a few weeks ago, i participated in a rockwood leadership program. we did a powerful exercise with partners on when we lie and when we tell the truth.
i’m about to drop some truth on you.
this experience has suuuuuucked in a heart wrenching and physically painful way.
monday morning: after i opted not to get the lidocaine shot before my IV, the nurse commented that i must have a really high pain tolerance. i regretted that decision when my first IV failed and my overused vein blew. it really hurt and left me with a deep bruise. that spurred my vaso-vagal / pass out response. everyone got me back to earth though. the second IV worked, thankfully.
in pre-op, the surgical team drew all over my torso, front and back. they said most of the lines were for landmarks, but it gave me a sense of what was to come.
when i woke up in recovery and was transported to my room, a few things were going on. i was intubated during surgery, so my throat was sore and dry. i told the nurse my mouth was the sahara (if i told her once, i might have told her 20 times…ok ok, 40 times.). she could only give me a few ice cubes at a time though. then the shivers started. i had a reaction to the anesthetic that causes intense jitters and jaw rattling. they gave me something in my IV to relax my muscles. then the itchies started. i had this during my mastectomy as a reaction to the morphine too; the itchies are intense and all over….the bottom of my foot, my butt, my ear lobe. another drug into my IV and these subsided over the few days in the hospital. then when i could start drinking water, i drank too fast, got the hiccups and started throwing up.
i was seriously waiting for the locusts to come because it felt like i was stricken by nearly every other plague. happy monday bitches.
sure, i was annoyed that the capsule had contracted so much in such a short time that we had to start over with an expander. but, i was more upset after taking a look at my chest. horrified actually, so much so that i cried. it was like having a mastectomy, again …losing the same body part, again. only this time, the post-op looked more like Frankenstein. multiple zig zag incisions. purple and swollen skin. crusty blood. i feel like a monster, so the Frankenstein comparison is apt.
oh, and what’s this i notice? what’s this black dot on my breast now? oh, it’s a mole. from my back. oh-my-fucking-god-I’m-a-science-experiment. the skin/muscle they removed from my back had some moles on it…so now i have them on my breast. if i ever wondered what my back looked like, i have my answer.
during my hospital stay, the surgical team expressed concern that because my new tissue was so purple, it could die. they thought they took tissue that had enough capillaries to establish new blood flow, but in the middle of surgery, the tissue surprised them by not being so stellar. so, they are keeping a watchful eye on it for now. i’d just hate to start this all over again, being already 4 surgeries deep. they will fill the expander very slowly over time to see how my skin stretches. i may have a normal size breast by june or july and right now am completely flat on my right side. pending no other complications, my swap surgery to a silicone implant would happen in october or november.
i came out of surgery with 2 surgical drains–one in my chest and one in my back–and then a pain catheter that gives a slow dose of local anesthetic to the surgical sites on my chest and breast. beyond caring for those things, i put a silver cream on the surgical site 2x/day to help it stay microbe-free. my right arm is numb, and they may send me to a neurologist if it doesn’t clear. i can’t lift more than 5 pounds for 4-6 weeks. i can’t shower, wear a bra, exercise more than walking, drive, or travel.
emotionally, i have equated this experience to be like getting diagnosed again. it’s triggering some PTSD. i was close to being back in the swing of things. so to be hospitalized, change my plans, put life on hold, focus singularly on my health, have another certainly uncertain road…it’s all so circa august 2012. i’m over it.
for now, i’m going to keep working. i just don’t want to give more time or more of my life to this disease and its aftermath. but i also have to take it easy. and not make rash decisions or operate heavy machinery…because general anesthesia stays in a body for 4 weeks post-op and definitely influences clarity of thinking (so i’m just going to chalk the random pillows i purchased off etsy as anesthesia’s fault, mmmmk?).
we got home wednesday evening from the hospital, opting to come home instead of stay another night to manage the pain. they wheeled me out of the hospital, which was helpful given that i’ve been otherwise hobbling around with limited hip flexibility from the hospital bed. while it wasn’t entirely a good idea to come home and this recovery is more painful than the mastectomy, i was happy to wake up in my bed yesterday morning. and again this morning. and hopefully again tomorrow morning.
so i’ve just given you the truth in a large dose. it feels good to get it all out there.
there is still beauty in the world…i’m reminded of this every day by lisa bonchek adams: “Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can’t find it, create it. Some days this may be hard to do. Persevere.”
for me this week, that has been visitors and my dear local friends who have stepped up to help with food and lifting the teapot and caretaking during mike’s busiest time of the year (my mom thanks you so eloquently in the guest book here on March 27). it’s hearing from you. it’s realizing what a life-saver a catheter can be when physically moving is too painful. it’s the smell of jasmine in our yard. it’s internalizing my nurse mary saying how calm i was and suggesting i would be a wonderful surgical nurse. it’s my hospital bed nest with all 6 pillows the staff pilfered for me. it’s the PCA (patient controlled analgesia…my morphine on-demand). it’s all the nurses, techs and housekeepers at CPMC–ursula, kurt, daisy, erica, sheena, tsehay, mary, roben, fabio, bong and janette–who smiled, joked, gossiped, made me comfortable, let me snore, washed me up, protected me from the random roving naked man on the floor, and hugged me goodbye (fabio and bong…we couldn’t make up those names if we tried). it’s being connected to other BAYS women who’ve had similar complications and are on the other side of it and happy 8 surgeries later (emphasizing the happy part there). it’s my surgical team who was rocking out to james taylor when i was wheeled into surgery, and to fleetwood mac (yay Christine McVie!) when i was wheeled out. it’s remembering that i have the ability to breathe deeply and slowly.
we’ll keep you updated as to how this recovery unfolds. i had so hoped i could close the book on my cancer experience sooner than later. but i’m instead embarking on a new chapter. thanks for being part of it.