My favorite . . . television shows

Taking a break from writing about my thymectomy for a little Friday Favorites fun.

Current, on the dvr schedule and regularly watched
-World’s Dumbest. I’ve already written about this one.
-The Big Bang Theory
-New Girl
-Paranormal Witness
-Face Off
-Top Chef

Over, but still watch on a regular basis
-Gavin & Stacey
-The Golden Girls
-Are You Being Served?
-Grace and Favour (a.k.a Are You Being Served Again?)

Enjoy, maybe still catch an episode/wish I could catch an episode
-Married with Children
-Unsolved Mysteries
-Tales from the Crypt
-Keeping Up Appearances

Sort of watch, but tend to build up a backlog and marathon
-Mike and Molly
-The Walking Dead
-How I Met Your Mother

My median sternotomy and thymectomy: Part III – Hospital, Day One

loadBinaryCAERMIFEThe first day was the hardest, as you might assume. It only took an hour or so to figure out that morphine was not the best drug for my pain – the relief was immediate, of course, but it wore off fast and hard. When I had my c-section I had a pump, but not this time. I was dependent on the nurses getting me the medicine asap when they had so many other people to look after. They switched me to pills fairly quickly. Slower to take effect, but long-lasting with a more gentle wearing off period.

Pain medication makes me queasy. Very queasy. Always has. Every time I called a nurse for my pain medication, I asked for toradol too. After a few oh-my-god-please-hurry emergency buzzes, they started to bring it automatically. Vomiting was just not going to happen.

Surprise #1: I was offered a meal immediately. I didn’t eat it. First, I was fighting to keep my stomach quiet from the pain medication. Second, I didn’t have an appetite at all. I didn’t expect to be allowed to eat that day at all (I don’t think anyone told me that, I just assumed), so this bit of normalcy was encouraging, even if it was unwanted.

My physical condition: I had three small bulb drains and one large chest drain attached to a bubbly thing on the ground (no, I’m not going to look up what it is called). The small drains sometimes got in the way when I moved around in bed, but weren’t uncomfortable. They had to occasionally be emptied. The large tube coming out of my chest was a different issue. It wasn’t exactly uncomfortable either, but I could feel it move around inside my chest. If a nurse moved it or what it was attached to, I ended up with a very odd sensation. I did not appreciate it.

Aside from the drains, I still had a catheter (it was removed the next morning) and the compression devices on my legs. My incision was bandaged (I didn’t see it at all the first day) and I was wrapped up in a big compression bra that held everything together. It was only after I went home and removed this compression device that I realized how much it helped. Boobs are heavy and they pulled at the incision. So did my arms.

One unexpected problem – my back muscles were a mess. I have scoliosis, so the muscles in my back and upper body are often held in a delicate balance of tension that keeps me from great pain. When I’m overweight, my muscles are strained and uncomfortable. Well, apparently ripping open my chest didn’t help. Because of the problem with my back, I felt like I was surrounded in a big circle of pain. I couldn’t get a lot of relief – the medication didn’t help the back pain as much. I don’t think I was able to explain the extent of my pain to the nurses, because they never took it very seriously. Eventually, I managed to secure a heating pad and got a little relief. This extra pain made a couple of hours absolutely unbearable though.

Surprise #2: I found out later that afternoon that I was allowed to get up and walk around. Again, I didn’t expect this. And I didn’t get up either. I felt like I could barely move; I certainly wasn’t trying to get up yet.

I had to keep my upper body elevated – the flatter I got, the more intense the pain was. This caused me to slowly slip down in the bed. Typically, you would just scoot yourself back up and not think twice about it, but I couldn’t quite move that way yet. I wasn’t allowed to use my arms to do anything, so pushing myself up that way wasn’t an option. My abdominal muscles were angry. Very angry. And I wasn’t able to isolate them to help me do anything either. The eventual solution was to have the nurses help pull me back up in bed. This was helpful, but meant that they had to lay me as flat as I could go [ouch, pain] and then quickly pull the sheet back up with me on it [ouch, pain].

I was a mess. I was in pain. I was confused about what was going to happen next and nervous about the recovery period. My chest was still orange from the surgery. Overall, it was a rough day. I didn’t cry, but I did come close to breaking down a few times.

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.

My median sternotomy and thymectomy: Part I – Research

When I first found out I needed surgery, I did what any red-blooded, twenty-first century American does, I googled. And . . . I didn’t really find a whole lot. Sure, there was plenty out there about having a median sternotomy, but almost every site was related to bypass surgery. They were geared to elderly patients and much of the focus was on the recovery of the heart. Some of it was interchangeable, of course, but I wanted to know more details about what to expect from the surgery itself.

I knew that if my tumor was benign, I would walk – well, be wheeled – away from surgery to deal with a different recovery than the heart patients. If my tumor was malignant – well, my post-surgery journey was going to be very unlike the stories I was reading.

I said from the moment I left the hospital I wanted to record the ins-and-outs of my recovery. It has been a year, so I should probably get around to doing that now. I’m going to break it down into a few easy-to-handle parts over the next couple of weeks. I’ll start with the research I did beforehand, move on to the actual surgery day, then the rest of my time in the hospital, and end with my recovery at home.

So first, what I did find when I googled. Aside from the heart-related articles and lots of youtube videos of surgery (no thanks, I still haven’t watched one to this day), I found a couple of very useful sites:

1) Foundation for Thymic Cancer Research ( and their related yahoo support group. This site had stories and resources galore – both on the main site and the support group. It wasn’t really the best resource for me, however. Thymic cancer is rare and often diagnosed very late. The stores from the group were heartbreaking and not the best for a person with a mystery tumor. I gained a lot of knowledge from the site, but it wasn’t a place I needed to keep visiting until I found out if my tumor was benign or malignant.

2) Youtube videos from Thekarinski69 ( An actual person talking about her thymectomy – the only thing like it I found at the time. It was encouraging and comforting to see someone talking about it. Even if my experience didn’t end up anything like hers, it was just great to hear the voice of someone else out there.

3) The NeuroTalk Support Group for Myasthenia Gravis ( Myasthenia Gravis is an autoimmune neuromuscular disease that causes fatigue and muscle weakness and is sometimes linked to having a thymoma or other thymus irregularity (when my thymoma was discovered, I was asked questions and went through tests associated with MG). People with MG will often have a thymectomy in an attempt to relieve symptoms. This particular message board was the absolute best place I found information about younger people without heart issues having a median sternotomy. I poured over the archives and checked it daily for new stories.

I am a historian and archivist – a research-professional by trade. It was important for me to walk into surgery armed with the best information I could find. And I found some good stuff. What I was lacking was a wealth of in-depth stories, practical information guides to what I was about to experience. I hope my next few blog entries can add to that little corner of the internet and help someone googling away like I did.

My favorite . . . ridiculous Oprah favorites

For this special Black Friday edition of my favorites, let’s get silly with some of Oprah’s picks. I borrowed all of the Oprah quotes from, as I don’t actually watch the show. Commentary is all mine.


Qooq Touch Kitchen Tablet ($399)
“I’m a refrigerator chef — I cook whatever I have on hand. That’s why I think the Qooq touch tablet is fantastic: It’s loaded with 1,000 recipes searchable by ingredient, with videos that show exactly how that cream sauce is supposed to look.” – Oprah

Look! It is just like a regular tablet, except far less useful. Plus, you have to pay extra to actually access the recipes. What?! If you have enough money to buy this kitchen tablet, you already have access to all of this stuff. It is called the internet. Enjoy.


Caddylicious Stationery Set ($300)
“E-mails are incredibly convenient, but they’ll never replace the real thing. This set of cards, envelopes, mailing labels, and notepad, all in a sleek Lucite caddy, gives new meaning to literary style.” – Oprah

$300 stationary. How could you ever work up the nerve to use it? I would always be afraid of wasting a precious sheet and end up just looking at it as it collects dust and dog hair on my desk. Buy a caddy at TJ Maxx and get some cute personalized stationary off of Etsy. You will get the same result with lots more money in your pocket.


Baby Love ($79)
“Here’s what the well-dressed baby is wearing this season. Presented in a woven basket, these hand-embroidered organic cotton bibs slip right over the head, with no hard snaps or scratchy Velcro.” – Oprah

White $79 bibs. Do I really need to comment on this? Why would you pay so much for something made to wipe up weird smelling globs and mysterious liquids? I’m sure someone out there is thinking something like, “But these aren’t supposed to be everyday bibs. They can be for going out and special occasions.” I’m assuming this is your first kid. At least it comes in a basket. So there is that.


Deepa Gurnani Plum headband ($100)
“Ever since I put on a headband for our big September Afro cover, I’ve been inspired to wear more. But not the plain schoolgirl ones—the more glittery, the better. These are like jewelry for your hair.” – Oprah

Headbands. I like headbands. I have a big head, so I probably wouldn’t want anyone buying me a headband for Christmas, but in general – not a bad gift. Don’t buy me a $100 headband though. Seriously. For starters, my daughter appropriates any hair product brought into this home. Plus, can’t you think of anything better to spend $100 on? I know I could make a list of better options.


Chocolate Nativity scene ($45)
“Even Mr. Hanukkah, Adam Glassman, is in love with this endearingly simple Nativity scene. In a delicious twist, each hand-decorated figure is edible, with a chocolate-covered cherry cordial at the center.” – Oprah

Christmas isn’t complete until you eat the baby Jesus. Yums.

Bonus round – an Oprah pick I need!


Sweater Mugs ($50 for 6)
“Snuggle up to your hot chocolate with these big dishwasher-safe porcelain mugs, jazzed up in the same design as my favorite sweater.” – Oprah

Well, I don’t really need six sweater mugs. I do think they are pretty cute though and if I could buy just one, I probably would. I have a useless collection of coffee mugs.

Pre-holiday errands


Liquor store #1 – for wine and beer

JC Penney – to pick up a package

Into the main mall – to pick out two angels to shop for this year (since I was already there)

Lane Bryant – to buy some 50% off fat-girl leggings (and maybe a sweater . . . and a jacket. . . and fleece pants)

Liquor store #2 – for Pimm’s (the first store was out)

Walgreens – for Mucinex, sprite, and lemonade

McDonalds – because the kitchen is busy tonight


On my bookshelf

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital Five Days At Memorial- Final Jacket.JPGby Sheri Fink

From Pulitzer Prize winner Sheri Fink’s landmark investigation of patient deaths at a New Orleans hospital ravaged by Hurricane Katrina – and her suspenseful portrayal of the quest for truth and justice. In the tradition of the best investigative journalism, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs 5 days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amid chaos. After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths. Five Days at Memorial, the culmination of six years of reporting, unspools the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the reader into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing. In a voice at once involving and fair, masterful and intimate, Fink exposes the hidden dilemmas of end-of-life care and reveals just how ill-prepared we are in America for the impact of large-scale disasters—and how we can do better. A remarkable book, engrossing from start to finish, Five Days at Memorial radically transforms your understanding of human nature in crisis.

Heartbreaking. This book is engrossing and excellent, but – ultimately – heartbreaking.

Bonnie and Clyde: The Lives Behind the Legend by Paul large teaser

From The flesh-and-blood story of the outlaw lovers who robbed banks and shot their way across Depression-era America, based on extensive archival research, declassified FBI documents, and interviews. The daring movie revolutionized Hollywood—now the true story of Bonnie and Clyde is told in the lovers’ own voices, with verisimilitude and drama to match Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Strictly nonfiction—no dialogue or other material has been made up—and set in the dirt-poor Texas landscape that spawned the star-crossed outlaws, Paul Schneider’s brilliantly researched and dramatically crafted tale begins with a daring jailbreak and ends with an ambush and shoot-out that consigns their bullet-riddled bodies to the crumpled front seat of a hopped-up getaway car. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow’s relationship was, at the core, a toxic combination of infatuation blended with an instinct for going too far too fast. The poetry-writing petite Bonnie and her gun-crazy lover drove lawmen wild. Despite their best efforts the duo kept up their exploits, slipping the noose every single, damned time. That is until the weight of their infamy in four states caught up with them in the famous ambush that literally blasted away their years of live-action rampage in seconds. Without glamorizing the killers or vilifying the cops, the book, alive with action and high-level entertainment, provides a complete picture of America’s most famous outlaw couple and the culture that created them.

I enjoyed this book, but it was odd. Parts of the book read like the narrator of a play – I was listening to this one and often found my brain expecting the narrator to step off stage and the actors to start the action again. It jumped around to parts written from Clyde’s point of view – “You said. . . You thought . . You did” – and I kept getting a little lost. It probably didn’t help that I was listening to this book instead of reading a hard copy.


Nah, I’ll pass.

I have never been a big fan of Thanksgiving – I can’t really remember a time I appreciated the holiday for anything other than a day off. Over the years, my Thanksgiving ambivalence has grown into a real hate. The whole holiday just perturbs me.

I mean, what is the point? And don’t give me any of that “spending time with family” crap. You can do that anytime and travel would be lots cheaper because there wouldn’t be a mass of people making an annual pilgrimage to be with relatives they don’t really like and are only going to complain about later.

And the food. Why do we have to have a holiday based around food? It is one of this binge-eater’s worst nightmares. There is literally nothing else to do but sit around and eat all day long. My husband loves Thanksgiving. 45 minutes after eating, he will be asleep and I will be left all alone with a kitchen full of food. Tons of food. Gee, thanks.

I don’t have black Friday to look forward to either, as I avoid any and all stores like the plaque that entire weekend.

The best part of Thanksgiving = the dressing. No dressing vs. stuffing debates in the comments, please. It is all dressing in our household. All complaints about food aside, I could eat the entire pan of my husband’s dressing and happily come back for more. And then more.

The second best part of Thanksgiving = putting up the Christmas tree. Of course, if Thanksgiving wasn’t in the way, I could put the tree up after Halloween. So it is toss-up, I guess.


My favorite . . . books

I used to be a book snob, but I gave that up a while ago. Reading is awesome. If you like something, read it! Don’t waste time better spent reading on judging the choices of strangers. Unless it is Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey. [Kidding. I’m kidding.]

Recent favorites I’ve read in the past few months
[These might not make the forever list, but they would be high on my current recommendations.]
Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach
The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction by Larry Young and Brian Alexander
At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

All time favorites
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
A Melon for Ecstasy by John Fortune
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

To read again and again
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
[There aren’t very many books that I like to pick up over and over. In general, I like to keep trying something new.]

Bonus round – my favorite . . . authors.
Some overlap with the books of course, but not necessarily:
-John Green
-Edgar Allan Poe
-Oliver W. Sacks

Bonus round x2 – very popular books I did not like at all
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen [couldn’t force myself to get more than twenty pages into it]
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson [This one is a tossup for me. I very much wanted to know how the story ended, but did not like reading the book.]
The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini [I maybe read one chapter. I disliked this one from page one.]