So many new followers! Apologies to all…

I’ve been inundated with new followers (well, four or five people, but that’s a lot for me) and so to make sure we are all on the same page and you can ALL be suitably disappointed, I shall be unlikely to add any more posts at the moment. My current state is healed from the lobectomy, feeling fighting fit and now back to playing softball again. My last rendezvous with Dr S was today and as far as he is concerned all is perfect. I shall have a CT scan before seeing Dr B for a check up early Feb and then it will be six monthly checks from now on. So, for anyone who expects more than already written, sorry, but for those who are reading it all from the start – enjoy!

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I’m So Bo-o-r-ed With The Hospital

Sorry I haven’t posted for a while but the process of hurry up and wait has been the way of things currently, hurry up we’re close to removing the drain, no, wait let’s give it longer to be sure. Although I understand and agree with this approach, which will leave me much fitter going home, certain as one can be that no complications will occur, it is a real drag to go through. The drain is showing fewer and fewer bubbles going through and the air in the tissue is clearly dissipating, so with a bit of luck and a test clampage tomorrow night, I may get the drain tube removed Monday and will go home a day or two after. I say maybe because you never know.

In the meantime various things occur which deserve a mention. I have discovered a quick draw game that keeps me happy when I have to pee. My bottle hangs in a little cage off one of the trolleys in the room and only hangs by a hook affair at that. As the urge expresses itself I test myself to see how quickly I can draw the bottle without knocking everything over. I will say I have had some success but I’ve also had to pick various items I’ve knocked over from the floor.

Don’t tell me I don’t know what it means to be a gunslinger!
The past few days the morning physio guy has been arriving early, around 7.30am. Although I don’t mind this as I’m on the verge of rising anyway, it means we have to fight the battle of bad breath. He arrives, slim, short hair, about the size of a beefy cox in a regional college rowing team and I’m his first appointment. He gets right to it, massaging my chest and abdomen between sets of breathing exercises, breathing his ripe cheesy breath at me as I try to turn away without being too obvious about it. When I do the exercises I exhale just close enough that he knows I haven’t had time to brush my teeth and I award myself points on how far he turns his head, one point for each 20 degrees. He gets points for novel ways of breathing on me, for example his lean in while massaging my shoulders to nose breathe down my neck. On the basis of three days I would say I’m slightly behind but he’s had a lot more practice than me.

Breakfast has taken a turn for the better now my nice brunette has returned. She always gives me extra butter and jam with my petit pains. Now you might think that petty or irrelevant but it’s that kind of thing that sets you up for the day, though it could lead to a shiv in the ribs in the showers if you boast about it. Yesterday’s ridiculous fantasy came when I got two breads that were still stuck together. I imagined them brothers and once I’d torn them from each other, one had to watch as I tore his sibling apart, slathered him with fats and fruit and ate him, knowing all the while that was his fate too. The brunette this morning was being followed around by a new recruit, blonde, petite with big glasses, very cute. She looked like a rabbit in the headlights with all the information being given her but the brunette is very conscientious so I’m sure she’ll get a good training.

I have been watching a fair amount of telly of late, which by and large is pretty rubbish. The French love their games shows, bright, noisy and cheap to produce. One thing you see here that I’ve not seen much of elsewhere is the audiences being led in impromptu sing a longs by the hosts, a lot of that goes on and is kind of sweet. I’ve been watching plenty of sports, under 21s European championship football, most of the petanque world cup, which was actually quite riveting once you’ve got an idea of the rules and how it’s played. At the moment the women’s rugby 7s is on from Clermont Ferrand, with Australia, Brazil, England, Japan, Fiji etc. taking part. It’s fast and furious and I can well understand why the games are only ten minutes long, it loks like hard work. Australia have just finished their first half 21-0 ahead of Fiji.

Favourite moment so far in telly terms was waking up in the small hours and turning the telly on while I waited for some painkillers to take effect. A film called The Sicilian Clan was on, starring a young Alain Delon and an ageing Jean Gabin. It was all in French so I wasn’t getting all of it, something to do with both a heist and that Alain was romancing Gabin’s girl. The great thing was the style of it all, sharp suits, stylish 60s interiors and these two great actors, one coming up the other fading, acting their socks off. I looked it up later and it was made in 1969 and interestingly was shot in French, Italian and English versions at the same time. Anyway it pleased me no end, plus they had Citroen DS cars as well and those are beautiful motors.

So, for now, a plus tard.

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Blowing Up My Balloon

Okay, let’s get the fun part of the news out of the way first. Last night my chest drain tube was clamped at 20.00h to see whether I can function okay without it, prior to a good x-ray and then to remove it before going home. Almost from the get go I could feel a build up on my right side, like I was being inflated. When I pressed the area I could again feel the snow field of air in the muscle.

Imagine the sound and feel of stepping out onto this. Or the sound and feel of this:

When I laid down on my back it felt like I had a pillow propping me up on my right side. The night passed fine, perfectly good drug aided sleep (though fewer drugs now as the pain is lessening with healing) interrupted only by nurses for their data collection.

The morning brought the therapist, the mobile x-ray and breakfast early to my door. I did not realise just how tech the mobile x-ray machines are. Not only do you is it portable now, the process is wifi connected so your picture goes straight to a computer for viewing. Marvellous. After those three came Dr B., which meant the x-ray looked good. He unclamped the tube and saw there were few bubbles, which he sort of like but when I mentioned how quickly I ballooned up with air in the muscle he said that’s not good. The problem, he thinks, is firstly there is lung all around the end of the tube and some air is not managing to get to the tube to disperse out. In addition, because the system for the laproscopic thoracotomy has an automated grafting process for the remaining lung sections, it copes less well with a lung that is diseased, destroyed by smoking. The seals are not tight on the grafts and air is escaping and settling in muscle. The solution is logical but irritating. He has changed the dressing for ones with packing and compression bandages and I am now bound tighter than a Chinese foot, tighter than Barbra Streisand in Yentl. And, guess what? We wait. Two days he thinks and then we try the clamping again, perhaps Monday night, and if that’s good the tube will come out and I’ll be out by the end of the week. So, all in all the minimum is another week inside. Dr B tells me this happens in about 10-15% of cases is not exceptional. The alternative to binding me is going back in and that’s something neither of us want. Going back in to find the leaks and plug them means a standard thoracotomy with the the big entry wound, rib spreaders and a long, slow, painful recovery period. On top of that not only might not be successful, it might also make things worse. So, we wait. I keep a brave face because the logic is fine and to be honest with you, I’d rather have delays and irritations while he’s making sure everything is all right and I’m in tip top condition to go home than a quick exit and a return with all kinds of extra invasive measures. So, chin up, chaps!

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My Day Is Just Like Yours, Only In A White Box

Apologies for not posting recently, I have been letting the hospital experience wash over and through me.

I shall talk of my routine but first I’ll tell you of my visit from Dr B this morning. I have been waiting for when the chest drain is to be removed, when the signs of air in the lung cavity is no more. Although for me it has seemed like forever having this tube stuck in my side, all indicators are that I am on track to have it removed in good time. Before Dr B came this morning we have had some issues with the drain. The bubbling had seemed excessive and also sometimes not at all, confusing them. They have changed the drain itself, a clear plastic box with various compartments, for a brand new one, just in case the previous was faulty and from looking at how the new one functions there was an issue somewhere. 

That doesn’t mean it’s coming out today though, no. It will, hopefully, be in the next day or two, depending on further reduction of air coming through and a test they will do for 24 hours where they clamp the tube and see how my chest does without the drain temporarily. So, Dr B came in and had me breathe in and out, cough etc. To assess the drain. He then pressed various parts of my upper chest. He tells me the issue is that air has got into the muscles of my chest and we have to wait for that to disperse. To show me what it’s like he had me press my chest where he had and feel. It is weird. It feels almost exactly like pressing fresh snow, there is a crunching feel like snow flakes being compressed, the air trapped in muscle. The other day when P swiped the stethoscope from the white board in my room and listened to my chest she said she could hear what they call Rice Krispies, a snap, crackle and popping sound when you breathe. I listened too and the sound is very similar to a bowl of puffed rice. Anyway, the net result is that until that calms the drain will not go and I will not leave. Dr B is confident it will be the next couple of days but it is the body that knows.

It’s time you got a flavour of my routine. I wake, or am awoken by a nurse around the 6am mark, and will have my temperature taken, blood pressure checked, pulse/ox monitored and  will have 15 minutes on a nebulyser. The pulse/ox is a sleeve that fits on a finger and monitors my pulse but also reads the oxygen levels in the blood. The nebulyser is a mask with a small bottle or flask attached to the bottom into which the nurse will put a liquid. The mask is then attached to an air line and the liquid becomes a vapour that I breathe in, to aid my lungs. After that comes the aide soignante with my breakfast, petit pain with chocolat chaud, buerre et confiture:

In this particular I was lucky, there was a spare croissant going and the aides like me 🙂

After brekkie the radiologist with the portable x-ray machine comes and takes a picture of my chest. This happens every morning. After that comes the therapist and I do my breathing exercises to help my lungs function and heal. Next a pair of nurses comes to change the bed and aid me in washing. Now that I’m off the epidural and permanently attached blood pressure machine and pulse/ox, the only thing holding me back is the drain, so no more bed baths for me. One washes my back for me but the rest is all my own to do. So, wash, hairwash and shave and then I am installed in my chair. Dr B comes by after that usually. From now until lunch my time is my own, especially with the monitoring being less often now. I read, write, stare at the wall, think etc.  You’ve seen the kind of lunches I get, so we won’t dwell on that. After lunch a woman comes to ask me my desires for the evening meal and for lunch tomorrow. We go through her menus on her tablet and decide. At first I thought the choices were myriad but as time has gone on and I have discovered the rubbish from the not so bad, my options have narrowed.

The highlight of the day is P’s visit. We natter for a couple of hours about the chickens, the dog, the neighbours, my life here, how things are going etc. and we have a cup of tea. We invested in a travel kettle and I keep it here for when I need.

After that I write some more, read some more, stare at the ceiling to vary things up a bit and then bed. I have stocked the ipad with movies and watch one of those. Nurses come by for the various checks, I will get another session of the nebulyser then sleep. That will be interrupted by check also but as long as the drugs are at the right levels sleep is reasonably restful.

The only thing you may not have noticed in there was mention of going to the toilet. Oh, you thought I was being polite, leaving that out of the conversation from a sense of decency? Do you not know me? Up until recently nothing has happened ‘down there’, a simple result of the drugs I am taking and inactivity. Not to say it has not been worked on. Like arms dealers supplying both sides in a war, the nurses have been giving ammunition to two enemies within my body. On the one side are the black forces of blockage, the morphines and the codeines and the oxycodones etc. which have endeavoured, successfully, to render my intestines immobile. On the other side are the smooth, slippery brown forces of movement, transit. Those forces, in order of application are: bottled water high in magnesium, a ‘Mr Shift It’ powder, various fruits my darling P has brought me, and finally the tub of prunes in their own juice the catering lady provided me. The last was proffered with a concerned but hopeful look as she had overheard my conversation with the nurse over how it had been six days since I had last had a little brown visitor. 

Well, success! After another couple of poudres de mouvement, the train finally left the station. I won’t say it was easy, I won’t say it was comfortable, but it was successful. Like a fat man at a hot dog eating contest, I sweated manfully at my job, I heaved and I ho’ed, I pushed and I shoved. Eventually I flopped back into my seat a wet rag, a mere shadow of myself having delivered of a brick. Since then movement has been easier, though still difficult. More fruit, please!

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Like Piccadilly Circus Here, Mate!

I’m out and done and the middle lobe of my right lung is gone. I bandied about that the operation was the full thoracotomy, based on the amount of time taken and the size and shape of the upper scar but I was wrong. Dr B performed the laproscopic lobectomy as he hoped it just took him a bit longer than he intended. This is good news for me as I have not had a large incision made, nor had my ribs spread to gain access. 

Since waking up this morning there has been a non stop parade of people in and out of my room. The fortunate price you pay for being on the Intensive Treatment Unit. Nurses, aide soignantes, Dr B, a kinetherapist are just some of the folk breezing through my sliding glass doors. They don’t quite make the Star Trek doors sound but they are electrically operated. Dr B gave me the low down on the operation, no problems as such just I was a little more time consuming than they expected. I can hear P’s head nodding vigorously in Cleg from here. The only issue. I have at the moment is there is some air in my chest drain tube which means I cannot be up and about as they like quite so soon, as there could be a risk of a pneumothorax. Still, I am sitting up in a chair to write this so it’s not all bad. My nurse is keen on speaking English as she regrets all that she forgot when at school. I understand she was quite the ace, knowing all her past and present participles etc. The aide soignante who bring my food is too scared to speak and worries terribly over explaining the menu options for . I have told I’m a pig who will eat anything and she seemed happy to know. We also went through the menus on her tablet and I chose as I fancied.

When my therapist came in I wasn’t wearing my glasses and he gave me a bit of a shock, looking like a certain Canadian I used to play softball with, just as bald but a bit fatter – the therapist, not the Canadian. He ran me through a couple of exercises to work my lungs, one of which involves taking breaths and blowing bubbles into a bottle of water. Funny to think the thing my mum would tell me off for at the table is now helping. I have had a bed bath. For intimate details by return post, please send a stamped addressed plain brown envelope.

I am guessing the laproscopy must involve very little intervention as I am off the paracetemol drip already. I have some discomfort but less than I was expecting. Lunch has been served and I am pleased to report it was somewhat better than yesterday’s:

Here we have a salad de betteraves rouge, poulet basquiase, pommes de terre et ratatouille, eclair au café and a petit pain. All very bland but livened up by a shake over of the packet pepper. Obviously I did not eat the coffee eclair as all coffee desserts are the arse gravy of the devil. Apart from that, not too bad. Tonight’s delights are as follows: potages du legumes, volailles, fromage du vache qui ti and fromage blanc. Photos will be posted, whether you want them or not.

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Pre-Admitting to Two Pricks

1st- 2nd June
Yesterday was the chat with the anaesthetist, where he outlined what was to happen and to take some medical history. He went over the process of the surgery again, the thoroscopy with three points of entry, one upper right and two lower right, one for the laproscope, one for the cutting tool and one for the drain. He also outlined the more major thoracotomy, if needed, with the entry between the ribs and the spreader for that which can do a bit more damage. He told me of the epidural in my upper spine and that this will be used for pain management and will stay for a while after the surgery. After we went to pre-admission and filled out forms again. A very nice lady this time, plus I brought my passport this time so no telling off. The drive back was relaxed.
Next day we drove nice and early to see the kinetherapist to bone up on a couple of exercises I can do before surgery to increase my lung capacity and to do after to aid recovery. On the way we get the local bar in Clegurec to dose up our travel mug with some espressos and from the puzzled looks from the barman and the three men sitting there having their morning beers that has not happened often before. P tells me on the way that the therapist also works on horses which has me wondering whether.he’ll want to be on my back. If so, I hope I get a sugar lump after. Once again, as with all the doctors we have met so far, P gets to look at a fit, young, healthy, handsome (I’m feeling nauseous) man while I get poked and prodded. I’m starting to think God has a plan, revenge for me getting great looking nurses last time. The therapist is situated in Guemene in an ugly Zone Artisanal, it’s only saving grace the boulangerie across the road and the great smells coming out of it. My exercises are based around emptying my lungs as much as possible, filling them back up again. In addition I am to concentrate on using my diaphragm to breathe so I move my chest as little as possible, to help recovery and limit pain. From the nods and grunts of pleasure I am doing them right.

The afternoon is another drive down to Vannes to have an ECG, check my heart is still there and beating. We sit in the waiting room which is underground, beneath Maternity. I won’t say there is a smell of baby sick but something tickles my nose. The sound of babies is all around, pervasive but light. We go in to see Dr Good Times, a greying older man who looks like he has shrunk a bit with age. He may even have been getting smaller while we were there. A great fan of cars, he had a couple of rows of models on his bookshelf and cabinet, Bentleys, Ferraris, a Lamobrghini. He also had various carvings of African animals on his desk. Add to that the rug on the floor and he looked like a candidate for censure from Infection Control. I lay down for the ECG and he used plastic bicycle clips on my wrist and ankle and a series of leads with mini suckers on for parts of my chest, front and sides. P looked askance at all this but it was not until after she told me that using suckers went out with flares a free love. Anyway, for our fee we got and piece of paper with illegible writing on it and a section of graph paper with wiggly lines. Upshot, my heart is functioning normally.


A day between then and today, the 7th.

I awake. It is is early. The only sounds are the birds in the trees nattering, chattering. Every day brings the surgery closer and everyday that burden lies a little heavier across my shoulders. I am scared. I think about what is to happen and whilst I realise the surgery is less than the major trauma I went through with my tongue cancer six years ago there is a difference I find hard to quantify or describe. It is to do with the nature of the intervention. With the tongue the surgery was a removal of a cancer and associated lymph nodes, an extraction if you will. The jaw was cut through at the chin and opened out, my tongue removed and the cancer taken out, my tongue returned. Even writing that makes me goggle now at what was done and I recall the state of my scar with all the clips holding the skin in place, the tube feeding, the pain and discomfort. But that was an extraction, a removal of the beast itself plus a margin. This surgery feels different because it is the removal of a lobe of my lung, a good chunk of healthy tissue is going, a parcel wrapped around Brian the snail and I feel slightly offended by that. I understand the reasoning, they are unsure whether this is the same type of cells as the tongue cancer, even though they look the same means they have to treat it as entirely new, I get that. But it still rankles. I remain positive despite the fear, not in some inspirational quote, let’s write words on a landscape photo, happy clappy kitten up a tree way kind of a way, but purely in the knowledge this has been caught very early (who knew tongue cancer and all the subsequent scans would be useful?), I am in capable experienced hands, I am healthy and fit and I am fucked if I’m going to let some upstart squitty snail get the better of me. Also, it is comforting to know, as I scream into the void and rail against this situation, I have this blog and and least four to five people have an appreciation of what I am going through. Also, despite it not being as uncommon as I would like, at least I can look down on those who only have the one cancer.

7th July

This morning we go for my head scan and then admission in the afternoon. This the most worrying as I’m convinced there’s nothing in there and I’ll end up as a Youtube videos of medical marvels. The sickeningly obvious happens when we arrive, P gets to view a tall, handsome, blonde nurse who is working the reception of patients to the scanner itself. He looked about seventeen but P didn’t seem to mind. Because the scan was at eleven and took all of thirty minutes, we have an awkward period of time to wait for admission at four. It’s not worth going home, it would leave us with too little time before we would need to drive back down, plus it would only disturb the dog, who is being sat on by our lovely friends Dan and Kate. Clochette really does love Aunty Dan and Uncle Kate and nothing please her more than to be walked by them or to visit them, where they give her walnuts. She’s a big fan, having grown up with a walnut tree across from us. I think it’s the crunching of the shell she likes more than the sweet flesh of the nut inside. We decide to drive in the direction of Sarzeau and find somewhere by the sea. We end up in Penvins and a lovely little hotel/restaurant with a view of the Golfe du Morbihan and have a leisurely lunch. Afterwards we take a walk along the sandy beach and do a little rockpooling. The sun is out, the breeze is bracing but not too cold. We pootle in the car around to the point where a church sits looking both into the Golfe and out to sea. As it’s Wednesday afternoon, kids have the afternoon off where they pursue sports or interests of their own, outside the usual currculum. In front of where we have parked three groups of kids are having yacht training and sailboard lessons, with varying degrees of success. Some of the kids are quite well practiced in getting their little catamarans out, scampering over the boats like seasoned tars. Some are not so good and we have a fun few minutes watching one kid trying and failing a number of times to even get on a boat. Not only that, his partner, obviously none to pleased to be paired with the klutz, twice speeds off while being slowly chased by a kid up to his waist in the sea, his arms swinging out wildly to try and get through the water which must feels like molasses to him as he struggles. Finally, after stopping to retrieve his hat and cramming it sopping wet on his head, he clings on and hefts himself up, looking, for all his youth, about as graceful as Captain Mainwearing losing his dignity in Dad’s Army.

Back to Vannes and a quick session with the ward receptionist and then I say hello to the senior sister, my friend the nurse who has visited Southend. I am paired with a French gentleman in a two person room, he is also having similar surgery under Dr B (the other Dr B, the second Dr B, not the first…oh, never mind it’ll not make any difference to your reading and this is hardly the BBC news). After a while an aide soignante comes in to shave my chest and to give me a towel and two bottles of special liquid soap I am to shower in tonight and tomorrow morning before surgery. With a electric shaver with disposible blades she shaves my chest, around my sensitive but perky nipples, across my shoulders, both my armpits (ladies, I feel ya, I really do) and a section of my back. She is thorough and careful and slow. After she’s gone P gets me a coffee. After ten minutes the aide soignante comes back, she thinks she missed a bit. Off comes the tee shirt again and she gets to shaving my upper arms. She apologises, I say, “not at all” and she goes. P returns with my coffee, just as she comes back again, she is still unhappy with her work and wants to give me a once over look just to be certain. Off comes the tee shirt again and she pores over my chest and side carefully, feeling for stray hairs and attacking what she finds with her razor. Finally she declares herself satisfied and she leaves. I imagine her now sitting in a darkened room, rocking back and forth, debating whether to return a third time just incase. I fully expect a knock on the door at three in the morning, when I’m at my least able to defend myself from her.

P and I have reached the point where we know it’s time for her to go but neither of us is going to say it yet. We are fortunately interrupted by the porter to take me for my final chest X-ray before tomorrow. Neither of us do well, with a strong hug between us barely hiding out tears. I leave and am gently guided in the right direction as my eyes are a bit misty.

When I return she has gone but has left me a love note to warm my…cockles. 

Next comes food! Sorry, that’s actually an exclamation mark, what I need is a grammar mark that represents mild disgust. Take a look at this and tell me the French have the best cuisine in the world:

I have been in this country five minutes and my dog could cook a better omelette. It looks and tastes like it was microwaved from yellow cardboard. Here’s what I think of it:

Eat when you can , you never know where or when is your next meal.

Tomorrow afternoon I go under the knife and then I am straight off to ‘Re-animation’, which sounds more serious and horror filmy than it is really is. That’s what they call ITU here. On that basis, I figure it may be a day or two before I can get to my ipad and give you an update. Don’t worry if it’s bit longer than that, I’m probably thinking, and for God’s sake DON’T unfriend me!

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Surgery To Come – The Serious Shit

Yesterday we had the consultation with Dr B, (a completely different Dr B to the previous Dr B) the surgeon, to talk about how we go from here. This was an early morning trip down to Vannes and the Clinique l’Oceane again.
Dr B’s secretary uses a bluetooth headset for her phone, all techno techno but I am amused that the set up includes a mechanical attachment to the phone to lift the handset and to drop it back down to connect and disconnect. That seems very French, a combination of cutting edge tech and simple mechanicals.
Dr B is not an Impossibly Beautiful Doctor but he’s not bad looking, around 5′ 8″, slim, a runner’s body and close cropped greying hair. He’s looks in his early to mid thirties. He is also open and clear about what he wants to do, what it will mean for me and his English is pretty good so it is easy to understand everything.
The scans show only Brian in situ, nothing anywhere else including the lymph nodes, so that’s all good. He told us that although the carcinoma looks the same as the one from my tongue cancer, they are unsure whether it is actually the same so they are taking a more cautious approach to the surgery. I had been hoping for a wedge resection via laproscopic surgery but they want to be a tad more radical. The plan is take the middle lobe of my right lung which contains Brian but to do it via laproscopic surgery, a thoroscopy, if possible. It may not be possible and that decision will be made during the surgery, which is going to be on 8th June.
Here’s a doc on the kinds of lung cancer that occur and the types of surgery involved:
My cancer is NON small cell, the size is less than 25mm, so relatively good and easy to treat, it is in the middle lobe but is possibly hard to reach so the plan is to start with a thoroscopy and change to the standard lobectomy if necessary. So, in the thoroscopy I will get three small incisions, one up near my right shoulder, two down near the bottom of my ribs. These will be one for the camera and two for the cutting kit. Have a look at page 33 of the above doc. If that doesn’t work they will switch to the standard open surgery for a lobectomy (see page 30). The advantage of the first is that there is less pain, it is quicker to recover from and I’ll probably spend less time in hospital (3-5 days approx.). The other way means more pain, longer in hospital and a longer, slower recovery. Either way, I will have an epidural at the base of my neck, top of my spine for pain control. Obviously the first is the preferred but I am ready to take on the second if that’s what is happening. I won’t know ’til after so I just have to wait. My head is straight on this, I am prepared to work for good and quick recovery. They do some 200-400 thoracic surgeries at the clinic every year, so they have good experience and I have confidence in Dr B, he seems very capable.
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