Waking up like a kid: parathyroidectomy for the win

Last night I put my head on my pillow, closed my eyes, and fell asleep.

When I opened them again, it was morning.

The day is mine, and the whole world in it.
The day is mine, and the whole world in it.

That may not sound like much. So let me put it in context for you.

I remember waking up one perfect summer morning in 1966 in the tiny Ohio village where I lived. I was five.

I remember the movement of the white curtain blowing, the smell of the air—which was green and sweet, with just a touch of bleach—the sun cutting windowpane squares on the blanket and my skinny legs. I remember the sound outside my bedroom window, which was the sound of sheets and laundry flapping on the line.

I remember bouncing out of bed, full of energy, ready for life. My thoughts, whatever they were, are lost to me now, but what I felt, summed up from the fifty years I’ve lived since, was this: The day is mine, and the whole world in it.

Time lets you work for and earn things that pay you, and if you work hard and with a plan, it pays you way out of proportion to what you give up in the innocent exuberance of being a kid: life and time have brought me a terrific husband who is my best friend, three excellent kids, writing skills, a ton of books with more still to come, and the mission and joy of teaching the writers willing to work for it how to do what I’ve learned to do and love so much.

But I thought that the days of waking up like a kid were behind me. I thought the sheer raw delight of opening my eyes on a new morning seeming instants after closing my eyes and falling asleep the night before were gone forever.

I assumed that the price I paid for the joy I take from every day and every minute I get to live, to love who I love and to do what I fought so hard to get to do, would be paid for by falling asleep in painful inches, waking up multiple times each night, twisting and turning to find a comfortable position, trying tricks to quiet my racing mind.

I assumed that life would be ever-expanding pain consuming me in creeping increments, and I accepted that as part of the price I had to pay for the privilege and wonder of getting to be alive.

I’d forgotten what it felt like to feel good—feeling bad had become my new good.

Turns out I was wrong.

It’s now been nine days, plus a few hours as I write this, since I had that parathyroid tumor removed.

Pain free, with my mind calm, my thoughts clear and focused, last night I climbed into bed, counted my breaths as I always do, and fell asleep so quickly I don’t even remember counting.

And I slept like a kid. After what felt like minutes later, I opened them. Sunlight outlined the verticals that cover the window.

I sat up and grinned, full of energy, full of life. No pain. No clouds. And this time, I can tell you exactly what I was thinking.

The day is mine, and the whole world in it!

Fifteen minutes changed my life. Fifteen minutes was the time it took my surgical team to make the 1.5-inch incision, remove the parathyroid tumor and check the other three glands for function, and close the incision.

My sincerest thanks to Dr. Norman, Dr. Boone, and Dr. Parrack. And my thanks, too, to the amazing staff of the Norman Parathyroid Center:

  • Jayme, who helped me get set up to have the operation,
  • the security guard who wished me good luck and pointed my guys and me in the right direction as I walked in to have my surgery,
  • the receptionist who was so brightly cheerful at not-quite-five AM,
  • woman who set up my medical records and told me how much she enjoyed working where she does (you know how rare it is to hear people say that?)
  • the warm, friendly, wonderfully competent nurses who talked me clearly and concisely through what would happen,
  • the young woman who wheeled me down to have a scan and with whom I laughed about the shocking cold of the morning
  • the guy who did my sestamibi scan and with whom I had a fun chat about video gaming and the superiority of the XBox One controller but the better games and selection available for Playstation 4 (including the upcoming No Man’s Sky, though I couldn’t quite sell him on that)
  • and the anesthesiologist who took the time to reassure me about the anesthesia, and who’s voice was the last one I heard before I woke up to a future I could not yet imagine.

I was an RN for ten years before I got the three-book deal that let me quit to write full time. I worked in a number of hospitals, knew all kinds of doctors, saw all kinds of medical care. I’ve experienced medical services from the other end too, as a patient and as the family member of people I love.

I never experienced — or even imagined possible — the uniformly spectacular care and professionalism of Every. Single. Person. I dealt with from the instant I contacted the clinic until the day two weeks after my surgery when I received a copy of the letter Jim Norman sent to each of my doctors, explaining what he’d done and its ramifications on my health in the future.

Dr. Norman told me, “This surgery will change your life.” When he said it, I didn’t even realize how much my life needed to be changed. I’m just now starting to figure that out.

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18 responses to “Waking up like a kid: parathyroidectomy for the win”

  1. Cai Guise-Richardson Avatar
    Cai Guise-Richardson

    Discovered your blog recently, and am oh so glad. I’m a recovering academic (historian of sci/tech/med) who has turned to writing fiction. It has been a struggle recently because of a constellation of symptoms which largely (entirely) appear to be hyperparathyroidism. I’m also going to the Norman Clinic for parathyroid surgery in a few weeks. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, especially about the spontaneous story ideas coming back. For most of my life I’ve been spawning projects and ideas without effort, and the yawning echo of nothingness inside my head recently is terrifying. Once I can follow a plot again, I look forward to reading some of your novels, but for now let me offer my thanks for providing me with more hope.

    1. Holly Lisle Avatar
      Holly Lisle

      Some even better news for you in that regard. My work energy has come back, as has my memory. Things I’d thought had faded into oblivion were still there, and clearing the excess calcium out of my brain has allowed me to find them again.

      Good luck with your own surgery.

  2. Sylvia Avatar

    Happy, happy noises! Like Amy and Murky I had tears in my eyes reading this. Bless your doctors and caregivers for giving you back that pain-free and ‘happy to be alive’ feeling. For we who have already learned so much from you when you felt bad, what can we expect when you feel good?! It boggles the mind.

  3. SheSellsSeashells Avatar

    Belated, but I am so happy to hear this! Your writing’s brought me a lot of joy, and I wish you all the best.

  4. Murky Master Avatar

    Damn it Holly you made me cry! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m so glad your surgery went so well. I hope you have many more mornings like that!

  5. Marya Miller Avatar

    I love, absolutely love, hearing this. As someone who sleeps no more than two to four hours a night on average, this sounds to me like heaven! One is used to hearing of grueling recoveries. How lovely that you feel better and better after surgery: That is the way I wish it would always be for people.

    And that moment you remembered sounds so wonderful–what I call a “forever moment”, when one is totally in the present.

  6. Dee Avatar

    Woot! Congratulations on regaining wonder, joy and a good night’s sleep! It only gets better from now on!

  7. Talena Winters Avatar

    So happy for you! So exciting!

    1. Claudette Young Avatar

      I’m so happy for you,Holly. Now my wish for you is that this surgery also lessens the occurrences of migraines for you as well. But even if that doesn’t happen, you’ve passed a milestone that has set you free.

      Congratulations, myfriend. May happiness, freedom, and glorious story lines flood your days with sunshine.


  8. Amy Avatar

    I’ll be honest. I don’t tend to be an overly emotional person. But reading this I have actual tears in my eyes I’m so happy for you. Can’t wait to see what the future holds for you… and for us, the beneficiaries of your creativity and talent. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Kirsten Avatar

    This is so great to see that finally, FINALLY, you are making the recovery we’ve all wished and hoped you would have. Your joy shines so brightly in every word of this post that I can feel its glow all the way up here in Chicago. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Add my thanks to Dr. Norman and his staff for the wonderful work they do. The world needs more doctors like him.

  10. Linda Avatar

    How exciting! Loved reading this.

  11. Clare Walker Avatar

    Also, should mention that another thing about veterinary medicine: when we’re really having trouble with an ADR (“ain’t doing right”) we’ll look for unusual infections, especially diseases transmitted by an arthropod vector. That is a fancy way of saying diseases transmitted by bites from small critters like ticks, fleas, etc: Lyme dz, Babesiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, dengue fever, Bartonellosis, and others — these can all cause a constellation of symptoms that are all over the place: joint and muscle pain, fatigue, fever, brain fog, headaches, you name it. So it is with humans, I believe. As you can imagine, veterinarians are prone to these things. I heard one veterinary internal medicine specialist say that any veterinarian who starts to complain of chronic, frequent, intermittent, recurring headaches should get themselves tested for those diseases.

  12. Clare Walker Avatar

    Holly, yours is an amazing story — the body’s endocrine and biochemical system is truly fearfully and wonderfully made!

    There are a lot of people out there with vague symptoms (vague pain, brain fog, trouble sleeping, trouble waking, fatigue) and even more vague diagnoses that are really no more than a term that encapsulates the constellation of their symptoms: (fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, or the classic one we use in veterinary medicine: ADR — “ain’t doing right.”) Many sufferers of these symptoms and syndromes are in the care of doctors who lack the knowledge, experience and expertise to put the symptoms and laboratory data together to arrive at a correct diagnosis.

    The result is a lot of unhappy unhealthy people for whom life has become a major drag. Seems to me that when you have vague but troublesome symptoms + vague non-answers and no solutions in sight other than “grit your teeth and bear it,” the true solution is to refuse to accept that feeling like crap all the time can ever be “normal.” So many of these cases turn out to be endocrine or biochemical disorders, so if I ever get into this kind of pickle, I’ll seek out a specialist in this area.

    Thanks very much for sharing all this. I’m sure many people will find it helpful.

  13. Juneta Avatar

    That is an amazing story. It gives me hope.

    Hugs of Joy
    Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

    1. Holly Lisle Avatar
      Holly Lisle

      Hugs back. And thanks. ๐Ÿ˜€

  14. BJ Steeves Avatar
    BJ Steeves

    Holly, I am so pleased to see that everything is turning out just the way it should, and that you are feeling so much better.

    May it always stay that way!


    1. Holly Avatar

      Thanks, BJ. It’s amazing. Every morning I wake up, and something else has gotten better while I slept.

      There’s more, but I’m afraid to say anything else for fear I might jinx it.

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