My friends, consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way, for you know that when your faith succeeds in facing such trials, the result is the ability to endure.
As usual, I am slow in posting an update but as they say, better late than never. It has been a busy couple of weeks, so this will be a pretty lengthy post. On Friday night (July 1), I went to bed without any problem only to awake on Saturday morning morning with a left leg that was quite swollen and tender. We made a trip to the ER and after some ultrasounds, they confirmed I had Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). In everyday terms, I had blood vessels that were blocked by blood clots, which were preventing the effective flow of blood from the leg back to the heart.
DVTs can be quite serious. One of the biggest concerns is that a piece of the blood clot can break off and travel to the lungs or brain causing an embolism or anurism. To help with the clotting issue, the hospital placed me on an anticoagulant (blood thinner) that I must inject into my stomach twice daily. I will be honest, while I could probably inject myself if I absolutely had to, I was relieved when mylong-suffering wife offered to learn how to do it for me. (I am sure to be very sweet to her now especially … Knowing she gets to jab me with a needle twice a day… Just kidding. I am so greatful for Dena … She has been a rock through all of this!).
We contacted my oncologist / Hematologist and updated them on the situation. The experimental chemo pill I was taking has a known risk of blood clots and despite taking a daily baby aspirin, we suspected this was the cause of the blood clot. The Dr’s office put us in touch with a vascular surgeon to help assess the damage and ensure it was healing. Subsequently, we were scheduled to meet with the vascular surgeon on Thursday (July 7th).
The vascular surgeon ran an ultrasound and confirmed that the blockage was from the thigh to below the ankle on my left leg. Subsequently, she wanted me to schedule a procedure to remove the blockage via catheter. She explained that a cardiovascular surgeon she knew was one of the best around at this type of thing and she would see if he could take care of this right away.
The next day (Friday, July 8th), I found myself in the hospital awaiting the procedure. They explained this is usually a simple procedure. Sometimes the patient is released the same day and other times, the patient is held overnight for observation and released the next day. The process is one in which conscious sedation is used. The surgical team was awesome. Whenever I began experiencing pain, they were right there to give me something to either numb the pain or put me out for a little while. When I last awoke, the surgeon wheeled the television screen they were using so I could see it. He showed me that, with the contrast dye, it indicated many clots in my leg but more troubling was that there was a clot up near an area near my kidney that was causing blockage higher in the body than originally indicated by the ultrasounds. The concern is that because of the location and the quanity of clots that would have to be removed before getting to that one, surgical removal would pose a risk of one of the clots breaking loose. Additionally, because of the location of the large clot near the kidney, it would be difficult to temporarily implant a screen to catch anything that may break loose.
Subsequently, they decided to take a two-phased approach. During the first phase, they would insert a number of catheters in my leg which would spray clot busting chemicals directly into the clots in the leg. The hope was that this would eliminate the clots in the leg so they could focus surgically upon the larger ones up higher. Subsequently, I spent Friday night in the hospital bed with strict orders not to bend or move my leg because of the sheaf of catheters that were attacking the clots in my leg.
Later Friday night, we were moved from recovery to ICU. Shortly after that, I developed a high fever. They subsequently surrounded me with ice packs. Eventually, it was determined I needed a couple of units of blood, which was provided. I woke a couple of hours later feeling quite a bit better… and relieved when the ice packs were able to be removed.
We were scheduled to go back in with the catheters for phase two early Saturday morning. However, a patient experienced a heart attack about that time and the cardiovascular surgical team was needed to respond to this emergency. Subsequently, my schedule was delayed. I went in for the second phase earlySaturday afternoon (the heart attack patient was a success by the way). The clot busters had performed well and the surgeons were able to clear most of the blockage (except for the area around the kidney, which they were being very cautious). The process required the use of a balloon and two stints were inserted to help keep the vein open. Shortly after returning to my room in ICU, the nurse asked if I Was ready for the next dose of morphine for the pain. Much to my surprise, I told her I didn’t need any… I was without pain! She asked me to assess ny pain on a scale of 1 – 10 and it was a zero! This is tremendous because the pain was so severe and the swelling so bad the past week that I could not walk. I had to use a walker to slowly make my way through the house and a wheelchair anywhere else. After the second provedure, my leg was still swollen like an oversized sausage but the pain was gone!
The attending doctors, cardiologists, and surgeons … there were a slew of them … came past frequently to check on my status. They explained that the swelling would take some time but the fact that the pain was gone was incredibly encouraging and that I may be able to be released Sunday.
Sunday morning came and I awoke to the nurses doing the handover of my care for their shift change. The new nurse said that I looked so good, she thought I may be able to get out of ICU today and into a regular room. I explained that I was probably going to be released today. She had a puzzled look onher face and explained they never release from ICU. Later that day, I received the release. The nurse explained that the team that handles carting a patient out to their vehicles was so overbooked that it would be 4-5 hours before they could get free. Additionally, she couldn’t find an available wheelchair. She explained that she asked her boss and the supervisor agreed to allow her to wheel me out to the car in my recliner. That’s right, down the hall, down the elevator, and right up to the car door fully reclined! Most comfortable wheelchair I have ever been in! Yep, many people looked; no doubt they were wondering how to upgrade to concierge service like I was getting.
It is now July 17. The swelling has gone down to the point my leg looks normal again. I have to wear some compression hose called TED hose and then have to have my legs wrapped to help ensure circulation. I must keepmy legs elevated and if sitting without elevating my legs (e.g. riding in a car) I have to stand and walk for a short time every 30 minutes. I continue to have the injections twice daily and have a pill to help ensure the blood doesn’t stick to the stints. I have a follow-up appointment with the cardiovascular surgeon later this month anf the vascular surgeon next month.
Throughout the ordeal, I experienced fear, pain, and stretched my faith. Friday night was an especially difficult night. However, this experience, like the entire cancer recovery process served once again to show me that God is in charge, He has a plan for me, and provided the very best experts at the appropriate time to ensure I not only survived but was strengthened spiritually.
Those of you who know me well know how very important my family is to me. My grandson is a miracle in himself … having overcome heart surgery while only a few days old. Friday (July 15) was my grandson’s fourth birthday. This weekend, both of my daughters, my son in law, and my grandson joined Dena and me to celebrate his birthday. It was an awesome weekend! I am so greatful that God’s mercy and grace allowed me to be a part of it!
There are so many things that we take for granted and it is situations such as these that provide an opportunity for us to stop and reflect upon the blessings — large and small in our lives. How humbling and awesome it is to know that the creator of the universe not only knows me and heals me but calls me His child.