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Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

Merci … Gracias … Danke Schon … Thank You

In Baby Howie, Christianity, My thyroid, Peanut, Tolkien on April 30, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Whew … and here I am on the other side!

It’s probably getting old to hear, but I just can’t thank everyone enough for all your support and love. The calls, messages, gifts and most of all your prayers have been such a blessing and comfort to us all. Although I am weeks behind on thanking everyone personally, know that I will catch up and we are so grateful! Most of all, we are so thankful to God for having carried us this far, and for letting me be able to honestly say that if having cancer surgery can ever be a positive experience, this was a positive experience.

Tolkien and Baby Howie accompanied me to the hospital Monday morning while my mom and dad cared for Peanut at home. Man, what a relief that we were able to do this at our hospital of choice, where Tolkien is a resident. Like most urban academic hospitals, this one is huge, and just the simple fact that Tolkien knows his way around (I don’t work there, so I would have been lost) made everything easier. And then of course knowing people on staff is always a stress-reliever as well. The anesthesiology team told me I’d be one of their family, which doesn’t actually make any difference in the medical care I’d receive, but still is nice to hear in the minutes before you go under the knife.

From my perspective, the best thing to happen that day was when my surgeon came by to check in with me beforehand, heard about my endocrinologist’s plan to make me hypothyroid, and said he’d get me in for a second opinion with [prominent academic hospital]’s endocrinology department the next day. When I had tried to schedule a second opinion myself, there was an eight-week waiting list. This endocrinology thing has been a big pain; although my old endocrinologist was perfectly nice, he wasn’t necessarily someone I’d have chosen. My PCP got me an appointment with him. In general, my bias is to select doctors who are young, recently out of training, because a) I feel like you can talk to them more like a peer, and b) they may be more familiar with whatever the latest treatments and procedures are in their field. Obviously this is a total generalization and is not really fair to the many excellent older practitioners out there (and doesn’t take into account the benefit of years of experience.)  But in this one case, my bias was correct, because this endocrinologist’s treatment plan was different from what all our endocrinologist friends, as well as the two surgeons I saw, were recommending. Tolkien and I were well aware of that, and yet didn’t have much choice if I couldn’t get an appointment with anyone else for months. Additionally, I was already questioning whether I should stay with him because it took him 10 days to return my phone call/e-mail with an important question, and he wasn’t on vacation. Now, I understand perfectly how crazily busy a day in private practice can be, but 10 days is a little ridiculous. So in all, it was really incredible that my surgeon was able to do this for me. We didn’t end up seeing the new endocrinologist while I was in the hospital (insurance issues) but we did go back to see him a few days later. And I now do not have to be hypothyroid for weeks, which is great. They started me on thyroid replacement medication right away. When I have radioactive iodine treatment in a few weeks, they’ll use a newer injectable medication to prepare my body instead of the weeks of uncomfortable hypothyroidism you used to have to go through. My endocrinologist friends will be glad to hear I am actually going to be able to do what you all have recommended! Suffice to say, I’ve transferred my care to the new endocrinologist. And am very grateful to my surgeon.

But back to the day of surgery. So I remember everything up through walking down the hall to the operating room with the nurse anesthetist, lying down on the operating table while they hooked EKG leads up to me and started running the medications into my IV, and the anesthesiologist asking what my daughter’s name was. I noticed that the objects in the room were starting to get wavy. The very last thing I remember is me asking her what her kids’ names were. I never heard her answer. The next thing I remember is seeing a very hazy Tolkien next to my bed (it was 6 hours later) and saying “I’m so confused.” That, of course, is what remember. What Tolkien says I actually said was, “I’m so confused. I’m really very confused. Where’s Words With Friends?” Which is weird, because although most new interests of mine quickly become obsessions, that game has not. (Don’t tell Alec Baldwin.)

But I gradually woke up, ended up in my room, and had a nice evening with Tolkien and Baby Howie. The surgery went really well and the lymph nodes appear to be negative. Praise God! The pain was not that bad (having a C-section was much worse) and I had no nausea at all, which is really a miracle and probably the main reason I felt this was a positive experience. Personally, I think nausea is a worse sensation than pain; and according to the research on post-op surveys, apparently most patients agree with me. And it’s lucky I’d rather have pain than nausea (within reason), since this was the third time (wisdom teeth extraction, C-section, and now thyroidectomy) that pain medication didn’t affect my pain at all. For that reason, I don’t think I’m in much danger of ever becoming a prescription-drug addict, but I also hope I don’t ever really need pain management for some reason, because I’ll be reduced to chewing on oak bark or whatever we used to do in the pre-opioid age.

The next day my dad relieved Baby Howie at the hospital, I was discharged, and Peanut and I went with my parents to their house out-of-state. Since then I have been resting while my parents wrangle a very energetic, very strong-willed two-and-a-half-year-old who believes that it is totally inappropriate for her mother not to be waiting on her hand and foot, and has the media been notified of this? I’m on lifting restrictions for two weeks (no lifting anything heavier than 10 lbs.) so I can’t pick her up or do much of her care, and of course she can see my surgical incision, which makes her very interested in the nature, and projected duration, of these proceedings. “Mama,” she asked me, “when we go home will your boo-boo be better, and can you drive me, and feed me, and carry me, and give me baths, and take me to the library, and take me to the park …” Basically, she wanted to know, do I have any intention of fulfilling my duties, or does she need to place an ad for a replacement? Ah, the brains of toddlers!

But Peanut can rest easy because overall, I’m doing pretty well. The pain is minimal at this point. My scar is obvious but not too bad, and will take a year to fully mature, so may be significantly less noticeable by then. I am tired, but that’s to be expected as it may take a little while to adjust my dosage of thyroid medication. So I’m so thankful to have my parents and in-laws nearby to take care of me and the Peanut and to give me this recovery time; I can’t imagine doing this without them. Tolkien and Baby Howie were here for the weekend and we had several friends and family come to visit, which was much appreciated although I was probably not very enchanting company (next time I will endeavour to be witty and fully awake, I promise.)

This journey isn’t over yet, but everything up until now could hardly have gone better. And we know that is due to the grace of God and to the power of the multitude of prayers you have made for us, from e-mailed Bible verses to fasting for us to the prayer conference call on the day of surgery. Thank you so much, dear friends, and let us return the gift for you by giving us your prayer requests. And of course we’re remembering Psalm 107:1 at this time: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” It’s naptime for me … but soon hopefully I’ll be back to my multitasking self!

Oh, and that post-surgical milkshake? Oreo cookies and cream — and delicious 🙂

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On the Morrow

In Baby Howie, Christianity, Medicine, My thyroid, Tolkien on April 22, 2012 at 11:33 pm

So this is it. The last night for the two of us, me and my thyroid.

I never gave my thyroid the slightest thought before ten weeks ago, but I must admit that now I feel a little twinge at the realization that tomorrow, this organ that has been with me since the day I was born, from the beginning to the end of every day I have ever had, that has traveled with me wherever in the world I have been, will be labeled “Human Waste” and discarded. Seems so ignominious, doesn’t it? Oh well. Obviously, I am really excited to be moving forward. After surgery, Peanut and I will be going to my parents’ house for two weeks with Tolkien visiting on any days off. After that, my in-laws will be coming for a week to stay with us. So we’re really grateful to have such supportive family and friends. And thanks to all of you for your love and prayers — I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but I can’t say it enough.

Tolkien saw my name pop up on the hospital surgical schedule last week, which is kind of a weird feeling. You’re so used to patients’ names being the names of relative strangers, not loved ones. But he was allowed to select my anesthesiology team, which is one of the reasons we wanted to be at this particular hospital. When he talked to the anesthesiologist assigned to me, she promised to be generous with my anti-nausea meds, since I have every risk factor for post-op nausea. (Having had really terrible nausea during my pregnancy with Peanut, I’m not surprised.) So that’s one thing I’m not looking forward to. Things, however, that I AM looking forward to:

1) There’s a famous milkshake place that delivers to this hospital but is too far to deliver to our house. I never thought I’d get to partake of one of these much-lauded concoctions that Tolkien gets to enjoy on call. But post-op, since I’m going to be starving after having been NPO for a day, but will be on a liquid diet, Tolkien and Baby Howie have promised me we will order some.

2) A sort-of vacation! Is it sad that I’m looking at recovering from major surgery as a vacation? Well, Tolkien and I haven’t had a real vacation in 4 years, and won’t have one for at least another year, so I will take what I can get! I’m stocking up on reading materials and pajamas as we speak. My endocrinologist is now planning on starting radioactive iodine treatment right after surgery, so the two weeks of recovery will also be used to make me hypothyroid in preparation. This will make for a more uncomfortable two weeks, but will kill two birds with one stone (rather than having to have a separate two weeks of letting my thyroid hormone levels drop later.) I’m hoping I won’t be too miserable to concentrate on my Nook books and Seasons 1 and 2 of Downton Abbey (thanks to my dear friend Sandy!) And of course I have work I’m hoping to catch up on too.

3) Seeing how the Lord will use this to His glory. As Mark 11:24 says, “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them and you will have them.” And 1 Peter 2:24b: “… by His wounds you have been healed” — past tense!

Thank you again, all of you, for praying that God will be with us and the medical team, and hope to be blogging again soon!

Dude, You’re Getting A Dud

In Miscellaneous on April 17, 2012 at 5:28 pm

I don’t just find bad customer service annoying, I find it really surprising. No matter how many times it happens, I’m always amazed. Do companies not realize that treating their customers well is what keeps them in business? I know I personally will pay a few bucks more to go with a business that won’t give me a migraine every time I deal with them. But I think the truth is, no matter what their party line is, some companies are so big they truly don’t care about losing a few customers. They think they can do whatever they want and let the peons who pay for their European vacations be damned. So where does that leave us peons? Where is our power? It is in spreading the word, my friends. So even though I don’t particularly want to relive this story, I’m going to write about it so I can encourage each of you not to buy your next computer from Dell.

Last summer we had to replace our laptop, and since we’d never had any major problems with our old one, which was a Dell, we went with Dell again. Here is the series of misfortunes that happened as a result of that decision.

Me shaking my fist at Dell. Don't let this be you!

Headache #1: I ordered a Belkin Easy Transfer cable so I could transfer all the files from our old computer to our new one, you know, easily. Oh young Much, how naive you were in those days of August 2011! The equipment came. I plugged in the cable. And it promptly destroyed our old computer. It crashed into a Black Screen of Death I have never seen before in my life and hope never to see again. I believe the message was “This computer has been hopelessly corrupted” or something equally unnerving. I called Belkin. Their reps said to call Dell. I called Dell. It took about 3 days of being bounced from representative to representative and repeating my story every single time before someone would agree to remotely control my computer and help me salvage some of the files. But only after I was forced to buy a service warranty at additional cost. I was desperate (which is what they count on) but how is this not extortion? I paid for their product, it not only didn’t work but wreaked havoc, and I have to pay them more to partially fix it? (Our old computer has never been the same. We envisioned keeping it as a backup but it’s not even useful for e-mail anymore.)

Headache #2: While being tossed from one unhelpful, disinterested phone rep to another, I tried to use Dell’s Live Chat service to talk to someone online for help. I entered the service tag from our new laptop (the one I ordered from Dell.com, in what is commonly known as “the United States.”) Turns out our service tag “indicates you purchased this device overseas, and are thus not eligible to participate in Live Chat services.” How do I get my service tag fixed so it properly identifies my computer as a U.S. device? By calling customer service and being transferred from department to department for six days, of course.

Headache #3: When purchasing the laptop, we had also ordered Microsoft Office to come preloaded with it. It took me 2 days after it arrived (because I was so busy dealing with the smoking wreck our old computer had turned into) to realize that, in fact, they had forgotten to install said Microsoft Office. (Remarkably, they hadn’t forgotten to charge us for it. Astounding, isn’t it?) Another round of customer service calls was required before someone would finally admit this wasn’t due to some ill-advised action on my part and agreed to remotely go into my computer and install it from the Microsoft website.

All of the above took 3 weeks and a total of 14 hours of my own limited time on the phone (as well as the $120 they weaseled out of me for their service warranty because they don’t have the cojones to stand behind their product) before our laptop was usable. As you can imagine, this left me just a tad reluctant to ever call them again, even when I discovered …

Headache #4: Microsoft Office was not installed correctly by the Dell technician who did it remotely while on the phone with me, as the thesaurus function doesn’t work. No solutions I could find online worked when I tried them. I knew calling Dell to fix this would result in the theft of another month of my life, so I put it off until I had that kind of time. This wasn’t until 8 months later. When I did, I was rewarded with the coup de grace, the pinnacle of my astonishment at how poorly Dell treats its customers. I was bounced, naturally, from rep to rep and forced to re-tell my story over and over and over again. The final rep told me it was probably something wrong with my Internet connection since I’d just noticed the problem. No, I said, the problem has been there for months. Then why would you only call now, he wanted to know? BECAUSE I KNEW CALLING YOU WAS GOING TO BE THE NIGHTMARE IT CURRENTLY IS! Then he said he could fix it, but I’d have to pay. Why, I asked, when I already had a service warranty and when this was entirely Dell’s fault, not my own? I quickly learned that Dell technicians don’t listen to your logic, they just repeat a script. In fact they don’t even listen at all, as I kept hearing him put me on hold in the middle of my sentences. I’d finish saying something, hear silence, say, “Hello?” and a few seconds he’d be back. Over and over again. He said I had options if I didn’t want to pay Dell, and this is what they were: I could call Microsoft for help, or I could look up a solution on Google. Seriously. I called Dell Customer Service for a problem with their product and their suggestion was to Google what to do. At this point the guy was actually raising his voice to me and telling me I had to pay. What happened when I asked for his name? With the intention of then asking for a supervisor?

He hung up. No joke, the dude actually hung up on me.

Seething is an unpleasant but not uninteresting sensation. Out of fury and desperation I called Microsoft, who, big surprise, said they weren’t responsible, Dell was. (To be honest, though, I kind of agreed with them, which is why I’m not that outraged with them.) After I willed my heart rate to return to normal and the red spots to stop swimming before my eyes, I did what I think we should all do in these situations: e-mailed the CEO. Too often, the people whose names are actually attached to a company are the only ones who have an interest in whether customers are happy. I mean, why should Dell technicians care, when they can just hang up on callers and avoid ever having a complaint lodged against them?

That afternoon, I received a voicemail from Executive Customer Service (whatever that is) with perfunctory apologies for my experience and asking me to call them back. I did, and was put on hold for 15 full minutes without ever reaching a human being. And I was calling them back! By the next day, I did eventually manage to speak to a human being I’ll call S, who did give me his full name and contact info (I want to give credit where credit is due, to be fair.) After multiple attempts at scheduling a time to fix the situation (and it’s really difficult to carve out whole blocks of time to just sit by the phone when you have an active toddler and, you know, a job) we finally had an appointment a week later. S went into my computer remotely, tried everything I’d already tried (I’m not a computer expert, but I’m no novice either, and these companies always operate on the assumption that you’re an idiot). Eventually he said the only thing he could do was uninstall and reinstall Microsoft Office. With one caveat, though: you can only uninstall and reinstall Office a total of 3 times before you have to purchase it again. And there was the problem. Dell was the one who had had to install it on my laptop, after I called repeatedly last summer, and I have no idea how many times they uninstalled and reinstalled it during that process. S told me if he lost my copy of Microsoft Office while he tried to fix my thesaurus, Dell would not replace it for me. Which was the end of this entire exercise. Tolkien and I rely on having Microsoft Office for a variety of things; I could hardly justify having a working thesaurus in an absent program.

But here’s the thing: WHY should Dell not have to replace Microsoft Office if this entire saga has been due to their actions, not mine? Unless I’m living in Bizarro World, they are obligated to provide us with a system that is exactly what we paid for; nothing more, nothing less. I’m not trying to complain here; I’m just trying to make sure that there is some consequence to these companies behaving as if they don’t have to provide support or even basic decency to their customers. All they want is our money, without giving us commensurate product in return. And they’re getting more and more brazen (see: Customer Rep Hanging Up On Me, above.) So I’m spreading the word, and I’ll e-mail this blog post to the CEO too, so he can see what a regular customer went through because she made the mistake of giving Dell her business (and I even contacted them first to give them a chance to fix it.) I won’t be making that mistake again. Learn from my folly, friends … and don’t support Dell.

A Decision, Made

In Christianity, My thyroid, Peanut on April 3, 2012 at 11:28 pm

A very welcome update: the previously-mentioned [prominent academic hospital] that is our first choice gave me a surgery date of April 23! So … no more medical dilemma! We are so grateful that God answered this particular prayer in this particular way. Now comes the flurry of planning, applying for leave, making arrangements for Peanut-care (and Much-care, since I’ll be out of commission for a couple of weeks or so), getting to all the necessary appointments, etc. But in the meantime, thank you to all of you for your prayers about this, and your continued prayers would be greatly appreciated! Before I enter the black hole of convalescence, I feel the pressure to get a lot of things done, one of them being snagging Peanut a spot in a good preschool for the fall (since by the time I return to productive society, even though that’s hardly eons away, all the schools might be full and she’d be relegated to working toddler shifts at McDonald’s or whatever happens to two-year-olds who DON’T GET INTO THE RIGHT PRESCHOOL RIGHT THIS MINUTE.) We don’t live in one of those legendarily uber-competitive preschool locales like Manhattan, so I thought we’d be safe from the craziness, but that’s apparently not entirely true. Today, Peanut and I both had interviews at a certain private school. Separately. It was surrealistically hilarious, and I have no idea what went on during her “cognitive assessment” since Peanut is not the most accurate historian. According to her version, it may have involved elephants. Anyway, it was a nice school. A really, really nice school. But I realized this was not the kind of school I was used to when they told me, in all seriousness, that the school would be happy to board our family’s horses in the on-campus stables if that would be convenient for us. Which, as you can imagine, was a real load off my mind, because the fate of our family’s non-existent equine members was really weighing very heavily upon me.

So basically, I have no idea where we’re going to send the Peanut to preschool.

But, no matter. Things will fall into place, one thing at a time, as God has shown us again and again. For now, surgery is scheduled! Yay!