Monday, June 8, 2015

Meeting the Surgeon

A few days later, Tyler and I met with Dr. David Affleck, cardiothoracic surgeon at St. Mark's Hospital. His nurse practitioner was excited to be meeting with someone so young -- I guess their average patient is quite a bit older. My first impression of the surgeon was mixed. He seemed a little abrupt, perhaps a little cocky, and his answers to my questions were a little too cut and dry. Tyler liked him, though. Thought his confidence was reassuring. He explained that the culprit behind these collapses were likely something called blebs -- blisters of air on the surface of my lungs. I may have been born with them, they may have grown at some point in time, but when they pop, air is released into my chest cavity which creates pressure and causes my lung to collapse. The fear is that as this continues happening and my lung becomes weaker, one of these spontaneous pneumothoraces could quickly turn into a tension pneumothorax which is very dangerous and often quickly lethal. His suggestion was to perform a surgery called a bleb resection where he would go in and remove all the blebs he could find on that lung and any compromised tissue and then staple everything shut. After that, he would do a procedure called chemical pleurodesis. He would spray medical grade talc all over the inside of my chest cavity. This would essentially burn the inside of my chest, causing significant inflammation. As it healed, my lung would scab to and eventually adhere to my chest wall so that if my lung were to collapse again, it could not do so catastrophically. He said they would do this via VATS: video-assisted thoracic surgery, but that I needed to be prepared that it could potentially require a thoracotomy. He warned me that it would be extremely painful but that I should be back on my feet in a couple weeks. I had done a little research prior to our appointment and read other patients complain about chronic or long-term pain, but he quickly dismissed this as extremely rare.

They wanted to do the surgery the following day. I dug my heels in and said "no way." Not only would preparing for such a surgery take a little time -- I had three kids to worry about here -- but I had a massive school fundraiser that I had devoted a significant amount of time to, and I was determined to see it through. Two weeks. I would have the surgery on May 13.

I was nervous after leaving the office. I was putting the fate of my respiratory system in the hands of a guy I had just met and didn't even particularly like. I wondered if I should get a second opinion, but at 35, its not like I have a lot of friends that have the name of a good cardiothoracic surgeon in their phone contact list. I happened to have an appointment with my OB/GYN that week -- a very well connected doctor whom I trust implicitly. When I asked her about Dr. Affleck, she gave a glowing recommendation, saying she had known him since she was an intern and that he was a brilliant surgeon and she wouldn't hesitate to let him operate on her. I decided to take her word for it and stick with him.

The following week was the school fundraiser. I had to try to squeeze surgery prep into any spare moment. It was such a chaotic time that by the Friday before my surgery, I was sick with a head cold, terrified that the illness would derail my plans. My sister was flying in from Denver to watch my kids, so I simply could not move the procedure date. My husband sent me to bed to rest all weekend.

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