goes home, and promptly keels over unconscious that night. My stepmother couldn't wake him up, calls the ambulance, and they can't get a blood pressure. Not good. Unfortunately for Dad, they live in Podunk, it's Labor Day weekend, and the ambulance took him to the nearest hospital...Podunk Memorial. There, it is determined his kidneys have failed. We knew we were in trouble when one of the nurses said she had never seen the IV port that the Philly hospital had placed in Dad's vein for the chemo, and another nurse commented WHILE PLACING THE IV BAG, that she had never given anyone that much IV before and she wondered if it would cause Congestive Heart Failure. What? You say this to the patient and his wife?

Apparently, the doc at Philly had heard stories of Podunk Memorial, because he arrived at his office at 9am the Tuesday after Labor Day, and had written the orders to have Dad transferred to Philly by ambulance by 9:15am. Thank God.

In Philly it is determined that one of the drugs in the Chemo had caused Dad's kidneys to totally shut down, and the other drug had caused him to have Diabetes. I researched these drugs, and you have to scroll to the very bottom of the data sheets to find the "Extremely Rare, but Serious Side-Effects" line. That's right he got two drugs and contracted the rarest of side-effects from both. Over that week, he was given Dialysis to help the kidneys rest, and Insulin to treat the Diabetes, and Dad was wondering if we weren't going in the wrong direction.

Now, if a patient, especially a patient in his 60's is in the hospital for a long period of time, they give them Heparin (a blood thinner) to reduce the risk of blood clots. If you look up Heparin, it has very few side-effects, but at the bottom of the page, way down the bottom, is a paragraph titled "Extremely Rare, but Serious Side Effects". Yep, third medicine, third time. Turns out Heparin can do its job TOO well, lowing the Red-blood-Cell Platelets to the point where the White-blood Cells can clot. It has a long technical name, and the old boy got it. We are all called to the hospital, yet again, and told he would receive a blood transfusion the next day (Saturday). To which I comment to the doctor, "So he should have HIV by next Friday?". My brother and Dad laughed...the doctor not so much.

Three weeks pass, things get better. The drive to the hospital starts to run on Auto-pilot, and hospital coffee sucks. However, the kidneys come back, the radiation isn't causing any major problems. Hell, we're cooler than the other side of the pillow. We're like Jamie Lee Curtis after she kills old Mikey Myers, relieved that it's over. “Look behind you! He’s sitting up!”

Last week Round 2 of Chemo started on Tuesday, NOT the same drugs, totally different drugs. Very few side-effects, but down there at the bottom of the page...sigh.

I'm in Maine on business on Thursday. My territory runs from Maryland to Maine, so Portland is AS FAR FROM HOME AS I CAN GO ON BUSINESS. I'm an idiot. I get a call from my step-mom, crying. Dad's jaw hurt, that raised alarms with his Oncology nurse who ordered an EKG. EKG not normal, heart problems, Dad is moved to the Cardiac Intensive Care unit. The new Chemo drug has damaged his heart, causing Congestive Heart Failure.

I start driving the car, like I stole it, back from Maine. Only took 8 hours. The following day my uncle goes to the hospital to be with my step-mom, my wife goes to work, and I go to the Bus Station to pick up by brother and his wife who are coming in from NYC. My uncle calls, says, "I know you were going to come tomorrow, but I think both of you boys should come tonight." I call the wife, she comes home, we go to the hospital, not too worried, my uncle can be a little melodramatic.
Nope, not melodrama. Dad's heart went into A-fib. In laymen’s terms, the top portion of the heart was beating way to fast trying to pump blood, but since it was out of sync with the bottom, it was actually not moving any blood through the body. Medication didn't work, they had to put him under and shock the heart. The doctor asked my SM and uncle to come in and say goodbye, 'cause the shocking turns off the heart, they expect it to turn back on with the next know.

All right, I'm done. Hope you didn't pour coffee before starting this, because it's cold now. Dad's heart has improved with the discontinuation of the medicines, it appears the damage isn't permanent, and he will be released tomorrow. He can finally get out of the hospital bed for the first time in over 5 weeks. Now all we have to do is make it through the surgery. That's supposed to be the hard part of all this...


-k said...

Holy Hell. So, basically, everything is trying to take out your Dad EXCEPT the cancer. Prayers your way on the surgery.

DCD said...

This all still gives me the chills. I'm so glad we got to catch up the other day. Keep the non-denominational faith, brother!

Laggin said...


When Younger was 11 months, my mom was diagnoised with her first--yes, first--round of breast cancer. It was a horribly hard time. Her lumpectomy was actually on the day after Younger's first birthday.

Two months later, Younger herself nearly died from complications of asthma and flu.

A month later, my grandmother went blind.

I can report that Mom survived both rounds of breast cancer and has been cancer free for 12 years. Gram is blind, but is still around (she'll be 99 next month).

And Younger is a strong athlete, who overcomes her asthma.

You have my empathy. I know how hard this can be.

Best advice for cancer patients? Celebrate everything. Create joy. Create events they can look forward to. My mom still talks about how she thinks those things helped her fight.

As for that harp players? That's just whacked.

miko564 said...

K- Yeah, you know you ain't doing so good when the cancer is the least of your worries.

D- "Non-denominational faith" Ha! We have to come-up with a new term for us...perhaps a belief in an "as of yet formless universal entity"? We pray to FUE.

Laggin- The Dad thing sucks, but I don't know how I would keep it together if one of the kids' lives were in danger.

It is strange how things seem to come in waves...I'll have to ask FUE about that.

DCD said...


LMAO! You are as funny as I think.