Lum: Bye-bye, honeymoon; hello, angst

Su Lum

Warning: Grossness follows.

Bianca Hooker sends me encouraging emails now and then, the last thanking me for my “positive, uplifting attitude.” I replied that I was sure I’d soon have plenty to bitch about, and here’s the bitching side of the transtrach procedure I had done two weeks ago.

Last week, I uncharacteristically rhapsodized about the joy of having my throat cut and oxygen delivered directly into my windpipe rather than going through a cannula of tubing up my nose and over my ears.

I made a humorous reference to the mucus plugs mentioned in all the literature about transtracheal oxygen therapy, likening the imaginary plugs to Cassie, my childhood cat, who labored over his hairballs for days before finally urping up the disgusting product. Mucus plug? Sounds like a hairball — ha ha.

Ha ha.

My first sign of a mucus plug came 10 days after the procedure in the form of an excessive amount of unproductive coughing. I was coughing so much I couldn’t catch my breath and wondered — as far as I could think straight — if this were the end.

Suddenly the cough changed to a noise I had never heard before, a low bark coming from deep within, and I was just thinking, “Now what?” when an object flew up my pipes that could only be described as the mother of all human hairballs.

This dark-brown, somewhat sticky mucus ball measured 2 inches in length and had the girth of a drinking straw. Holy mackerel.

Thus began Chapter 2 of this adventure: the routine hacking-up of hairballs every day or two, none as large as the first but often seriously spiked, scratching my windpipe from the inside, adding another hurt to the site of the throat-cutting and my chronic back pain, which always seems to get worse if anything is more wrong with me than usual.

Coughing up the mucus plugs was a temporary relief, but I was in no mood for more hurt or more discombobulation, and being on edge made me even more aware of other complaints.

Here’s a whole new setup to get used to, and you know what they say about old dogs. I get arfing pissed-off because my arthritic hands can barely manage the clip that clips my oxygen tube to my pants and I have to use both thumbs to press the plunger on the spray can of saline solution I pump into the catheter that goes down my throat.

I wax profane when my main tubing gets caught on the refrigerator and every chair, drawer pull or mislaid shoe because it’s too long and can’t be adjusted. I growl when I get confused having to put the cannula on so that I’m getting oxygen while cleaning the catheter. After 17 years of putting the cannula on frontward, I have to put it on backward. Soon I’m at sixes and sevens and half the time connect this to that when it should be that to this, and I want to scream, as I did during an eye operation in Denver several years ago, “Get this f—ing s— off my face!”

My neck feels as if Jack Horner’s thumb is stabbing into my neck where my Adam’s apple would be but he can’t quite pull out the plum.

“I’ll be honest with you — it takes some getting used to,” said Jimmy Hunter, my Basalt friend who much prefers his transtracheal oxygen therapy to cannulas.

I’m not experiencing buyer’s remorse — I know that these things will go away or be fixed or I’ll adapt. I am still very glad I did it, but like a new mother, I’ve passed the miracle elation stage and have stepped into the reality of the diapers.

Su Lum is a longtime local who expects to be more upbeat next week. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at