I came out of Parkland a mess. Using a walker like a longtime AARP member, unable to write, type, sleep, or to have any real appreciation for what had happened over the last month. And some really strange trips to the bathroom. I had gained 40 pounds in the hospital, then came home at 50 pounds lighter than I went in. We call it the “10 Day Coma Cleanse Program.”
And the pounds kept coming off. Quickly. Dramatically. I was buying clothes every couple of weeks, because the “new” ones didn’t fit anymore. (I eventually decided that no item of clothing could cost more than nine dollars, because I was only going to use them twice). Something was wrong, and no one could figure it out. The doctors at Parkland who had inherited my case did mention that my pancreas was liquefying, and a “small pseudocyst” was developing from the necrotic (dead) tissue. But that was “normal” and shouldn’t be a problem. But once I was down eighty (!) pounds, it was time for a second opinion.
My wife insisted on a call to Baylor’s digestive health group, where I was referred to Dr. Robert Anderson, a youngish GI specialist with an enviable amount of hair. Dr. Bob, as I called him (he apparently was too young to remember “Veterinarian’s Hospital” on The Muppet Show” and didn’t get the joke), took a look at my most recent CT scan and told me that the “little” cyst behind and under my stomach actually was the size of a grapefruit, and growing. It need to be drained. That meant a relatively easy 3-hour outpatient endoscopic procedure.
I’ve learned this year that “relatively simple” frequently means “you probably are going to die.” Even if the doctors don’t intend it to. My three-hour tour would turn into another eight days in the hospital.
When Dr. Bob did the procedure, he did not know (and couldn’t have) that the cyst had gotten extremely vascular. When the tube went through my stomach and into the cyst, it hit a big vein, and I started bleeding severely. He was able to stop the bleeding, but it meant that he couldn’t finish the procedure. So he called in a surgeon from the oncology group at Baylor, not because I had cancer, but because he was the best cutter that he knew.
So in walked Doctor Brother Cabaniss. We discovered almost immediately (I don’t remember how) that he was LDS, which led to his title as “Doctor Brother.” And he was about the nicest guy to ever put on scrubs. He sat down next to my bed, and patiently explained what needed to be done. He answered all of our questions and immediately put us at ease. I felt I could trust this guy, and whatever he suggested we do, that was going to be the call. He said that he wanted to do another CT scan to see how soon they could do the surgery. It was scheduled for the next evening.
Meanwhile, I started running a fever. This was a concern, because during my Ten Day Coma Adventure, I’d managed to run temperatures up to 107 degrees. Which isn’t bad, if you are an Easy Bake Oven. Tylenol didn’t work. Getting rid of the blankets didn’t work. So the nurse went with a big bag of ice.
Under my crotch.
I’ll let you use your imagination.
The next day, Dr. Cabaniss said that was crazy and not to do it again. Which made him My Hero. But once we ran the CT scan, it was more bad news. I had an aneurysm in one of the major vessels in my stomach. They needed to put a titanium stent in me in order to keep the aneurysm from bursting. But they couldn’t do that until the next morning. They promised that they had lots of my blood type on standby if I tried to die during the night.
Yeah, why don’t you just sing me to sleep while you are at it? I stayed up all night, staring at the clock, and congratulating myself every hour on not dying. You go, Rob!
I stayed alive all night. I went in for the procedure, and it went well. Within a day or two, I was healthy enough for the big surgery. Doctor Brother Cabaniss was going to go in with a scope through my abdomen, cut into the front of my stomach, then through the back of my stomach, then into the cyst. He’d drain part of the cyst (which, may I remind you, was filled with a liquid pancreas), and sew the cyst to the back wall of my stomach, where it would eventually deflate and become part of the stomach wall. Oh, and they don’t really know how that happens, but trust them, it does. The rest of the pancreas would drain into the stomach, and I would have the pleasure of digesting my own organ.
It kept sounding better and better.
All that said, Doctor Brother Cabaniss was the man of the hour. For once, a procedure went off without unexpected adventures or adverse complications. Apparently, however, the cyst had gotten big enough by then (he described it as a “small watermelon”) that other doctors wandered into the room to take a look at it. That’s Robin Ghio in 2015: The medical curiosity.
The cyst, also known in the family as “the twin” and “the melon,” had been the main culprit of my problems during the summer. With it out, I was on the road to recovery. It still took until just a month or two ago before the weight started coming back, but this surgery was what allowed me to turn a corner. I felt so blessed to have stumbled into a team of doctors that were able to correctly diagnose my condition and treat it, even when I tried to kick off a couple of times in the process.
I would have been in for months of more misery if my wife had not sought out Dr. Bob, and if he hadn’t recruited Doctor Brother Cabaniss as my surgeon. Now I’m cyst free and have a little bit of a pancreas left to work with. My body doesn’t produce much insulin any more, so I will be giving myself shots for the rest of my life, but that’s a cakewalk compared to where I have been and where I was headed.
I will be able to eat my wife’s tamales on Christmas Eve, thanks to these wise and diligent doctors. I am more grateful to them than they can know.
Tomorrow: The Comforters.