I’m sitting on my boyfriend’s couch at dawn on the winter solstice. Actually, I’m not sure if it’s dawn or not still, as the sun doesn’t rise in the Pacific Northwest this time of year, it just sort of becomes less gray for a few hours before it’s dark again. That’s why I’m traditionally so fond of the winter solstice – I know that from here forward until the summer solstice, the days will get longer and brighter. It’s a metaphor, really. A reminder that the darkest days are behind me and that my future is literally going to be brighter.
It’s a reminder I need right this moment as I sit here on the couch in front of my computer because my arm fell asleep while I was sleeping again, which woke me up. Again. This is due to low blood pressure. The low blood pressure is due to the Oxycodone and Gabapentin mostly. Unfortunately, potent as these painkillers are, they’re not effective enough to calm the screaming pain coming from the healing incision under my right breast. It’s a pain that is both searing hot and freezing cold at the same time. It’s sharp and loud and so intense, it’s debilitating. I have to press the elbow of my right arm against my side so that I don’t disrupt the spot at all. The only thing that treats it is a Lidocaine patch, placed carefully above and below the incision. I can only wear this for twelve hours on and twelve hours off. I’m unable to place it myself, so I have to rely on Mike to do it. Right now, I have to rely on Mike to do nearly everything. But he’s sleeping. The sweet man has gotten little regular sleep since I went in to have my tumor removed last Monday, so I’m trying to let him rest.
I also thought about waking him when I walked through his kitchen a moment ago and had to stop when I felt a cough coming on. The surgeon cut a two inch incision into my back as well as under my breast, plus there’s the stitched up hole where the drainage tube lay for three days in the Pleural cavity surrounding my lung. All three of these incision sites hurt when I cough, but nothing is worse than the ribs themselves, which send shock waves of pain throughout my body. When I feel a cough coming on, I experience a second of panic. Where am I? Can I stop? What do I have to hold onto so that I’m braced against the tsunami of ache I’m about to experience?
Just as bad as coughing is passing gas, which is all I can do right now since my pain meds are known to cause constipation. I’ve been taking stool softeners for nearly a week, but there’s still no sign of a bowel movement. When one comes, I may suddenly become religious as I sit and pray, “Oh, Jesus. Oh, God.” It’s not something I’m looking forward to. It is, however, something the doctors are looking forward to. They want me to cough because treating me for pneumonia would be far more painful than releasing the phlegm and fluid that has built up in my injured lungs naturally. And they want me to poop on my own because none of us are looking forward to the things they’ll have to do to force this to happen.
I’ve also been advised by multiple care providers and people who have been through something similar to “stay in front of the pain.” This means that I don’t wait until I’m hurting to take my pain medications. I have to take them on schedule until I’m healed enough that basic body functions aren’t physical torture. Unfortunately, the pills knock me out. But lying around isn’t good for me because I need to move; this will also help with preventing pneumonia, inducing a bowel movement, and preventing blood clots – all of which, apparently, aren’t as bad as trying to get on top of my pain once it’s gotten on top of me. Moving around, though, requires me to stop and take deep breaths every few feet (they took part of my lung, after all) and to moan a little when I have to bend or reach. So, I’m facing this weird balance of staying drugged up and not pushing myself too hard, while also moving around and going into the world despite being tired and doddering.
There’s more physical discord I could describe here, but I’ll spare you. I know listening to someone describe every detail of their pain is like being forced to watch your friend’s forty minute video of their child performing as sunflower number three in the kindergarten Springtime Musical. Besides, I know that I’ve been lucky. I’m still waiting for the pathology reports to come back, and I’m especially waiting to see if the cells from the tumor are located in my lymph nodes. There’s strong evidence that the little tumor was all the cancer there was and now it’s gone. If they find the cells in the lymph nodes, they’ll do a round of chemo and that’ll kill it off and be the end of it. I’m confident that I’ll become the eccentric, reclusive, wild-haired artist women on the outskirts of a small desert art town that everyone whispers about and the children believe to be a witch that I’m working toward becoming.
So, I’m trying hard to remember the positive. I’m trying to remind myself that I’m actually an incredibly lucky human being and that my future is bright – brighter every day after today than the days before. Also, despite the year ending in pain, it’s been an incredibly positive year. This year, I:
- Began a novel
- Was on This American Life
- Saw one of my sons grow up and out of the behavioral issues that have been plaguing him for his entire academic life and, consequently, earn a week of overnight camp, which was the single greatest thing he’s ever experienced in his life
- Saw my other son find his voice, which is loud and aggressive right now, but it’s his and he’ll find a middle ground soon
- Saw my daughter finish walking through the fire and finally start stabilizing, three children later and early in her 21st year
- Moved into a whole house! Which is right near the boys’ school! So I don’t have to pay for daycare anymore! And it’s in my price range!
- Got a new job, which didn’t look like such a positive thing at first, but which has turned out to be exactly the right move I thought it would be
- Visited the East Coast for the first time in my life and met several friends I’d only known virtually. I fell deeply in love with Boston, but also felt New York City’s vice-like clutch on the part of me that still finds staying up all night and talking about art exciting
- Thanked my lucky stars that I listened to my friend Tree’s advice five years ago when she advised me to pay the extra for short term disability insurance that starts at 8 days and not 30 days
- Thanked my lucky stars that I have great insurance and that I have met my maximum out of pocket for the year (so my whole surgery, hospital stay, and treatment is paid for through the year’s end!)
- Got back together with Mike for a final time, after two and a half years of dealing with disappointment by breaking up with him. We’ve worked very hard to communicate and get on the same page about what we want out of a relationship and where we’re going. He’s hilarious and he makes me smile. And, I’m in awe of him. When I got the news that I was going to have to have surgery and would be laid up and need a nursemaid, his only question was, “Do you want me to buy you a dresser of your own or do you mind using what I already have?” He’s been steadfast and good-natured about the whole thing. I feel protected and loved…
…but not just by him. By so many of you, too. I feel blessed – there’s no other way to phrase it – to have so many people willing to help in so many ways. I feel overwhelmed when I contrast how lonely and alone I felt in this world once upon a time with how held and safe I feel now and not even a little cancer can trump that feeling. I’m pretty sure that’s not the narcotics either. 🙂