Judie’s Gear Diary – 2006-09-08


Mmmmm….kidney pie!

This entry is not gadget related, and it is highly personal. But
if helps one person then I won’t feel bad about having shared a bit
“too much information”.

So here goes…

A couple of months ago I noticed a small amount of blood in my
urine. This occurred on two different occasions in a three week
period. While I thought it was strange, I wasn’t overly worried.
Thinking that I might have a urinary tract infection, I made an
appointment with my gynecologist. The test came back negative for a
UTI, but my urine did test positive for an abnormally high blood
level. After various tests were performed and “female” issues had
been ruled out, it was determined that I might have a problem with
my kidney, bladder or urethra. An appointment was made with a
Urologist, but there was over a month’s wait before I could get in
to see him.

During the wait, we went on vacation and not once did I have
abnormal bleeding. In fact, I almost cancelled the appointment with
the Urologist because I felt fine and I was having no
further symptoms. I very rarely get sick and I hate going to
doctors almost as much as I hate having to take medicine. People
who are always talking about their medical problems and
hypochondriacs are two of my biggest pet peeves, so I started
rationalizing and telling myself that the blood in my urine must
have been a fluke. Julie told me I should still see the Doctor,
that I probably had a stone. “Stones hurt,” I told her, “I
know I don’t have a stone.”

After waiting over a month I finally got in to see the
Urologist. I told him I was embarrassed to take up his time – that
I had no pain and I hadn’t had blood in my urine in over a month. I
think the most alarming thing that I told him was that I had no
pain. He was ready to schedule an Intravenous
, or IVP. “Sure, stones hurt,” he said, “but cancer

Holy crap…did he just mention the C word?

FYI – If you have unexplained blood in your urine and there is
no flank pain, it is not normal. Get thee to the

The IVP results showed a 1.5cm “filling defect” in my right
kidney. What the heck is a filling defect? Well, it can be anything
from a kidney stone to a cancerous tumor.

Next up was a lower abdominal CT Scan, which showed nothing
abnormal in my right kidney, but it did show a 0.5cm
non-calcified nodule on my right lung. My Urologist began preparing
me for the worst. He needed to do a more invasive cystoscopy
and ureteroscopy
as well as an additional contrast dye with
x-rays on my urinary tract which would require day surgery. Based
on my CT Scan he knew this was not a stone, it had to be some other
non-calcified mass. If he didn’t like what he saw in my kidney when
he got in with the scope, or if there was a blockage and he
couldn’t get in with the scope, then my right kidney was coming

If I had the exploratory surgery and nothing was found, I would
likely go home the same day, but if they actually removed my
kidney, then I could expect to stay in the hospital for at least
five days. It really bothered him that there was a spot on the same
side of my lungs as the filling defect; so he was also referring me
to a pulmonary specialist – who would not be able to see me until
October 31st.

I cried like a bitter fool when I heard this. I cried while they
drew blood for a battery of pre-op tests, and I continued crying as
they whisked me into radiology and I cried all though an upper
respiratory CT Scan. Not big heaving sobs, but the quiet kind where
tears just roll down your face and no matter what you do, you can’t
make them stop. I think I scared everyone in the clinic that came
into contact with me; I was scaring myself. It mortifies me even
now to admit that I could. not. stop. crying. All I could think of
was “non-calcified mass”, which meant “tumor”, which meant
“cancer”, which meant it was “my turn” to go through what Steve had
gone through four years ago.

The new CT Scan results came in a few days later. The good
news was that there was no lymph node activity in my upper or lower
chest. The bad news was that the scan showed two additional
sub-centimeter spots on my right lungs.

Exploratory day surgery for my right kidney was scheduled for
September 6th.

In the two weeks leading up to the surgery, I carried on as best
I could. I was acting as if nothing was wrong, but it was really
wearing me down. Everything was going so well, too! I helped with
Sigma Kappa’s formal recruitment, I was asked to be
Geek of the Week
on Born
, I was planning to attend the upcoming Mobius event in
Thailand, I was offered an MVP-type position with a company I
respect, and I had just received an email from the Ellen Degeneres
show because they had seen my Born Rich profile. In other words I
did not have time to be sick. Period.

With the day surgery date looming ahead, I went ahead and
updated my vaccinations in anticipation of going to Thailand; my
reasoning being that if I didn’t get them, then I would be
admitting I couldn’t go.

I did a video review and submitted it to the Ellen show, because
it was a challenge and I didn’t want to admit that I was

I filled out the Geek of the Week interview questions and
submitted them the day before my surgery, knowing that if I put
them off they would not be done until after I got out of the
hospital – at least a week later.

And instead of writing the two reviews that I had planned on
having ready for Tuesday & Friday, my regular posting days, I
just wrote Tuesday’s. My reasoning was that if I had the Friday
review ready then I would not be home to work on it; I would be in
the hospital.

So Wednesday morning Steve and I showed up for day surgery. There were
two operating rooms prepared for me: one for looking into my kidney
and removing tissue for testing, and one for removing the kidney if
the doctor saw anything remotely resembling cancer. I told my
doctor before I was taken to the OR that if he had to take my
kidney, to please make the smallest incision possible because I
still wanted to go to Thailand. He told me he didn’t think Thailand
would be happening. My anesthesiologist told me that going to
Thailand two weeks after kidney removal was not being realistic,
and I knew they were right. I just couldn’t accept that I
wasn’t going, because then I would be admitting that I was losing
my kidney because I had cancer. They really acted like they
expected me to wake up minus one bean shaped organ; I was terrified
they knew something further that they weren’t telling me.

Steve and Grabb were in my room when they came to roll my bed to
the OR. The doctor had left and we had already agreed that it
sounded like they were pretty certain that my kidney was coming
out. I was resigned; it was really happening. Steve told me that he
loved me and gave me a kiss; Grabb got teary when he kissed me
goodbye and told me he loved me, and it took everything in me to
keep from tearing up until I had been pushed far enough down the
hall that the guys couldn’t see me. I knew I was going to
lose my kidney, I knew I had cancer, I knew I was
going to be in the hospital for a week, I knew that I wasn’t
going to Thailand, and I knew that it was going to hurt a
lot when I woke up.

In the first OR, which was freezing cold, the
anesthesiologist was joking about how I didn’t have enough
insulation if I was that cold. I said something like, “No,
it’s because I am practically naked on this metal ta-…”

And that’s the last thing I remember before drifting into la la

When I awoke in the recovery room, the first thing I saw was the
clock on the wall – which showed I had only been out for about an
hour. In a fog, I mentally adjusted the time and reasoned that I
had actually been out for the full day. I laid there trying to
decide what exactly hurt the most, and to my surprise I decided
that it was my throat, probably from the breathing tube. My
right side was throbbing, and I seriously thought I needed to pee.
A couple shots of Demerol later, and that urgent need was gone;
evidently it was a side effect of the procedure.

My doctor came by and told me that I still had my kidney, that
he had removed two blood clots, that one was pretty large, but YES
– I would be going to Thailand after all – once they removed the
stent that had been inserted. I didn’t find out until later that a
blood clot in the kidney can be very serious – it can travel to the
lung and cause an embolism. All I knew was that blood clot sounded
wayyyyyy better than tumor. When I asked what had caused the
blood clots, my doctor had some suggestions: trauma to the kidney,
a passed stone that caused bleeding as it made it’s way through,
trauma from a previous infection. Who knows what caused my clots; I
am just glad that they are now gone.

Today I saw the pulmonary specialist. They had a cancellation
and my case looked “interesting” so I was bumped to the head of the
line. After showing us the latest CT Scans, the doctor said that
the best course of action will be regular CT Scans for the next two
years. Two of the spots are too small to biopsy without removing a
portion of my lung’s lobe. The better option would be to observe
the spots over time and see if they stay the same, which would
indicate some past non-growing trauma. If they do grow, then we can
do a biopsy or surgery at a later date. Right now I am feeling
pretty lucky, so I am going to hold onto the notion that these
spots are the result of a lifetime of exposure to dust, pollution
& occasional second hand smoke.

The point of my story is simple: Male or female, if you have
unexplained bleeding without any pain, do not put off going to the
doctor. Microscopic amounts of blood in the urine might be normal,
but if you can see it and you don’t feel any pain, then there is
the possibility that you have something seriously wrong. I don’t
know what would have happened if I had not gone to the doctor,
maybe nothing…but maybe things would have turned out much worse.
Whatever was going wrong in me has been caught in time, and I would
want the same for you. :0)

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