Living with Cancer: #7

Here?s a little tit bit that may surprise you. Most of us don?t know how to listen.

I suppose I?ll have to repeat that now, because you may have missed the point of that statement. Academic and scientific studies, some of them going back to the turn of the last century, show conclusively that people generally hear only what they want to hear. This selective reception is particularly active when we?re under a great deal of stress.

That has led me to the inescapable conclusion that fighting cancer can make you deaf!

Cancer patients like me, who are in the early stages of tumor development, tend to hear only the ?good? or ?positive? pieces of clinical information coming their way. There is a lot of information we need to internalize in order to fight this battle effectively.

The pre-op (Pre-Operative Consultation) is a crash course in anatomy, pharmacology, hygiene, diet, respiratory management and physiotherapy, all of which will come into play before, during, and after my impending surgery. Some of you, or perhaps someone you know will go through the same procedures in the fight against colorectal, breast, lung, prostate or a host of other cancers. It is imperative that you know what?s going on here.

So, as Nurse Arlene said to me last Thursday (see my previous column on patients? rights for more about Nurse Arlene), ?If you don?t mind, pay attention please!?

People about to enter into the medical contract known as surgery must visit a few other professionals in their hospital prior to being rolled into the operating room. I?m going to assume here (always dangerous for a writer) that my pre-op experience will mirror most such visits anywhere in Canada.

Paying attention to what your Nurse Arlene tells you during pre-op will make all the difference in how you approach surgery, and how quickly you recover from it.

I didn?t want to hear that my bowel resection could result in paralysis, chronic bladder and sphincter problems, even death, but such are the realities when one is heading to the front lines of the battle. Possibilities and probabilities had to be discussed. For me, although it?s possible something could go wrong during surgery, what I also heard was that it is extremely probable that everything will be just fine.

Arlene introduced me to my anesthetist, who explained how he would induce a deep, pain-free sleep during surgery, and why I would wake up in the Intensive Care Unit (a better nurse-patient ratio after major surgery). I agreed to an epidural (an anesthetic injected into the dural space around the spinal cord that numbs the lower body).

?From my perspective, this is a pretty routine operation,? said Dr. Sleep.

?From my vantage point,? said patient Philp, ?doctors are going to remove a cancerous section of my bowel after making a large incision in my abdomen, and I?m scared as hell!? We discussed what I thought to be a rather cavalier statement about my condition, until I finally heard what he was trying to say.

?You?re going to be all right,? he said. ?You will pull through this just fine, and hopefully cancer-free.?

I listened a little harder, and with a lot less anxiety to the other members of the pre-op team.

A pharmacist explained PCA (Patient Controlled Analgesia) that will allow me to inject a pre-set dose of morphine, through an Intra Venous (IV) line, at the onset of pain. And I heard how important it will be for me to hit that button long before the pain becomes intolerable. The physio ?sergeant? drilled me in post-surgical deep breathing and coughing, necessary to both maximize my oxygen intake for healing, and to expel any lingering general anesthetic. She warned me to hold a pillow on my tummy when coughing to reduce pain and stress on the suture line.

Yes, I?m still worried about the surgery; but it?s nice to accept what I?ve heard, and know I?m going to be in good hands.

?Trust us, and don?t be a hero,? was the comforting message I heard. ?You?ll just be a pain in the ass for the nursing staff.?