A medical and musical journey in 5 movements
(With a happy ending)
By Ted Rosenthal
Post surgery I spent over 7 hours in the recovery room including frequent visits from Lesley, a thoughtful visit from my in-laws, and later a dinner of Chilean Sea Bass (hospital style). Finally, a little before 9 PM the surgeon’s resident team visited me. They decided that since the wound had stopped draining that I could go home if I felt my pain was manageable. I told them it was and that I would prefer to sleep in my own bed. As they unplugged me and (re) dressed the wound, I believe I heard them mention (in my post-op stupor) “atypical lipoma.” With Lesley’s help I got dressed and we made it home by 11 PM. I took one oxycodone (the only one I’ve needed) and slept through the night.
The discharge instructions included no showering until my follow up visit 11 days later, no lifting, no driving, keeping the arm in a sling, pain meds as necessary, etc. Clearly I needed a caretaker and fortunately I had the best. Lesley, who never fails to amaze me with her seemingly endless list of accomplishments, is also the best “nurse.” With love, support, and sensitivity she took wonderful care of me post op. Lesley and I spent a quiet 5-day long weekend hanging out, listening to music, watching movies, lighting a fire and imagining that this would be how it would feel in our retirement together (if that ever happens).
With more time on my hands, and Lesley not allowed in my arms, I began doing some internet medical research and looked up Atypical Lipoma. This proved to be unfortunate. The sites I found (and they seemed to be legit) made no distinction between “atypical lipoma” and “liposarcoma,” the cancerous kind. I hoped that between my medical ignorance and the vagaries of internet medicine that I was missing something, but I began to be concerned, very concerned. And my follow up visit with the doctor, when I’d receive the lab report wasn’t for another week.
In that next week I suppose I could have called the doctor to find about the lab results but he had indicated they would do sophisticated testing to analyze the tumor and it could take up to 2 weeks. So I decided to “tough it out” and wait. My anxiety heightened over the final weekend and I decided that rather than a 10% chance of a sarcoma it was more like 50%. (Why, I’m not sure). Finally the long 11 day wait was over and I would see the surgeon and learn the results of the lab report.
Dr. A walked in and said “It was an atypical lipoma just like I thought.” I could tell by his tone of voice that this was a good thing and that despite my internet research, there must be a distinction between atypical lipoma and liposarcoma. I mentioned my internet research and he told me that science has further classified those 2 types and the atypical type was not equivalent to liposarcoma and not cancerous. He told me the downside with the atypical kind (vs. non-atypical) is that there is a 20-30% chance of recurrence. So I would continue being his patient while he monitored me for any signs of recurrence. He did say after 3 years without recurrence, the chances are significantly better it won’t recur. He took off the bandage, took out the stitches, and scheduled a follow-up in 4 weeks. To my displeasure he reiterated his estimated 3 month recovery period. But…Wow! No Cancer! I can take a shower! Let the celebrating begin! Lesley and I went out for a celebratory lunch and I even drank a beer with my left hand!
The euphoria of Monday was replaced with the reality of Tuesday. No driving, cancel my gigs for March and April… not fun…It was a strange juxtaposition of a new perspective on the appreciation of life and health, contrasted with dealing with the vagaries of the music business, and temporarily not being able to make music at the piano – the thing I love to do most (or maybe tied for first). I began to think about the different life I would have for the next few months during recuperation. New possibilities started to occur to me: composing new music (writing would be tough for a lefty, but doable), spending more time with family and friends, reading more books, listening to and studying new music, and more. This different paced life struck me as strangely appealing. I think my body was telling my mind to allow the time to heal.
After 12 weeks off, I’m excited to be getting back to performing. I still notice things physically but not to the point of preventing me from playing confidently. Initially, I think endurance will be a factor and the doctor did tell me it might take up to a year to not notice physical symptoms and to forget about the surgery. I’ve gotten back to composing and have written “a pile” of new music including the seeds of a jazz opera I’ve conceived. Getting back to composing has been one of the “silver linings” of this experience. Of course I’ll never forget these events, but I’m sure they will start to fade into the background as I notice the physical sensations less and less and get back into my full musical life.
Nonetheless, this whole experience has had quite an impact on my life. Here are the highlights of what I’ve learned from all this. Or, to paraphrase my swimming instructor, things I now feel “more stronger” and “more deeper.” The internet seems to be full of lists. These are my lucky 13 – plus 1 “bonus track.”
- Don’t take good health for granted.
- Listen to what your body is telling you (and look too).
- If it’s important, always get a 2nd opinion.
- Don’t over-practice.
- Value family and friends, and take the time to savor them.
- Reach out and nurture friendships.
- Have empathy for other people.
- Let yourself slow down.
- Make time to focus on what is really important to you.
- Think creatively and be creative.
- Be open and accepting of new possibilities and new directions.
- Be good to yourself and others.
- Express appreciation and gratitude often.
- Time is not unlimited, Carpe Diem – seize the moment, and enjoy life!