Saturday, July 9, 2011


So here I am, four days post-op. And I'm discovering the real meaning of the word vulnerable.

My recent surgery was thoracic, and I knew it would be a tough recovery. My doctor already had talked about my staying in at least a week, which is a long time.

I figured he was being overly conservative. Surely I couldn't be hurting for much longer than four or five days right? I'm fairly fit, I'm active, and I believe in the power of positive thinking and prayer. My pastor even came the morning of my surgery for healing words from the scriptures (Psalm 121) and a prayer. Apparently I believed I would be leaping off the table and hailing a cab later. It didn't work out quite that way.

Right before I went into the operating room, I informed one of the attending surgeons that the last time I was kept as long as five days, I got to take a baby home. "You're not getting a baby," she told me. I debated with her, telling her, surely they had an extra baby, or someone might drop one off. And when I was ready to go home, I'd be more than happy to take one home. But she was just as adamant.

My main surgeon, brilliant and renowned in his field, also nixed the idea of cosmetic surgery which I requested (to restore what age and gravity have taken away from me), and wouldn't consider a tummy tuck either. This is a great hospital, but boy, are they stingy with the perks.

Now I've had a lot of time to think these last few days. And I've come to realize several things. One is that every television show where they have to move patients right away, is probably the most unrealistic thing you'll ever see. Right after my surgery I was immobile. I needed help to do everything, and I do mean everything.

Now this isn't my first rodeo. I had fibroid surgery many years ago, before I was 40, and of course they pulled a live human being out of me 12 years ago. But I had forgotten just how painful the recovery process is. You can't even cough. How stupid is that? I couldn't cough, or clear my throat, let alone get up out of a bed and walk. Now I love those shows where people have to be moved quickly. One of my current favorites had my new favorite spy helping her boyfriend who had been shot, get away from would-be assassins, who came armed with automatic weapons to take him out in his hospital bed. She threw his arm over her shoulder and they ran down flights of stairs, dodging bullets.

I had lots of tubes coming out of me after my procedure. If I had to suddenly be disconnected and go anywhere, there's only one word that would describe me: DEAD. In fact as I have had time to contemplate, I also decided that if it took superhuman post-operative strength to even save EB, the best I could do would be to try and shout (I could barely whisper right after surgery)  "save yourself " to her before becoming, again, DEAD.

I'm never going to look at hospital shows the same way again. At least not until that selective amnesia kicks in that apparently made me forget how awful I was going to feel. I was just going with the positive. I won't be eating much, I will surely be losing some weight! After four days of being fed delicious intravenous bag, I'd better look like I did in my much younger skinnier days when I finally come off the disabled list.

But there's more than just the physical vulnerability I'm coming to grips with. After the first night, one of the recovery nurses noted that I apparently hadn't slept well because I was a little irritable. I immediately apologized and said that wouldn't happen again. He understood he said, I wasn't feeling well. Yeah well, so what? I'm allowed to take it out on him? I've made sure I'm not grouchy again. Even when the resident turns on the bright light and yells right in my face to wake me up. Or when I get awakened for vitals, blood work, blood sugar tests or medications. There is no real rest here. Pain medication makes you dopey, but you don't get a decent sleep. And at least every two hours someone has to check you for something. It's so irritating, it's actually been kind of funny (and it also hurts to laugh!).

My two favorite people have come every day. But they seem a little out of sorts. Our family is like a well-oiled clock (that's always running a little late). They're getting along OK though. (I privately asked each of them to give the other one a break because the other one would be worried.) My husband took the week off, EB went to camp, and although we tried to keep everything normal, when one cog is absent, the whole clock's timing is off. I'm told even the dog seems sad.

This has been a great time for more serious introspection too. When I finally got to my room, I was envious that my roommate had gotten the bed by the window that looks out over the city. It's not a great view, but it's a view. Then I heard her doctor come and talk to her about chemotherapy and experimental pediatric oncology treatments. She left before me, but chances are she'll be back. God forgive me for coveting a stupid window. I'm remembering her in my prayers. I'm on my third roommate now. The second one came and went within two days, and I will probably beat the current one home, since I'm expected to leave soon.

So opens a new chapter of vulnerability, having to recover without the extra help, but remembering not to be grouchy to my family either. I'm looking forward to going home, if only for the chance to sleep for longer than two hours without interruption. But I'm adding a lot of more people to my prayer list: the fellow patients I pass on my walks around the hall, my roommates, the amazing and incredible nursing staff, the orderlies and other unsung heroes, my meticulous doctor who really listens, and even the resident whose value I can now appreciate after I started to feel better.

Vulnerability is a valuable lesson learned all on my own.

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