TONI'S TAKE
Guest Column...

LU-LU's TRIP TO TAMPA
by: Toni's sister, Louisa Tennille
July 2, 2006

A FIX FOR HYPERPARATHYROIDISM / A MEDICAL DIARY

by GUEST COLUMNIST: Louisa Tennille / (Toni's sister)


DAY ONE - Getting There - Saturday - June 24th
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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 arrived.
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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 haven’t been able to even consider flying First Class since that time. It’s 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. It’s almost as if they say, "Don’t 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 I’ve never understood is why they don’t board first-class passengers last instead of first. Let them lounge at the gate, and seat them after all the “cattle” have boarded.
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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. I’m 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 one’s 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 I’ll never get to do it again!
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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 didn’t. 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 day’s travel.
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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 we’d 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.
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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 wasn’t 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. I’d never get anything read if I had a TV to stare at.
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DAY TWO - Sunday - June 25th
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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.
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The three of us don’t 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. What’s with the memory thing? None of us can remember what we were thinking about from one side of the room to the other. It’s ridiculous. If someone had been filming us trying to get from the hotel to the mall, it would have been featured on "America’s 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, doesn’t 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.
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You’d 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.
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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 Jerry’s 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 couldn’t 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 us!
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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. Wahoooooooo!!
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DAY THREE - Surgery - Monday - June 26th
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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.
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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 can’t 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 couldn’t figure out a way to get Dr. Norman to go for that.
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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 didn’t mean that. He was just messing with me! I said, "you are so mean!" He laughed, and disappeared to harass some other poor patient.
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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 didn’t 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 wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass by.
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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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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It’s 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 doctor’s 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 that’s 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.
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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 surgery.
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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.
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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.
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Dr. Norman came in to say goodbye and said that I needed a milkshake for my throat. There just happened to be a Starbuck’s 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.
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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 Hyperparathyroidism, 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 wasn’t 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 doesn’t 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.
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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.
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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 smiled.
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DAY FOUR - Day of Rest - Tuesday - June 27th
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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.
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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 didn’t handle the autopsy well, but was a good sport. We all went to bed fairly early.
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DAY FIVE - Heading Home - Wednesday - June 28th
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What was that horrible ringing, and why wouldn’t 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!
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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 wasn’t happy.
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Toni and I flew to Dallas. We spent an hour or so in the Admiral’s Club, and then it was time to head our separate ways.
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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 teacher’s 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 you’ll ever know.
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I’m now at home, recovering. My precious husband, Robert, has been taking excellent care of me. I am so lucky to have him. I’ve 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. It’s hard to believe that Dr. Norman did so much work through such a small incision! He truly does have "ten dancing ballerinas".
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Questions? / Comments? - E'mail Louisa at: Louisa Tennille
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