Sunday, June 26, 2022
Surgery Minnesota Style
A few months ago I went to the dentist for my yearly check-up. Never much of an issue, I usually wind up with me getting my teeth cleaned, splattering water from the little sucking spray thing all over and being told to come back in a year. But this year’s exam was a little different. The dentist found a growth on my uvula. You know that little “punching bag” that hangs in the back of your throat? She told me she would make a referral to an oral surgeon and I needed to make an appointment. And without another word she left and let the hygienist finish her job. The dentist was not from Minnesota and was pretty abrupt and lacked the traditional Minnesota good-bye. She left just making her rounds and doing her job. The Hygienist on the other hand was from Minnesota and began to chat about the weather, the family and Summer.
I am a retired nurse and there are two things that are true for me in my life. The first is as a nurse, and a Minnesota nurse, I have learned that bedside manner is about as important if not more important than how knowledgeable you are regarding your trade. There is a saying “The patient doesn’t care if you know until they know that you care”. Pretty true words for those of us that become the patient, but are also in the healthcare field. And the second thing for me…I freak out when I am the patient.
I left the dental appointment with my head spinning with many unanswered questions…like what is the official name for this thing in the back of my mouth? And what will they do at the oral surgeon that the dentist couldn’t do? And the really big question…is it cancer? Being a nurse I knew enough to scare myself with all the worst case scenarios of what was the matter in my mouth. I am my own worst enemy as a patient. On my medical record it is listed as a diagnosis on my chart as having “White Coat Syndrome”. Yes me, a Registered Nurse for 25+ years, is terrified of going to the doctor…and now the dentist it seems. It always happens when I go in for a routine thing, feeling healthy and fine, I walk out with an “issue” that needs a follow up. I guess maybe it is the aging process in its full glory.
A few days after the appointment the clinic called me to schedule a time to see the oral surgeon and take care of what needed to be done with this “thing” attached to my uvula. As is most healthcare appointments, they were booked out over a month, so it would be almost 6 weeks before I could get in to be seen. Just another 6 weeks to wonder what it was, to google throat things and watch YouTube videos of what they do for stuff like what I had. And to let the words surgeon and surgery ponder through my brain at all hours of the night when I would have rather been sleeping.
The day came to see the oral surgeon and after a sleepless night worrying they were going to tell me I had cancer and were going to have to remove my head and neck, we took the 50 mile drive to the Cities to the appointment. I was roomed by a good Minnesota nurse who knew my Best Half from his days working at the clinic, so we chatted while waiting for the surgeon. We talked about the usual stuff, how retirement was going for the two of us, the cold Spring weather, fishing, camping and the family.
After a few minutes of chatting the oral surgeon walked in. And not to be judgmental, but I swear she was only about 15 years old. A female Doogie Howser. Not to sound too ancient, but wow the medical people I have seen in the past year are really really a lot younger than me. Just another reminder I am getting older whether I feel like I am or not.
The oral surgeon examined the spot on my throat and did a thorough exam of my neck and lymph nodes and teeth and tongue. All the while chatting and visiting with me about plans for the Summer, did I plant a garden, how do we like living so far up North, and finally a chat about the growth in my mouth. She felt it was nothing to worry about, but it should probably be removed surgically and biopsied. But then she apologized Minnesota style a few times over saying she couldn’t do it as it was too far back and close to the throat. So she would have to make a referral to the ENT doctor because that was in the territory of the throat. The thought of the Border Patrol came to mind as she was telling me this. The area in my throat crossed over into the other border of ears, nose and throat at the point of the uvula. My brain was spinning once again with another appointment and possible surgery.
The oral surgeon chatted with me while she made out the referral and assured me it wasn’t urgent but I needed to get it looked at soon in case it was to grow. And then Minnesota nice style, she made me promise I would follow up and see the ENT doctor within a month. I promised and headed out to the parking lot where my Best Half was waiting. And off we went back home, my mind in a frenzy about all the what ifs.
This time I had to call and make the appointment, they weren’t calling me. So I went online and first had to find the group of ENT doctors in the system. There were literally dozens. All well qualified I am sure. After looking at a few of them I chose one that was housed in the same clinic where I had been to with the oral surgeon. I made the call and got the appointment which was another 5 weeks away and the earliest they had. So another month of some sleepless nights wondering what the heck was this thing in my throat that I didn't even know existed until being told by the dentist.
The 5 weeks passed and the day came to see the ENT doctor for a consultation. I wasn’t as scared going this time as I figured it was just a consult and I was sure I’d be making another appointment in a month or more to have it removed.
I got to the ENT waiting room and was called in by the nurse and she asked the usual questions like “what brings you here today, how are you feeling…are you having any symptoms and how’s the weather outside, is it hot enough for you?”. After a few minutes discussing the heat and humidity, she got up and said the doctor would be in shortly and then left me in the exam room.
When the doctor walked in, she greeted me with a hearty hello and we chatted for several minutes about Summer plans I had and she had and then she looked at previous notes from the other doctor and had me hop into the exam chair. She immediately said that reading the previous notes she could about guarantee it was not a big deal and was not cancer. With that I let out a huge breath I think I had been holding in for about 2 months. She did the exam and assured me it was just a growth and there were 3 options we could do.
The first she offered was that she could remove it right then and there and send it down to be biopsied because that is the protocol. I didn’t wait to hear the other options. I was there at the moment, I was semi-calm (as calm as I can be at the doctor) and she said it would just take a few minutes to do. The other options…didn’t listen too closely, but I think it was to wait and see if it causes trouble and grows or make another appointment to do it surgically.
I told her I just wanted to be done with worrying and wondering what would be done. She agreed it was a good decision and started to set up the surgical tray to get down to business. I texted my Best Half, who was waiting in the car, and told him to come up and he could wait in the room with me if he wanted.
With each step of the process, the doctor visited with me and told me what she was doing. There was a numbing spray she shot in the back of my throat, there were a few shots of Novocaine to numb the area. What a weird feeling it was to not know if I was swallowing or not. But she assured me I was. I looked on her tray of tools and there sat what looked like needle nosed pliers, forceps, some kind of metal hoop and a few long Q-tips. Alll stuff you could probably get at Fleet Farm.
She continued to talk and visit while the numbing stuff kicked in and then I opened my mouth and she told me I would feel some poking…and then she held my chest with one hand, planted her legs against my knees and gave a firm yank. It was done and over. Up until the yank, she had visited and been very thorough on what she was doing. When the yank came there was a quick silence. I let out a “damn woman what did you just do”.
I felt like a fish when it swallows your hook when fishing. You know you have to give it a yank and half the throat and guts come out attached to the hook? But it was done and over just like that. As I was spitting lots of blood into the sink and she was getting the cauterizing stuff ready to stop the bleeding, she apologized for not telling me that part of the procedure. She said she found it caused people to jump, freak out and make it worse. I told her it was a good move, because I probably would have done all three.
I left the appointment feeling so relieved that there was no need to go back, no more sleepless nights waking up at 2AM and wondering what would happen. It hopefully is over and won’t grow back. and a clean biopsy report came a few days later; no cancer. An all because we did surgery Minnesota style..in the office with some pliers and other gadgets. The only thing missing was a shot of whiskey instead of Novocaine and the doctor telling me to “watch out for deer” as I was walking out.