The weather that spring day in April of 2008 was warm. Blooming flowers and budding trees scented the air sweet and aromatic, and the river's flow was wild due to spring run-off. With mountains glistening white like freshly laundered sheets against a brilliant blue sky, I drive to Denver with my daughter, Sophia, for my first visit with Dr. Raj Shah, Director of Pancreaticobiliary Endoscopy at the University of Colorado Hospital Anschutz Medical Campus. We arrive in awe at the size of the medical complex--a city within a city, soaring towers and all.
Spring is the dawn of new life, and I hoped that this consultation with the specialist would mirror the change of season and be my fresh start after many long and dark days. I ached for a quick convalescence, renewed vigor, and a full life with health and vitality. The burden of illness had plagued our family for so long.
But I'll never forget the grave look on Dr. Shah's face after he examined my medical file and showed me the size and location of the pancreatic stones in the narrow duct. He said it would take multiple procedures to extract them as well as a huge commitment from me to have the ERCP procedures every six to eight weeks. I glanced at my daughter, Sophia who was 6 years old at the time, clutching her new gift-shop-purchased pink elephant. Swallowing hard, I gathered my thoughts before asking the doctor, "So it is not cancer, and you are confident this will work?" My hopes of a quick fix were thwarted by the consciousness that the road to recovery would be a long one.
A few weeks later, on May 8, frightened with the unknown, I quickly wrote down my thoughts in a journal en route to the first in a series of ERCP procedures. Far from relaxed, I realized that I do not have a final will and testament if something should go wrong. Tensions are high and so was my husband's speed over the mountain passes. A few moments later, there we sit, pulled over on the side of the road. State Patrol approaches our vehicle and my son Dimitri suddenly bursts out crying with fright. As Dimitri continues to wail, the officer kindly explains to my three-year-old son that this is just a warning for daddy to keep his speed in check. To everyone's relief, Dimitri smiled, and the officer wished us a safe trip to Denver. This offered us all a chuckle and a bit of a reprieve from the somber tone of the day.
Having safely arrived and relieved to be in the waiting room of the gastroenterology center, I heard my name called by the nurse. She introduced herself as Carmen, one who would welcome me at nearly all of the 16 procedures. In the pre-op area, Sophia, notes my space, room 11, as a good omen-our lucky number. After a series of questions, Carmen starts probing my arms for a vein in which to place the I.V., but my veins are very tiny, traumatized from years of malnutrition and a multitude of blood tests.
After settling back in my bed, propped up by a few pillows, a couple of warm blankets, kids by my side, another round of questioning starts with the nurse anesthetist.
"Yes, eggs and sulfonamide medications which aggravate pancreatitis."
The next moment, the anesthesiologist comes in and explains the procedure, the risks of general anesthesia and I sign my life away. Anxiety takes over as I contemplate the risks of anesthesia. I fight to hold back tears. He asks if I have any final questions or requests. I can only think to say, "Please make sure I wake up afterward." He smiles and assures me that it is all going to be okay.
Groggy with the sensation of a hangover after a long nap on cold and rainy afternoon or a long sleep after traveling eastbound to Europe, I search my surroundings and realize that I am now in the post operating room with a lot of gadgets hooked up to me. My husband appeared at my side just as the doctor approached the end of my bed and offered the details of the procedure. He had placed several stents within the pancreatic duct to allow for the flow of enzymes out of the pancreas, which were obstructed by the stones, still there and not fragmented. He indicated that the size of the stones are so large that the ERCP was done with difficulty, yet successfully as now the enzymes will flow out of the pancreas instead of eating away at it and subsequently digest the food in the intestines.
I spent the night in a private room on the 6th floor with a beautiful skyline view of springtime in the Rockies. Although, I was weak, tired and very hungry, my spirits were lifted with the appreciation that finally I was on my way to a healthy life, lost over a decade before. The bouts of pain experienced in the weeks that followed were overcome by the awakening of a new spirit within. Spring had sprung inside me, and I could sense that a new life was beginning to take form.