TRIP TO TAMPA
Toni's sister, Louisa Tennille
July 2, 2006
FIX FOR HYPERPARATHYROIDISM / A MEDICAL DIARY
GUEST COLUMNIST: Louisa
Tennille / (Toni's sister)
ONE - Getting There - Saturday - June 24th
I left LAX on Saturday, June 24th, at 12:30 in the
afternoon, headed for Dallas. Toni left at the same
time from Reno, NV. We landed within a half hour
of each other, but since there were no gates available,
both planes had to hang out on the tarmac for a
little bit. I met Toni at the departure gate for
our Tampa flight, and we relaxed until that plane
Thanks to the generosity of my dear sister Toni,
my flights to and from Tampa were in First Class!
I used to fly First Class 30 years ago when I was
singing, but havent been able to even consider
flying First Class since that time. Its just
too damned expensive. The times I have recently
flown, I have been herded through the First Class
section on my way back to Coach. Its almost
as if they say, "Dont look to either
side. Just stare straight ahead. Keep moving! Faster!
No! You may not even consider using the restroom
in the First Class section. No! You may not eat
food on real plates and drink your coffee out of
ceramic cups! Get out your wallets because you will
have to pay $4.00 for a stale sandwich in a box."
One thing Ive never understood is why they
dont board first-class passengers last instead
of first. Let them lounge at the gate, and seat
them after all the cattle have boarded.
The difference between Coach and First Class is
unbelievable. I had forgotten. Where there are three
seats in coach, there are two seats in First Class.
Im tall and long-legged, so usually my knees
are crammed into the back of the seat in front of
me, and my circulation gets cut off, making my feet
go numb. Crossing and uncrossing ones legs
is a major undertaking, and usually results in a
glare from the person sitting in the seat in front
of me. In my roomy seat 5-f, I could have sat "criss-cross
applesauce" if I had wanted to! For a trip
across the country, First Class is the only way
to go. Too bad Ill never get to do it again!
Our flight from Dallas to Tampa was uneventful.
Since we were gaining time (or were we losing it?),
when we arrived in Tampa it was pitch black outside.
It was also 10:45 PM! Toni and I had both been traveling
for almost 12 hours, so we were pretty exhausted.
Luckily, standing at the baggage-claim area was
Sixto, our limo driver. He took our bags to our
chariot, a 400 foot long white, stretch limo. We
could have easily invited every passenger waiting
for baggage to join us, but we didnt. Toni
said they always request a "regular" limo,
but usually end up with one of these loooooooooong
stretch models. There was ample room to stretch
out after the long days travel.
We stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn. Toni and
I each had two-bedroom suites with a living room
and kitchen (my suite was actually larger than my
little cabin in Big Bear!). It was a difficult decision
deciding which bedroom to take, but, my decision
made, I spent the next hour prying my clothes out
of my bag and hanging them up. I must have thought
wed be in Tampa for a couple of weeks instead
of four days. I have never seen so many clothes
in my life! I must say that I managed to cram all
of mine into one bag, while my dear sister, Toni,
needed two bags plus a giant rolling carry-on.
Once everything was put away, and all of my lipsticks
were lined up on the bathroom counter, it was time
for bed. It was time for bed, but my body wasnt
having any part of that. It was only about 9:00
California time, so I spent the next hour or so
staring at the tv and flipping through channels.
My Clive Cussler book sat unopened on the night
stand. I can see now why we have no TV in our bedroom
at home. Id never get anything read if I had
a TV to stare at.
DAY TWO - Sunday - June 25th
My sister, Jane, arrived around ten the next morning.
She lives in Orlando, and drove over to spend the
next few days being Nurse Jane for me,
her much, MUCH younger sister (Jane is a hospice
nurse in Orlando). She settled into my extra bedroom,
unpacked her one bag, and sat down at the kitchen
table with a map to the nearest mall. She had stopped
at the desk on the way up and asked the manager
for a map. Yes. We really did fly all the way to
Florida to go to a mall and shop! There were t-shirts
to be purchased and hung up in the closet! I bought
three new ones to add to my collection. I even cut
the tags off, which is a major event for me.
The three of us dont get together very often
due to geography. We really have fun together. We
spent the entire time laughing hysterically at everything
imaginable (if the world were perfect, our little
sister, Melissa, would have been there, too - but
she had too many things going on at home, and knew
that Toni and Jane would take good care of me).
None of us particularly cares for this getting older
crap, nor do we care for all of its associated...well...impairments.
Whats with the memory thing? None of us can
remember what we were thinking about from one side
of the room to the other. Its ridiculous.
If someone had been filming us trying to get from
the hotel to the mall, it would have been featured
on "Americas Funniest Home Videos."
Seriously. It was The Three Stooges Go To Tampa.
I have never laughed so hard in my life! How do
you tell which way is west when there is a heavy
cloud cover? Jane, who was chauffeuring us around,
doesnt have a navigation system in her car.
I think she plans to purchase one now. We finally
found the mall and did some major shopping and had
a lovely lunch.
Youd think returning to the hotel would be
a simple matter. Just reverse the route we took
to get there. No problem. Wrong! Once again, we
were the three stooges. I could barely see to navigate
I was laughing so hard.
We stopped by a grocery store on the way back. Our
rooms had full-sized refrigerators with freezers.
We wanted to stock them with munchy items, and,
of course, some Ben and Jerrys was necessary
to fill the void in the freezer. When it was time
to leave, we were actually trapped in the grocery
store for about 20 minutes!! There was a huge thunder
and lightening storm going on, and it was raining
so hard we couldnt even see the car. The lightning
was zapping straight down with thunder practically
simultaneous. Toni and I were such tourists that
we called Bob and Daryl and held the phones out
so that they could hear the thunder. The locals
looked at us like we were total nerds, and Jane
sort of backed off and pretended not to be with
Once we returned to the hotel, we all put on our
jammies and relaxed. The next day was the day I
had been working towards for months. The nasty little
parathyroid tumor was going to finally be removed.
DAY THREE - Surgery - Monday - June 26th
We arrived at the Tampa General Hospital at 9AM.
Within minutes, I was registered, had my wrist band,
and was waiting to be called back into the surgery
center (I had already preregistered by phone while
still in California). When they came for me, Toni
and Jane were allowed to come back with me. I was
treated like a princess from the moment I stepped
into my fashionable hospital gown until I waved
good-bye at the door. Every single person that I
had contact with was upbeat and smiling, making
sure I was comfortable and answering all of my questions.
I knew that I would be writing this narrative, so
I handed Toni my camera and assigned her to be the
Official Photographer. The photos attached or separate
(if I cant figure out how to do it) are photos
she took. I would have loved for her to actually
be in the operating room, but we couldnt figure
out a way to get Dr. Norman to go for that.
Dr Norman is hysterical! From all of our correspondence,
I think he sort of "knew me" and knew
what he could get away with. He started right away
kind of "goofing" with me. He knew that
my one fear was that my Sestamibi scan would be
negative for a parathyroid tumor. I really knew
that it would be positive, but a teeny little part
of me was freaked out that it would come back negative,
and I would have to have the surgery for 4-gland
hyperplasia (a different surgery than the one for
the adenoma). I had spoken with his adorable, handsome
associate, Dr. Politz, and had expressed this concern.
Three minutes later, Dr. Norman comes in with this
serious look on his face, folds his arms, stands
at the end of my bed, and says, "Louisa, my
main concern today is that your scan will come back
negative." For just a split-second, my heart
stopped. Toni, Jane and I just sat there with this
kind of stunned look on our faces. But then I realized
that he was being a brat. He didnt mean that.
He was just messing with me! I said, "you are
so mean!" He laughed, and disappeared to harass
some other poor patient.
A few minutes later, Melvin, my assigned angel,
whisked me off to my Sestamibi scan. Once again,
Toni and Jane were able to come with me. A Sestamibi
scan is taken after iv injection of a radio-active
medium. After the injection, the neck is scanned.
There are four scans, each with the scan in a different
position, and each taking about 5 minutes. The technician
stopped my scan after the third one. I knew this
was a good sign, that she had probably gotten a
good image of the parathyroid tumor and didnt
need to take a fourth scan. She developed the scan
and handed it to me to take back to the surgery
area. I had my very own Sestamibi scan in my hot
little hand! I wasnt going to let this opportunity
I watched the actual surgery I was going to have
about a dozen times on the internet. I paid particular
attention to Dr. Norman explaining the Sestamibi
scans, and what he was looking for on each scan.
I asked Melvin to please stop by the first window
we came to, and I held up my scan to the light.
I ignored the glowing salivary glands. I could easily
see the butterfly shaped thyroid, and there, right
by the bottom of the left lobe of my thyroid, was
a big glowing parathyroid tumor!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Its probably hard to understand, but I was
thrilled beyond belief to see that damned tumor!
I have been through so much just trying to get any
doctor to believe me when I basically diagnosed
myself, and told them I had hyperparathyroidism.
I wish I could have taken the tumor home in a bottle
and stopped by each doctors office and held
it right up to their faces. But, since the tumor
was radioactive, taking it home in a bottle was
not an option. Each doctor will get a report of
the surgery plus a little note from me about hyperparathyroidism
and how they should not ignore a normal PTH with
Hypercalcemia. I get so mad when I think about all
of the months it took to get this diagnosis. But
thats all water under the bridge now. I know
that my family doctor, Dr. Mellor, has learned from
this experience with me, and she now knows how to
diagnose the disease. Hopefully, when my other doctors
get the report, they will learn, too.
I still needed Dr. Norman to confirm what I thought
I saw in the scan. He did that in his quirky Dr.
Norman way. He passed by my bed, picked up my Sestamibi
scan, glanced at it, looked me in the eye and made
an "i told you so" noise, tossed the scan
back onto the bed, smiled at me, and headed off
to another surgery. He came back a little later
and told me that the scan also showed a "hot
spot" on my thyroid that he would remove during
Kim, my nurse-anesthetist, came in around 12:30
and gave me some Versed and something else in my
IV. I was pleasantly stoned, but not out-of-it.
I remember being wheeled into the Operating Room,
transferring onto a narrow operating table, and
seeing about 8 other people behind masks. I was
not in the least bit anxious. The strangers behind
the masks were talking to me and making sure I was
comfortable. Then the anesthesiologist came towards
me with a syringe full of milky white liquid. I
recognized that liquid from my cystoscopy! We talked
a little bit about it as he was injecting it into
my IV, and I told him that I remember the last time
I had it, my speech became very slurred right in
the middle of talking. He told me to go ahead and
talk ,and see if my speech would slur again.
I woke up in recovery. Dr norman told Toni and Jane
that my surgery took 19 minutes, and that I was
now cured of parathyroid disease. My surgery was
a few minutes longer than usual because of the "hot
spot" on my thyroid that he removed. Luckily,
it was benign. So I have no more parathyroid tumor,
and no more thyroid "hot spot" that could
have eventually turned into cancer. Toni took care
of calling everyone to let them know the good news.
Dr. Norman came in to say goodbye and said that
I needed a milkshake for my throat. There just happened
to be a Starbucks by the front door of the
hospital, so Toni went down and got me a Vanilla
Bean Frappacino. Melvin wheeled me to the front
door, and we headed for the hotel.
I want to take a few minutes to talk about Dr. Norman,
or Jim, as he insisted I call him. In the middle
of this whole medical horror story, with all of
my other doctors treating me like I was some middle-aged
hypochondriac, after being passed from doctor to
doctor and having every medical test known to man,
it was Jim who kept me sane. Corny as it sounds,
he was truly a beacon of hope. When I was researching
I found his wonderful, informative, extensive site
www.parathyroid.com. It was as if the site had been
written about me! I had every symptom listed for
the disease. I wasnt crazy! His e-mail address
was at the bottom of the home page. Never in a million
years did I think he would respond, but I wrote
anyway. Dr. Norman has people coming to him from
all over the world for parathyroid surgery. Surely
he doesnt have the time to respond to every
person who writes him. I remember I wrote to him
on a sunday. I wrote telling him of my frustration
with the medical system, and telling him of my symptoms
and hypercalcemia and asking him if he thought I
might have Hyperparathyroidism. Within 20 minutes
I had a response from Jim! He said that almost without
doubt, I had Hyperparathyroidism. I could be cured.
I was not to worry anymore.
The next few weeks were spent getting blood tests
that Jim wanted me to have. These were necessary
for a final diagnosis. Several days after I sent
him all of my records, and the results of the blood
tests he ordered, he called me to say that I would
be coming to Florida. I had an official diagnosis.
I did indeed have Hyperparathyroidism.
I doubt I will ever again meet a physician quite
like Jim. He is truly passionate about his work.
He told me, just before surgery, that his "ten
dancing ballerinas" would cure me of my disease.
As he said this, he wiggled his ten fingers and
DAY FOUR - Day of Rest - Tuesday - June 27th
Toni and Jane headed off for more shopping (there
were still things to be bought!), and lunch at the
Cheesecake Factory. I was having a bit of pain,
so I decided to stay in my room for the day, hold
the ice bag on my incision, and watch old movies.
We all stayed in the room that night. I forced Toni
to watch my favorite show, "N.C.I.S".
Jane enjoyed it, but I think it was torture for
Toni. She didnt handle the autopsy well, but
was a good sport. We all went to bed fairly early.
DAY FIVE - Heading Home - Wednesday - June 28th
What was that horrible ringing, and why wouldnt
it stop? I then realized it was Toni with my 5AM
wake-up call. Sixto was arriving at 6:15 to take
us to the airport. It was time to head home to San
Pedro. I had packed the night before. I climbed
out of bed, took a shower and was ready when Toni
knocked on the door. Damn, it was early!
We got to the airport in plenty of time. It was
7:30 AM Florida time, 4:30 AM California time. I
decided it would be a good time to call my friend,
Maria, in San Pedro to make sure she was sleeping
well. She wasnt happy.
Toni and I flew to Dallas. We spent an hour or so
in the Admirals Club, and then it was time
to head our separate ways.
I touched on it earlier, but I want to say now that
without my dear sister, Toni, this whole trip to
Florida might not have happened. Oh, I guess I would
have gotten myself there eventually. My tiny little
teachers salary might have gotten me a seat
way back in the tail section where i would have
sat cramped, in pain, miserable and lonely. But
as soon as Toni heard about my dilemma, she took
over! Before I knew it, her wonderful assistant,
Becky Greenlaw, had made arrangements for the flights
and the hotel and I had an itinerary faxed to me.
Thank you, Toni. It means more to me that youll
Im now at home, recovering. My precious husband,
Robert, has been taking excellent care of me. I
am so lucky to have him. Ive had more pain
than anticipated. Swallowing is still quite difficult.
Because of the "hot spot" on the thyroid,
the surgery was a little bigger than is usual for
a parathyroid tumor. Dr. Mellor did an ultrasound
yesterday, and said I had a build-up of some fluid
around the surgical area. It will dissipate with
time. The bandage on the incision came off today.
My incision is about an inch and a half. Its
hard to believe that Dr. Norman did so much work
through such a small incision! He truly does have
"ten dancing ballerinas".
Questions? / Comments? - E'mail Louisa at: Louisa