My median sternotomy and thymectomy: Part II – Surgery

The morning of the surgery was pretty standard, I think. I work up early, nervously headed to the hospital, and then went through the usual admission procedures. I was sent to a prep room for a couple of hours where I answered questions and had an iv placed.

I’m a difficult stick, so that was a task. Eventually, the nurse called in the requisite “expert, can stick anyone nurse.” Every office/department/floor has one and I always end up with this nurse – no matter where I am. She was successful after a couple of tries. Sorry nurses! I don’t do it on purpose. When I had to have my CT scan in the emergency room when this all started, it took them ten times to get that baby in.

My husband was with me, of course, and eventually my parents came back and spent time with me. Overall, it was very low-key. The lovely nurses gave me the “don’t panic” medicine and everyone was disappointed that I didn’t do or say anything weird. I was too, truthfully. I was hoping to be delirious by that point, but I just felt calm and relaxed. Then it was time to head to the operating room.

The “don’t panic” medicine made the roll down the hallway uneventful. I was a little weirded out by the old hospital-green tile in the operating area hallway – it made me feel a little like I was heading to some kind of horrible psychological procedure in a vintage asylum. I wanted to make a tasteless joke, but kept that thought to myself. The operating room was standard, sterile, and slightly terrifying.

I was surprised by how uncomfortable it was to be moved from my bed to the operating table – I did not like being picked up on my sheet and slid over. As the staff in the room prepared for the surgery, I was inundated with questions about how the tumor was discovered. I was used to being a medical oddity by then, so the questions didn’t faze me much and I gave my typical short explanation. While we talked, someone put the compression devices on my legs (to fill up with air and release over and over again to help prevent blood clots). I liked it at the time – it felt like a nice massage – ask me how I felt after dealing with them for several days and I would have a different answer though.

Eventually, we got to the point where the anesthesiologist was asking me nonsense questions that I knew he didn’t really want to know the answer to (that guy doesn’t care about my kids), but was just trying to ascertain that I was going down. Then . . . BOOM! I woke up in recovery.

I don’t have a lot of experience with surgery – just a c-section and my wisdom teeth out, if that even counts – so I was surprised by the amount of time I lost. My surgery took 2-3 hours – I have no memory past talking to the anesthesiologist when it was taking me a bit longer to put my thoughts together, but I was still very much lucid.

In the recovery room, I woke up in pain. I didn’t open my eyes much at first and just remember repeating “It hurts. Why does it hurt?” over and over again. I also remember feeling bad as the nurse was trying to comfort me while getting an extra dose of pain medicine ready. In my mind, I knew exactly why it hurt and that she would make it better. I wanted to tell her that, but I just couldn’t stop repeating those words. My husband came back to see me several times and my mother too.

I didn’t see my surgeon, but he told my family that the tumor was much larger than expected and looked benign (although more testing would be done to verify). The surgery had gone exceptionally well and I did not need to go to the ICU. I was told to expect 24-48 hours in the ICU before moving to a room, so that was pretty exciting. When my family told me, I said, “I’m awesome. I rock.” Taking full credit for the success, of course.

I was in recovery for another two hours or so before they moved me to my room on a floor dedicated to patients who had similar surgeries – mostly bypass patients. I was in pain and the hard part was just starting. I’ll talk about that first difficult day next time.

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