Tuesday, June 12, 2012

We Can Rebuild Her, part 2 (finally!)

Let's see, where was I?  Oh yes, thirsty and floating on morphine.  Ahem.  The rest of the day and night is a blur.  I remember being moved to my room, Nate talking to the doctors, me staring down dazedly at all the tubes I was hooked up to, and being thankful that everything was still numb.  On Saturday, I was allowed to have some soda and bouillon.  University of Penn is a wonderful hospital, but three years ago their food fulfilled every bad hospital stereotype in the book.  I didn't think it was possible to make chicken bouillon and jello taste bad, but they managed it.  But hey, it was nourishment, of a sort.  Since I couldn't sit up unassisted, we spent some time learning how to raise and lower bed so that I could recline.  Did I mention that I also had big cuffs (like blood pressure cuffs)wrapped around each leg, massaging them so I wouldn't get blood clots?  I'd forgotten about them till this moment.  I was a rag doll, propped up on pillows, content, for the moment, to lie there quietly.

Doctors and nurses popped in every few hours.  My surgeon came by, and said all had gone well.  She asked if a group of residents could come to see me, and I agreed.  By this point in the game so many people had seen so much that a few more eyes didn't matter.  So a group of cheerful young surgeons in training came in, inspected the six surgical drains, the incisions, listened to Dr. Wu describe part of the surgery, and trooped out.   Later that day Nate headed for home, and it was just me, the nurses, and TV.  I spent a lot of time watching things like "What Not to Wear" and the soon-to-be-trainwrecked Jon and Kate.  Somewhere out there people were having makeovers, living their lives, and raising children.  I wanted to be part of that world.

My sister came to visit on Sunday.  I ate more horrible jello as we watched TV and talked.  Later that day, at least I think it was that day, the nurses told me I would have to get up and walk.  What a process.  Somehow they got me out of bed and behind a walker, and there I was, hunched over like an 80 year old bald woman, shuffing out of my room and down the hall.  A nurse helped me get started, and said to take it slow and do my best.  Again, the surrealism of the experience took over.  Was this me?  A year ago I had been a healthy new mom with a full head of hair.  Now ... who was I?  A hunched figure in a hospital gown, muttering through gritted teeth "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

Perhaps it was seeing all the happy people on TV who were learning what to wear, or perhaps the drugs were wearing off, but for whatever reason, Monday was a low point.  The day started out well, with a visit from a woman I had met on some cancer forums.  She'd had a similar surgery in the same hospital less than a year earlier, and she drove all the way from New Jersey to meet me in person.  She brought a care package, and was full of encouragement.  A Muslim woman, she blogged for about a year after this, then disappeared from the internet, so we never met again.  Khala Jan, if you're still out there, I don't know if I ever thanked you for your kindness. I truly hope to see you again. 

After she left, I was able to get up and use the bathroom for a few minutes, where I could look in a mirror for the first time.  The surgeon did an incredible job, but the reality of the scars, bandages, drains and my own helplessness hit me full force.  A sweet nurse found me, 15 minutes later, still sobbing.  She helped me back into bed and assured me that I would indeed recover, and all would be well.  I made an effort to trust that she was right.   I also resolved not to look in the mirror for at least a week. 

Next time, "Moving On"

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