I abandoned my children tonight. I plugged them into a glowing rectangle of one form or another, told them to make good choices, and headed out to where I could sit in a dimly-lit space with alternamuzak and drink a pint or two of amber-colored calming tonic in a room with few humans, zero of whom want me to mediate an argument-turned-fist fight, explain why I get to have seconds of dessert and they don’t, or who might accidentally walk in on me while I’m trying to go to the bathroom because they forgot to knock. Again.
I found out yesterday that I will be going in for thoracic surgery on December 17th. Do I have cancer? Unknown. First the nurse practitioner, then the doctor explained to me that there is a 1.8 mm nodule at the bottom of the third lobe of the right lung. (Did you know the left lung only has two lobes? I didn’t either until yesterday.) They’re unable to biopsy it. I won’t bore you why. They explained it using charts and shit and it all made sense, even though it was kind of hard to pay attention, kind of like the way Walter White could only concentrate on the mustard stain on his doctor’s lapel when he got his diagnosis. So, no biopsy. Surgery it is. While I’m under general anesthesia, they’re going to put an incision between four ribs – two incisions total – and remove my nodule, which I’ve named Alberta, very carefully – like John Travolta in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble – so that it doesn’t shed cells on to the presumably-healthy tissue of the rest of my lung. Then my surgeon and his team are going to…eat a sandwich? Balance their checkbooks? Exchange clever banter? Something…while somebody with, at a minimum, a community college certificate does some scientific wizardry to assess whether or not Alberta is malignant or benign. If he’s benign, they’re going to stop right there – hopefully not leaving any of their ink pens or mustard packages inside me – sew me up, and send me on my way to the recovery room. If he’s malignant, they’re going to increase the size of the top incision, spread my ribs wide, and perform a lobectomy on the bottom quarter of the third lobe of my right lung. In case you’re keeping score, this accounts for approximately 20% of the breaths I take (for granted…) There’s a 1% chance of dying during surgery and a 2% chance of developing some sort of something unpleasant and dying within 30 days of the surgery.
Time estimated that I will spend in the hospital: 3-5 days
Time estimated that I will need to recover 100% (for either surgical option): 6 weeks
Number of days before I find out if it’s cancer and what stage it is: 5 work days
Time estimated before I can return to work: whenever I no longer need my travel-sized bag of narcotics, or 4-6 weeks
Number of days I need to spend quarantined: 0. Word on the street (or from my doctor, whichever) is that I should integrate into the world right away.
Number of pounds that I’m limited to lifting for six weeks: 10
Number of days – from the day of surgery forward – that I have before I have to start parenting again: 10
Number of people who are going to take care of me for those days: 1. Mike. (Yes, the same guy I keep making dramatic announcements about breaking up with. Turns out we’re making a real go of it. Maybe for a long, long time. We’ll probably even live together, ’cause the Magic 8 Ball said so.)
Number of things on my mind: about ten million.
What I’ve told my boys – my almost-12-year-old twins: I have an endocrine nodule. It might be responsible for panic attacks and mood swings. They want to remove it. (Said in the middle of another conversation.)
I left work tonight and immediately drove to the daycare provider’s house to pick up the boys. They’ve been excessively argumentative lately. They’ve been fighting a lot. Indigo has been very invasive of my personal space and boundaries, and Tolkien has been sneaky and combative and communicates almost exclusively in aggressive yelling. This is hard on my best days. But tonight…
I picked them up and they immediately started hounding me about screen time.
“Hey, mom. We only had three hours of screen time all day. Can we have more tonight? Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom? Can we have screen time?”
“Hey, mom – can we have screen time?”
“I CAN FUCKING HEAR YOU! I’M NOT DEAF! PLEASE CRAWL OUT OF MY ASS!”
Endocrine nodules don’t make people talk this way, you see. Possibly cancerous tumors do. Worries about leave time and dying and work that will be abandoned make people short fused this way. But endocrine nodules don’t. Intellectually, I know I can’t say anything to them to scare them. I can’t share my own fears – which are almost entirely masked during the day, when their demanding, needy selves are gone. It’s my responsibility to keep this light until I know more. So, instead of telling them I’m scared and stressed and unable to parent them right now, I just scream at them for being the same demanding people they’ve been since the day they were born. And they’re confused and sad and hurt. And angry.
Welcome to the club.
After I picked them up from daycare, we immediately headed to parent-teacher conferences. I pulled together some coupons and got us each a burger so that our blood sugar was solid for the hour-long criticism fest. My co-parent was there. I nearly cried. Both boys, who are so, so, so bright are failing at least one class. It seems this is because they’re not turning in assignments. The clean, smooth lines of elementary school homework has turned into a confusing mass of non-Euclidean geometry and everyone is troubled with how to get everyone on the same page. Except my ex-husband, who seemed to understand the whole system and impatiently tolerated my need for constant reiteration. At one point, I nearly cried, “I can’t possibly be the only parent who didn’t understand this system!” Eight nervous, male, adult eyes fell on me. They had no idea where it had come from. Neither did I.
In my defense, I never cried.
I got the boys home, broke up The Fist Fight of the Night, didn’t bother mediating whether or not “acting like a zombie” justified “being kicked in the gut,” put them in two different rooms with two different glowing rectangles, and politely, but rapidly, excused myself.
I abandoned my children tonight. I may or may not have cancer. All I can see is mustard on the world’s lapel. And I’m not entirely sure which shit I’m listening to overhead right now*. But thank god I’m finally fucking writing again.
*Note: Shazam informs me that it’s “Sweet ’69” by Pink Mountaintops.