After the Operation
“Do I have a colostomy?” I mumble to the nurse, as life crawls back into focus in the OR recovery room. Odd that I didn’t ask the really big question, “Did they get all the cancer?” Denial and vanity are working well for me.
I am tumbling through space; searching for some kind of grip in this surreal scenario, but I’m flailing at the air.
On returning to the surgical ward I push myself to be the mythical ‘ideal’ patient. When asked to stand at the bedside, I ignore my concerns, rise, and promptly keel over with a blood pressure of 70/35. I fret when I run a temperature postoperatively, or when my blood work is off kilter, as if I have somehow failed ‘the team’ in their efforts.
I obsessively shuffle up and down the hallways in the hope that such shuffling, will speed my recovery. I force feed myself, like a Christmas goose as each meal tray arrives, hoping to regain my strength. But I only end up feeling fatigued and painfully bloated; a small facsimile of the Good Year blimp.
The problem is I still think I’m in control of my body, and that I can will it to heal. I can’t.
Subsequent events quickly shatter that myth.
I am hallucinating. I am convinced that the curtained bed and whispering night nurses, across the way from me, are actually in a car mechanic’s Repair Bay. The shadows on the bed curtains seem huge and grotesque. Apparently, giants walk amongst us! Part of my mind knows that none of this can be right and I strain to gather my scattered thoughts. But I just can’t put the bits and pieces together correctly. It is humbling to know I have so readily lost control of my faculties.
But I am focused like a heat-seeking-missile when my surgeon and his resident arrive each morning. Given my career, I know the right questions to ask, the medical jargon to use and the body language to watch for. My postoperative news sounds promising. My surgeon feels they had gotten all of the tumor, and the resident implies that the lymph nodes look normal. My hopes soar.
Occasionally reality bites. Two week’s later my surgeon contacts me. I know from his voice the news isn’t good. I sit stunned, holding the phone unsteadily while he outlines the results of my pathology report. The tumor is a localized stage 3C with significant lymph node involvement. It has perforated the colon wall. The only worse news would have been a stage 4 tumor, meaning metastasis to other organs had already occurred. I am told that I will need to undergo chemotherapy within four weeks.
Another challenge ahead when I already feel so frail. Yet there is a grip somewhere if you keep looking. I am fortunate that I have always known I can depend on my family. They are like the US Cavalry, cresting the hill at just the right moments and doing whatever needs to be done. My eldest niece has anticipated either a celebration, or a catastrophe from the pathology results, and is prepared. After soothing words, she quickly produces a large bowl of creme brulée ice cream, and together with many tears and some laughter, I swallow my sorrows.