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Found 3 results

  1. I've survived a lot of medical treatment. The most sophisticated and creative was while in the care of an extraordinarily gifted, courageous and talented surgeon. We invited him and his wife to dinner to renew our acquaintance and review the bidding. The dinner was memorable. I could launch into the details of my 8 surgical procedures performed by this brilliant man but that story is told elsewhere. Of more interest to this community is what are the indicators of brilliance in a surgeon? Unlike general medicine or oncology, surgical encounter time is brief. One can ask about reputation, but thoracic procedures are risky and outcomes are variable involving heart, lungs, vessels, transplants and a myriad of complex procedures to the engine compartment of the body. Using my surgeon as a model, it might be useful to develop a means test of thoracic surgical competence that a survivor might use to evaluate suitability during the span of a short pre-surgical consultation. Here is my list. Is your surgeon friendly? Is this man or women one you’d enjoy having a coffee or a beer with? Does conversation flow easily? Does the surgeon respond to your elements of conversation? Does he or she listen? Do other practitioners or office staff enjoy being around him? A surgeon that is pleasant is likely to be a surgeon that is sympathetic, benevolent and a true believer of the tenants of the Hippocratic Oath. Is your surgeon inquisitive? Surgery is a melding of art and science. The art is “what” to do and the science is “how” to do it. Thoracic surgeons are a small tribe that practice in a complex environment. When something new is discovered, your surgeon should be very interested in investigating it for application. If your surgeon already thinks all the “what” questions are answered, find another. Is your surgeon respectful? In your pre-surgical consultation, you ought to feel like the important one. Your medical condition needs to be acknowledged as important and your feelings, fear, anxiety, and uncertainty should to be taken into account. If your surgeon doesn’t use your name or look at you or attempt to help you relax during the consultation, find another. If your surgeon makes a grand entrance, surrounded by a posse of assistants, and talks to them about your case, find another quickly! Is your surgeon decisive? At the pre-surgical consult, there is one key decision to be made: operate or do not operate. This ought to be made then and there. If your surgeon feels the need to discuss your case with others, find another. There is so much uncertainty in lung cancer surgery and each encounter will require a decision. Your surgeon needs to come equipped for making decisions, alone. Is your surgeon acutely intelligent? Compose a non-surgical question on the surgeon's interest or hobbies ahead of the consultation. Listen for passion and detail that indicates sincere interest and evidence of accomplishment. Intelligence starts with curiosity and leads to ability to assimilate knowledge and use it in cross functional ways. A surgeon with a photography interest would know depth of field (the f-stop setting on a camera) is analogous to layers in skin, tissue structure, and visual focus precision. Photography concepts relate to surgery yet it is a diverse field of intellectual pursuit. Avoid those who are interested only in surgery or who say they don’t have time for anything in their life but surgery. We had a wonderful reunion made even more special by the attendance of my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. My daughter met my surgeon 15 years ago while I was near death. She is also a beneficiary of his skills. Ten years after my surgeries, I asked my surgeon to help find a skilled brain surgeon to remove my daughter’s complex meningioma. He moved heaven and earth to do so. Add compassion to my list. Stay the course.
  2. Early on, we learn Algebraic equations with only one solution. Then we encounter equations with two solutions -- Quadratic Equations. Consider: x2 + 3x – 4 = 0. This has two solutions: x = -4 or x = 1. Both are correct; one is negative and one is positive. Algebra students get very comfortable with solutions having a positive and negative outcome -- lung cancer survivors are less comfortable! The positive outcome for lung cancer is extended life. But like quadratic equations, there can be negative outcomes that are less desirable. Mine is chronic pain. So to the question, how does one fit a negative outcome into the positive? No, Algebra does not help. But, for those in treatment or surviving after treatment, preparing for life with negative outcomes is helpful. My chronic pain has two primary and many secondary causes. I have peripheral neuropathy -- numbness in fingers and toes including a burning sensation in toes and pain in the foot joints. It is a common Taxol side effect, and we informally call it “taxol toes.” Also, I have nerve damage caused by quite a few surgeries to my right chest that is chronically painful. How do I fit these negative outcomes into life? My strategy is to tolerate chronic pain until bedtime. Then something must be done or I won’t sleep. I’ve cycled through over-the-counter, then prescribed sleep medications. Both worked for a while. Doc found a study suggesting a therapeutic effect for Xanax on chronic pain. He prescribed a 0.5mg dose at bedtime, allowing an increase to a total of 1.5mg. This relaxes me and makes me drowsy. It works about 6-in-10 nights. A secondary cause sometimes drives pain above chronic levels. These are: chemotherapy induced joint pain; muscle cramps; stress, anger and excitement; sneezing and coughing; and flying on aircraft. The joint pain, an in-treatment side effect, required narcotic medication in every case to relieve. Reliance on narcotics has two downsides: an inability to think and function normally the next day and constipation. However, other secondary causes occasionally require narcotic medication to achieve relief. Because of the downside to narcotics, we’ve developed a couple of unique pain abatement procedures that may be of interest. Our first strategy is to apply prescribed lidocaine transdermal patches to incision scars and or feet in combination with Xanax. Since lidocaine dosage is limited to 2 patches, my wife cuts them into strips and fits them along my incision scars, and applies them to my feet. A pair of tight fitting socks are stretched over my feet to keep them in place. When the offending pain spike is either in my chest or feet, a full 2-patch application is used. The patches are applied in time to allow the Xanax to work and I sleep, hopefully. The next works only for feet and is a back-up strategy if lidocaine fails. My wife uses an ace bandage to wrap reusable frozen Blue Ice packs to the bottom of each foot. The cold is very uncomfortable for a couple of minutes, but in a short time my feet are numb and if I’m lucky, I sleep. Muscle cramping is a long term side effect from chemotherapy. It stems from low Magnesium blood levels. I take at least 500 mg of Magnesium supplement per day. My oncologist would rather I take 1000 mg, but I suffer digestive system revolt. I learned that almonds provide 75 mg of Magnesium per ounce so I snack in lieu of a second pill. Regardless, I still experience one to two cramping events per day. When they occur anywhere near my feet or chest, chronic pain soars. There is however, no remedy for cramps. The worst occur in the middle of the night and wake me up. Archimedes, the ancient Greek hydrologist, provided an explanation for why immersing up to my neck in a swimming pool eases incision pain. The upward buoyant force of the water offsets the gravitational pull on chest incisions thus minimizing pain. Almost every day our community pool is open, I spend hours in the water. This does not eliminate pain but reduces it noticeably. On leaving the pool, the normal level returns but it is very therapeutic. Lying in a bathroom tub, unfortunately, does not work because there is not enough water for complete submersion. A hot tub works fine, but there is no difference in pain relief from water temperature. Flying in a commercial airliner also spurs chronic incision pain. Most airlines pressurize their cabin between 6,000 and 8,000 feet pressure altitude. This lower-than-sea-level pressure expands my chest cavity increasing incision pain. All commercial flights hurt but long flights are very painful often requiring a dose of narcotic medication in flight. Not flying is the only remedy. Those having thoracic surgery have long complained of incision pain after commercial air flights and cabin pressure is the cause. Another secondary cause is extensive coughing and sneezing. Sneezing is particularly bad when it is a “surprise sneeze”. During the worst pollen events, I stay indoors and I try and avoid school age children to keep the chest colds in check, especially when school is in session. The last secondary cause I have the most control over: stress, anger and excitement. Admittedly, excitement is the easiest to control except when the Dallas Cowboys are playing my beloved Philadelphia Eagles. These two games a year are indeed stressful and since I live among cowboys, someone is going to be angry over the outcome. My wife reminds me when I complain too much that I am lucky to be alive. What’s a little pain given the alternative. She’s right. Doc reminds me to avoid scheduling things in the morning so I can sleep-in late if pain interferes. He’s right. Football season is right around the corner and it is a good thing games are scheduled in the afternoon and evening. Now if the Eagles start winning, everything will be fine! Stay the course.
  3. I am writing this from the pool deck of a cruise ship while on a transatlantic sojourn. Our fourth transatlantic and our favorite form of vacation, we cross then pick several countries and explore. This year, after docking at Barcelona, we fly to Ireland and tour the wild and unpopulated western coast, then spend a long weekend in Edinburgh, and fly home. The cruise and the touring after is wonderful. The flight back is a nightmare because my incision scars throb in pain in a pressurized aircraft. We need to make the return flight in two legs (overnighting in Boston) to recover from the pain. The national hope summit concluded, and missed for the second time because of our annual spring migrations, I tell you about our cruise as two examples of hope. First, we undergo treatment and endure discomfort for a reason -- extended life. It is important to shelve the treatment and uncertainty mantle to do something enjoyable with this life extension. We enjoy these long (and reasonably priced) repositioning journeys on a cruise ship. We step out of the mundane and into the lap of luxury and enjoy interactions with the international assortment of passengers we sail with. Second, to the essence of hope, if I can survive to do this, so can you. I will never go back to my lifestyle before lung cancer. But, I can have an enjoyable and meaningful life after lung cancer. And, my attitude dictates the amount of joy and meaning experienced. It is so important to realize this point. We endure treatments for a reason. Find your reason. Revel in your new normal. Life indeed is what you make it. Make yours. Stay the course. Tom
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