So a lot’s happened since my last post about the funky thing that was growing on Hannah’s knee. The main word there being ‘was’, of course. Last Thursday we spent the day at the new Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in downtown Grand Rapids, for an outpatient surgery to remove the tumor.
Let me back up a bit. A week ago was our appointment with the pediatric surgeon, which went about as we expected – he looked over the spot on the knee where the outer portion of the tumor had been removed (he called it a scrape biopsy) and reviewed the pathology report that had been received. There wasn’t much he could tell us – the pathology report was inconclusive and couldn’t tell us exactly what the tumor was. All we knew is that there were no malignant cells found in the portions tested, but with most of the tumor still in Hannah’s knee, they couldn’t say for sure that there was no malignancy there at all.
The bottom line – the tumor had to come out. Both to get it out of there and so that the rest of it could be tested. It would be a fairly simple surgery – the only complicating factor being that the tumor was residing right on her knee joint, so the surgeon had to get creative in how to stitch the incision up afterward. No dissolvable stitches – just in case, since knees are joints that get a lot of flex just in daily activities.
We left the appointment with surgery set just two days afterward, this past Thursday. Ron and I were both glad it would be done quickly so we wouldn’t have to wait long and so Hannah wouldn’t have to sit around being nervous. She’d never had surgery before so was understandably scared.
Surgery day brought a ton of snow with it – we’d worried that the other kids would end up with a snow day but the buses ran and school was in session. We arrived at the hospital at 10am for Hannah’s 11:30am surgery.
I have to say – our new children’s hospital facility is wonderful! Ron and I had both had surgery in the past (mine was outpatient, to remove an ovarian cyst a few years ago and Ron had a one-night stay after his thyroidectomy a couple of years ago) and both of those experiences were fine. But I felt that the staff here did an exceptional job with putting Hannah at ease, which is exactly what you want to see in a facility dedicated to working with kids. The process for intake and discharge was smooth, and we really liked the tracking system that let us see exactly where Hannah was at all times that we weren’t there with her. We had given her a new stuffed animal friend that morning to bring with her (we did something similar when Abbi had eye surgery several years ago) and the staff let ‘Buttercup’ go with Hannah right even into surgery, and it was tucked in with her when she woke up afterward.
Hannah generally tends to love the spotlight and is fairly bouncy and energetic. But on this day she was extremely quiet and self-possessed. We knew she was nervous – she didn’t really show it, but she was very, very quiet the whole time. And very brave. She never shed a tear or complained about anything – she was cooperative and polite. We were so proud of her!
We got Hannah settled in her pre-op room and there was a selection of movies to pick from on the in-room tv. Hannah immediately chose Arthur Christmas – she’d seen it once before and had really liked the movie so she wanted to see it again. I think concentrating on the funny movie helped offset her nerves and it also gave Ron something to do as we waited. I got a lot of work done on the socks I was knitting.
The staff did a great job of explaining exactly what was going to happen and who was going to come in and talk to us – both the surgeon and anesthesiologist. A Child Life Specialist also came in and showed Hannah the mask that would be used to administer the anesthesia, and helped her pick a flavor of chapstick to coat the inside of the mask with to help offset the ‘bad smell’ that the gas would have. She also explained how they wouldn’t put in the IV until after Hannah was already asleep, so she wouldn’t feel a single prick or poke the whole time.
I think the highlight of the day was after the Child Life Specialist explained the entire process of how the surgery would go – and then asked Hannah if she had any questions. Hannah said yes, and we waited to see which aspect of the surgery she was unsure about. But Hannah simply looked up at the tv screen (with the movie that had been paused during this whole visit) and asked, “how do I un-pause the movie?” The adults in the room all got a good chuckle out of that.
We got to stay with Hannah right up until they took her into surgery and then relaxed in the comfy waiting room for about an hour until the surgeon came in to update us afterward. He explained that he’d excised the tumor and that he felt confident he’d gotten it all as well as a good margin around it. He had put in a series of stitches lengthwise along the incision, before closing up the skin, with the two ends the string (or whatever it’s called) left out.
He closed the skin with bandages (to leave less of a scar) then knotted the two ends of the string together and covered that with additional bandages so it wouldn’t catch on anything. In the end, she’s got about 5 layers of bandage covering the spot, but we only have to concern ourselves with changing the top layer. She’ll go in next Monday to have the stitches removed – until then there’s also an ace bandage covering her knee to help with limiting the mobility so there’s as little pressure on the stitches as possible.
We were home right at 4pm that day, only a few minutes before Abbi and Becca arrived home on the bus. Hannah was pretty alert – she’d been a little groggy after she woke up, but we hung out in her post-op room (the same room as for pre-op, with her movie still paused in the same spot which was nice). We watched the rest of Arthur Christmas and most of Gnomeo and Juliet before she was discharged. Hannah did wonderfully – she never even complained of pain. She rested for the rest of that day and was up and around like normal on Friday.
On Friday, we got the snow day so didn’t have to worry about deciding whether or not to send Hannah to school that day. The kids played on their electronics, read and generally all took it easy and then Hannah even went to a friend’s house for a sleepover that night. She’s been doing great – the only problem we’re having is reminding her constantly that she’s supposed to take it easy and not be very active on that knee. No gym class – although she did talk me into letting her go outside for recess as long as she promised not to run, climb, crawl or do anything other than walk.
Follow-up from the hospital has been great too – they gave Hannah a stuffed bear when she left since she’d done such a great job. Plus we got a phone call a few days afterward to check in – and yesterday Hannah got a card in the mail, addressed specifically to her and signed by the nurses and everyone who helped care for her. After this experience with a fairly minor outpatient surgery, I have a lot of confidence in what things would be like if we ever needed something on a larger scale done there.
We’re expecting a final lab result on the tumor any time now – so far all they’ve been able to tell us is that they still don’t know what it was or if it’s benign or malignant. The surgeon did say that nothing about it was a huge red flag for him in terms of malignancy, which was somewhat good to hear. He also said that even if the tumor does end up malignant, there wouldn’t likely be any further course of treatment since the entire tumor was already removed. So that’s reassuring as well. Hopefully we’ll get final results today or tomorrow, get the stitches out on Monday and then be able to put this whole thing behind us.
I think we’re all ready for that.
I wasn’t asked to write about our experience at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital but wanted to share how everything went went since it’s a new facility and this was our first experience there.
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