Tuesday, May 27, 2008

21 Stitches

If anyone is alarmed by the title, don't worry...this is just a post to let everyone know I had my stitches removed from my medical adventure last week. And there were 21 of them. The nurse taking them out said they were very small stitches but I was still surprised at the number. I got the idea for the title from Red Sox pitcher Curt Shilling's blog, which is called 38 Pitches.

Anyhow, the doctor said the results were excellent (his exact words) and the graft took completely. I'm sure there's probably going to be a scar, but since it's behind my left ear, I don't care too much. From what I could see in the mirror, it looked like a pretty good result to me also.

Now, my forearm where they took the skin from for the graft is another story. That is still hurting. Evidently, I haven't been scrubbing it hard enough to remove the dead skin cells. The nurse demonstrated the proper technique, and to imagine what that felt like, picture rubbing your skin with sandpaper until it starts bleeding, and then pouring rubbing alcohol on it. And, I am supposed to do this daily. I guess it's for the best, to make it heal more quickly and scar less...but DAMN does it sting.

I go back to work tomorrow. I'm looking forward to returning, actually; sitting around gets kind of old after a couple of days. I did get caught up on some movie watching during my extended break, though. And on Sunday, I did go to a campground to meet some people for a potluck, which was fun, albeit very hot and muggy.

As part of the doctor's directive to take it easy, I decided to spoil myself and took my laundry to a wash and fold service, had my car washed professionally (I had a coupon to use for that anyway), and had a cleaning service come clean my apartment. So, things are about as clean here as they ever get.

I originally thought the cleaning lady's estimate of $50 was a bit high, but when I saw the job she and her partner did, I thought it was worth the money. They spent about two and a half hours on my apartment and it looks tons better. (I'm not a slob, but it was definitely due for a cleaning.) I told her I'd like to have her out again, preferably monthly if my budget allows. If it doesn't allow, I'll definitely call them before I have any relatives or guests come to town. I do know how to clean myself, of course, having been in the military and lived on my own for years, but to do as good a job as they did would probably take me half the day.

I'm still spoiled from the time ten years or so ago when I lived in a small city in northwestern New Mexico and my landlady would clean my apartment for $10. (I thought it was a great deal, as you can imagine. As one of my friend's said, "Hell, $10 is a good price just to clean the BATHROOM!") Of course, the apartment was quite a bit smaller, but that was still a smokin' deal I'll probably never see again.

Hope everyone had a happy and safe holiday weekend.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Me, Simpsonized

That last post was a bit of a downer, I think. In an attempt to end the holiday weekend on a more cheerful note, I decided to post this so you can see what I would look like as a Simpsons character.

I was fairly happy with the result, although they didn't have an option for salt-and-pepper hair, so you'll have to imagine that on your own. If you want to try it out yourself, just click on the link above.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

It's been kind of a rough week...

I mean, things could have been worse. However, having a surgical procedure done (albeit outpatient) to get skin cancer removed (albeit of the least severe variety) and having to have a skin graft done as a bonus is not a fun way to start off the week. I'm not worried about it very much, since the surgical procedure I had done has over a 99% success rate for the particular type of skin cancer I had removed, but it still wasn't a fun Monday by any stretch of the imagination.

Recovery is going ok. It's kind of a pain in the ass to take a shower and not get the bandage wet, so I got a lovely stylish shower cap at the local CVS store, in an area of the store where I have NEVER walked through before during my previous trips there. The area where the skin graft was done hurt like the dickens when the anesthetic wore off, and the doc didn't want me using anything stronger than Tylenol, but it is feeling better now, although I do think taking some time off from work is a good idea. I always instinctively put the phone to my left ear (which is the one that got operated on) and I imagine repeated banging of the phone against said ear could be detrimental to the skin graft successfully grafting. Of course, you might say, I could just be a man about it and remember to only put the phone to my RIGHT ear, but when you've been doing things the same way for over a decade, habits are hard to break. I think that by next week it will have healed enough that I can answer the phone with either ear safely.

My volunteer job did intrude on my recovery this week. I guess I've never really talked about what my volunteer job entails here before. For the past year or so, I've acted as a court appointed special advocate for kids in the foster care system. As a volunteer, I only work one case at a time, which helps the kids, their parents, and their foster parents with a sense of continuity. I can also visit the foster homes personally and verify that things are going well for the kids on my case. Sometimes we get to do fun stuff with the kids (I took them out for pizza one time, for example) but mostly we're there to be an extra set of eyes and an extra voice for the kids best interests. We also can be called upon to testify in court when a final determination for the kids placement takes place.

The case I was working had four elementary school age kids. Nothing like a challenge for my first time! We do work with professionals at the volunteer agency who assist us with advice, phone calls, and in the writing of court reports, which helps immensely. I don't know if I did as many things as I possibly could for the kids whose case I was assigned to, but I think I did help some. Just having a single person there through the majority of the process is a big help, since during the time I was on the case, there were three different CPS (Child Protective Services) caseworkers assigned to it. They were all good at their jobs, but everyone in CPS is overworked to some degree. Anyhow...last week was the final court hearing.

I can't go into details about the case, obviously, but the parents involved had not completed (or even really started) their family plan of service in order to be reunited with their children. In Texas, they have to have done this within a year, or eighteen months at a maximum if the judge extends it. It had been eighteen months since the kids were taken into CPS custody, and last week in court, the parents' rights were terminated.

Today was scheduled as the final visit for one of the parents, their mother, to see her kids. I suppose I could have called in sick for this, as I'm still healing from my surgical fun, but I felt kind of duty-bound to be there and see things through to the end. (Also, there was no answering of the phone involved.) One of the kids asked about the bandage on my ear, and I just said I'd had to have something removed at the doctor, since saying the word "cancer" seems to really scare people (especially kids.) The first part of the visit, with the kids' grandparents, went pretty well. Then the second part of the visit started, when their mother showed up...

I have a limited amount of sympathy for a parent who is ordered by the court to show they are a suitable parent and completely squanders that opportunity. That being said, it was REALLY hard to watch what will probably be her final visit with her kids for the forseeable future. She had made each of them a small scrapbook and read it to them, got lots of pictures, and did a lot of crying. Her sister was there for moral support, and she cried some herself, as did the kids.

The CPS worker assigned to their case was in court today, and my volunteer coordinator was busy with another case as well, so the CPS supervisor asked me to monitor the visit and try to make sure the mother didn't promise the kids anything impossible (like that she'd somehow manage to get the kids back someday.) So, I got to sit there and watch. The whole visit with their mother only took about an hour, but it felt much longer to me.

I'm not going overboard, and I'm not driving anywhere, and I'm no longer on any prescription medications...so please pardon me if I have a stiff drink tonight and try and wind down a little. I do admire all the people who work in CPS, as frustrated as I might get sometimes with that agency and its bureaucracy. For the most part, they're overwhelmingly dedicated people doing an extremely tough job. This weekend, I plan on relaxing and taking it very easy. If I do venture anywhere outside, you can be sure I'll wear sunscreen.

Happy Memorial Day, everyone.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Medical Surprises

I am fair skinned, and I grew up in New Mexico. As a consequence, I have had a history of a few (non-melanoma) skin cancers that were caught early...my regular dermatologist found a basal cell he had removed had recurred, behind my left ear, and he referred me for Mohs surgery last week.

The surgery kind of sounded involved compared with what I'd had done before (although it really wasn't too bad, just some stuff to do beforehand that I hadn't expected) and when I called to ask was it REALLY necessary...they told me that it was.

I called on Friday to make an appointment with a specialist in this field and they told me that nothing was available for Monday, but then when I called back today they suddenly had availability for this morning. I was even able to find someone to drive me there and back on short notice since they told me to take Valium beforehand.

They did the surgery, and after they did the initial removal, they discovered that the area was, instead of being the size of a dime, was more like the size of a quarter (!!!) and had to remove a larger area of skin than they had expected...but the second time did the trick and the results came back with clean margins. It's nice that they verify under a microscope that all the cancer cells are gone before they sew you up.

In my case today, since the area was so big they had to do a skin graft (which they took from my right forearm) to get proper coverage for it to heal. Fortunately, since the carcinoma was behind my left ear, any scarring that does occur will not be very noticeable (except maybe by my barber.)

I am on my regular days off (working the weird 6-3 rotation that I do) and I was originally scheduled to go back to work Wednesday night, but the doctor recommended a longer break if possible. "If you're in danger of losing your job, or you're losing pay, you can go back late this week. If you have a choice, I'd recommend taking a week off." I have sick leave where I work, so I'm using it, but I did get a doctor's note.

While it sucks to have a medical procedure sprung on you out of the blue, it's good to get a problem caught early on (my doc said that, left untreated, I could have eventually lost my whole left ear) AND it is good to unexpectedly get a holiday weekend off and be ordered to take it easy. (That is the main reason I'm taking in the doctor's note, in case anyone at work thinks I'm faking things....but they do have a couple days to get my shifts covered, so nobody should be too upset.)

This is one of those cases where I'm glad I followed doctor's advice, even if I originally thought it was overkill on my primary dermatologist's part.