Hi-bocce ball!

Today was a fun day.  My Mom, MaryBeth, and I traveled to my sisters house for their annual neighborhood Labor Day(ish) block party.  I have never lived in a community that seemed to pull together as much as my sisters neighborhood.  Everyone brought their own entrees and something to share.  There was lots of yummy food.  It’s time like today that I am particularly disappointed that I just can’t eat as much as I used to; I sampled a lot, but could not splurge — then again, perhaps that’s a good thing.

One of the big events at the block party is the annual bocce ball tournament.  Now, I have not played bocce ball in years and my partner (randomly assigned) had never played.  Our opponents included one of the winners from last years tournament.  Despite being down 7 to 1 early in the game, my partner and I came back to win 17 to 15.  It was a lot of fun, but it was a little difficult on my stomach and we ended up leaving before the second round.

I hope you all having a safe and happy Labor Day weekend.  Almost time for us to head back to Baltimore…


Knowing Limits

As I have said in the past, one of the downsides of getting better is feeling as if you can do more than you actually CAN do.  Regardless of what I do, it seems I have a limit of about 2 hours of being out and about before my tummy begins to get sore and I need to get back home and rest.

As much as I am looking forward to going back to Baltimore to finish up with Dr. Cameron, there’s a part of me that is dreading the actually trip back home.  I am not allowed to lift anything greater than 10 lbs.  unfortunately, I think ALL of our luggage weighs more than 10 lbs.  Thus, I will not be ANY use in carrying things through the airport (though, I plan to ask Dr. Cameron if it’d be okay to hold onto the rolling suitcase — as long as I don’t try to lift it).

I have been very lucky to have received cards almost everyday I’ve been in NJ.  For that, I want to thank you all.  A very special thank you, however, is due to my friend Jerry.  Jerry is a very talented graphic artist who took the time to design and send to me a personalized get well card.  Click on the picture on the right side to see an enlarged view of the inside of the card.



Two steps forward; One step backward

I’m sure everyone has experienced the phenomenon of seeing a child you hadn’t seen in a while and being amazed at how much they had changed since the last time you saw them.  Now if the child is yours, you likely do not see the huge difference, because you see them every day; while they ARE changing, the changes are so small that they don’t show up day to day.  Heather, my surgeon’s physician’s assistant, told me not to look at changes from one day to the next, but to instead focus on the changes that occur from week to the next.

Last Friday, my mother and I went to dinner at Susan and Jack’s (friends of my Mom) house.  I was sore most of the time; had little appetite; and really wasn’t up to much talking.  Today, Susan and Jack came over to the house for dinner.  Immediately, both Susan and Jack commented on how much better I was moving and looking since last week, and that I had (something) of an appetite.  As my improvement from day to day has been minimal, I did not notice how much I had improved.

As for the title of this post, it would be nice if recovery was strictly a linear forward progression.  Unfortunately, I have had some setbacks which, I believe, are is in part, self-inflicted.  For example, the other day I forgot to take my pain medication when it was time.  When I went to stand up, my stomach hurt pretty badly.  Today I had a little more appetite than in previous days; however, instead of exercising some good judgment and keeping my portions generally small, I attempted to eat more than I had in the last couple of days.  As a result, my stomach is making “not good” noises.  I’ll be better tomorrow and hopefully I will remember to ration my meal sizes.

One last thing, someone suggested that I ask the loyal Merle-o-maniacs out there to consider voting for me in the “Blogger’s Choice Awards.”  I have been amazed at how many people have been coming to this site (as I apparently average right around 200 visits / day).  Looking at the various categories, it would seem that I.N.D.Y. might best fit into the category of health blogs.  So (in an example of shameless self-promotion), if you are so inclined, go to http://www.bloggerschoiceawards.com/main and type in URL of this blog (e.g., www.merlehamburger.net) under the category for best health blogs.



Two weeks

It’s hard to imagine that it was only two weeks ago that I had my surgery.  It’s amazing how far (and how fast) I have come since August 14th.  Considering, I was expecting that there would be a good chance I’d still be in the hospital at this point in my recovery, I’m really pleased with how my recovery is going.

I walked the drive twice today, as well as walked around in a grocery store.  I have to say that I never really thought I’d be at a place where walking that little bit would be considered an accomplishment, but there you have it.  I still move slowly and I have to be really careful about how I turn my body (it hurt when I tried to turn the shopping cart with my upper body, rather than my legs).  The other thing I have noticed is my breathing; I have to be very conscious about breathing, particularly when I am talking.  If I don’t consciously take a breath before trying to talk, I very quickly run out of breath (I noticed this same thing when I was recovering from my shoulder surgery in February ’07).

As always, thank you for your thoughts, well wishes, and cards.  They are all welcomed and help greatly as I go through each day.


My Respite Spa

The road to recovery continues to stretch out in front of me.  Ironically, the day after discussing the issue of gastric dumping, I experienced my first episode of this wonderful syndrome (the result of eating a couple of meals without taking my pancreatic enzymes).  Not much of an appetite this afternoon, perhaps I’ll try juice later.

Several people had asked about what my Mom’s place looks like, so I thought I would give you a quick pictorial tour.  Mom owns 21 acres of rural NJ farmland.  She has a mutual agreement with a farmer that works the land.  The big draw of the farm are the rows and rows of blueberry bushes.  The farmer maintains the blueberry bushes and Mom and her friends can have all the blueberries they want (unfortunately, blueberry season has already ended, so no blueberry picking for me).  One of the acres is rated as residential.  Here’s the Google Maps satellite view of her residential property:

Me outside the main house (notice Daisy, my Mom’s Irish Wolfhound stretching next to me):

A better picture of Daisy and me:

Me standing in the drive with the gallery and large studio behind me:

The upper sculpture field looking back at the large studio and gallery:

The main house looking from within the lower sculpture field:

Looking at the lower sculpture field from the main house:

Well, there you have it.  A brief visual tour of Mama Hamburger’s Hacienda.  Thanks for checking in.  Hopefully, I’ll be feeling better tomorrow.


Better today

Hello all.  My wife, MaryBeth, has returned to hang out with Mom and me in NJ.  It’s nice to have her back, though, the kids (and her mother) really enjoyed having her back over the weekend.  The weather here in NJ has, for all intents and purposes, been spectacular: very little humidity and warm, but not hot, temperatures.  This kind of weather great for the walks my doctors want me to take.  At least twice a day (if not more), Mom and I have walked the length of her 1/2 mile drive (it’s not so much a driveway as a right of way road from her place to Scrapetown Rd.).  I even made the 2nd walk today without having to hold my stomach — Ooooh, the progress!

As an update, here’s what my tummy looks like now.  Notice that, per my updates, my incision is getting better (though, the bruising around the incision is getting more pronounced.  (I was tempted to put the image right into this blog post, but I didn’t want to traumatize any of you (despite how much better I look right now).

Lastly, I was looking over my paperwork from the hospital and I wanted to clarify that I did NOT have a standard Whipple procedure.  Instead I had Pylorus Preserving Pancreaticoduodenectomy (PPPD).  Essentially, it’s a version of the Whipple procedure in which the pylorus (the part of the GI system that connects the stomach to the duodenum) is not resected with the rest of the duodenum.  Based on what I was able to find online, the PPPD has essentially the same surgical outcomes as a standard Whipple (e.g., in terms of blood loss, recovery time in hospital, survival rates, etc.) but the PPPD tends to have fewer post-surgical gastrointestinal complications (e.g., gastric dumping).  (Geeky, yes, but hey what do you expect when I have time on my hands and an Internet to search?!?)



Today my mother picked up her mail from the last couple of days and all I can say is how overwhelmed I am by the myriad of cards I just spent reading.   Several times I became teary-eyed as I read cards from friends, family, folks from work and karate.  All I can say is “Thank you!” for the outpouring of support and love.  Regardless of how else I was feeling today, these cards have REALLY brightened my day!  Thank you so much!

On the recovery front, I continue to be sore, but am otherwise okay.  From the “Not the sharpest tool in the shed” department: I was told not to take Ibuprofen for at least a week before my surgery.  It didn’t occur to me until today (when I was speaking with Dr. Cameron’s physician’s assistant) that I could now begin taking the drug again.  Okay! Okay!  Can we just chalk it up to disorientation due to all the narcotics I’m taking??

Many of the cards made me smile; several made me laugh out loud.  Here’s the gist of one that was particularly amusing:

What your doctor said:

What your doctor means:

I’d like you to see a specialist…

I have absolutely no idea what’s wrong with you…

The nurse will take over from here…

I’m late for my morning tee time…

I have good news and bad news…

I have bad news…

You’ll feel some slight discomfort…

This is going to hurt like hell…

Hmmm….That’s interesting!

What the heck is THAT thing??

I’d like to run a few more tests…

I want the sunroof option for my new sports car…

Please make a follow-up appointment…

I’d also like the CDC player with five-disc changer option…

Any history of medical problems in your family?

Can I blame genetics in case I screw up?

This is a highly treatable disease…

How much insurance are you carrying?


From August 22nd…

I apparently posted the following as a blog PAGE rather than a blog POST. Here it is for those of you who need just a little more ‘Merle’ this Sunday evening.

It Made Sense When I Thought of it…

So a little review, it seemed like a reasonable thing to walk up and down 6 flights of stairs while at Hopkins; unfortunately, I found that I got overly tired and sore — not such a good idea. It seemed like a reasonable thing to drive to NJ to stay at my Mom’s place; unfortunately, 2 hours in a car within a week of surgery is not such a great idea as I was really sore and grumpy afterward. Today, I thought I’d try to drop down my pain meds from 2 pills every 4 hours to 1 pill every 4 hours. Unfortunately, I also was feeling okay and let 4 hours become 5+ hours, and well, I am not ready to extend my pain med intervals.

Yesterday I talked with Dr. Cameron’s physician’s assistant who again and again reminded me that I will get better, stronger, etc. with time. Right now, though, I’m at a place where I am tired of being in pain. I am tired of not sleeping well. I am tired of having to hold my stomach any time I try to move. I am tired… Right now, September 2nd seems SO far away and I’m frustrated. Intellectually, I know it’s only been 8 days since my surgery. I know that my wound seems to be healing well and I’m doing really well to be up and out of the hospital. Emotionally, though, I’m not feeling it, right now. Perhaps a shower will help.

As an aside, I wanted to express my deep and heartfelt appreciation to my colleagues at CDC. There is no short-term medical leave at CDC; instead, there is a program for employees to donate excess leave hours they have to people who are in need. If I read it correctly, I have had over 450 hours of leave donated to me. I am in awe. Never had I expected to receive so much. Thank you! And while I am thanking folks, let me also thank Rob and Nancy, from church, who were kind enough to donate skymiles so MaryBeth and I can fly home to Atlanta from Baltimore in first class (figuring I didn’t want to try and squeeze into the smaller seats with my sore stomach).

Finally, I want to thank my mother-in-law, Elaine, who has stepped up to the Herculean task of watching over our three kids while MB and I are in the northeast. Elaine has been with the kids since August 12 and will be there until the end of August. Thus, I also want to thank my sister-in-law, Susan, who will fly down and watch the kids the last little bit before MB and I get home.

Tomorrow is another day and perhaps I’ll feel better then.


Sleeping is for the birds

Apparently, I’m not the only one addicted to my blogging.  I have heard from several different sources that I have been lax in my blogging during my respite in NJ.  Well, I don’t want anyone to worry that something untoward had happened.  I am alive and well (perhaps fair to partly cloudy) and resting as much as possible at my Mom’s.  I’m still trying to figure out how to best sleep; the last couple of days have been challenging.

Today was great, as my brother and his family came to visit.  Actually, they are here to babysit me so that my Mom could run some errands.  I need someone to watch over me and traveling in the car can get uncomfortable.  Later, my sister is supposed to come by, too.  I wish I felt more sociable, but I’m still really tired.

Maybe a nice hot shower tonight will help loosen my back muscles up and I’m going to try and sleep in a “real” bed, rather than an inflatable one.  Sorry to focus on this whole sleeping arrangement thing, but it’s pretty central to my life at the moment.

Talk to you later…


Not as Hardy as I had Hoped

Well, after a day of trying to use only 1 pain pill / unit of time, I have decided I’m not quite ready to give up the pain meds. I spent much of today not necessarily in pain, but certainly more uncomfortable than previous days. Perhaps I will try spacing the unit of time out longer one the pain meds. Reasonable or not, I am disappointed that I am still having trouble managing the pain.

Otherwise, I took 2 1/2 walks today and an hour and half nap. I had something more of an appetite, but then again, my mother is standing over me as I eat my dinner (I’m not really hungry, though). Ah well, I guess we’d say that today is neither a good nor a bad day.