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Lincoln County News
January 6, 2000

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes the dramatic ups and downs of my Christmas holiday. A frightening incident on Christmas Eve ends with a somewhat miraculous outcome and 1999 draws to a close with a return trip to the hospital.

December 24, 1999: It is Christmas Eve and we have been invited to join Santa Claus, Mary Ann Canfield and her family at the restaurant for dinner. I have been saving my energy for just these few hours outside of the house. I go armed with a handful of pillows to make myself comfortable.

We have a very enjoyable dinner with members of Mary Ann's family who are visiting for the holiday. I am hungry tonight and enjoyed a surf and turf of a small sirloin strip steak with fried shrimp. Ben has pot roast. For dessert, Mary Ann has made a delicious chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, topped with cherries.

When it comes time to leave, one of Mary Ann's sons helps Ben load me into the passenger side of the Corvette. Since I am not able to maneuver without my walker, Dusty and Ben lift me into the passenger seat. As Ben reaches across the center console, he unknowingly bumps the traction control button into the off position.

What happens next is like a weird, bad dream. As Ben pulls out of the parking lot onto the highway and accelerates, the Corvette goes completely out of control. Fortunately we are not traveling at a high rate of speed and no other cars are coming. I feel the wheels of the car pulling us into a deep drainage ditch across from the restaurant. I find myself screaming, "My car, my car-- what's happening?!" When it's over, we are lying at a strange, precarious angle. Thankfully, we were dragged slowly enough through the ditch that the dual airbags did not deploy. As luck would have it it, I was so relaxed and so tightly belted in that I was not at all injured-- not even bruised or sore. I look over at Ben and he is sitting there in stunned silence. He tells me he feels something running down the side of his face. Apparently he has hit his head on the side of the door frame and nicked it. Upon closer observation, it appears to be a small laceration on his scalp.

In no time, the car is surrounded by folks from the restaurant. Santa Claus-- who happens to be an EMT-- is standing by the driver's side door peering in. In what seems like seconds, the police and two ambulances arrive on the scene. Everyone seems far more concerned about me as a stage-four cancer patient with serious bone implications. The biggest problem is getting me out of the vehicle because of the extreme angle of the car. Several of the paramedics try to figure a way to get me out and onto a gurney. Finally Bob, one of the paramedics (and a big one at that), suggests that I wrap my arms around his neck so that he can lift me out. That does the trick and soon I am comfortably situated on the gurney and placed in the back of the ambulance to be transported up to Miles Hospital. I insist that I am fine and do not need to be checked, however, Ben will be riding with us so that they can attend to his head laceration and determine if it needs treatment.

At the hospital, I lie in the ambulance with Gert and John, who are so kindly attending to the needs of others on this Christmas Eve. About half an hour later, Ben comes back out to the ambulance looking like Mr. Staple Head, with four small staples that are barely visible through the hair on his scalp.

The ambulance returns us home where Cuddles is standing at the door to greet us. He looks very alarmed and concerned to see yet another visit from the ambulance squad to our house. I am just thankful that Ben and I have escaped serious injuries. Certainly God was looking out for us-- our little Christmas miracle.

December 25, 1999: Today dawns a glorious Christmas Day. Ben and I are feeling none the worse for the wear and I had a good night's sleep. We are excitedly looking forward to the arrival of my daughter, Christy, and my sister, Mary Ann, this afternoon. Ben and I spend Christmas morning preparing our special stuffed pork loin for dinner and all the accompaniments. Christy is bringing a delicious platter of assorted Italian pastries from a gourmet store near her home outside Boston.

Christy and Mary Ann arrive around 4:00 pm. We enjoy appetizers and opening our Christmas stockings. I am especially delighted with the Christmas stocking that Christy has prepared for me. It is filled with many small, individually-wrapped gifts that are both fun and practical at the same time. We also decide to open half of the big pile of gifts before dinner, saving the rest for after.

The pork roast is superb but the pastries are the biggest hit with my perpetual sweet tooth! We open the rest of our gifts and enjoy the remainder of the evening. The best part, of course, is being home from the hospital and surrounded by my family.

December 26, 1999: We enjoy a breakfast of fresh bagels and lox-- a Christmastime tradition in our family and one of my favorites. We spend the rest of the day catching up on all of the goings-on in Christy and Mary Ann's lives. It's a sad parting when the two of them leave to return to the Boston area, but I need to rest up for my transfusion tomorrow morning.

December 27, 1999: Ben and I are up at 5:30 am to arrive at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick by 7:30. We register and head to the lab so that my blood can be cross matched. By 9:15 I am in a bed in the ambulatory care unit receiving the first of two units of blood. The day goes quickly with no problems and I have brought some trashy magazines and a good book to while away the time. Ben picks me up and we arrive home around 4:00 pm. I am feeling a little tired but none the worse for the wear.

December 28, 1999: I had a good night's rest and awake feeling refreshed. About two hours after breakfast, I begin having what I think is severe bladder or lower abdominal spasms. Thinking that this may be a side effect from the blood transfusion, I immediately call Dr. Tom's office. Cindy suggests taking a valium to calm the muscle spasms, followed by a pain killer within 45 minutes if the valium isn't enough. I check back in with Cindy two hours later as the situation seems to be getting worse. As luck would have it, I get a phone call from Debbie, my CHANS visiting nurse, who normally sees me every Friday. She is in the area and wants to stop by to check me out. She arrives and I explain my situation. First, she checks my lungs and finds them congested but is also concerned about the other things that are happening. She calls Dr. Tom's office to report this. In addition, she gets a urine sample to take back to the hospital lab. Meanwhile, I become progressively worse throughout the day and develop shortness of breath. I call Dr. Tom back and he instructs us to come to the emergency room. By the time I gather everything together to leave, I realize that I am too weak to get out to the car. Ben calls the ambulance, which now seems to be a frequent landmark at our home.

The emergency room staff is expecting us and has already lined up a series of long X-rays. The attending physician reads the X-rays and reports in to Tom. It is obvious that one lung is clouded and congested, but a much larger concern is a pocket of air showing behind the diaphragm. This indicates that a perforation has occurred somewhere in my intestinal track, which is a very serious condition. I lie on the emergency room gurney until 11:00 pm when a room opens for me on the medical/surgical floor. I end the evening realizing that this hospitalization will be far more serious than my last one.

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