Monday, February 25, 2013


Two years ago today, I had thyroid surgery to remove the remaining portion of my thyroid due to the growth of large nodules. There were no complications when I had the first surgery three years prior to this. I had no reason to think things would be any different this time. However, this was not the case.

The main risk of having this type of surgery is paralysis of the vocal cords, as the thyroid gland pretty much sits on top of the cords. During surgery, alarms are placed on the cords that go off if the surgeon even gets close to them. I remember waking up in the recovery room afterward, with the surgeon by my bedside, prompting me to talk to him immediately upon waking. When I spoke a few words, he became so relieved, as he then proceeded to tell me that there had been a nodule that was stuck in my left vocal cord and he had had to touch the cord to get the nodule out. He had been so worried that my cord would be paralyzed. Upon hearing my voice, he pretty much said, “Phew! If you're talking now, you should be fine! Three days later, my voice started to go hoarse, and then basically disappeared.

I waited a few days and with no improvement, went to see the surgeon. He walked into the examining room and said hello, and with my “hello”, stopped in his tracks. He put a scope down my nose and looked at the cords, but he already knew the outcome. My left vocal cord was paralyzed, just as he had feared from the beginning. I had a voice for those three days only because of the swelling from the surgery, which allowed the cords to touch, hence giving me a voice. Once the swelling went down, the left cord moved away from the right side and since they no longer touched when I talked, I no longer had much of a voice. He tried to be a bit nonchalant as he continued to talk to me, telling me that he has seen people recover from this situation, but it could take all the way up to a year. And he then said, “And sometimes the cord remains paralyzed. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.” I sat there, and even if I could speak out loud, I wouldn't have known what to say. So, stunned silence it was. I left the office in tears, and just couldn't grasp the fact that I no longer had a voice. And for how long??

All I basically had was a whisper. No one could hear me unless I was standing right next to them and even with that, you really had to listen. There was no talking on the phone, no going through any drive-thru's; no conversations. Over the next few weeks, I became so frustrated, so angry. To make things worse, my mother (who lives with us) was already hard of hearing, and with my “new” voice, she couldn't hear anything I said. The only person it made no difference to was Derek, my son. He was deaf and communicates with basic sign language. People would try to make me feel better and say, “Well at least you know sign language and can still communicate!” Well, guess what? Most people DON”T KNOW sign language! If we went to a restaurant, I had to have someone else order for me. In a crowd of people, I felt alone, isolated. In the evenings, I would crave conversation with Bob, but he wouldn't even allow me to try to talk for fear of making it worse. He found me a little device, an amplifier that had a headpiece with a microphone attached, that we bought online and it actually helped a little bit. I would wear it around my waist, with my headpiece on and the mic right in front of my mouth. I could control the volume and could turn it up or down as much as I needed. So this amplified my whisper of a voice and made things a little better. I felt like a tour guide at Disney World. Except my world was not the happiest place on earth!

Six months after the surgery, there was still no improvement. The surgeon recommended that I go have a procedure done that would give me back my voice. He made it sound like no big deal, so I scheduled it and became excited thinking I would finally be able to talk again! Well, it didn't take long for that experience to become a nightmare for me as well. This is what was supposed to happen: a scope would be placed through my nose with a camera on the end so the doctor could see the vocal cords; then a needle would be inserted into my neck, where an injection of a collagen-type substance would be placed next to the left vocal cord, which would then push the cord over to meet the right vocal cord and upon them touching, voila! I would have a voice. That's basically how my doctor explained it. So, the doctor came into the room, and it seems he forgot to bring his good bedside manner. He picked up a needle of anesthesia,stuck it into my neck to numb the area, and as soon as he finished with that injection, he turned around and picked up the other LARGE needle and proceeded to plunge it into my neck before waiting for the anesthetic to take effect. All the while, I had a scope down my nose while I was sitting on the table with a needle in my neck, and he's saying “Don't move!” and I'm just sitting there wanting to scream from the pain and kick him where it hurts. So, he finally removes the needle from my neck, and the scope from my nose, and I sit there and half a minute later, everything goes dim and the room starts to spin. Yep, I was passing out! And do you know what that doctor did? He comes over, looks at me and says, “oh, she's just having a vaso-vagal attack”, turns his back and walks out the door. He left the other doctor and nurse in the room with me, and he never even came back to see how I was!

Not only was this procedure a nightmare, it also didn't work like it was supposed. I did have more of a voice, but it was a hoarse voice. It sounded like I was sick with a bad cold. Now people would say, “oh boy, you sound terrible! I guess you got that sickness that's going around! Feel better!” I got tired of trying to explain, so I would just say, “yeah, thanks.”

Right around the one-year anniversary of the surgery, my voice started to sound like my own again. I had a follow-up visit with my surgeon, who was happy to hear my voice. I knew it had finally healed and as he scoped me, he got very quiet. He then told me the cord was still paralyzed. Apparently I was only speaking because of the procedure. At this point, I knew I had to let go of worrying about my voice. It is what it is, and at least for now, I sound like my old self.

So, what did this experience teach me? What did I gain during this fiery trial? Let me tell you, I did have it out with God quite a few times during that year. I cried a countless amount of tears; my frustration level hit all time highs. My anger sometimes got the best of me. But all the while, God showed me He was with me. He let me yell, let me rant and rave. And still He loved me. He used His people to minister to me. Friends, family, church family. I bet many of them don't even know how He used them. That they were instruments in showing me that I could get through this. That He didn't forsake me. And most of all, I thank my husband and my daughter. They were my strongholds when I couldn't stand any more. When I couldn't take one more minute of frustration and anger. I thank God for everyone who helped me survive this ordeal.

I don't know how long my voice will last. The collagen substance isn't a permanent fix. But it doesn't matter. What matters is that I'm talking. I have a voice, for now at least. There's no point in giving any more thought on the matter.

I will say this: appreciate your voice. Like all things we have in our lives: we don't miss something until it's gone. You might be wondering what does “Uh Oh” have to do with anything? Well, if you can say uh-oh, its only because your vocal cords are working. I had speech therapy at first, and the therapist tried to get me to say uh-oh. And I couldn't do it. And boy, did I want to say it!! So, one of the first things I spoke out loud after that terrible injection, was “uh-oh”. And what a beautiful,hoarse sound it was. Go ahead, say it. And appreciate the sound of your voice today!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Superbowl Horror

Last Saturday, I had a wonderful excursion on the motorcycle with Bob and a group of friends. It was a day that helped me breathe freely again, refreshed my spirit, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. With the help of Derek's dad Joe, who took Derek for the day and overnight, and Brooke, who came to the house to stay with mom, I was able to be free. At least for a little while. And it did a world of good for me. I've even heard people say how relaxed and “good” I looked Sunday morning at church. Hmmm, I wonder what I “normally” look like?? I guess sometimes I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders, and there are some days I'm really dragging. But just one afternoon out in the fresh air and with friends helped bring me back to the surface again.

It was Superbowl Sunday. After church, I was on my way to meet up with Joe to pick Derek up. When I called him to check in, he said Derek had started vomiting around 11 o'clock. It was now 12:15. He said he had seemed fine in the morning, ate breakfast and lunch, was riding his bike, and then he just started vomiting. He didn't have a fever, and otherwise seemed like nothing was wrong. Except the vomiting.

We met up and the minute I saw Derek, I knew something was wrong. He got in my back seat and immediately started wretching. But the only thing coming up was spit and snot. And he was making a horrible wretching sound. I knew immediately he needed help. I needed to get him to an ER. That's not my normal reaction to Derek vomiting. Derek had a kidney transplant 27 years ago, and things are never “normal” with him. He can dehydrate very easily; it could have been his medication causing a problem, even rejection of the kidney. A virus could wreak havoc in him.

We went to an ER close to proximity to where we had met up, about 45 minutes from my house. I had my mom with me as well, as I had just left church. I wanted the doctors to draw blood to check his kidney function and to see if might have a urinary tract infection. Meanwhile he was wretching every 20 minutes. There was no wait, Derek was brought in right away. An IV was started and blood was drawn. Urine was tested. And the wretching continued. The blood results came back, and everything looked fine. Kidney was good, no infection. The wretching continued. I thought food poisoning, but Joe said they all ate the same thing. No one else was sick. The doctor ordered xrays of his abdomen, thinking maybe he had an intestinal blockage. The films came back normal. No blockage there. The doctor then decided to give him IV fluids, to keep him hydrated. I agreed. She said she wasn't comfortable discharging him in this condition, and there was no way I was taking him anywhere. His primary doctor was called and the decision was made to take him to the hospital close to my house where his doctor was and admit him for observation. Transportation had to be called, as he now had an IV and would not be allowed to leave in my care. It was now 5 pm. And the wretching continued. Every 20 minutes. This wasn't how I had planned on spending my Superbowl Sunday. We had the game on in the room we were in.

Meanwhile, Joe had taken my mom home. I now had to call Bob to pack me a bag to bring to the hospital. While we were waiting on the ambulance, Derek started to wretch again, and as I ran over with the bin for him to use, he made this awful face as he was wretching, and it looked like he was choking. Nothing was coming up. I yelled for help, and all of a sudden, he wretched and all this fluid came up. It looked like blood. I thought he was vomiting blood. It was darkish red/brown, and there was a lot of it. And then something else came up. Large chunks of hot dogs. All this went all over my hands as I was holding the bin for him, but this was such a violent wretch, it didn't all make the bin. And I lost it. I thought it was blood. I had kept my calm up until now, when I realized that for six hours, my son had been choking on hot dogs. And couldn't tell me. The horror was almost too much to bear. 

When he finished, he sat back, crossed his arms, and looked so relieved. It was over. All I could do was cry and hug him. Only by the grace of God, and God's protection, was he still alive. All he had needed this whole time was a good ol' Heimlich. Joe didn't tell me he ate hot dogs. I don't know if I would've figured it out even if he did, who knows. But I know my son. And I knew he was in distress.

We still had to go to the other hospital. So Derek rode in the back of an ambulance by himself and an attendant, and I followed behind. Every few minutes I could see him in his stretcher, waving at me through the window. He was fine as long as he knew I was coming. He made fast friends with the ambulance attendant, and I saw the guy put his hat on Derek. Then I saw them both clapping. And I cried all the way to the hospital.

We were brought into the ER at the other hospital, a doctor came in who had been briefed by the previous doctor. I told him that Derek would be fine now, but I wanted him to have a drink to make sure he could manage now. He was a little afraid to drink, but once he did, he was thirsty! And he kept it down, and we went home at 7:30 that evening. And Derek high-fived everyone as he was leaving, and made a beeline for the car. To say he was happy to be going home is an understatement. He was back to being Derek.

My son has had countless miracles performed to save his life. As soon as I knew we were in trouble, I asked friends and family for prayer. And I truly believe that God reached down and gave Derek the Heimlich he needed that brought the hot dogs up. It took 6 hours. And it could only be the grace of God and His protection that Derek didn't choke to death. Or could function that long as his trachea was blocked. Derek can't speak. How unfathomable it is to know that he couldn't tell me he was choking. And that he had to suffer this way. But God knew, and he rescued Derek once again.

On Monday, I had to go for a scheduled cardiac stress test.  Gee, I wonder what THOSE results will show!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Wild Hogs & Biker Chicks

Last weekend, I was a biker chick. Sitting behind my Wild Hog, going on a wild adventure. Yep, leather jacket, boots, the wind blowing through my helmet, er, hair. Do biker chicks wear helmets? And Uggs? Hmm, this one did. Does that make me an imposter? Oh well. I was a biker chick in spirit then, if nothing else.

Have you ever seen the movie “Wild Hogs” starring Tim Allen, John Travolta, John H Macy, and Martin Lawrence? It's about a group of middle-aged suburban guys going on a guy adventure across country on their Harleys. No, they didn't have any biker chicks on the backs of their bikes. But they did have plenty of adventure. Watch this movie for a good laugh if you haven't seen it already. Well, I have a feeling that's what Bob was picturing this ride to be as he was singing at the top of his lungs before the ride,“Get your motors running, head out on the highway” the “Born to Be Wild” song by Steppenwolf. Steppenwolf? Really? Apparently he was ready for some adventure! He was beginning to scare me!

Originally, this ride was supposed to be a guy thing. Just Bob and a few guys from our church. (That's right.  Wild Hog Church Guys.) Until Bob said, “You need to come too. We need our chicks on the backs of our bikes!” What?? A few of the wives of his guy friends were a little hesitant in wanting to go; they would rather have gone antique shopping while the guys were out adventure riding. I must admit, I thought antique shopping would have been more fun as well. But because I love my husband, and because he does so many things just for me, I agreed to the ride.

He was SO excited I agreed to get on the motorcycle. It had been a long time. The last very long ride I had was miserable and I've refused to do it again. He doesn't have a “cruiser” type bike; it's a cross between a dirt bike and street bike. Great fun for him, not so much for me. He looked so darn happy singing his “Wild” song.

The weather that day was perfect. And I mean perfect. Bright sunny blue skies, a cool breeze, a wonderful 72 degrees on a wonderful Florida winter day. Our group met up at our church and took off to ride all around Lake Okeechobee. There were 5 bikes, 4 couples, and one Lone Ranger, who couldn't quite convince his wife to come along that day. Hmm, maybe she went antique shopping! Anyway, Danny & Becky led the pack, as they were on a 3-wheel trike that was Bumblebee yellow so we knew with them leading us, we would definitely be seen on the road! We followed second, then Gary & Susie, Doug & Bev, with Dennis bringing up the rear.

Heading across the state on Southern Blvd, there's not much to see but fields of sugar cane, deep black, rich soil, and gators cruising along in the canals all along the highway. Traffic was light, and even the smell of burning cane was wonderful. I started to breathe in deeply and felt myself relaxing. This was a day I desperately needed. It had been a long time since Bob & I had done anything fun like this. We stopped a few times along the lake to check it out and enjoy the scenery. I was soaking up the experience big time! We stopped for lunch in Okeechobee at a restaurant called Lightsey's Seafood Restaurant, who boasted, “If it swims, crawls or hops, we probably serve it!” Hmm, this could be very interesting. The food was actually delicious (I ate a blackened grouper wrap with corn salsa on top), the atmosphere was friendly and comfortable, and the camaraderie was priceless. Fun times.

As far as the adventure goes, there was no throwing away the wrist watches, or blowing up biker bars, or fist fighting. We left that for the real Wild Hogs. But our adventure was certainly memorable. And relaxing. And just what I needed. And when we got home and got off the bike, Bob grabbed me and kissed me and with a big smile on his face, said, “Thank you!”. My heart melted, and I knew his adventure was everything he had hoped it to be. And so was mine. So, when & where is the next one?