Thursday, November 10, 2011

I Left My Lobe in San Francisco: Liver Resection Hospitalization - Vignette 3&4

The Cancer Card

Having surgery outside of your own city brings up several logistical problems, not the least of which is lodging.  Hotel rooms in San Franciso are not inexpensive to begin with, and one problem we encountered when trying to make reservations for our family was the fact that there were several conferences taking place that week - large ones, taking up over 60,000 hotel rooms.  One was Oracle World, a geek fest extravaganza.  The other was Fleet Week, a macho man hunkival.   The city, and more importantly, its hotel rooms, were completely filled with studs and nerds.

Liberal as San Francisco may be, there is still a shocking capitalistic side to it - all of the available rooms had quadrupled in rate.

UCSF has a  recommended hotel section of its website, and most were listed in the very low $65.00 - $99.00 range which would be cheap, even for Sacramento. With rates like that, they really are doing hospital patients a favor.

But, not during Floricle.

Every place on that list I called was $400.00.  Or more.  A night.  I expanded out from the recommendations, and all quotes were in the same range.   And, I'm talking calling your crappy Motel 6 type places, not your luxury Top of the Mark hotels.  At first, I'd just call and ask about rates. When I kept hearing $400.00, over and over, I realized I'd have to try a new tactic: playing the Cancer Card.  So, I'd call and say, "Hello, my name is Ann, and I have breast cancer that has spread to the liver.  I'll be staying at UCSF so they can take half my liver out and I need a place for my family to stay for the week - you were recommended by the hospital.  Do you have a room?"

Hey, the hospital linked to them, they should have some empathy, right?  A special rate (or a normal rate) for a patient?

The answer, despite my sob story, didn't change.  It was either, "sorry, we are booked" or "yes, we have a room for $400.00 a night, would you like it?   Even when I said, "But it says $70.00 on UCSF's website," I could hear the shrug over the phone.  "It's Fleet Week and Oracle World, the entire city is booked."

Wait, I take it back, the story did change:  some people added "I'm sorry, good luck to you," after they tried to get into my wallet.  Most just hung up when I said I couldn't afford it.

I had two fall-backs.  First, I knew the hospital had a social worker and thought she may have had some ideas. Second, my step-daughter just bought a house in South San Francisco.  I knew that she'd be fine if we descended on her.  I hesitated because I knew I would have to take up an entire bathroom the night before surgery, and I also wanted to be closer to the hospital.  Plus, with my sister, my two sons and my son's girlfriend, it just seemed like too much of an imposition, especially staying for an entire week. She has a demanding job as a middle school teacher; she doesn't need people sleeping all over her house and hogging her bathroom.

But, it was in my back pocket in case I had to use it.

After dozens of phone calls, in despair, I shared my dilemma with a friend, who mentioned he'd stayed at the Cow Hollow Motor Inn and thought it was serviceable. I called them, and discovered - to my astonishment - they had not jacked up their rates and were even located in the heart of the city, on Lombard Street.  I immediately booked it.  Now, I am not going to say it was cheap - it wasn't.  It was $130.00 a night, and that price didn't include luxury (it did include the smell of grease).  But, it was clean and safe, and every staff member was extremely nice.  The price gave me motive to get better so my husband could check-out, but it wasn't so high that I felt the need to leave the hospital and endanger myself.

The moral of the story is:  sometimes, playing the cancer card doesn't work, even when the place you go to cure cancer recommends you play it.

(In fact, most of the time that card doesn't work, I really need to stop trying to pull it out.)

 My Windows

As I said before, the view in my room was truly spectacular. There were a bank of windows, beginning in the bathroom (I didn't know that for a few days) stretching across to the other side.  The entire City of San Francisco was displayed below like the sparkling jewel it is.

The photos I took didn't do it justice, not surprising considering they were taken by a woman cut wide open, sewn back together again, and lying flat on her back in a hospital bed.  I tried to get my husband to take one, but every time he touches my iPhone, his hands shake - probably because he pays the bill.  Trust me when I say that everybody who came in commented on the view - in most cases, before they commented on me. I'm surprised nobody brought it flowers.   So many doctors walked in, never having seen the room before, and said, "Wow, look at that!" and they were not talking about my scar.

Which, by the way, is worth a comment or two.   Or even flowers.

When you think about it, it's surprising that room is actually a hospital room.  Although it's small, you'd think it would be the hospital boss's office, or a hideaway for his trysts, or a small conference room for heads of various departments.  It could be rented it out for parties, or even become a small but very expensive San Francisco studio apartment -  the view is that great.  And, nobody would ever have to worry about getting sick living there.  Because it had two sets of doors, it was extremely quiet - I heard no hospital noise at all.  I have no doubt at all that my peaceful, pretty room contributed to my fast healing. Having privacy and a beautiful view - what more could you want?

Maybe some entertainment?

See the two spots sort of to the left?  It's not dirt on your monitor - it's the Blue Angel's Aircraft
Well, we got some amazing and unexpected entertainment, from an unlikely source.  Because it was Fleet Week, the Blue Angels were in town.   And, they, like all other entertainers, have to practice.  So, every day at about 11:00, we were treated to the Blue Angels learning the skies and landmarks of San Francisco.  We'd hear a roar, and then see an aircraft go straight up, streaming smoke behind it.  Then two would go by and then part,  going their separate ways, contrails flowing behind them.  Once, they flew up then crossed, making a cloud heart.  A time or two they roared right over the top of the hospital, demonstrating precision flying by tipping their wings in unison, only inches from each other.  It was all pretty spectacular and a thrilling way to take my mind of myself.

Being a social sort, I invited everybody in for a party.  "Hey, the Blue Angels will be practicing at 1:00, come back in," I'd tell the cleaning folks, the nursing staff, the doctors.  I didn't have anything available to make it a real party - some leftover jello and a tea packet or two - and I wasn't sharing my dilaudid - but who cares?  It was the Blue Angels!  Several people did come by, stare out the window for a few minutes, then go about their business.  They work hard at UCSF.

The real show was Saturday, the morning we were leaving, so practice was all we'd get to see.  Their dry runs were so impressive,  I can only imagine what the real thing looked like.  After I checked out, I hope they managed to clean out my room and put another patient in there early enough so they could enjoy the spectacle.

It was very special to be able to see America's best and brightest share their talent in the skies during my recovery. As I saw the astounding tricks that must have taken tens of thousands of hours to learn, thinking about the dedication of those skilled pilots, I realized that inside the hospital the same kind of dedication was going on.  The surgeon who took the chance and went against protocol to remove cancer from my liver, who spent decades honing his skill, who flew off in a different direction than the rest of his class by doing this surgery - what he did was every bit as beautiful as what the Blue Angels did.

I felt very lucky to be among the most skilled people in the world.

Happy Veteran's Day to all our remarkable service men and women.

Please help me meet my goal of getting 999 facebook likes. I don't know why I want to hit that number, but it feels lucky to me.  So, if you have not liked his page yet, and you did like this post, please "like" me on facebook. I don't spam and you won't get a million status updates from me.  You can do it to the right. Thanks!


  1. I'm glad you got that private room with the beautiful view (and an amazing show to boot!) ... as far as I'm concerned, you deserved it!

    And I agree with you about the Cancer Card!... especially when it comes to getting a better deal, $-wise, the Cancer Card, like most credit cards in this economy, has a shrinking credit line! No one really seems to sympathize unless they are close to you. And I have this idea that if someone else had asked for the same benefit on our behalf (i.e., we're too weak to arrange our own hotel), we'd probably get better results.

    Cancer card is still effective for many things tho: Getting a pushy sales person (or just about any person) to leave you alone; getting out of: social engagements, most promises, work, etc. Currently I am going thru radiation and I am well enough to work 8 hours a day now, but I don't have to, because ya know, I have cancer... I need my rest!

    I have really enjoyed your blog, Ann, and I am so glad you were able to get this special surgery! Wishing you continued healing!

    --Cheryl from Pleasanton

  2. Ann, you are such a gift to the world. I love your writing and your wit. I hope and pray that this rebel surgeon has saved your life, for the world needs you!!xoxoxo
    Susan Kranyik

  3. That last bit, about your doctor taking a risk, make my eyes tear up. I am so happy that you found each other! Be well, and thanks for writing.

  4. Hey Cheryl, here's hoping your rads goes quick and your skin takes it well. And, thanks Susuan and Praelior. I hope he saved my life too!

  5. I really appreciate your website and check it often (like about every day!). I like your analogizing the Blue Angels practice sessions with your doctor having the courage to fly in a different direction.
    I was diagnosed this year with IDC and have tried to learn all I can about it. Your blog entries are very clever, well-written, and educational and I thank you for them.

  6. Anon, I'm so sorry about your diagnosos. I'm sorry that any woman gets diagnosed with this difficult disease. I'm grateful that you have found help in my relating my experience.

    I can't always respond to every comment, but to all of you who read and respond, please know you are helping me too, and making it easier on me. It's great to get the support and the cheering from the sidelines, and knowing I have helped somebody know what to expect with treatment is a gift.

  7. I liked you btw, thank you for sharing all of this. I would say Journey but I hate it when they say that. A journey to me means we are going on vacation somewhere. Breast Cancer is NOT a vacation.


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