Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Special Edition: My Lung Transplant Jouney, October 29, 2014 - Oh My GI!

It took the tech 3 tries to get the PH monitor in!
GI as in gastrointestinal, or as I like to say "tummy troubles" because words for problems with the digestive track gross me out - eeewww!

Of course, GI issues can be much more than stomach aches or other yucky things that make one feel sick. They can involve many different parts of the body's digestive track.

My GI issues include GERD
(gastroesophageal reflux disease), and a lack of motility in my esophagus. These problems are both complications of Scleroderma, which was not cured by the lung transplant by the way, but more about that in a future post.

My doctors need to watch these GI issues closely because they don't want anything aspirating into the new lungs. In fact, these very GI problems pegged me as high risk in terms of transplant right from the get go! As a person living with Scleroderma, I need to keep the GERD symptoms under control in order to protect my new lungs as well as my overall health and well being. This can be done via medications and lifestyle choices such as diet, dining, and sleeping. No spicy tacos late at night for me!

So how do docs keep these GI problems in check? Well class, that would involve some oh-so-lovely testing taking place this week including an esophageal manometry test, a 24-hour PH monitoring study, and a visit to the molecular imaging lab for a gastric emptying study. All of these tests can be unpleasant as I have experienced them in the past during the transplant evaluation process and within the 10 years since my diagnosis of Scleroderma in 2004. The esophageal manometry test is a swallowing test where they place a thin tube down your nose then you drink sips of water over a period of 10 minutes or so - eeewww! I have failed this test in the past, and did so again today because my esophagus is essentially a "lead pipe." Food goes down the hatch by gravity for me!

The PH monitoring study essentially involves placing a thin tube down one's nose and into the esophagus. Who invents these tests? Again I say, eeewww as this test makes me gag - no joke! The probe is attached to a little machine that records episodes of acid reflux for 24 hours, and allows the patient to note symptoms such as coughing or heartburn at the push of a button! Then, the gastric emptying study is essentially an x-ray that tracks the movement of food - usually cold (radioactive) scrambled eggs and toast, through one's stomach. It's not that bad, just long, boring, and the food is just yucky! These are just three of the tests on my plate this week to assess GI issues, get it - on my plate? Ha ha ha - I need to keep my sense of humor despite of everything, even if I am the only one laughing!

Although these tests are annoying and uncomfortable, I do know they are important to the overall assessment of my new lungs and my recovery process. The good news is that these tests will be done before Halloween so I can enjoy some chocolates or other treats on Friday. I am a sucker for candy, and I won't have the luxury of stealing some from the kids' bags this year. BOO hoo!

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Special Edition: My Lung Transplant Journey, October 22, 2014 - It's You, Not Me - The Mask!

Well, it's not really YOU personally. It's y'all collectively and those tiny buggers lurking in our environment waiting to strike at any time causing cough, cold, or flu. Oh my!


Let's face it, we live in a not so sterile world and as a recent organ receipient, I need to take extra precautions while out and about in public by sporting the latest fashion accessory - the mask!

I don't really mind wearing the mask per se because I can breathe through it easily, it protects my new lungs, and I can make faces at the people who are eyeballing me oddly without them knowing it! However, there are a few things I don't like about wearing it:

- The mask fogs up my glasses making it difficult to see especially outdoors.
- The standard "procedure" masks are not that attractive. (But a little browsing on Etsy turned up some super cute masks to remedy this problem)
- Most of all, I simply do not like people staring at me and, as of late, steering clear of me!

I'm sure most people are just curious about the mysterious woman behind the mask, or perhaps they are just scared especially with the Ebola hullabaloo in the news right now. I do wonder what some people might be thinking as they gawk or walk away. The number one thought is most likely "Does she have some highly contagious disease that I might catch?" If so, "Why is she out and about at church, a restaurant, the mall or other public venue? or "Why is she putting my health at risk? She should stay home!"

would like to speculate that some of the curiosity seekers are thinking, "Wow, she must have had an organ transplant!" I'm cool with that. Others might have their own take on the mask like a young boy of about 3 years old we encountered at a local nature center last week. "Hey, there's the doctor!" he exclaimed when he saw me. I think his mom was mortified by his innocent remark, but I was not. Under my mask, I just laughed and smiled!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Special Edition: My Lung Transplant Journey, October 15, 2014 - Kudos to the Care Crew

Wow, today I celebrate 3 weeks with new lungs! I can't believe it! Nearly everything seems like a brand-new experience because despite some pain, discomfort, and fatigue, I can breathe so much better now than I have in years!

My successful recovery would not have been possible without an awesome crew who took great care of me before and after my transplant on J82 - the lung/heart transplant floor at the Cleveland Clinic. From the lovely ladies who brought my meals to the excellent nursing staff, I can't say enough good things about these dedicated people!

Here are a few photos that represent just part of the care team.

This is character is Cisco. He kept me laughing! He's one of the many patient care assistants on the floor who are responsible for vitals and helping with daily personal tasks. We secretly called them "greenies" because they wear green of course!

We are strong! This is Shawn, the physical therapist assistant who kicked my butt out of bed and kept me moving!  We're showing off my "Mighty Shake" pose because I had to drink them everyday to help me gain weight. I don't think I've met anyone who loves his job more than this guy, who is part motivator, part educator, and simply an all-round fantabulous person.

Nurses rock! I can't imagine doing their job because it seems exhausting! This is Cami, she is just one of the many nurses who took very good care of me with great compassion, friendliness, and professionalism!

 Nurses in action!

My room number, which must be lucky as my transplant date was 9/24! Hmmm . . . maybe I should play the lottery. On second thought, why push my luck. I've have already won with the gift of new lungs, and the pleasure to be a patient for the J82 crew. Bless them all!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Special Edition: My Lung Transplant Journey, October 4, 2014 - Slow but Steady

Mr. Scarecrow greets everyone in my room with a friendly wave!

It's been ten days post transplant and I've been moving right along in the recovery process with a huge milestone today by walking two times around the hall without ANY supplemental oxygen!


For someone who recently could not walk from the kitchen to the living room without stopping to rest, this is a tremendous accomplishment! Once the pain and discomfort of surgery subsides, and I lose two chest tubes and a heart monitor, I'll be on my way, keeping in mind that slow but steady wins the race.

Perhaps I'm making this part of the recovery process sound easy! Let me assure you, it's not a walk in the park or the hall in my case. Let me start with pain. Yep, there's pain. Back pain, chest pain, arm pain and more. It's like someone is tying a tight belt around my chest often making sleeping, reaching, stretching and moving my upper torso difficult. Pain relievers help some as does exercise.

Next up are the side effects of all the new medicines circulating my body, but essential for success of the transplant and my overall good health. Some side effects include excessive sweating, tummy troubles, trouble sleeping, weird dreams, and a diminished sense of taste. The list of meds is extensive and I'm learning all about them and the dosing schedule. Most of these medicines I will take for the rest of my life.

Then, there are visits from many doctors, thoracic surgeons, respiratory therapists, technicians, and phlebotomists. They are all working together to ensure a successful transplant and recovery. I've been examined, x-rayed, ultra sounded, and stuck with so many needles I've lost count. I've been poked to check blood, to check insulin, to administer medicine, and to insert IVs. My arms are covered with black and blue marks and riddled with holes. My sister joked that we should shine a light behind me to see if I twinkle in the dark. 

Finally, there are many mixed emotions that overcome me when I think about my donor. This person made the conscious choice to give me and others a second chance at life by becoming an organ donor. While the donor family grieves for the loss of their loved one, my family and friends rejoice and dream about the future! 

Above all, I marvel at the power of prayer, for my journey would not be possible without it!

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven - Psalm 107:28-30

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Special Edition: My Lung Transplant Journey, October 1, 2014 - Moving on to a Brand New Me

So you want to know what it's like to receive and recover from a double lung transplant, do you?
I know a person who can fill you in.
Everyone meet Sue 2.0. ~ the new and improved version for 2014 and beyond! Her best feature yet, she can breathe!
In case you didn't hear the news, I received my miraculous gift of life last Wednesday, September 24. I'm celebrating one week post transplant today!

Here's how it went down last week:

My call came in my hospital room at about 11:30 am Tuesday, September 23, (my dad's birthday) where we were informed that they found a good match for me. We were excited and filled with anticipation, once again waiting for further information from the transplant team such as when I would go to ICU to be prepped for surgery, but most importantly, would the lungs be viable? Hours ticked by while my sister Deanne and I waited for our next step. We kept busy by packing my stuff and taking down cards and decorations Deanne had been putting up earlier in the morning. Meanwhile, back at home, Tim left work to catch a flight so he could be with me here before surgery. He didn't even have a bag packed! He made it here between 5 and 6 pm, and shortly after, they took me to ICU for prep. Keep in mind, we still did not know if the lungs would be good about 6 hours after the the initial call! As it turns out, the donor was donating multiple organs and tissue so the retrieval process was prolonged as each organ is removed by different teams be it lungs, heart, etc.

More hours ticked by as we waited overnight in the ICU. All preliminary prep work was completed because when it's time to go to the OR, they go! Finally, at about 8:30 AM, we learned the lungs were good! All our prayers, and the prayers of many, many people around the world had been answered! Tim and Deanne walked along as they quickly transported me, but only to the OR elevator - no family beyond that point. It was comforting to have them there by my side as it it's quite scary when those doors close, for me on one side and them on the other.

After arriving in the OR, I was greeted by a huge team of people in blue scrubs, each doing their job to get everything ready for the transplant. The last thing I remember from this point is the anesthesiologist asking me if I was ready to be sleepy. Out like a light for old Sue! At about 2:30 pm, the surgeon met with Tim and Deanne to let them know the positive news. Surgery was free from complications and the lungs were working well. Again, God answered all our prayers!

Sedated and intubated with a breathing tube, I returned to the ICU for a really long nap until mid Thursday morning (9/25) They woke me up and removed the breathing tube without problems. I had a very sore throat and could not talk, but alive and awake, and ready to slowly move on to the next step in my journey - recovery and healing!

  I'm on my way to a brand new Sue!

*More to come soon! Stay tuned . . .