Thursday, July 29, 2010 I was wheeled into the operating room for a uvulopalatopharyngoplasty.
Commonly referred to as UPPP, the uvulopalatopharyngoplasty procedure is done by a qualified surgeon who carefully inserts a ripe pine cone coated with aluminum oxide (the stuff that makes the “sand” in sand paper) into your throat, gives it a good twist or two, then leaves it there to slowly dissolve over the next two or three weeks.
That’s what it feels like, anyway.
Actually the procedure involves removing the uvula (that little thing hanging down at the back of your throat and cutting out some flesh to make your airway larger. This helps relieve obstructive sleep apnea in most cases.
My last happy moments were when the anaesthesiologist shot a cocktail of drugs into my IV just before they rolled me into the OR. Everything went blurry and in what seemed to be the very next instant (it was actually a 50 minute surgery) I was being awakened by a nurse who asked me what my pain level was on a scale of one to ten. It was about eleven, but I lied and said “four” since I didn’t want anyone to think I was a wuss.
Fortunately the nurse brought me a shot cup with a dose of liquid vicodin elixir despite my tough guy act. The medicine burned like fire as it hit the back of my throat, and I remember thinking that if it hurt that bad while the anethesia was still wearing off I was in for a rough recovery. I spent the next two hours in recovery, and somewhere in that time frame they allowed an angel of mercy, Robin, to come back and stay with me. I ate ice chips and jello to prove I was able to swallow.
There was a tracheotomy kit perched at the foot of my bed…a constant reminder of what happens when this procedure goes wrong. Doctor Gonzales stopped in to give some instructions and prescriptions to Robin, and told her the kit was a precaution, and that he’d never had to use it in all the times he’s performed UPPP procedures.
He told us that the pain would get much worse before it started getting better, and that we could expect the back of my throuat to become very grotesque with various nasty colors over the next several days. He said that would be normal, as well as a foul odor as I was healing.
He was right on all counts. I took some pictures so I could see what things were looking like. I wished I hadn’t. The human throat is just downright nasty when it’s healing from a major amount of cutting like this. And no, there’s no way I’m going to post the pics.
I slept in half-hour increments the rest of the day and night, asking for pain meds every time I awoke. That was going to be the routine, because the pain was what was waking me up. Robin (thank God for her) stood firm and gave me doses on the schedule that the doctor prescribed; no more, no less. She was very efficient in making certain I didn’t run out of that precious liquid vicodine.
On day two I followed the same routine, although I was able to eat some scrambled eggs with loads of butter. I found that ice water was about the only thing I could swallow without intense pain, and also discovered that too little or too big a swallow would send liquid down the wrong pipe, resulting in a choking and coughing fit that was insanely painful. I learned quickly to sip in a teaspoon at a time.
The narcotic syrup never eliminated the pain, it just took enough of the edge off to make it somewhat bearable and allow me to get a few naps in during that precious half hour after taking the vicodine when it was acting at its peak.
Day three seemed a bit better. I was able to stretch the time between medicine doses, and I thought maybe I was over the worst of it.
Wrong. Day four arrived and it felt as if someone had given that pine cone a fresh twist. The pain was worse than it had ever been. By the end of the day it had subsided back to what it had been on day three.
I’m en route to bed at the end of day four now. Hopefully I’ll be feeling just a little better in the morning. It’s still too early to tell, but I think my obstructive sleep apnea will be largely reduced or eliminated all together by the time the healing is done. It just feels like I can breath better already.