Report on Surgery

It is Wednesday afternoon and I got home about noon today from Hospital La Católica in downtown San Jose, our big, busy congested city and National Capital, about an hour and half drive in reality, though most people say about an hour. 🙂 I have no car and thus use my regular drivers here for the hospital trips.

Total Parotidectomy

A parotidectomy is the surgical excision (removal) of the parotid gland, the major and largest of the salivary glands. The procedure is most typically performed due to neoplasms (tumors), which are growths of rapidly and abnormally dividing cells. Neoplasms can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). ~Wikipedia

Note that this was the official surgery but the growth extended into the lymph nodes in my neck which were also removed. And I came home with a drainage tube coming out of the left side of my neck.

The best specialists for my problems

I am convinced that I had the best cancer surgeon for this job in Dr. Christian Hernández who specializes in only cancers in the head an neck. He also used a super gerontologist for my pre-op exams and then when we developed a side-affect with the severed nerve he brought in a lady ophthalmologist who may be the best in the country to help with my left eye problem which I will try to explain below.

A Nearly 7-hour Surgery

He said more than 6.5 hours or nearly seven hours and was very tedious going the full length of the left side of my face. He did the kind of thing you might expect from a younger doctor, while explaining it to me he pulls out his cell phone with brilliant blood red photos of what he found in the parotid gland, pointing out a section of the facial nerve that was surrounded by tumor and could not be saved. (No, I don’t have the photo to show.) Then he followed the tumor down to the lymph nodes which he said is a common occurrence. He believes he removed every bit of it but can’t say for positive that it is or isn’t cancer until the biopsy report next week.

A Bad Photo of what I look like right now

Face after removal of salivary gland & lymph nodes.

Cancer? Probably – Know with Biopsy Next Week

He has seen enough of these to believe it is a cancer and one of two types, but will not know for sure until the biopsy report he will explain to me next week. And if what he thinks it is the additional treatment will not be chemo but radiation therapy called radioterapia here. Thus I will know more specifics next week. In the meantime it is what it is.

How do I feel?

Is what everyone asks and it almost seems like a “loaded question” to me, but I will still try to explain. With that long a surgery I was in and out of sleep all day Monday and into the night when I think I became more aware of things and that my left eye would not close. The only pain I’ve had thus far has been what feels like a “sore throat.” Pain medication has kept me from hurting.

Tuesday I slowly got back to “normal” or at least eating soft food and having bodily functions. I felt pretty good when they wheel-chaired me to the adjacent office building to see the ophthalmologist though she did a couple of things to my eyes that hurt a little, she was finding out that the only nerve in my eye that seems to be not functioning is one of those that helps control the eyelid and we may be able to work with other nerves to get it to close naturally again.

The other problem is the facial nerve controls the left side of my mouth and smile, so Dr. Hernández said I now have a “Texas Smile,” with the lips turning up only on the right side, or maybe a one-sided smirk? The surgeon says that some mouth exercises may help left the left side of my smile and help with managing the food in my mouth which I now can’t control on the left side, making it slower and more difficult to eat! Got to fix that! 🙂

And of course the left side of my face is swollen now and for a few more days.

But I’m generally in good spirits and hopeful for a more functional recovery of everything. And I will keep you posted on this blog.

¡Pura Vida!

36 Replies to “Report on Surgery”

  1. Grateful for a successful surgery and moderate discomfort, I pray for a comfortable treatment if that proves necessary. You’re a tiger, Charlie, and you will face the coming months with the same tenacity as you have lived your life in Costa Rica so far. You are in my thoughts and prayers,


  2. Charlie,
    I can count on you for details. You explained your surgery procedures better than any doctor. It is noteworthy that you feel well enough to blog. And, havre the discipline to do so.

    Thank you for keeping all of us who live far away feel as if we live next door to you.

    Eleanor and I continue to pray for your complete healing- meaning no cancer that requires additional treatment of any kind.

    Your half smile (Texas smile) is worth a million dollars and reflects an attitude that’s worth a billion.

  3. Thank you for the update Charlie. Your surgeon sounds amazing and the other drs he brought in as well. I’m continuing to pray for you and pray the upcoming results will be negative for cancer. I have never heard of a Texas smile. I always learn a lot from your posts I’m sure you’ve got the best Texas smile there is.

  4. Well Debbie, “Texas Smile” is a slang expression for an asymmetrical or lopsided smile often called a sneer, thus not a compliment if sneering at others as many Texans are known to do! 🙂 In my case it is purely physical or the result of nerve damage and thus I’m also eating lopsided or favoring the right side of my mouth because I can’t get the muscles on the left to work for me. We are going to try exercise to build up other nerves and muscles to help the situation, but I will probably never be quite the same.

    1. Wow, I am so sorry about your problem. I am praying for you and pray you get well very soon. Please keep us informed about all of this. I love you, your first cousin, June Doggett West, Warren, Arkansas.

      1. June, thank you so much! Prayer has always made the difference in getting through my life difficulties and this one is no different! 🙂 Right now I just need some recuperation time and possibly some radiation treatments to be almost good as new! Wonderful doctors here!

  5. Your Texas Smile is all anyone could ask for……………know this…… are thought of often and prayed for everyday.

    1. And I thank you Fred for the thoughts and the prayers! Prayer has gotten me through many difficulties and will this one too! Thanks for you faith and actions! Have a great day Fred! 🙂

  6. Charlie, wish I could be there to visit and give a hug.Wow! You have so many loving friends and are truly blessed. Don’t worry about the smile or the face. Things can settle on their own.
    Ever since I have known you you smile from the inside and are a beautiful person.All you must do is stay in love with God. All will be well. Love, Millie

    1. Millie, your words are so kind and wise! And I am smiling on the inside along with my “crooked” smile on the face! 🙂 I miss seeing you guys but do love it here! ¡Pura vida!

  7. Praying for a good recovery for you! So glad this surgery is over and you are recovering. A crooked smile is a small price to pay for good health!

    1. Of course you will! That’s who you are! Continued prayers for healing quickly.
      I enjoy your posts and pictures! Blessings!

  8. Charlie, your smile and laugh light up any space! You have a great attitude towards life and growing older. We hope you heal soon, and things for you are more back to order.
    Much love,
    Gill & Scott (Donald)

  9. I read with great interest your cancer surgery story. I hope the results, after all said and done, are very positive for you and that nothing reoccurs.
    Please, let everyone know the costs. I always think people want to know this. Of course, that’s because we have always reported the costs on everything.
    I’ll be telling Gloria about your article. We are in Mexico now but coming back to Costa Rica on the 1st of March.

    1. Paul, thank you for keeping up with me after all this time and your new home in Mexico! I have several “potential residents” of Costa Rica who follow my blog and have always been very honest and open and some may think too open. 🙂 But I haven’t mentioned the costs specifically yet on this, partly waiting to see if we schedule radiation which he thinks will be needed. But for now, at this juncture, to have a surgeon who some consider the best private specialist head & neck cancer surgeon in Costa Rica for a near 7 hour surgery with a operating room team of 5 people, it cost an even $6,000 USD. Two days & two nights in one of the best private hospitals in the country, La Católica, was a little more than $6,000 USD including operating room and all services, pre & post operation plus take home medications. This makes the total cost for a major cancer surgery around $12,000 or a little more with 3 or 4 hundred in pre-op laboratory tests. Compared to the states – cheap! For me with little savings, a lot! If radiation is needed I will consider both CAJA and MediSmart as options. More later on that and all the costs.

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