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the neck dissection experience: 3 weeks post-op

Posted Nov 10 2005 12:00am
Three weeks ago at this time I was sitting in pre-op in Houston, nervous and thirsty, and just wanting to get it all over with. I think if I had known how weird my neck would feel afterwards, I would've spent a lot more time enjoying the fact that I could move it so freely! I can't believe it has been three weeks. That doesn't seem possible.

For the record, the procedures I underwent were: a complete right neck dissection, a bilateral paratracheal dissection, a central compartment dissection, and a superior mediastinal dissection. Here and here are links that explain some of these terms.

I finally removed the steri-strips after my shower this morning. It wasn't at all painful, although it was a little nerve-wracking because I expected it to be. Now I have a lovely wrap-around scar. Since this photo is a lot less grim than the first one I took, I'm posting it. It's certainly no worse than a lot of stuff you'll see on TV, so I hope nobody gets too upset about it.

Just so you know, that "lovely" up there wasn't at all sarcastic. This is a really nice-looking scar, as scars go, especially given that I'm only 3 weeks post-op. Comparing the two photos, you can see how the swelling has gone down considerably.

Now, as to the rest of it: the numbness persists with no discernible progress, except that my right ear lobe feels itchy now and then. I suppose that is progress! I get the itchy feeling also sometimes under my jawline, but for the most part, the "novocaine hasn't worn off yet" feeling persist in the ear as mentioned, under the jaw, all the way down the front of my neck along the right side. It's very funny (weird, not ha-ha) in that there is a definite line of demarcation right down the center of my neck, sensations registering on one side, while none do on the other.

My head, neck, and shoulder mobility are very good. Certain stretches, like tilting the head so the ear goes to the shoulder, are more challenging than others, but even those are working out. I am trying to massage those very tight muscles during some stretches and that helps, too. I am religious with the exercises and with my physical therapy. Elf really makes me work! But it's good.

I would feel very comfortable driving today if I had to; the main issue with driving is being able to turn my head far enough and without hesitation -- that's something I find myself doing constantly just in dealing with the kiddos while I'm sitting at the computer. I'm sure I can turn my head farther now than a lot of non-surgically-impaired drivers can, so it's not an issue.

One thing that pops up from time to time is right-sided weakness in the arm and shoulder. Last night I made a pot of sticky rice to go along with our sesame steak, and I had a very hard time holding up the pot with my right hand while I scooped out the rice with the serving spoon in my left. Since I am left-handed I often use my right arm for the steadying/holding role in situations like that, and whenever I do, now, I notice how much weaker it is. PT will continue and hopefully it will improve. It's no fun to have such an imbalance.

I still don't do much lifting, although I did carry a laundry basket upstairs a few days ago. I do carry DS2 to bed every night now, and toss him in when we get there. He only weighs about 35 pounds and I'm not even supporting his weight with my arms; he wraps arms and legs around me and holds on like a koala. Adding back this part of our routine has made him a very happy boy. I haven't noticed any aches or tweaks from carrying, but I'll continue to be careful.

One twinge I've noticed is a kind of "crunchy" feeling right in my shoulder joints, both left and right, when I'm doing the shoulder lifting exercises. Elf says I need to be sure to keep them back while I'm lifting, and that has helped a lot, but I do still feel it from time to time. I'm wondering if that could be from my RA.

Med-wise, I'm taking Aleve twice a day, and Tylenol as necessary. I haven't had a really bad headache day since Tuesday, but I'm pretty sure that sitting at a computer all day will contribute to a headache. I get brutal muscle tension along my shoulders and the back of my head; Elf showed me some new stretches that really help a lot to relax them and reduce the headaches.

I get tired easily, and admit to being down more than up these past few days. I forgot to take my Prilosec two days in a row and having acid churning around in my stomach didn't help at all. I'm trying not to be on edge regarding my pathology report, which I still don't have, or my prognosis, which I have no idea when I'll get, in spite of emails I've sent, asking when I could expect it.

It does no good to think about these things; there's nothing I can do about them right now, anyway. Even though I'm doing very well and am a long way back to normal, it will take a long time to really recover from this surgery, both physically and emotionally. For now the thing that bothers me most is how weird my ear feels -- it calls attention to itself whenever I tuck hair behind it, for example, or else it just feels cold. I suppose I should be happy that I'm feeling something but it's ennervating.

I'm glad I can ignore it for the most part. The plan now is to continue to focus on regaining both strength and mobility.

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