Grenades, First Steps, and “The Big Reveal”

I had to demonstrate that I was fit to go home before they would actually let me go home. I was woken up several times in the middle of the night to do “breathing exercises” which I recognize is important, but maybe not at 4 a.m. Furthermore, they set these bizarre arbitrary goals for me without even having a baseline for what amount of oxygen I could suck in pre-surgery. I complied because I wanted to go home. It was not painful, although extremely uncomfortable to do the breathing, but I knew the more I worked at it the more quickly my lungs really would get themselves back in shape. I also knew I had to do some walking. All through the night, I’d had to wear these electronic leg massagers. I found them to be really annoying, as they not only massaged my legs, which is fine to move the blood around, but were also heated, which nearly gave me a heat stroke. If I started to walk, then they would have to remove those ridiculous things from my legs.

Mid-morning, after yet another breathing exercise, I realized I had to use the bathroom. But I had a catheter… so I asked the nurse to remove the catheter, but she said she would need special permission. As I laid there, the urge became more severe, which I thought was either entirely in my head or maybe just a little irritation. Was I so drugged up yesterday that I didn’t even notice?? Before I could get the okay to remove the catheter though, they told me I would have to get up and walk. Fine.

Pain had been minimal for most of the morning, but I found that I couldn’t even sit up in my bed. I put my head rest up as high as I could, and the nurse supported me as I used my abs to pull myself up. But it hurt. Really hurt. And even more frustrating was that not only was it painful, physically I could barely even do it. I sat on the edge of the bed for a moment to catch my breath, let the pain subside, and figure out how to get my weight distributed so that I could stand with minimal discomfort.

For the next five minutes, I shuffled like an elderly old woman down the hall of the hospital. My hair was a disheveled mess, and even though the nurse was kind enough to hold the back my gown closed, I couldn’t help but feel like my ass was hanging out. I did a half lap, cutting through the nurse’s station to go back to my room. I laid back down in my bed, very slowly. Success!
After my walk, I no longer felt like I needed to use the bathroom. The nurse surmised that the cord might have gotten a little kink in it, but I still wanted them to take it out. And they did. Which put me one step closer to going home.

Dr. Fuller came in that afternoon to see how I was doing. He explained how to care for myself in the coming weeks. Coming out my side, near my ribs was a clear tube which emptied into a clear bulb, which I called my grenade. He showed me and Preston how to care for it, including emptying blood, puss, and other fluids into a measuring cup to determine how much fluid was coming out daily. He explained that it looked mostly like blood now, but would eventually go to an orange-color and finally more clear. There would be fibroids in the tube, which were long, red, stringy worm-like totally gross things that could clog the tube and would need to be squeezed down the tube into the grenade.

Then with my mom and Preston watching, he began to unbandage my chest. I hadn’t even tried to look at it. I was aware that it was wrapped up, but I didn’t want to mess with anything for fear of messing up the surgery site. I had decided a while ago and Preston agreed that we did not want a long drawn out reveal. My breast would be gone, so why create tension and drama? I wanted to treat it for what it was and nothing more. It was a body part that was gone, and that’s just how it was. And now, as the bandages were removed, I looked down to see what my mastectomy looked like, and… it looked fine. I didn’t feel traumatized or upset. In fact, because I’m small-chested anyway, it really didn’t look all that different than from before. And I said that out loud… accidentally. But everyone sort of chuckled, and I realized that everyone was both simultaneously reacting and also monitoring my reaction. Under-reacting? Maybe. But losing my breast was a small price to pay to be cancer-free.

I did another lap ’round the hospital hallway, this time a full one, followed by some more care instructions. I was wheeled downstairs where my mom’s car was waiting, and I went home to be greeted by Preston, his parents, and my sister and brother-in-law. We all ate dinner that someone from Preston’s workplace was nice enough to make for us. I sat perched on the edge of the couch (afraid I wouldn’t be able to get back up if I sat back) eating very little, but trying to be in good spirits. I opened cards and get well gifts, and once everyone finally left, Preston helped me upstairs to bed, where I fell into an uncomfortable sleep.

In the days after surgery, nausea set in and Preston made me a meds schedule to make sure I got the right dose and timing for my multitude of medications. I took a big pass on my pain meds for two reasons. In the hospital, one of the nurses commented that she could always tell who my doctors’ patients were because there wasn’t a lot of pain. They must have steady hands and sharp scalpels. So, I don’t think I needed pain meds, but I realized within a day or two of coming home that I didn’t want to block the pain receptors in my brain. The pain would not only help to make sure I wasn’t over-exerting myself, but it would make everything real. I didn’t want to block this out. This was an experience, a very terrible one, but it was mine all the same. Pain and discomfort reminded me that this was my life. I hadn’t spent the past three months blocking out the emotional pain with drugs, so why block out the physical pain? Besides the emotional pain was far more excruciating than the physical pain ever was. I took a couple pain pills the first few nights to help me sleep, but I quickly realized I didn’t even want that. Maybe I’m a little masochistic, but it was the best decision I could have ever made for myself.

A little pain never hurt anyone anyway.

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