I slowly became conscious. But I was so tired that I immediately drifted off again. I must have done this two or three times before I became fully awake.
I immediately thought, where am I? And then I remembered: I was coming out of surgery. I carefully and gently felt my belly. Yes, there were the six round holes, each covered in a small neat bandage. The holes through which the robot had entered my body. The holes through which the malignancy had been removed.
I had several fears when I had walked into the hospital that morning. One was that I would die in surgery. The chances were remote, but still I worried. Other people have told me they have had that same fear. Why? To me anesthesia is a little like death. You feel nothing; you experience nothing. But unlike death, you wake up (usually). Of course anesthesia is a little like sleep too. The difference is you don’t dream. Most of us don’t worry about whether we’ll wake up when we go to bed at night. I think it is because that happens frequently and we do survive; anasthesia is much less frequent so we have less (or maybe no) previous experience to call upon.
I was also afraid they would have to convert from robotic surgery to conventional surgery. But the holes I felt for assured me that had not happened.
I also worried about the pain I would feel, but as I lay there in the recovery room, I felt very little pain or discomfort. I realized I was still in the lingering fog of the anesthesia.
I don’t think I fell asleep again, but I was in a kind of twilight. I don’t really remember much of what happened there. (I guess nothing much did.) Eventually I was wheeled from the recovery room to an ordinary hospital room, and transferred from the gurney I had been on to an ordinary hospital bed. There I was joined by my family. I’m sure I have looked better. I had an oxygen tube in my nose and an IV in my arm. The doctor’s had warned my family that my face might be puffy because I had been in a position with my head lower than my body during the surgery. But my wife said there was no puffiness.
My mouth and throat were incredibly dry and my throat was sore from the tube that had been there during the surgery. I drank lots of water (which the nurses encouraged.)
Eventually Dr. Carroll had come to visit me. The great Peter Carroll. I had been told to find the best surgeon I could. When I told people I had chosen Dr. Carroll, “he’s the best” was the response I had generally gotten. I was happily surprised at how well known he was to other doctors as well as other cancer patients. (Even my ear doctor had heard of him.) Of the three surgeons I consulted he was the only one who said he could spare the nerves that run along the sides of the prostate gland.
Now Dr. Carroll was telling me that he had indeed been able to “spare the nerves”. He also told me that he believed he had removed all the cancer–there were no signs of it in surrounding tissue, and none on the edges of what was removed.
By evening I had progressed to eating jello. In the middle of the night they brought me some yogurt at my request.
Also by evening they had me up and walking around the ward.
Laproscopic surgery is one of the great advances in surgery in the 20th century. It produces less blood loss, less pain, and allows patients to get out of bed sooner. With lacroscopic surgery, small round holes are used rather than a large incision. The surgeon uses fiber-optics to see what is being done.
Now at the beginning of the 21st century, robotic surgery is enhancing laproscopic surgery. This technique allows the surgeon to remotely manipulate paddles that translate to finer movements of the robotic components. Thus, the surgeon can make very fine movements.
It is impossible to sleep at night in a hospital. Nurses are coming in every few hours to check your vital signs, and there are constant noises in the hallways.
The next morning I was given a meal of solid food. I ate small portions of each dish: scrambled eggs, sausage, toast.
By noon I was pronounced well enough to go home. I was transported in a wheelchair down to the front entrance where my older daughter was waiting with the car.
I had probably taken too little pain killer prior to leaving the hospital because the ride across San Francisco was probably the worst of the pain I had experienced from the surgery. We dropped my daughter off at her apartment and then my wife drove me the rest of the way home.
From that time until now I have been recovering at home. I returned to San Francisco once (a week after the surgery) to have a catheter removed. Now I can drive again. I walk around the neighborhood and probably eat too much.
In January I will have a blood test that I hope and expect will further confirm that all of the cancer was removed.
(For more on this subject, see my Prostate Cancer Blog.