Somewhere in 2009 my family and I were on a road trip to Dallas. We were looking forward to shopping at the Galleria, eating at the Cheesecake Factory, and just being together. Mindlessly I started feeling around my neck. Bored, I guess. A little below my right ear, but below the jaw bone I felt a tiny bump. Whoah. It wasn't a pimple, it was beneath the surface. I started to sweat and pray- at the same time. What was it?
I scheduled a doctor's appt. upon our return home and was told to give it a month to see if it went away on it's own. It didn't. So I scheduled an appt. with a well respected ENT (ear, nose and throat doctor). After taking a biopsy of the fluid inside the bump it was discovered that I had a benign parotid tumor. Dodged that bullet, right?? Benign is a good thing! Yes, but tumor is not so good...
You see, these lovelies can sometimes become cancerous. Sometimes. And I didn't like the odds of that. Remember the Beastie Boys? You Got to Fight for your Right to Party? (For you youngsters, yes it was a song. kind of.) The lead singer died of parotid tumor cancer. But being the chicken that I am I decided to wait and monitor it- for about 2 years. I checked the bump daily. Was it any bigger? Was it growing bigger???
My ENT checked me every 3 months, then every 6 months and things stayed the same. But the worry wore at me. It broke me down. You see, the surgery is a bit tricky. And can be up to 9 hours long- or more. There are lots of nerves in your face and the incision is started by your ear, goes down your face and into your neck. Sounds like fun, right? Then there's the risk of cutting through a nerve(s) and there goes your ability to wink! Or your ability to smile. Freye's Syndrome is another side effect. The parotid gland is what helps you to salivate. Some people end up salivating on their face after the surgery! And, oh yeah, there's that risk of death.
This was a party I didn't sign up for.
Eventually, though, the worry took over my life and I was done. Time for action.
Of course, the best surgeons were 3 hours away from where I live. Couldn't I get a break??
I bit the bullet. If I didn't have God in my life I never could have gotten through this. I was terrified. He carried me through this whole ordeal. Yes, He did. (Let me mention that my husband was/is a rock star in my life, too. Can you imagine have to deal with this Stress Case for over 20 years? Love you, sweetie.)
We met with the surgeon, scheduled the surgery for a few months later and made plans for the sleepover from hell. They told me they could keep me overnight at the hospital or I could stay at a close hotel- just in case. You bet I chose the Embassy Suites!
My precious mother in law came from out of state (thank you Patty!) to stay with my girls. It. was. torture. leaving. them. Absolute torture. I didn't want them to have to see me right after surgery, though. It was the only time I've ever left my girls overnight. Some romantic getaway, huh?
The morning of the surgery we were up before dawn. I wore my comfy grey sweater and jeans and headed off to the hospital. It was chilly outside and the stars were still out. It was beautiful and I was at peace. No butterflies. God was with me, holding me in the palm of His hand. That's the only way I can explain the peace I felt.
Once at the hospital, I was taken care of by the. nicest. people. God sent them there for me. He did! I wore "lovely" compressions stockings and the prettiest gown in the softest shade of blue. lol. Then the nurse covered me in warm blankets- such a kindness. The IV was a bit of a trick but thank goodness my veins cooperated. I couldn't see much as I had to leave my glasses with my husband. I was left alone when I was ready and I started to pray. A few seconds later an angel swooped in and told me not to worry- that he was going to put something in my IV that would make me feel a lot better. He was really the anesthesiologist but his gentle words were just what I needed. God, once again, had stepped in. Thank you Lord. And I quickly fell asleep.
Hours later I woke up- slowly. It was kind of like being in a tunnel. They must have put me way, way under. I wasn't really thrilled about coming out, though! Begrudgingly I did make the journey only to discover that my head was wrapped with something that looked like I had a bad toothache. It was a look I was to rock for many days. Oh, yeah, there was a drain coming out of my neck. Yes, I said a drain. My sweet husband went above and beyond the vows of marriage and emptied it for me every day. I told you he rocks.
The meds that knock you out make me very sick. I was slumped in the wheelchair as some person took me in the elevator. This whole experience was a rough ride and I wanted to get off... Somehow I got into the car to head back to the hotel. Upon parking I vomited out the door. Once that was taken care of I felt pretty good, though. Hydrocodone is sweet like that. (The doctor prescribed so much pain medication that the hospital almost wouldn't fill it!)
After a night at the hotel we headed back home. I couldn't wait to see my girls but didn't know how they'd react to my new head "accessories". Mandy did fine and Katie put up a brave front. (Found out later she snuck off to cry in secret.) If you ever have to have this surgery, please be sure to have someone there to help you for at least a few days. The recovery period is not a time to go it alone.
Living on pain medication, life was pretty easy. I slept a lot and watched tv. I didn't want to see anyone looking like I did. Emails, texts, gifts and flowers were all so appreciated, though. I wanted to know that I was loved and prayed for, but I felt that I needed to be fully recovered before I made an appearance to the world. It was a slow road.
About 3 days after the surgery, my local ENT (out of the kindness of his heart) removed the drain in my neck and tended to my needs from that point on. This was such a blessing! I was going to have to drive 3 hours, there and back, to see my surgeon. I liked him, but staying local was a gift. God showed his face once again.:) The only problem was that my right eye was not blinking properly and I couldn't smile.
You don't think about blinking. It just happens, right? Well, once nerves have been traumatized through surgery they need time to heal. Sometimes they just don't recover, though, and that's what made my blood run cold. And my smile? I really missed it. Tears became my lonely friend.
I looked up eye exercises online. Did them faithfully but had no idea if they made a difference or not. I just needed to feel like I had some kind of control. A wonderful friend of a friend on Facebook contacted me and told me that my blinking and smile would come back. She had had the surgery and lived to tell about it! Hearing her story was like having a warm blanket wrapped around me. I saw her beautiful smile and hope returned to me.
It was a long road, though. Every time I would see a friend I would try to smile! I could see the disappointment in their eyes when I failed, though. I had so many praying for me and I wanted to show them the fruits of their labor! My doctor told me that my paralysis was longer than most and it shook me to the core. Most people that have the surgery have no paralysis. I was just one of the "lucky" ones, I guess. So I went about living my life.
My surgery was on October 10th and on November 29th my smile was fully returned to me! It was a slow and gradual process but I looked in the mirror and there it was! My eyes blinked normally and my smile was happy to join the celebration!
If you have any questions about the Lord or are going through parotid surgery, please feel free to write to me. You can get through it! Later you'll laugh about the journey but it helps so much to talk with someone who has been through it. firstname.lastname@example.org