I haven’t typed anything for almost a week now. It’s the longest I have been off of FB and email. And I have been through childbirth three times. But OH, the freaking pain. Great googley moogley, as Mia would say! Let the healing begin, mentally and physically. And part of me healing mentally is writing all of this crap down and getting the hell on with it. I apologize (from my controlling side) for the muddled thoughts and repeated information. And I have not been drinking. Although it may appear that I have been. And lastly, sorry for a wee bit language. And perhaps some typos. Ack! Typos bother me more than language, frankly.
Since I went into hospital on Friday, June 15th at 11 am and had surgery at 1:30 pm, I have learned MANY things. Here are just a mere 34 of them:
- Hospitals are freezing cold. The next time I have surgery (which is hopefully when cows fly), I am going to bring my own down comforter. Holy crap, they are frigid. To kill all those bad germs, I was told. Well, I am sure any germ left at Fair Oaks hospital was left crying for it’s Mama, it’s so darn freezing in that hospital.
- I hate bad breath. And I have always tried religiously not to be the person that everyone quietly thinks has the stinky breath. I am always very aware of the close talkers, ya know? And I try to be kind driving down the highway of breathing etiquette. Don’t breathe ON folks, hold your breath and exhale after you say your sentence if you feel you might have just eaten that onion quiche and you are talking to someone. All those rules, I have carefully followed. Even during and right after childbirth. But holy shishkebabs, I had severe dragon breath during this whole operation. I have never really experienced dry mouth until now. And I couldn’t do a darn thing about it after my surgery. So, I just continued to apologize profusely to the poor doctors and nurses, technicians and physical therapists who were caring for me, lifting my arms, checking my wounds. Even if the nurse brushed my teeth for me, I still felt like it took a good five days for me feel normal again and not cower when I was talking to anyone because of my darn breath.
- All vanity and modesty fly out the door when you have surgery. Catheter, drains and surgical bra. The nurses called the catheter my golden bag. Remi called it my backpack. Bathroom issues. I am sure this applies to most surgeries. But I remember even feeling more together during childbirth. This time around, I went into my surgery washed, cleaned, and blow-dried. I had shaved my legs and armpits and my toes were painted purple. I was awesome. I used that antibacterial soap pre-operation with pride. (Boy, does that stuff smell crappy, btw. Oil of Olay needs to get on with making a pre-surgery soap, in my opinion.) I wore a cute long white skirt and a button down multi-colored top, plus sparkly silver flipflops. My girls thought I looked lovely and they told me complete with oooohs and ahhhs. I could have been getting ready for a morning of shopping but instead, I was off to the hospital. I was getting ready for my “button-down” phase, knowing that post-op, I wouldn’t be able to lift my arms alone for a couple weeks. I was all over the button-down pj’s. My girlfriends from the area bought me some comfy mint-green pj’s. My new friend (thanks, cancer, for introducing us) sent me over several more pj outfits, all button-down. I was rocking the button-down look. We left for the hospital at 10 am (no flipping tea for me that morning, boy was that weird) and we were off and running. I got to put my clothes into that generic plastic hospital bag and change into their lovely hospital gown. My dear better half took all of my rings (so many of them, ha ha) and my watch and then stood guard to be sure that nobody walked in on me changing (we were just in a cubby with a cotton pull-back curtain at that point). He was my knight in shining armor and fended off a few unsuspecting nurses apparently. All of this unfortunately did not prepare me for the impending doom of surgery that would soon follow.
- Kids really do pick up on everything. We had told the girls before surgery that Mummy was having an operation to make her feel better and that I would have a big bandaid but that I was going to be fine. Bunny said that I had a scary voice on the phone when we talked while I was at the hospital. All three of my little nuts have been particularly cautious around me and I can just feel that they want me to say I am okay. We didn’t tell them that I spent the night in the ER on Tuesday night (my parents were here so there was no need to worry them and we were back by 4:30 am for morning wake-up.) When I went back to the ER Friday evening, we just said I was going to a doctor’s appointment. A four+ hour one. My parents, again, were here to feed them dinner, bathe them, and get them into bed for the night before we came home.
- Jelly legs and wobbly writing. I can’t walk or write or type, even nine days post-surgery, like I did before. I understand the walking part, but the writing and typing surprised me. I suppose it’s the still-numb/sore entire lower area of my right arm where the IV was is partly the reason nine days post-op.
- I am not Super Woman. Boy, am I not perfect. My flaws seem to be enhanced during this whole process and I am acutely aware of my mistakes. I am tired, cranky, and I have little patience. I look like doo-doo. I feel like I have been side-swiped by a bus.
- I am Super Woman. I freaking rock. I have three little children, we have no real home base, most of our worldly possessions are in storage overseas and in rural Virginia, we live in an apartment, we were supposed to move to El Salvador on July 8th, we are now supposed to be moving to El Salvador (never having spent any significant time in Latin America) in 2-3 months, and we have just gone through the biggest health scare of my life. Again, I ROCK.
- Food tastes magnified. Smells, too. Nothing tastes good. Not even freaking ice cream. And I HATE prune juice.
- I was scared to take a shower and see myself. But my oh my, my boobies looked almost normal. The incisions are under the breasts. Apart from the drains poking out of me, I look okay. But holy crap, those drains are so bizarre.
- The clock stops in the hospital. I lost almost seven hours during surgery and I lost four days between Friday am and Monday pm when I was released. I remember waking up crying and vomiting and the first thing I saw was this huge sterile hospital clock that reads 8:12 pm and I remember thinking-what the hell? I thought they said I would be in surgery for about four hours.
- “I want to go to that place”, as Liz Lemon from 30 Rock would say. I want one of those $20.000 hospital beds. My ass is so sore from being propped up in bed all I day, every muscle and joint in my body aches, and I want to just be suspended in mid-air to sleep.
- Robot walking/zombie jiggle/arms flailing in the hospital as I tried to walk normally. A woman who just had some sort of major surgery lapped me as we walked in circles around the ward and I was surprisingly annoyed.
- Nurses are awesome. I cried when I left the hospital. The nurses who took care of me LOVED me. I think I am a pretty good, caring person, but I cannot imagine cleaning up bodily fluid from a stranger. And the nurses I met through this love their jobs. The ones throughout my surgery, the ones in the ER, every single one of them has cared for me like I was their family.
- Am I really in the Bariatrics ward? Apparently, when you have a Friday pm surgery in a hospital, they try to bulk everyone recovering into one ward in preparation for the weekend so the nurses and technicians don’t have to run up and down the different floors of the hopsital. In my case, we all ended up in the gastric bypass surgery unit. I thought at one point, I might be hallucinating as I looked around and saw all the signs for bariatrics, the large beds, the physical therapy tools and contraptions.
- There is nothing like saying these words-Honey, can you hand me the stool softener, please? Poor Sachie. Emptying surgical drains and measuring all sorts of bodily fluids. BLECH. I was so grossed out. He was a trooper even though he’s a modest guy at heart.
- Are you shitting me??? I have never had bathroom issues, never known what it’s like and don’t even like to say the word constipation. I feel like a 90-year-old man. Oh, my freaking word. I am so beyond all this. And my poor modest husband is totally freaked out. But he still loves me and tells me I am beautiful.
- Holy shit, am I really sharing all of this with you???!! It feels a little embarrassing, but to be truly honest, it also feels invigorating to get this all off my chest. Ha ha.
- I am controlling by nature but I cannot control this. Part of me hates this new feeling, part of me is overjoyed to feel it.
- I don’t have enough cancer guilt. This one is a little harder to explain. I have been feeling some guilt from the start for not have “enough” cancer to merit all of this love and care. My diagnosis was in the very early stages, so for some reason, I feel like those who have a Stage 1-4 should somehow deserve more attention. I KNOW this is crazy. And everyone tells me it’s silly, that I shouldn’t ever feel this way. My brain is telling me this. But emotionally, I can’t stop telling myself that I don’t deserve all of this. I think that this part of things will take longer to heal than the physical wounds.
- Physical therapy tells me to do special cutesy little exercises and the reality is that I don’t have time for them-I just cleaned up the bomb that had exploded in my house and did, I think, much better exercises than any therapist gave me. Of course, Nurse Mum told me not to and I didn’t listen to her. Then I spent the next day regretting my over-exertion.
- The pain, pain, pain. Childbirth you walk out of the hospital with a little baby, this I left like I was missing something when I left the hospital. Aching, throbbing, dull, constant pain. Can’t get comfortable. Just sat on the edge of my bed and listened to everyone else sleep around me. Shooting pain in my arm where the butter knife-sized IV was. Feels like I was electrocuted. Remi’s lip started to quiver yesterday when I was trying to take off my sweater and my arm got stuck and then I moved my arm the wrong way and I had a shoot of pain through my arm. She got scared because I yelled. I cried when I had to have another IV in my arm at the ER on Tuesday night and I am not one to usually be afraid of needles. My arm was just so freaking swollen, tight, sore, and numb all at the same time. Can’t sleep. I might sleep fitfully for 2-3 hours every night and then I am done. Wide awake, stiff, and sore.
- My boobies. They are gone. Or at least, what was really underneath them is gone. Enough said.
- I need to take a shower! When I finally did take my first shower, it took about an hour and I kept thinking to myself, Why the hell do I have long hair? I even shaved my legs, which was physical therapy in itself. My Mum had to hold the drains and water got all over her as well, but we managed to succeed in cleaning me. And holy moly, those four drains are fascinating. I am the freaking bionic woman. They literally are built into me. I was horrified of the thought of them at first, but once I did see them, they are actually pretty awesome. And again, the boobs. Well, to be honest, every time the doctor or nurses lifted my surgical bra to look at the wounds, I would close my eyes. I was terrified to see what I looked like. Feeling it was enough-the odd numbness and aching pain.
- I am reminded of Melissa McCarthy’s quote from the movie bridesmaids when she burps/farts in the bridal gown store-“I apologize. I am not confident which end that came out of.” But this is the hilarious part-my adoring husband told me to eat some prunes and even better, I should have a prune bong contest (replacing beer with prune juice). He also promised to make me a teeshirt that reads-“I had cancer and my husband made me do a prune juice bong.” Don’t I have the sweetest husband ever!?!?!
- The kindness of strangers. Six days post-op, I went to see my plastic surgeon for the first time and when we arrived at the office, I was already feeling weak and emotional. When the receptionist proceeded to tell me that my doctor was behind schedule and there were three people in front of me. Hearing this, I burst into tears. This lady sitting waiting took one look at my sorry state and said to the receptionist, “She can go in front of me.” Then she turned to me and said, “Honey, I am three months out of surgery and this is my second round of breast cancer. I know exactly how you are feeling.” We got to talking and she told me that she had a lumpectomy and radiation 12 years ago at age 39 (my exact age) and then the cancer came back this past spring. So this time, she did the bilateral mastectomy and took care of it once and for all. Then, she asked me if I was still trying to shower with those stupid drains. When I said yes, (sniffling), she opened up her bag and pulled out a flapper-style long beaded necklace with a safety pin attached. She handed it to me and said, “Here, take this, I’m giving it to you. You just safety pin the drains to the necklace and then you don’t have to struggle with the drains. The necklace can get wet and your shower becomes SO much easier.” I couldn’t believe how kind this total stranger was being to me. So I cried again, this time, in relief and gratitude.
- The plastic surgeon’s office-Everyone who works in this office looks like they work in cosmetic surgery. All the girls have perfect little noses and big boobies. Poor Sachie was a little frightened when we went this afternoon. The girl’s heels who helped us into our waiting room had to be at least 5 inches and she teetered and tottered into the room and I almost felt like I should have held HER up.
- Surgical gloves and stands of pearls. When we were in the waiting room at the plastic surgeon’s office, Sachie decided he was going to make guacamole that evening and would be cutting up a hot pepper. So, naturally, he came to the conclusion that he needed some surgical gloves to protect his hands. So, I told him to take a pair from the box that was sitting on the counter. And he did, but of course, he felt guilty in doing so. (I, of course, did not feel any guilt at all. It was one flipping pair of surgical gloves.) However, when we were checking out with the receptionist, I made the mistake of opening my purse and we both (the receptionist and I) looked down. She and I were both caught looking straight at the surgical gloves and the stand of pearls (that the nice lady had given me before my appointment.) I do believe that this poor young receptionist now thinks I engage in some very kinky S & M.
- Nordstrom’s surgical bras! A new friend who has had breast cancer told me about them, so I called the night before my surgery and they over-nighted one to me, no shipping cost. If you ever have breast cancer surgery, you need one of these-they are specially made for the drains and they are much more comfortable than the hospital one you will be sent home with.
- My breast surgeon is Puss In Boots. Or at least, he sounds like him. Strong Spanish accent (from Peru), rather charming, mid-50’s, snappy dresser, slightly balding. Soothing voice. When he called me on the phone last week and said, “Tarrrrrrra?” I was like, WTF, is Antonio Banderas calling me? Because I wasn’t expecting his phone call. But I can certainly talk to Antonio.
- My plastic surgeon told me I looked good when he came into my waiting room. I told him, “Don’t you have to say that?” I mean, though, doesn’t he? What the heck would a patient do if he walked in to the room and say, “Hey, you look like shit.” So I told him that. Well, not the shit part. And he still insisted that he would just say hello if the person didn’t look good. I don’t believe him.”
- Hold all calls, please. I felt like a bit of a celebrity with my parents taking all of my calls for the past week. Although I wanted to take the calls, I just couldn’t. From Friday pm until pretty much yesterday (Thursday), I could barely speak. And I might have even taken a couple of calls that I have no recollection of at all. I do remember when Sachie came into my hospital room for the first time and I talked to him. I remember talking to him but I don’t remember what we talked about. I also remember that I was actually sleeping while we were talking. I never knew that was possible. I can recall almost looking down on myself in an out of body way and my mouth moving. Truly weird.
- Drugs. Well, I knew it deep down. My body couldn’t not even handle one darn percocet. I held off, trying not to take the stuff knowing that it’s a narcotic drug and that I would most likely feel nauseous taking it. Coming home Monday evening, I didn’t sleep at all. By Tuesday afternoon, I was in agony. I had expected the pain but I had not anticipated the nausea and the headaches. So I followed all the appropriate instructions, swallowed a few pieces of pretzels, took the anti-nausea meds, waited an hour and then gingerly took one pain pill. I knew, as I said, that this was most likely a bad idea. And within a few hours, I was throwing up. By 11 pm on Tuesday night, we decided to go to the ER. Boy, was that drive fun! Back to Fair Oaks hospital and straight into a wheelchair. Even though there was no one else in the waiting room, it’s still and ER and I was dehydrated as well as in need of pain and anti-vomiting meds. So we stayed until 3:30 am. It was 4:15 by the time we got to bed and up again at 6:15 to get Mia and Zoë ready for their first day of Camp Funshine. I don’t even know if I can call it sleep-it was more fitful dozing. I was floating out of body, pretty much, by the time we were up again and out the door to go back to the hospital where my doctor’s office is by 7:45 am. Oh, and the valium. They prescribed me valium for anxiety (routine) as well as for the whole reconstruction expander process (ugh) and I finally took one of those on Wednesday night. For some reason, I thought the earth would shake with me taking one of them. Well, it pretty much did nothing. I still had the same level of pain and discomfort, my head was still turning, I still woke up in a sweat from a night terror dream about 2 hours taking the valium (try that after having major surgery-it freaking KILLS!), and I didn’t feel relaxed at all. Either that’s a very good sign (I shouldn’t take drugs at all) or a very bad sign (I should be a crackhead).
- I have the best friends in the world. My entire global group of pals have rallied around my family and I during this tough time and frankly, I know, the ones who are far away would be here in a heartbeat if I said I needed it. I can’t tell you how many friends have offered to come and help, to take our girls, to prop me up in bed, to hold my hand. I am, as I keep saying, grateful beyond words. Friends that I have had my entire life and new friends who have just appeared magically to lend a hand. Electronically and in person, everyone has been so kind to me. Sending flowers, food, fruit baskets, cards, well-wishes, FB messages, emails, phone calls. I am a million times over grateful for all of you and I love, love, love you all.
- I love my family. My girls are the reason I want to get better. They love me even if I have Medusa hair and wench breath and I stink like the dickens. They still want to give me hugs and sit on my lap even though I have bionic drains coming out of my sides and Frankenstein stitches under my boobs. Sachie is my rock. He still calls me his Rapunzel, his tigress, his tall glass of water. He has held my hand and has held back my hair while I throw up and caressed my arm and let me squeeze his hands throughout all of the awful IV’s. He was with me during the 7-hour surgery and horrible ER visits and doctor’s appointments. We have laughed and cried together. He is everything to me.
My parents have also been life-savers. My Mum has been my personal nurse and has propped up my pillows, helped me shower, brushed my hair, dabbed my sweaty face with a washcloth, and helped me brush my teeth. She has cared for my troop of little girls-bathing, feeding, clothing, loving them. My Dad has done his best, too-little jobs here and there, reading to my wee nuts and telling them funny stories, helping feed Remi, chatting with me to keep up my spirits. They leave Wednesday and I honestly don’t know what I am going to do without them.
So, where does this leave me now? We still hope to go to El Salvador, but obviously 2-3 months later than anticipated. We will have to see in the next few weeks what the State Department medical office says in terms of Sacha and the girls. I might have to stay here a bit longer than them, but we don’t know yet. Most importantly, I have a clean bill of health, post-surgery, according to my doctor. I won’t need radiation, chemotherapy, or hormonal drugs. My doctor (for those of you not on Facebook) said that he found more cancer than he had anticipated but that it was still localized and they got it all. Halleluja!! I feel so blessed, so lucky, so grateful. I hope to speak to many of you in the next few weeks once I start to feel better, and perhaps see some of you in the next few months. And once again, I love you all.