By Stephanie Ciccarelli
December 13, 2007
Don LaFontaine, the king of the movie trailers, recently sent a message out to his friends with some updates concerning his health.
I was chatting with Don moments ago (it's past midnight here on the east coast) and since writing this email, he has been steadily improving and hopes to be back to work by the end of the week or the beginning of the next.
In order to provide you with the true story and an accurate account of what happened before the news gets into the hands of the media, Don and I agreed to share his letter with you here on VOX Daily first.
In the interest of full disclosure, I thought I'd let you know why I have been "off the grid" for a while. To my colleagues in the business, and the public at large, it could serve as a cautionary tale, and save them from some discomfort in the future.
Last Wednesday, November 18th, I went to Cedars Sinai Hospital for a minor surgery, an outpatient procedure, which meant that I was to be discharged from the hospital after a couple of hours in recovery.
It didn't quite work out that way.
When I was wheeled down to the recovery area, my wife immediately noticed that my face was swollen. Very quickly thereafter, I blew up like the Stay Puft marshmallow man.
What had happened was this-- (and here the causes differ, depending on if you're talking to my surgeon or to me)--
My version: During the procedure, my left lung was nicked.
My surgeon's version; After the procedure, while in recovery, I must have coughed, and coughed hard enough to blow a small hole in my lung.
Whichever is true, the end result was the same--Pneumothorax, the presence of air or gas in the pleural cavity, the result of a collapsed lung. The natural by-product of Pneumothorax is a nasty little condition known as Subcutaneous Emphysema, which describes the result of the air from the collapsed lung, having nowhere to go but under the skin, blowing the victim up like a balloon. My face and chest grew to alarming proportions. My eyes were swollen shut. I felt like I was strangling (I wasn't. I was being fed oxygen, and my air to blood ratio was very high.)
For about an hour, I was the center of attention, as a chest tube was inserted through my upper ribs to release some of the pressure. In addition, about a half dozen small catheters were stuck under my skin to help drain off the air. Any thought of my going home that day was quickly abandoned. After I stabilized, I was taken to a room in the hospital ward.
At Cedars, as it is at most hospitals, patients on the ward are attended to by one nurse and one assistant, both of whom are also assigned to five or more other patients. The end result of this is service is usually slow. Getting a pain pill or something to help you sleep can take up to an hour. Because of this, my family doctor suggested that we hire a private "sitter" to stay with me--just in case. As it turns out, it was a good call, because about 7 PM that night, I re-expanded--this time worse than before. Because of the anesthesia, my mouth was dry, and now it went positively Saharan. It felt like my throat was filled with sharp little rocks, and nothing would relieve it. It took about three hours to re- stabilize me, and I wound up back in post-op ICU.
That's were I spent Thursday, the 29th, and Friday, the 30th. I was scheduled to be released the following morning, Saturday. I was packed, dressed and literally two minutes from stepping out of my room when I felt myself blowing up again. This third Pneumothorax doomed me to an extension of my stay at Cedars. I was moved from the ICU back to the ward, where I spent the next three days.
During the night of the 30th, my chest tube came out, but it didn't seem to alarm any of my team of four doctors and one nurse/practitioner who visited me each morning. I told them that I thought there was something left over from the chest tube, but I was assured that it wasn't the case--even though nobody had bothered to look under the dressing to make sure.
The miscommunications multiplied.
A nurse told me that I was scheduled for an additional surgical procedure for the morning of Monday, the 3rd, and had written orders that would have withheld any food after midnight on Sunday. Fortunately, my beautiful wife, who holds a nursing degree, was checking up on everything every step of the way, and she kept everybody on the same page as much as possible.
I was finally allowed to go home on Tuesday, the 4th. As a result of the Subcutaneous Emphysema, pockets of air still remain around my vocal cords, and I sound pretty much like a demented Munchkin. I am told that this condition can take weeks to clear up, so I won't be doing any recording for the immediate future.
I will, however, make a complete recovery, and that's the good news.
Last night Nita changed the dressing over my chest tube incision, and sure enough, there was a little blue box attached to my skin. This required an additional trip to the surgeon's office today to have it removed.
All of this is not to garner sympathy for poor little me, but to illustrate the potential problems that can be encountered in situations like this. I don't know if anything could have been done to prevent the Pneumothorax, but a good deal of the other problems could have been avoided with proper communication-- between doctor and patient, doctor and nursing staff and nursing staff and patient.
If anything speaks for the practice of getting a second opinion and making sure you discuss everything with your doctor, this does.
Also, I wanted to get this complete and accurate account of what has transpired on the record before the rumor mill has me gasping my life away in an iron lung somewhere. Aside from being limited for the near future to singing "Follow the Yellow Brick Road", I am planning on being a general annoyance until 2030 or so, when I will retire to the poolside of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Vegas.
I am assuming that many of you will feel the need to respond to this letter, but resist the temptation if you can. My mailbox is already backed up horribly after a week of inattention.
In other news, my appearance on FrankTV can be found on youtube, and my interview with Dave Navarro on ManiaTV can be found at:
Also, Nita's "LifeStories" CD is selling through her website, NitaWhitaker.com at a special holiday price. Makes a great gift.
Finally--from my family to yours, we wish you the happiest of Holiday Seasons. God bless, and have a wonderful New Year.
Image Â© Don LaFontaine
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