Friday, July 17, 2015

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to My Surgery



don’t feel like my life has ever followed a predictable script, and I see that as a positive. If I have developed any skill in life, it might be the ability to “roll with it,” no matter what curveball has been thrown my way.

Well, it seems we have been thrown another curveball.

Chris and I travelled to San Antonio in mid June for the second phase of my reconstructive surgery. The surgery was something I was looking forward to, and having been through the first phase of surgery so recently, I wasn’t really nervous about going through with it. 

A tropical storm had been hitting San Antonio the week of my surgery, so I rearranged our flight to get us in to San Antonio the afternoon prior to my scheduled operation. Chris and I arrived in Texas, ate some delicious Tex Mex food, and checked in to our hotel. We walked around the neighborhood, relaxed, and I did my scheduled pre-op prep work: showering with antibacterial soap, no eating or drinking after midnight, etc.

The morning of the surgery, we woke up early and drove to the hospital in the rainy remnants of the storm. As I was waiting to be admitted to pre-op, I met a lovely woman who was also going to be going through her second phase surgery with another surgeon from the same surgeon’s group I was using. We spoke about how wonderful our experiences have been with PRMA, and compared notes about the recuperation from the first phase of surgery. 

I was then called in to pre-op, where a friendly nurse administered my IV port, and spoke with me about my reasons for traveling all the way to Texas for surgery. Another nurse came in and got my urine sample and asked me several questions about my health history. She then left the room for a few minutes.

Another few minutes passed. And then another few. I began to worry because the clock seemed to be ticking closer to my scheduled surgery time, and I had not yet seen my surgeon.

The nurse came back in. She was holding two familiar looking objects in her hand, and had a strange look on her face.

“I did the test twice,” she told me. I then realized she was holding pregnancy tests.

My jaw dropped open. I covered my mouth and screamed. It was THE LAST THING I would have ever expected to happen.

“I think I am going to go get your husband now, so you can tell him the news” the nurse told me. I looked at her and shook my head. I still had no words.

When Chris came in the room, he took one look at my face and said “what’s going on? Is something the matter?”

And then I broke the news to him. And we both sat there, dumbfounded, joyful, confused, floored by the unexpected news of our pregnancy.

 

I don’t know if I believe in dreams, or signs, or if I just think sometimes the world presents very strange and uncanny coincidences.  

About three weeks prior to our trip to San Antonio, Chris came home from work a little late one night, while I was giving the kids a bath. He came into the bathroom and told me that something funny had happened at work. He said one of his co-workers, a guy he hardly works with, had come up to Chris and told him he had had a dream about me being pregnant.

I just laughed. 

Chris told me if, for any reason, I WAS to become pregnant, he wanted me to be assured that he was okay with having a third child.

I laughed some more. I told Chris there was no way I was pregnant, or would become pregnant, and that he should go tell his co-worker to not waste his dreams on me.

 

This crazy news comes with a whirlwind of emotions. I am thrilled to be pregnant. I totally thought I had closed the book on that chapter of my life when Oren was born. I love babies. I love my kids. I am 100% sure that I have room in my heart for another child, and I am psyched for Emmy and Oren to have another sibling. I am amazed by my own body, actually kind of PROUD of my body, and by its ability to get pregnant just three months after a really intense, invasive surgery. But I also feel guilty that it is so easy for us to get pregnant, as other friends struggle to have their first or second children. I’m also sad that I won’t be breastfeeding this baby. I am also worried about being 40 and pregnant. I am also nervous about having a third c-section.  

It’s crazy. It’s amazing. It’s silly. It’s strange. 

I guess I’m just going to do what I do best, and roll with it.


 

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Story of My Surgery

IIt occurred to me tonight, while looking through my past few posts, that I never actually wrote about what getting the DIEP flap surgery was like for me. It's funny because I feel like I have written about it twenty seven times, but I must have only been thinking about it in my head. I never actually put the experience down in words.

About ten weeks ago, my family and I flew out to San Antonio for my surgery. In the weeks prior to our travel, I had come down with a cold, but it wasn't a terrible cold. I wasn't hacking up a lung or anything. It was your standard, run-of-the-mill cold that generally just goes away within a week. I thought it was a nothing.

As it turns out, it was not a nothing. On the flight to San Antonio, my little cold turned into a horrible earache that made me want to tear my ears right off of my head. And then it turned into a sinus infection. And strep throat. When I went to the hospital on the day of my scheduled surgery, the nurse in admitting took my temperature and then gave me a look that said "how the heck do you think you are going to make it through surgery with a 102 degree fever?!"

My amazing, kind, lovely surgeon came and spoke with me. He told me I was fighting an infection, and I was not in good shape for such a strenuous surgery. He told me if I was HIS wife, he would not want me operated on that day. So, through tears of disappointment, we planned to reschedule the DIEP flap surgery for the next week. I was incredibly lucky that Dr. C was able to fit me into his schedule, and that rescheduling did not require me and my family to fly back and forth to San Antonio again. I was given some pretty hefty doses of antibiotics, and for the next week, my body worked on getting better.

On the day of the actual (rescheduled) surgery, one week later, I went to the hospital at 6:30 a.m. to be admitted. I remember having my temperature taken, getting my blood pressure taken, and getting an IV. I remember Dr. C coming in to talk to me and my husband about the surgery and to reassure us, as my intravenous "cocktails" started to work. I don't remember much else, honestly. I think I remember being rolled through the hallway. And I think I remember my body being lifted from one surface to another, though I don't know if that was pre or post surgery. The rest of the surgery is like an eight hour parentheses in my life.

I woke up at some point in the late afternoon that day and saw my husband by my side. I had been told by several women who had been through this kind of surgery that I would not be lucid at all until day 2 (or at the very least, until very late on the night following surgery). But I was actually quite with it upon waking. I was able to have a conversation with my husband, which really surprised him, because he also thought I would spend my first wakeful hours thinking I was the Queen of England.

I remember the next few days in the hospital as being quite challenging. Probably the hardest thing I have been through physically in my life, but not impossible. Not HORRIBLE. Just HARD. I think, in my head, I had believed the recovery would be akin to the recovery I went through with each of my c-sections: the discomfort, the stiffness, the exhaustion. It WAS like that recovery, but way more intense. Walking my first steps post surgery felt like I was totally re-learning how to walk. And I had to rely on other people sitting me up in the hospital bed because I had very limited arm function. It was weird. It was tough. But every new little thing I was able to do post surgery was a mini-milestone that was celebrated.

The hardest part of the surgery for me was the itching. Apparently, I don't do well on morphine. Or maybe morphine doesn't do well on me. It took me a while to realize it, but the morphine drip I was on for pain management gave me the craziest itchy feelings I have ever encountered. I begged Chris to scratch my entire body over and over again. When he scratched, I could feel every little sensory nerve on my skin reacting to his touch. But despit the scratching, the itching never really went away, and it made it hard for me to sleep. I asked the night nurses to put hydrocortisone all over my skin, which they did. Sometimes the nurses would just come and scratch my legs for me (which made me love them).

The drains were the other not-so-fun part. I had one drain coming out of each breast, and one drain coming out of each side of my belly. Blood and gunk drained out of my body into the bulbs that hung down from me. I felt like a really gross octopus. When I took my first shower, and saw myself undressed for the first time since surgery, I nearly fainted. It was a lot to take in: the scars, the drains, the scratch marks from all of my itching. But I also noticed my flat belly, which was flatter than it had been in four years (two c-sections) and I noticed my new "foobs," which were now so much less likely to be a harvesting station for cancer.

And as I was lying in my hospital bed, itching like nobody's business, and pretending to be a disgusting octopus,  I kept thinking "I would rather be itching than dying of cancer." Really, anytime I experienced a little pain, a little discomfort, or anything slightly "off" during the recovery process, it was very easy for me to say "this is way better than radiation. This is way better than chemotherapy," and it kept my expectations in check. Saving my own life was not a cake walk. It wasn't supposed to be easy.

I was discharged from the hospital five days after the surgery. Leaving a hospital after being tended to and cared for twenty four hours a day is a scary thing. But the more I got immersed back into real life, the less scary it became. I rested a lot. I drank a lot. And the lovely people of San Antonio fed me and my family very well. Within another week, we were ready to return home, and I was feeling remarkably healed already, just two weeks after surgery.

And now, here I am, eight weeks later, feeling almost completely back to normal. I still have my scars, but to be honest, I kind of like them. Every time I see my stomach, or look at my new "foobs," I see the story of how I made a very brave decision, went through an amazing surgery, toughed it out through a hard recovery, and saved my own life.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman


Every day, when I pick Ember up from preschool, there is a pile of about 20 drawings in her cubby. I flip through the multi-colored construction paper pages and marvel over her fire-breathing dinosaurs, the decked-out princesses, and the families of penguins she has created. 



Ember has talent. She draws beautifully, filling every inch of her pages with characters and objects. If you watch her draw, you will hear her tell a story as she puts her marker to the paper. Her stories are elaborate, sometimes a little hard to follow, almost always quite emotionally charged.

It is an amazing thing to watch the artist as a young woman. To be honest, I am just a little envious of her abilities. She sits down at the kitchen table, takes a pen in her hand, and her imagination just kicks in to high gear, with visions and ideas pouring out of her fingers. It comes so easily to her.



For me, it is not as easy. I mean, I went to art school, and spent four years of my life intensely immersed in an environment that fostered my imagination. But now I am a working mommy. When I sit down at the kitchen table, I am thinking about my grocery list, and getting my kids enrolled in summer programs, and doing the laundry, and surgeries, and… the list goes on. It is so hard for my mind to put reality on pause, even for a few minutes.

But, inspired by Ember and her talents, I have ventured to take apen in hand again recently. I haven’t quite been escaping my reality, but I have been drawing my reality. And though my drawings are not quite as imaginative as Ember’s, it still feels really good to draw.



Thank you, Ember, for being so magnificent with your own imagination, and for inspiring me to give my creativity an outlet. I look forward to seeing your creativity grow and flourish, and to sharing our pens, pencils, markers and paper for many years to come.