Thursday, April 28, 2011

Top 10 memories from this wacky rehab from cancer, back surgery and assorted other things

In honour of my improving mobility, the hard-working staff here at G.F. Strong physical rehab and the fact that I've got a morning without any classes, may we present my favourite five memories so far of our little fracas with cancer, back surgeries and infection.
I've purposely tried to cut down on mentions of Carol-Ann, because every entry every time could be focused solely on her, considering how brave she's been and how much she's propped me up and kept me going in the right direction. She doesn't like the attention, for one, and I also want to try to keep some of the things that have happened strictly between my wife and I.
We had a hoot in the week-plus leading up to the diagnosis of a Solitary Plasmacytoma tumour in my T-2 vertebrae.. We had 75 different people visit over that time, and everybody was in good spirits, full of life. Nurses quickly referred to it as the party room, Carol-Ann apologized more than once for the racket we were making.
Carol-Ann and I have to take credit for some of the fun -- Bif Naked (shameless name drop) had prepped us well, saying, "Get ready to console people about your cancer,"  and we made sure that we had the one-liners rolling off the top of the morning.
There were so many fun things that grandmother admitting her crush on Jay Janower (shameless name drop) when he came by, Carol-Ann feverishly handing out candies and cookies to random people in the hallways on our final night to cut down how much of the sugary booty we had amassed that she had to take him with us, and Iain MacIntyre (shameless name drop) commenting "There hasn't been a pee that long since the Austin Powers movie," when I went to relieve myself in the bathroom in the room. (My ego and pride quickly disintegrated.)
My favourite moment of all may have been when a young intern from B.C. Cancer came to check on my strength with one of those "Arm tug-of-war" tests. I was still feeling pretty well back then, and was weary of not pushing around any of the nurses when they did those tests. This guy popped me pretty hard the first time, and said, "Yep, been going to the gym."
He had 10 years on me. I had 75, 85 pounds on him. I looked at my dad and he nodded, and the next time I sent the poor kid sliding across the floor, shuffling his feet to keep from tipping over.
Yep, I really am an old 12-year-old sometimes.
I hate operations. I loath them. I'm a control freak, and I can't stand having someone else having that kind of say over my body. As well, I'm a worst-case-scenario guy, so I greatly fear being one of those people who die during a "simple" surgery from an oddball complication.
I thought I hated flying. Compared to surgery, flying is like having a big, juicy BBQ'd steak. My hands still ache from the IV lines.
Every surgery, though, meant these intimate little moments for Carol-Ann and I. We'd sit in pre-op downstairs, and I'd cry like crazy, and she'd tell me over and over again how much she loves me and how everything was going to be alright. I'd grunt out: "I will fight for you," and she would nod and smile, and, before too long, they'd be taking me off to the operating room.
There were also one-on-one times with Dr. Robert Lee, our surgeon for six and half of the eight operations that we had. He was always very in tune to my mood and my fears. He knew how much I hate surgery. He knows how it freaks me out.
Before Surgery No. 7, which was the second rods-and-screws back rebuild, he came in to our hospital room to tell me that we had been pushed back a couple of hours. Carol-Ann was off getting a coffee.
After explaining the scheduling snafu, Dr. Lee looked at me, grinned, and said, " know I'll take care of you, don't you?"
I nodded. He grinned again. And, sure enough, I'm better than I was when I was thrust into his care.
I don't know I'll ever thank him. No clue. I'm also not sure if anyone -- including Carol-Ann -- understands the bond I feel with Dr. Lee.
In November, when I was living at home and doing radiation treatment, I wanted to do something physical to try to get in some semblance of shape. Finally, I got the OK from the powers that be to try walking in the pool.
I hate the water. (I'm a big wimp. I admit it.) But I knew it would help. Sure enough, we recruited eight people to come down to Canada Games that first time and either get in the water with me or cheer me on from the sidelines.
The support that night was pretty remarkable.
Surgery No. 7 took place on a Friday. Afterwards, Dr. Lee told both Carol-Ann and I that he wouldn't see us on Saturday, but he would be in on Sunday. Dr. Lee is amazing...we routinely saw him twice a day, seven days a week.
At about 5 p.m. on Saturday, Carol-Ann got up, put on her coat and was getting ready to go get some takeout for dinner. We were going over what I wanted to eat when Dr. Lee's head popped out behind the corner. He ducked back for cover. Carol-Ann had no clue what was going on. Dr. Lee popped out again, big, cheezy smile. I knew it was on.
Steve: "I have a feeling that Dr. Lee is coming today..."
Carol-Ann: "I know you love your Dr. Lee, but you know what he told us...he's not coming until tomorrow. Don't get all excited."
Steve: "Carol-Ann?"
Carol-Ann: "You know what he said."
Steve: " can just go get dinner then."
She turned, headed around the corner, and was absolutely stunned when she came across the grinning Dr. Lee.
He came into the room, did some strength testing, checked the wound, and said that he had decided to take Sunday off instead of Saturday. We would see him again on Monday, according to him.
Sunday, at about 11 a.m., Carol-Ann got up, got her coat on and was heading out for coffees when Dr. Lee's big, grinning mug popped out from around the corner again. He didn't have to do it twice for me to know what my job was.
Steve: "Carol-Ann...I hate to tell you, but I'm getting that Dr. Lee feeling again."
She was having none of it. She told me to stop it, but was concerned enough to turn around to see if she could see any feet under the curtain that just inside the room's doorway. There were none.
Dr. Lee, being Dr. Lee, had been crafty enough to jump into the bathroom. Our nurse that day, Julie, was coming around the corner at that time and he quietly waved her off. It was her second day on the job -- she had no idea who this strange man in our bathroom was, but she was willing to wait a few minutes to figure it out.
I tried to "warn" Carol-Ann, but she wasn't willing to accept my "help." She turned, went to leave, and was stunned AGAIN.
My Province colleague, Marc Weber (SHAMED name drop), has a way with people apparently. Sitting in pre-op before Surgery No. 2 (the first rods and screws), I was with Carol-Ann and, this time, Bif Naked.
I was facing the door. And I was more than a little surprised when Weber strutted through. Marc`s a tall, strapping lad. Good looking enough to be a doctor, or so I was told. (Thanks Bif.) That is one of the explanation of how he made it into that highly restricted area.
To this day, I haven`t gotten a straight answer on how he made it there.
My first trip to GF ended abruptly. My left leg up and quit on me. I couldn`t get it to move. I basically dragged it around behind me.
I went back to VGH and Dr. Lee and he said that he was 75 per cent sure that there was a problem with the initial rods and screws. They had found that one of the rods had broken via an x-ray earlier. During the surgery, they learned that the other main one was bent.
They try to get you up on your feet the day after surgery, in a bid, basically, to get your body restarted.
That first stand, when the leg didn`t fail, was major for me, because I wasn`t sure until then if the leg would work.
I have weak, wonky hips. (That wonky is for former Vancouver Giants trainer Cory Cameron, who hates that I use the word wonky to explain medical conditions.)  I have a big, burly buttocks.
In a bid to show me what I should be doing with my hips when walking, physios have routine had to grab my booty. Anne, my regular physio at VGH, is such a sweetie that she worried about how I was taking it.
I told her that not only was I OK with her grabbing my butt, Carol-Ann was good with it, too.
My second stint at VGH, which began in late November after my T-2 collapsed, was much different than my first. I was much sicker. Easily my least favourite memory was Carol-Ann relaying to me that one of the doctors told her after Surgery No. 3 -- The First Infection Washout -- that the next 24 to 48 hours were going to be crucial in my survival. The sheer fear on her face telling that story is something that broke my heart.
After having a huge, blowout party for our first stay, we toned things down for this time. Carol-Ann wanted a list of 10 or so people who could visit, and everybody else was off limits.
I quickly scribbled down some names of people who I thought would come. I forgot Iain MacIntyre (shameless name drop). It was middle of the hockey season...I never reckoned he`d have time.
He showed, but before I could say anything to Carol-Ann, she cut him off at the room`s doorway, physically blocked him out and started back-stepping him into the hallway. I eventually got her calmed down and got him back into room. It wasn`t funny at the is now. Except for maybe Iain.
Brett plays short on our slopitch team, Michelle pitches. They eloped over the summer and had their reception in October. We got a hall pass from VGH to go.
They had a quiz to decide table order for eating and one of the questions was: "Make up a word using the letters from BRETT and MICHELLE and describe why it best suits their relationship."
The answer from our table of ball teammates: "It doesn't matter what the word is -- Ewen has cancer. We should eat first."
One of the doctors here at GF is a stylish Russian gentleman, Dr. K. He surprised me when he knew the music of Bif Naked and made a point of introducing himself to her. I wrote about it, right down to how well put together the guy is.
The next day he came up to me and thanked me for noticing his shoes.  I didn`t see him as a Bif Naked listener, and I really didn`t see him as a Steve Ewen reader.

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