About donna

Writer of what if novels that include history with a twist; lover of dogs; reader of almost anything. I have a BA in English Lit, a second in Education. I've taught, created graphics for a family business, worked in administration for Fortune 500 companies, and in marketing and corporate communications. I love to cook, draw, paint and sing... none of which has gotten me my 15 minutes of fame.

Waiting, waiting…

Shortly after my last post–on Sunday to be exact–the incision point around the biliary stent began to leak green fluid. Bile. Per instructions, we attached a bag to the external part of the stent. Sure enough, bile began to flow, and at a rate of over half a bag every 12 hours. I left a message with the IR doctor and followed up with a call on Monday.

Pending authorization, we had a Thursday appointment for re-evaluation. We arrived at 11:30am for our noon appointment only to be told it was for 1 pm. By 12:15, my husband was ravenous. I bought him a tuna on whole grain bread, which he devoured in a matter of minutes.

To compound frustration, when the doctor, who was late as he was involved with another procedure, finally arrived, he said it was to replace the stent, which must be blocked or dislocated going by the amount of bile my husband’s external bag was generating. Anesthesia was not an option since he’d just eaten a sandwich, so my husband, an admitted pain-o-phobe, refused to have the procedure without anesthesia, and we adjourned until this coming Tuesday.

Not to waste any time, however, we had bloodwork done immediately so there would be no hold ups.

I knew this lack of bile in the digestive tract was responsible for the uptick in diarrhea. That my husband is miserable about unavoidable accidents is to be expected. But then I found out he’d mixed up his oral chemo drugs, and was taking Xeloda, which he was not supposed to take this week, while abstaining from Tarceva, which he WAS to be taking. This may be adding to his discomfort. He’s angry and frustrated with himself. I’m discouraged.

I’ve gone back to dosing him myself so no further mistakes can be made, and emailed the oncology physician’s assistant to keep her up to date. She requested I call her on Monday.

So again, we’re waiting. Until tomorrow to touch base with the PA, and until Tuesday for the restenting. We still haven’t gotten to the IV chemo experience. I’m not looking forward to it, though he is impatient to begin it.

I also wonder where I am now in relation to my character Danny Ambrose’s situation in With Malice toward One. I’ve been with my husband since the beginning here, where she came back into Alec’s life while he was undergoing chemo, and was shocked by both the diagnosis and the toll it took on him, not to mention the change in his personality as he struggled with believing he would die while doing everything possible to live.

My husband has his moments of depression, but he’s in this for his future, which is all I can ask for now. Even when he’s angry with me for what he sees as my caring more for material objects than for his comfort (and he may be right, but those pale yellow living room couch cushions he wants to sleep on wouldn’t be washable where the lower, leather couch and his jeans are), he still rails about the things he’ll do when he’s back to normal. I see his railing as a good thing, even if I’m a bad girl. <wry g>

Of patience, powerlessness and pertinacity

Our latest oncology visit was last Friday. Earlier in the week, my husband had had blood taken for testing. While the doctor didn’t go over the results verbatim or in detail, he seemed pleased with my husband’s progress and authorized resumption of the oral chemo drug Xeloda, though on a one week on–one week off basis, hoping this schedule would minimize chances for more diarrhea. So far, it’s about 75/25, non-diarrhea/diarrhea. In other words, no better or worse. A small victory, I think.

On the plus side, my husband has gained about 4 pounds. While I was thrilled at that, it’s hardly an accomplishment when weighed against the gargantuan amounts of food he eats. Also on the plus side, no c-diff.

But as I shared my worry over the c-diff with you all, a close friend told me of a cure for the life-threatening infection–a fecal transplant. I’d never heard of it before, but the procedure has been around for years, and has been used to stem the infection in humans since 1958, and in animals, for nearly a century.

I continue to observe my husband closely, as our next oncology appointment is a month away, but so far, he’s doing better. Part of the reason for his improvement is, of course, that more nutrition is bolstering his system without constant diarrhea. But part of it is also that I am, in passive rather than aggressive ways, forcing him to do more. I took away the living room couch cushions that raised the bed (den couch) he sleeps on. They were there because he said it was too difficult to gain his feet from the 18″ high den couch when nature called without warning; that the rise to 25″ made it easier to slide onto his feet. Well, that was a month ago. As physical therapists say when encouraging you to exercise, ‘use it or lose it.’  So I took back those cushions, telling him it was only for the daytime hours. He could have them at night if needed.

They weren’t needed.

I also stopped taking care of his fish tanks for him. He has to descend to the basement to do it, and though to date he hasn’t really cleaned his tanks, he IS taking care of the fish and the tank filters. He makes his own breakfast now, even driving to MacDonald’s for breakfast sandwiches and pancakes.  Occasionally he takes the dogs outside, where they play on the lawn and he sits on the front steps. He says he can’t walk around with them because there’s no handrail and those steps are difficult to climb. I must remember to tell him to take a cane.

I prod him in all of this because if I don’t, he lays around and watches TV all day–cooking shows. This too has a minor payoff. As I write, the air is filled with the scent of roasting chicken. He’s experimenting with a recipe which requires him to be on his feet and present in the kitchen for most of the time. Every now and then he scurries into the dining room and falls into a chair, evidence that his strength isn’t up to par, but he doesn’t complain and I don’t offer to take over the cooking duty for him. I try to be understanding, but I’m tired, my own arthritis leaves me to seek a chair every now and again myself, and I don’t like the feeling of being used. I also don’t like that I even think I’m being used. Small of me, yes, but I’m no saint.

I’m also not patient, I think. As this journey that began in April with his inability to eat, and my futile attempts to get food into him, progressed to the cancer diagnosis, hospitalization, and recuperation of sorts–with yet no IV chemo and no idea how long we’ll have to go on like this–I’ve just realized how frustrated I am. I feel like a marionette puppet, my strings tautly held to suspend me in mid-air. I am not in control, and have no way of gaining control. I must follow the doctor’s–and in some degree my husband’s–orders, and while I can investigate options or read about therapies, I have no ability to implement them. Nor would I. I’m no doctor.


And yet I persist.

Blind faith and a little Holmesian deduction

My husband spent last week and weekend at home, literally… in the house because he could not be far from the porcelain facilities. By Monday, he’d weakened considerably, so I called the doctor and listened as my husband explained the seriousness of his diarrhea, which had begun in the hospital and continued at home.

The oncologist gave us an appointment the next day. He was very concerned that the antibiotic ciprofloxacin my husband was taking might have left him susceptible to a bacteria called c. diff, one of the most important causes of infectious diarrhea in the U.S. It’s also extremely difficult to get rid of. It’s symptoms include watery diarrhea, up to 15 times each day; severe abdominal pain; loss of appetite, fever, blood or pus in the stool, and weight loss.

While my husband did have diarrhea several times a day, he had no pain, was eating like a man who’d just discovered food, had no fever and had no blood or pus in his stool. His weight loss had not gotten worse, either, as bad as it still was.

Checking him over in the office, the doctor was fairly sure my husband didn’t have c.diff, but had a stool sample checked to be sure. He advised us to discontinue the Cipro, which we were due to end the next day, and to begin the by-week of the oral chemo drug Xeloda that day, two days earlier than anticipated. These steps he hoped would end the diarrhea. He also persuaded my husband to stay a few hours for IV fluids, which included electrolytes, something he surely was depleted of, the doctor felt, despite being only marginally dehydrated.

I left him there and did my grocery shopping–not my usual shopping, no, but the latest list of items my husband had to have. These included gummy bears, u-bet syrups, and celery seeds. He’d been watching cooking shows and wanted to make his own bar-b-que sauce, you see. When I picked him up at the cancer center, I saw a huge difference. He was more alert, looked stronger, had a steadier step.

By Friday, though, he seemed more frail and unsteady, more lethargic, too. I bought some Gatorade as the doctor had suggested, though my husband complains that its taste and viscosity isn’t well received on his tongue.

As every mother is aware, we treat our children’s diarrhea with BRAT–banana, rice, apple sauce,and toast. However, treating an adult with with the same complaint isn’t the same–or as easy. You can’t force them to eat any of the above, so the diarrhea continued, abated only minimally, as I tried to coax him to eat bananas–in cereal, oatmeal, peanut butter sandwiches–with some success. Apple sauce was a definite no. Toast appeared, but only toasted scones, with jelly. As for rice, the best I could get into him was Rice-A-Roni to which I added extra rice.

Imodium was a mainstay, as was cottage cheese and watermelon. Yes. He’s his own worst enemy.

By the following Tuesday, we had moderate success in damming the diarrhea, I’m convinced because he finished both cottage cheese and watermelon and I refused to buy more. Also, for better or worse, he’s drinking Gatorade for its electrolytes.

We see the doctor soon. I’m eager to hear what he advises.

And no, no new chemo.

Baby steps forward

On Monday, the IR group announced their intention to implant a third biliary stent the next day. Upon hearing that, I became suspicious, even angry. How could they have botched two previous procedures?

Well, it wasn’t them at all. It was my husband, who shifted in his hospital bed careless of the stent’s drain, and walked to the bathroom with that external drain–a bag about 5″ by 3″ tethered to the drain–swinging freely like a clock’s pendulum. As it collected the bile and pancreatic enzymes in it, it became heavier, and pulled the internal part of the stent out of place. When I told the IR doctor what I’d observed, he promised to tape this new bag to my husband’s torso. And when I told my husband that his carelessness meant a longer stay in hospital and another procedure, he took greater care with external stent.

The stent was changed on Tuesday, and on Wednesday the doctors observed the output and capped the external stent, allowing the bile and enzymes to flow internally where they aid the intestines and colon in digestion and elimination.

I was pleased to collect my husband on Thursday and bring him home. He was very weak, and unable to climb the stairs to our bedroom, and so we set him up in our den, on the couch he usually claims to watch TV. There were medications (meds) to gather, instructions to read, visiting nurse services to follow up with. He needed help rising, and sitting, and walked slowly with a walker. The slightest activity left him exhausted, though at the end of the first day home, I couldn’t say who was more tired, him or me.

By Friday’s end, we seem to have developed a pattern. (Thankfully, his appetite has returned, in no small measure due to the fact that his abdominal pain has disappeared.) I’d rise with the dogs, as usual, to go outside. Back in the house, I helped my husband to the bathroom, made breakfast for him and the dogs, administered meds, and yes, annoyed him into walking around the house on his walker. Lunch, with more meds, a bit more activity, and then dinner at home with a friend, and more pills ended his day. He slept through the night.

Today, he’s walking slowly without the aid of the walker, and even went into the basement to check on his fish tanks. Of course, this bit of exertion cost him dearly, and he sat on the basement stairs to rest for some minutes, but he climbed them himself with no aid and rested outside on the patio with lunch.

In the name of transparency, I can admit that I’m not as grouchy today as I was Thursday, when seeing him so helpless at home was a shock. Intellectually, I knew he’d be weak and need help. Practically, I was prepared to handle what ever was needed. Emotionally, I wasn’t prepared. While he was in hospital, home was my refuge from the cancer. Now, I’d brought it home with him. I needed to toughen up. Fast. Hopefully, I’m doing that.

For the next few days, I’ll have to help him to be more active. He needs physical therapy, especially as one ankle is swollen. If it continues despite his escalating activity, I’ll call the doctor.

Next Wednesday, we have an oncology appointment, and, fingers crossed, will schedule or perhaps even have his first chemo treatment.

But for now, so far, so good. Baby steps.

Sunday, day of rest?

Well, that depends on one’s physical and mental state.

My husband was moved to a telemetry room Friday afternoon because all his vitals are normal. While this is encouraging, it’s happened before and so I approach the news with wary optimism.

At this point in With Malice toward One, my female protagonist, Danny Ambrose, still has no idea her lover is ill. I can make no comparison with her.

Nor can I compare my husband with male protag Alec Johnston’s state. Alec is stoic and silent in his treatment. While my husband hasn’t even begun his chemo yet, he was really ill initially, and relied on me to be his advocate. He didn’t exactly relinquish his role in self-care, but he needed to rely heavily on me. Now that he’s on the mend from the serious infection whose complications nearly ended his life, he’s more attuned to his care, is asking questions, sometimes refusing procedures he thinks of as bill padding until their practicality is explained. I applaud that, and the fact that he involves me in the discussions.

Today,  he’ll have a pelvic CT scan to determine whether the bilial stent is well placed to do its job, as there is an entire network of various sized ducts branching through the liver. I’m hoping for a positive result. It will mean the end of the external drain and the beginning of allowing the bile and pancreatic enzymes to do their job in aiding digestion in the intestinal tract.

And now, off to the supermarket, bakery, and ices shop to fill his daily shopping list. Sunday’s day of rest? Hmm.

On and on…

It’s been a week of ups and downs. Each time I turned my mind to comparing what we were going through with the characters in With Malice toward One, some new part of my husband’s convalescence tugged at my attention.

He continued to recuperate in hospital, and on Tuesday had a picc-line inserted in his left upper arm. This would make blood drawing and, ultimately, ongoing chemo-therapy doses, easier to accomplish than repeatedly inserting an IV needle anew.

His discharge was scheduled for yesterday, Wednesday, along with nursing visits to attach further antibiotics to his picc-line and to check the bilial stent, which continued to drain externally.

But early yesterday morning he grew dizzy upon standing, very logically sat on the floor in his hospital room in case he would pass out, and fainted. He was running a fever and he was sent back to ICU.

In ICU, his doctors told me his white count was up considerably, consistent with a new infection, and that x-rays showed his colon was irritated and his intestines bloated. Why, then, I asked, did they continue to drain the biliary stent externally when the intestines needed bile and pancreatic enzymes to perform properly? The answer was that the external drainage continued while the fluids continued to be checked for infection. They were trying to identify and curb any possible origin of bacteria.

At home, while I’m running the AC for our dogs and for myself when I drag myself inside after visits and grocery runs, the dogs are beginning to show some stress. We’ve had “accidents” that normally would not occur since they’re not left alone for more than 3-4 hours without someone taking them out. They seldom leave me alone at home, following me from room to room, (even now my Weim Dash and his Westie brother Hamish are lying on my feet and Westie Sophie is begging to be held), and yesterday Hamish did the unthinkable. He lifted his leg on the corner of my bed–which is his bed too–and was promptly put in his crate on punishment. He looked as astonished as I did, I’m sure, at his action.

I admit the heat has taken its toll on all of us. My temper is much shorter than usual, and without my usual time to escape reality by writing, I’m not handling things well, as rational as I try to be. My husband, too, contributes to my stress. I can handle his medical needs, but–and I’m ashamed to admit this but promised to be honest throughout this experience–he hates hospital food and treats me like the local take out delivery service. Each day I have a list of things he’d like to eat and which I’m to furnish. Add the cost of these things–Italian, American, Chinese take outs, ices, ice cream, etc.–to the cost of daily parking, and his hospital stay easily costs an additional $200 a week out of pocket. LOL Oh, well, it’s only money, but I do feel small even noting it.

All that aside, I’m glad he’s still in hospital. It’s certainly better than having him come home and then have to go back.

Random thought here: Don’t ask me how the mind works, but yesterday as I sat in his ICU room waiting for updates, I remembered I had to call the TV/Phone providers to cancel the TV in his telemetry room on the fourth floor.

Not so random thought here: Still no chemo or radiation.

And yes, I still owe some comparison with characters. Sorry. Must head off on my hospital run.

Daring to hope anew

Yesterday afternoon, my husband had his biliary stent removed, and a newer, longer stent with greater diameter inserted. This affords greater drainage of bile from the liver and gall bladder into the duodenum. Bile aids in digestion of foods.

The difference between this stenting and last week’s stenting is the difference between night and day. He was awake and alert within an hour of the procedure, and remains alert, growing stronger daily.

Seeing this, I could relax my vigilance somewhat, though my mind turned toward his cancer and the chemo and radiation necessary to shrink his tumor. I spoke with his oncologist, and found out that my husband would stay in hospital through the weekend to be sure he is stable. I knew he had had a CT-scan while in ICU, and asked the oncologist if the mass had grown. Luckily, it has not. Another reason to be hopeful, though not to lose focus.

I also asked what kind of pancreatic cancer he has. Turns out it’s adenocarcinoma, the most common type, though his isn’t in a duct, but in the head of the pancreas. It’s also the same kind of cancer he had in his stomach 17 years ago.

Buoyed by his improvement, the doctor’s input, and some newfound knowledge, I am more determined than ever that we’ll be successful.

As I write this, I find my curiosity piqued. How did I handle my female protagonist’s determination in With Malice toward One. What other comparisons can I make with her?

But I’ll leave that for my next post. For now, I’m going to toast this tiny bit of success with a cuppa and a cookie.

Focusing hope on the light

We spent most of the day in hospital on Tuesday last week, having a stent put into my husband’s bile duct, which was being crimped shut by the growing pancreatic tumor.

Normally, this would have been done endoscopically, easy peasy the doctor said, but because he’d had stomach cancer 17  ago that rerouted the attachment of ducts to his duodenum, that option wasn’t available. It was, the doctor said, too cramped a space to perform the procedure.

But there was an alternative. It’s called interventional radiology. And so, the stent was inserted, and after 3 hours in recovery, we went home to begin 3 days of agony.

By late Friday afternoon, my husband was incoherent, staggering, unable to hold a cup to drink. By then he’d lost nearly 40 pounds, and, because he wouldn’t let me buy him jeans that fit, those were hitched precariously to his hips via a belt.

We argued over going to the hospital. Clearly, he needed treatment. He would not. It was only when I threatened to call our village’s emergency group and have them remove him on a stretcher that he agreed to let me drive him to Emergency. It was a pathetic image, this cadaverous man staggering into Emergency on my arm while I gripped his jeans in my fist to keep them from falling.

The Emergency nurse took one look at him and had him in a room within minutes. That was lucky, for he was writhing in pain almost instantly while I explained about his cancer, the stent put in days before, the pain medication he was taking. They took his temp, checked his blood pressure, heart rate, and took blood.

That proved crucial. Even as they administered dilaudin for the pain, he was given IV fluids and antibiotics for the raging infection he had. When one dose of pain meds wasn’t enough to keep him from writhing and calling out, a second was administered. That was too much for his compromised physical state to bear. His blood pressure plummeted, heart rate soared.

Before I knew it, the room was filled with doctors, nurses, med techs and machines. It was a scene from any TV medical drama series. Only missing were the cameras. The ER doctor called for a drug reversal, an EKG, and medications to slow his heart rate. This doctor, whose name I never knew, saved my husband’s life. When I have a minute to breathe, I’ll hunt him up and thank him.

By the time I left Saturday morning after 2AM, my husband was stable, and was admitted, only waiting for a bed in ICU.

At home, I left my dogs out and fell into bed, only to awaken at 6am. Force of habit. There are dogs to let out and feed even though my daughter had come to stay with the dogs for the weekend. I called the hospital and headed back.

After wending my way through corridors that would challenge rats experienced in threading mazes, I found the ICU, and my husband. They’d taken new blood samples and fluid samples from the point of the stent’s incision to culture. Both grew bacteria, different kinds–ecoli and a complex staph bacteria. Furthermore, the external drain of his bilial stent was draining massive amounts. This meant the internal end of the stent was blocked and not doing its job, but nothing could be done until the infection was under control.

He remained groggy, sleepy, hallucinating grasshoppers on the wall, seeing our dogs running in the hall. Sunday was a repeat of Saturday, with a gradual return to consciousness, but the hallucinations continued though he was aware they were hallucinations. He was alert enough to ask for his glasses and cell phone from home. Monday he was more alert and wanted foods from home, while I became more aware of his slurred speech. His antibiotics were changed to better suit the infection, and the gabapentin being administered deaden the pancreatic (and abdominal region) nerve pain was reduced.

He had another EKG to be sure the infection hadn’t damaged his heart. All is well there.

He continued to improve, and last night was moved to a telemetry room–that’s a regular room to you and me. He could get out of bed with help,now, a small but personal victory as the bathroom could be accessed.

And today, as I write this post, he will have a new stent placed–longer, with greater circumference to allow for better internal drainage of the bile duct.

I’ll know how successful this procedure was when I speak to the doctor. Fingers crossed. I remain optimistic, though as yet, he still has received no chemo or radiation.