19 hours later.
It was around midnight, Monday August 24th 2020. I had not yet received a call from Hershey that they completed the surgery. I hadn’t slept yet, although I was beyond exhausted. I decided to try to sleep on the couch, in case I did get a phone call, I would hear it better than if I was up in my room. It wasn’t until sometime in the 2am range when my phone rang. Hershey. I sprung up. Scrambling to be awake and alert, I answer the phone “HELLO?”
“Hi there, is this Rachel?”
“Hi Rachel, Dr. Merrill from Hershey calling, we wanted to let you know that we have completed your father’s surgery. It was 19 hours from start to finish but we said if we started it, we were going to complete it. He is in recovery. We are going to keep him sedated and intubated over night and into the day tomorrow as it was very evasive. Hopefully you can come in tomorrow to see him and we can talk more about it. I hope you can get some sleep tonight.”
- Let me remind you that this is the same woman who helped start this surgery at 7am. I am assuming they took breaks?? Did she get a nap half way through?? Hopefully she ate lunch. That is intense!
Susan B. Merrill. She is one of the few doctors during this journey that I can admire. 10/10. She should have a plaque, or a gold crown or an entire chocolate cake all to herself. Seriously. This petite in frame, 5 foot tall and 100 pounds soaking wet, left handed surgeon, started and completed my father’s 19 hour surgery. She wouldn’t want a plaque though. Soft and kind are her words in tone. Humble are her remarks after the 1000x I have said thank you for this gift of sustaining his life.
After our phone conversation, I looked at Scott and said “He made it!”
As the sleepy tears flow and we see some light at the end of the tunnel, I finally go to bed and plan for the next day……
August 25th 2020.
I got up and prepared myself and the children for a pretty busy day. I cannot remember what I packed for them or myself, but knew once I left the house to take them to a friend, I would be gone awhile. I was doing two very hard things this day. First, I was going to my very first therapy session. I was looking forward to this and the least bit anxious, considering I would stop in Shafferstown for an hour of discussion before going to Hershey. I really wanted to get to Hershey ASAP. I absolutely had to follow through with this session, because honestly and with a humbled heart, I needed it.
I also I knew I wanted to take fresh flowers for Dads room, flowers for Doc, flowers for a favorite nurse if he had one, and 2 photos I had gotten printed and framed. I. Was. Excited. I wanted him to wake up to see a beautiful, colorful summer arrangement, a photo of us as a family and, of course, a photo of his beloved Luna. I did the 55 minute drive up 897, to 419 through Lebanon, and connected to 322. I parked my car and walked into the hospital where I got my tag and was directed to the Heart ICU. At that point, I knew the work they did was extensive…. And when I got there, I was able to see how incredibly extensive.
Dad was still very sedated when I arrived and intubated. This was still from his surgery. They just felt like he needed the extra down time. I arrived around 3, I believe. They were prepping him to be extubated! I was so excited. I could tell he was very uncomfortable…. I sat there and talked to him for awhile. I was so happy to see him. Dad! What a day. I’m so happy to be here. I tried to be comforting and quiet, over my excitement. I was doing the scream whisper. Can you imagine the scream-whisper? “ HI DAD. I LOVE YOU!! YOU DID IT. I SEE YOUR EYES!! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT??? ”
While they were getting ready to do this, I got to speak with Doc. Boss babe - who I had high respects for. I was also happy to see her, and I gave 1 of the flowers sets to her. She was surprised. “For me??” She said. UM, yes Dr. For you! We stepped outside of Dads room. She gave me the rundown of all the work they did. It was almost what they had figured but larger and more complicated. She didn’t seem phased by it. They opened him from between his collarbone, sawed the sternum, all the way down, around his belly button and just above the pants line. (HUGE). They started with Dr. Merrill down at his kidney. They removed the entire left kidney, which the tumor had started growing in, filled the entire kidney from the inside out and was growing outside of the kidney. They decided to remove both adrenal glands. As they got farther along in the surgery, it became more complicated as the tumor was not only growing outside the kidney but it was entangled up and around the inferior vena cava and had an IVC thrombus blood clot as predicted. The entangled part of it was a bit unknown because they couldn’t see how much cancer was inside the heart. This is what made the surgery take so, so long. They did put him on by-pass, while they worked on the heart to not only pull the tumor out but also put in a screen and graft the inferior vena cava! They had to reconstruct it. I’m over here somedays struggling to tie my shoes. Come on. Also, the tumor was touching his liver and stomach but had not yet been entangled, so that was “good”. They believe this is all what may have led to his recovery being so hard. Surgery is a lot, but when multiple organs are being pulled and pushed all at once, the body isn’t happy. Her words to me was that they got it “all”… all of the tumor. I looked at her intently. You got it…. A L L ? All of it? Wow. She gave me a hug and was happy he had someone local to care for him. She was also sure that this was a record surgery in length for Hershey.
Dr. Merrill is not God, so please don’t hear that from me. However, she has some amazing giftings that God gave her and I am thankful. She left the room and I went back into Dad.
The nurses got what they needed to get as far as supplies and persons together. Very well trained and well versed, they asked him if he was ready for it to be out? He shook his head - YES. Well – Great! Here they go. They told him, “hey basically we gently but firmly pull this thing out of your throat.” On 3, give a really big cough!
1, 2, 3 – and out it came. I could tell that he was in so much pain. So tired. That was the only big event for the day for Dad, and my visit of course. They didn’t want to do anything more and were elated that he had a visitor. They all left the room and I pulled my chair close to his bedside where I could be near to him. He looked over at me slowly and whispered, “We did it.”
To be continued…..