August 12, 2020
As a writer, I am often asked … wait, let me walk that back a little. I am not “often asked” anything. My audience is not that large, my readership confined to friends and those in a similar boat (both literal and figurative).
And that’s just fine with me. My topics are deeply personal. I write what is in my heart. The struggles. The joy. The loss. The triumph. Overcoming, and failing. I am not political, though I did write a piece about missing James Madison and al fredo sauce. I don’t write fiction, though I have a couple of ideas for children’s books. I merely write what I know. The stories that ask to be told.
Especially the stories that demand to be told.
In many ways, I do not do well by myself. It is difficult for me to stand up for myself or face frustration and fear without crying, which makes me feel like an idiot. Facing my recent abdominal surgery – that finally occurred two weeks ago on July 29! – was terrifying.
I was worried about the pain. People assume that those of us with chronic severe pain “get used to living with it” so it “doesn’t bother” us as much. They could not be more wrong. It is a case of fear of the “known.” We know how bad something is going to be, but we face it anyway. We know what it is going to cost us and we do it anyway.
I was afraid of the nausea and vomiting that is my surgical M.O. Enough said about that.
But it was having to face the whole experience by myself that sent me over the edge.
My new psychologist and I talked about what was causing my fear and how I could address it with logic and rational thought. This made sense and was an easy academic exercise.
What carried me through the day without panic and very few tears, though, was what my beloved friend told me. I call her my “spirit guide” for she is an old soul with a deep heart.
“I’ll be alone in there.” I said, struggling not to cry.
“You won’t be alone.” She seemed shocked. “You believe in angels, right?” (I nodded, thinking of the heavenly and earthly angels in my life.) “You won’t be alone! When you’re afraid, think of your angels, and they will be there. They will wrap you in their wings and keep you safe and warm. And you’ll be ok.”
I smiled, comforted at the vision.
So, when I checked in at the pre-op counter after having gotten lost in the four-way corridor with NO signage that was just off the elevator, I was calm and at peace.
After the IV was inserted (always a panic moment) my blood pressure was 106/60. It remained about there throughout the day, which included a surgery delay of almost three hours and me having to explain my Parkinson’s medicine schedule and my specific anti-vomit surgical routine ad nauseam. Throughout it all, I was able to keep my sense of humor and warmth.
It almost abandoned me, though, when, at about the time my pre-op nurse, Amy, was starting the final prep, I noticed the beginnings of a kerfuffle by the door. My surgeon and the anesthesiology team were in deep discussion. The nurse anesthetist came over to explain.
“I’m sorry to tell you this.” My heart plummeted and I felt bitter tears begin. “We have just been told that there are four more tests you have to pass before we can do your surgery.”
While I threw an inward fit, outwardly I begged the question.
“Um, why? And are you kidding? Do you know what I’ve already been through?”
They explained that patients who had survived COVID-19 and subsequently had surgery were not all having positive outcomes. In med-speak, people were dying. The surgical team needed to make sure my heart, lungs, and kidneys were strong enough to survive anesthesia.
“Ok!” That was difficult to argue with. “What do you need?”
They kept trying to apologize and explain more but I kept cutting them off.
“Just tell me what I need to do.”
First. Blood draw and stick pricks to test kidney function. Amy was bending over my right hand, away from the noise of the room.
“Are those tears because you are afraid you won’t have the surgery today?” she whispered.
I nodded back, unable to speak.
“You let those tears flow,” she continued to whisper. “You’ll have the surgery. And you will be just fine!”
Deep breaths. I closed my eyes. Feeling my body relax just a touch into the mattress. And I felt the angels and love surround me, strengthen me, calm me.
Next. Chest X-ray. The machine appeared, pictures were taken, talked over. and sent to radiology.
Finally. Oxygen level. A nurse and I had to walk around the ward three times; him carrying the portable pulse oxygen device; me with the monitor on my finger to make sure my blood oxygen level would stay high enough.
“Ok,” I said, turning to stand. I looked at the male nurse assigned to walk with me and said, “Is there a robe I can put on over this lovely paper gown? Oh, and could you tie this up in the back?” I laughed.
“Can I get my ears?” I gestured toward the bag that held my belongings, “Oh, and my phone? If I’m going to walk, I’m going to dance.” After explaining that my “ears” are my wireless headphones, we got set up.
Lap 1. I waved to my surgeon as we went by.
Lap 2. I was rockin’ to the beat.
Lap 3. We were doing the electric slide and karaoke down the hall. I tapped Dr. Wood on the shoulder, pointed to the readout – 98% – and said, “We got this.”
“All right, let’s go,” she said, and we did.
And now I’m home. There was more damage and issues than they had anticipated, which made the surgery take a bit longer than usual so I stayed an extra night, but I am home and healing. Taking it slowly and patiently. My brain is better at listening than it once was.
I was never alone. Even when I was by myself. Maybe especially when I was by myself. It’s a lesson you’d think I’d have learned long ago, and I suppose it is. Sometimes, though, I need to be reminded that the things I know in my heart are a wee bit more important than the things I know in my head.