SLAD-R Surgery – Bandages, Bands, Breathing & Big Wave Surfing

My last post covered what happened just before SLAD-R surgery.  This post will cover what happened later that day, as well as some thoughts on breathing – which, as it turns out, is pretty important.  I’m full of profound insights today.

Day of Surgery: After The Operation

During surgery, Justin, Heather and my dad were waiting in the waiting room – which is what one should do in a waiting room and is indeed the right place to be waiting.

If you are still reading, I applaud you.  It will get better.  I promise.  It can’t get any worse!

Anyhow, the surgery, which started about 1pm, took around 3 hours, as expected.  Once it was over, I guess a hospital volunteer got mixed up and let the family up to the recovery room too early. As a result, they saw some things things they probably shouldn’t have as I was coming out of anesthesia. For instance, they said I was being combative, throwing my oxygen mask off, kicking my legs around and swatting at the nurses.  Good times!  I’m told I looked very drugged and out of it…because I was.  I don’t remember any of it.

I do remember waking up with basically a big scarf of gauze wrapped around my neck.  This is what the bandage looks like (the photo was taken much later).  Oh, by the way, I’m the one on the left.  I thought I should clarify since my hospital hairstyle is pretty much indistinguishable from that of  The Stray Cats, who are on the right.

IMG_1544 (1)Stray_Cats_21273

By 6pm, I had been moved from a recovery room to a ‘normal’ hospital room.  Heather was in a chair next to my bed. (This chair would be her home for the next few days!)  Justin and my dad were sitting in chairs at the end of my bed.   I was still pretty out of it and  a little bit ornery – though a bit less so than earlier when I was going all MMA on the nurses.  Justin and dad left about 8pm, to get Justin back for school the next day.

The 3 things I most remember about that night are:

  • Heather was a rock, she was just an amazing angel of support
  • The pain was not as bad as I anticipated
  • I could not swallow

Actually, Heather was amazing through this whole thing, not just the first night.  By the 2nd night, I knew she must have been exhausted and asked her to go back to the hotel to sleep, but she wouldn’t.  She “slept” in that little vinyl chair for 3 nights and would not leave my side.  I’ll spare you all my googly eyed lovey dovey thoughts about her, but I could not have asked for anyone more supportive and committed.  She made sure the nurses and doctors were on top of everything and nothing slipped through the cracks.  She kept everything positive and I had as much fun as was humanly possible, given the situation, with her there.   This was her home for 4 days:


One of the key things to be on top of is the pain.  It really was not a big issue.  Maybe this is selective memory in action, but the drugs they were giving me were doing their job.  Especially given what had been going on under that bandage a few hours earlier, the pain was very manageable.

The biggest challenge, the first day and for a few days after, was swallowing.  I couldn’t.   Like could not swallow anything at all.  Including my own saliva and the nontrivial quantity of secretions that resulted from the surgery.  So my most prized possession quickly became “Wandie” (Heather’s name for it).  What is Wandie?  Well, you know when you go to the dentist and they stick that tube in your mouth to suck out the extra saliva?  That’s essentially what this is, and was basically my lifeline:


The first night was definitely a drag.  To put it mildly.  I was tired, but I couldn’t sleep.  I was hungry but couldn’t eat. There was also a general hangover effect from the anesthesia wearing off.  But the worst part was just the whole thing about choking and not being able to swallow my own saliva, much less anything else.  For most of the night, I remember my body being exhausted and starting to fall asleep, but then waking to use the suction tube because I couldn’t swallow.  Over and over.  So, I’d start to fall asleep and even dream in like just a few seconds because I was wiped out, then start to choke on my own saliva, then wake to suction.  Rinse and repeat.  I pretty much never remember my dreams, but that night I remembered many little micro dreams because I’d close my eyes, begin to dream almost instantly, only to wake up  choking on my own saliva and secretions shortly thereafter.  The bottom line is if you can’t swallow, that means you can’t eat, drink, breathe or sleep – which can be kind of a bummer!

So, a good little lesson here was that I take so many things for granted.  I don’t even think about things because they are so plentiful or happen so frequently that they are rendered almost invisible, yet at the same time are so fundamental.  Beyond the obvious – ‘I need to breathe to live’ – there are some cool perspectives on breath that I’ve seen recently, and are worth highlighting here.  I found it interesting that two very different people coming from very different places have, at least in part, essentially the same perspective on breath.  Rob Bell is a pastor/author/speaker/creative dude and Laird Hamilton is a big wave surfer/innovator.  Both speak to this notion of breath being inextricably linked to our spirit. Rob covers it here, within the context of a discussion around faith and the Bible.  (If that turns you off, the link is still worth clicking because, as he says, “Don’t get hung up here on the Christian part and all the baggage that carries with it in our world, because this story is about hope”).   Laird is a complete badass.  (Here is a ridiculous story punctuating this fact.) He discusses breath in a spiritual sense (and covers a lot of other ground) in this video.


Here is a photo of me shortly before surgery.  Oh wait, I got confused and this one is actually of Laird.

Yet I digress.  Well, I guess this whole post has been a big digression.  But then again, one can see how it’s easy to start discussing throat surgery, then smoothly transition to an 80’s rockabilly band, and then effortly shift into big wave surfing.  Except for the smooth transition and effortless shift parts.

Oh, and I guess I may have been wrong at the top – that little comment about how things could not get worse.  Perhaps they did.  However, my recovery did not!  Each day got better and my next post will discuss what happened on those days.

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