I'll admit it, I go through periods when I want to isolate and disappear. It is these very episodes where I feel permission to admit my lapse of optimism to a handful of friends. Everywhere you turn, there are posts, books, blogs, shows, and strangers that will need to set you straight on living in perpetual good spirits - if not, you risk being thought of as not living up to a spiritually evolved place in this day and age. I'll just say it, it's not always coming up roses.
I just went through my eighth surgery, albeit a less major one. I took a cab in the dark early hour of 5:00 a.m. to Cottage Hospital. I'm so versed on the routine that I'm considered a pro. My pre-op nurse, Grace, has been with me seven of the eight surgeries. We're old friends. She knows my four-year history well and waits on me with care while we catch up on our lives. I like hearing about her hippie life outside the hospital. I love her. She makes sure the anesthesiologist does the IV because she's seen my fragile vein issue, and looks out for me.
Grace asks if I have a family member or friend to retrieve while I wait for the moment when rolled in for surgery. The staff and doctors prefer this because they like to know there's someone there for you not only for moral support, but just in case something goes wrong. It also helps to lower the anxiety. This was the first time I took a cab instead of having a ride from a friend, and pretty sure the cab driver wouldn't be my significant person. I realize it's my own insecurities, but it's kind of embarrassing to reveal there's no one. It's a stabbing reminder of being without family. Once Grace had me settled in the bed with a toasty blanket, she asked if there was someone in the waiting room she could go and get for me. I replied with a quick, "no". It's the first time I came without a friend in tow.
I had friends from out-of-state keeping in touch with me via text. It's always been helpful that my closest posse of exceptional friends are two-to-three hours ahead of west coast time since my surgeries have been at the crack of dawn in California dreaming hours. As I wait and nerves surface, my cell phone is my best friend. It's a calming distraction texting back and forth. As my overnight bag and other belongings are put into a plastic bag, my cell remains next to me in the folds of that all-to-familiar fetching hospital gown. I had an additional distraction all the way from Rome, Italy. Our unusual happenstance connection turned intriguing. Newly installed WhatsApp became a touchstone from my Roman friend. Because he's Italian and a doctor, his messages were not only charming, but medically smart. As I saw two hours pass, I realized both anesthesiologist and surgeon were running late. I watched the clock tick to 7:15 which was the scheduled go-time. It wouldn't be long before I'd be rolled into that freezing, sterile, and efficient room.
I'm always chatty with my nurses and doctors. I feel it's my duty to keep up the witty humor I'm known for, and they love to have a little color (or off-color in my case) mixed in with their long day of working hard on their feet serving others. The bigger truth, is that it assists me in pretending I'm not scared because I've walked this journey so long and often that it could be perceived as no big deal. But, wit and certainly a smart-ass, has forever been my armor. It's how I survived loss in fledgling years, young school years with bullies and insecurities, and a father whose temper shook me to my core. At some unknown moment, the neediness will eventually seep in like a little demon tearing down my confidence and battered, scarred self.
The anesthesiologist showed up and had to be versed on vein and narcotic challenges. IV needle slipped in without too much pain since he numbed the area. He started me with what they like to call a 'margarita' before the bigger guns put you out. My clever Roman doctor friend asked me if I could feel him holding my hand virtually. The last thing I remember before swimming into unconsciousness was texting my response, "I do, I do". If he'd asked me if I wanted to marry him in the next text as I was falling into that vulnerable drug haze where everything drops away, I would've repeated, "I do, I do."
I woke up in post-op where patients are wheeled in still out in some whirling euphoria before waking to reality. In post-op one assigned nurse waits for you to wake up and say hello. It's my eighth time, and I give the answers before the questions come even as I drift in and out. My pain on a scale from one-ten was an eight, and so forth. Their sole job is to control the pain with the good stuff. I arrived at 9:30 a.m. after a two-hour surgery. My room wasn't ready since there were late releases. I remained in the post-op space for five hours turning out to be a comfortable womb. My personal nurse and I chatted about all sorts of things, including the texts from Rome. One came in asking what the nurse was giving me in the IV for pain. I responded by saying, "Demerol". Anything else would cause me to throw up for hours. He didn't recognize the drug because it wasn't the Latin word. My nurse gave the Latin version. He responded in a text by saying, "Ah, yes, this is what we give American girls to make Italian men look better." One sarcastic loving humor to the other, and why, regardless of the different cultures, we connect - sharp humor is the optimal way for me to connect. The nurses enjoyed a belly laugh by his description. Post-op room was surprisingly slow on this day of June 30th, 2017.
One of the nurses without a patient assigned to her came over to ask me if there was something I really wanted - Well, that was a big question and my greatest dream ran straight across my mind like a film scene. Instead, I asked for a large Peets coffee from the coffee bar in the lobby. She was happy to take a walk downstairs to purchase coffee, and it was delicious. The new lobby of Cottage Hospital reminds me of a 'W' Hotel. My assigned nurse gave me a smoothie made with almond milk before I put that dark, strong coffee in my system. I was chatty under the drug of Demerol easing the pain. It was time to go to my room at nearly 3:00. It's the same floor I've been on eight times, and nurses came by to say hi, give me a hug, and remind me how amazingly strong I am. It's been a long path of various rooms on this same floor and a total of 60-days in the hospital. Even nurses that weren't assigned to me said, "you look familiar". Everything was familiar.
I was released the next day and picked up by a friend who made sure I got home okay. She set up my TV and provided a DVD player. Since I am admittedly lame when it comes to setting up technology and hadn't bothered with it since moving in a couple months ago, it was a huge help. There I was, once again home alone from the hospital. I had been in much worse shape from past surgeries with drains hanging out of me than this time around. This alone was a blessing.
Regardless of the fact that I made it out alive for the eighth round of surgery, a breast cancer survivor, had a roof over my head, friends from afar in touch with me; I felt so alone it was palpable. I was no longer in the controlled pain environment with my familiar, caring beloved nurses. I was facing myself and recovery on my own and left to figure it out. The activity of getting home and adjusted caused the pain to hit with a wallop now that all the drugs from the hospital were wearing off. I thought I'd get by with Ibuprofen, and Valium for calming muscle pain. My all-organic green nutribullet packed with chard, parsley, ginger, lemon, half an apple and few blueberries certainly didn't do it either. Bent over with pain, I went for the Percocet. Within twenty minutes that narcotic threw me into a whirling space of nausea and the most undesirable place for we mere humans - throwing up for two hours. There wasn't anyone to reach out to locally so I powered through as I always do. Two weeks post-surgery, and I'm still in that heart-stopping pain.
I would not want to admit my utter despair to those who wax optimistic life quotes (often from authors we've never heard of), and suggest that you accept nothing other than whatever it is that you are experiencing in the moment. I pulled in and isolated. I'm nesting in my new place where I often wish the powerfully noisy traffic would stop so I could ground my self in peace and be wrapped in the noise of nature only. I notice that my paper towel holder is still not hung, and the other handy tasks undone. As a story editor, I could run entire movie scenes in my head, but handy-woman I am not. So, rather than focus on what still needs to be done, I stare at my beautiful orchids and fresh hydrangeas cut from a friend's bountiful bush in the most beautiful shade of lavender.
In a moment of panic, I actually drove to the Mission before I should've been driving, thinking I could light a candle to assist my healing and lessen the pain. Unbeknownst to me, they haven't had candles in the church to light for years due to safety issues. The door was locked. I'm the farthest person from being Catholic, but I purchased the candle in the gift shop filled with tourists. I asked the sales person what to do. I brought the Saint Guadalupe candle home, set my intention, and let it burn to the end which took nearly four days. I called the Unity prayer hot line. I couldn't reach out to anyone local, not only because I was far too vulnerable, but because of frailty from too long a medical road. And, it makes sense because I've been going through this for four long years. It's not only worn me out to the bone, but understandably is wearing on others.
I'm not practical by nature and therefor leave myself wide open to discouragement and devastation. I seek ways to put band aids on my heart. But I'm perceived as a strong person who can take anything life throws at her. And, I have, but not without the residue of heartbreak and trauma showing up when it feels like it. I give the appearance of looking great and doing well. It's wonderful to be given the compliment, but people don't know what goes on inside a person. I was taught as a young child to buck up, be strong and fix yourself up to show you have the world by the tail. This is a family trait and what my dad did to survive. He also drank to survive. My mother died from breast cancer in her thirties in an era where shame surrounded the diagnosis. I can only imagine how deeply she hid her fear and broken heart.
Granted, it's impossible and unfair to expect others to be acutely aware and empathize when they have not gone through anything like it themselves. Most, just want to hear that it's all fine. I've also been told that I attracted it into my life, and what did I do to attract it. One time, a stranger stated that I had made a contract with the Universe to go through the long painful journey of breast cancer. I can assure you, I did not. If I was ever to hear someone say this to a person suffering, I would not hesitate to say, "fuck off." No one deserves to be judged when facing illness, loss, etc.. What could my mother have possibly done to deserve to die leaving a husband and two toddlers she was in love with behind? I have seen every age, every walk of life, the most optimistic beautiful people; some healthy their whole lives until struck with a life threatening illness, rich or poor, be stricken with cancer. I write in honesty to honor others, and will fiercely protect anyone who hurts. I encourage compassion whatever your history, beliefs and state-of-health.
Eventually, I'll find myself back to seeing life in full technicolor, but not right now. Presently, I do what I can to control the gnarly pain and ignore the gnarly scars. I can't always sugar coat what is real in the moment, and know there are others out there who feel it necessary to hide their anguish, for whatever difficulty they may be going through, so they make others feel comfortable and not be perceived as a burden. We get there, back to the place of seeing exquisite beauty in life, but in our own time. Sometimes we need a gentle hand to help us put that band aid on our hearts until we're ready. Better to feel what is true for us than shove it down into layers of the spirit we may not be able to unearth later resulting in a shut-down heart. Inevitably, a broken spirit and/or a heart covered in steel armor cuts us off from leaping into exhilarating adventures. When true feelings and fear are not expressed, it may be a challenge to live courageously, and notice the roses of life in full bloom. From my own humble experience, this is how I see it. I close my eyes to surround myself in glowing light and hold those in pain in golden healing light as well.
Keep on swimming through life,