Post-surgery, day 2

I sure would like to say that today is a lot better than yesterday, but I’d be lying. I’m still very, very sore, and moving around is pretty uncomfortable. I can’t see how bruised I am on my legs because I’m snugly encased in a compression garment. I joked with my doc yesterday that he and I know each other on a whole new level now, with the pre-op business. He looked slightly confused and I was greatly comforted to think that the “new depths of indignities” as Trevor put it, didn’t seem to register with the good doctor. I know now that when he sees a body, splayed out and nekkid, he’s seeing just that — a body. Not mine or yours or anyone’s specifically, just a body.

Whew. That’s a good thing, because he saw every bit of mine. Up close and in his face. Yikes. I thought we had plumbed the depths of indignities before, with the “grab the fat” games and the up-close examinations of the fattiest regions to determine where best to cull from in the reallocation surgery. Ha. That was amateur night compared to the real deal on the big day. Anyone who’s been thinking I am lucky to get “free lipo” may well reconsider after reading this. Do I need to deliver my lecture on opportunity cost, again?

Getting marked up for surgery is not new to me. Baring my chest for the doctors is old hat, as is the alcohol-y smell of the Sharpie markers they use to draw the roadmap for cutting and stitching, as well as the feel of the Sharpie sliding over bare skin. Lest this sounds like a Nora Roberts novel’s love scene, let me assure you there’s nothing sexy or sensual about it — if a doctor is drawing on your bare skin with a Sharpie, it means you’re in trouble. The kind of trouble that can only be fixed by scalpels and sutures. There’s nothing romantic about that.

So getting marked up Wednesday for my revision surgery should have been no big deal; been there, done that. Except this time it wasn’t just my upper body that needed to be bared, it was the whole thing. Since my doc was going to be extracting fat & skin from my hips and legs, he had to well, mark up my hips and legs.

Did I mention that the surgery center is under construction, and that as I went from my suite–where I changed into the gown, compression hose, and shower cap–to the triage room–where I would get my pulse and blood pressure taken and get a needle shoved into a vein in my hand to start an IV–that I had to walk down a hallway with my surgical gown tied not so securely in the back, with construction workers all up and down the hallway? I’m pretty sure part of my backside was hanging out, but really, at this point in my “cancer journey,” I can’t be bothered with such an insignificant concern.

I can, however, be very bothered by the utter horror of standing buck-naked in front of my good friend and beloved surgeon while he maps out his surgery plan via Sharpie. Always the jokester, I tried to keep the mood light and make jokes, but if I had access to an open bottle of vodka I would have chugged like a girl in the desert. Anything to ease the embarrassment of that moment.

After I stood up for the Sharpie fest, my doc wanted me to lie down so he and Katie the surgical nurse could check that the lines were even or whatever they check for. They did their checking and calculating, and my doc left me to go scrub in. The surgery was about to begin. Katie covered my nakedness with a gown and a blanket and went to scrub in herself.

Note I have not yet mentioned the “cocktail” that the anesthesiologist provides to relax the patient before administering the hard-core anesthesia to knock one out for hours at a time. I had of course inquired about my “cocktail,” multiple times during the Sharpie fest, in fact, and was told that I would get it in the OR because they needed to prep me for surgery standing up.

Pardon me?

Prep me standing up? As in, I’ll be awake for that part? I’ve envisioned the prepping required for all my surgeries, and before too many thoughts of my leaden, sleeping body being manipulated and scrubbed down enter my head, I quickly chase those thoughts off with thoughts of puppies and bunny rabbits instead.

This time, I was to be stone-cold sober and awake for that particular horror show.

Oh, the depths of indignities just keep on getting deeper.

Once everyone was scrubbed in, someone came to collect me. I walked from my cozy suite to the OR, probably with my ass hanging out for all the construction workers to see, and entered the last level of humiliation. In Dante’s Inferno, there is no mention of the level of hell that is being prepped for surgery while wide awake, but there certainly should be. There should also be some sort of extra prize for someone with a reconstructed body — full of scars and mess and reminders of the impossibly hard road that’s been traveled — who has to display that body in the presence of strangers in order to try and reclaim some semblance of normalcy. The two males in the room, besides my doc, did a good job of averting their eyes from the trainwreck that is my body while they counted scalpels and readied surgery supplies.

I was instructed to drop my gown and stand — buck naked — with arms and legs spread wide. Not sure what the yoga pose is but I’m going to call it shamefaced patient. Two nurses, Katie & Mary, and my doc himself, scrubbed me down with betadine swabs. Katie was nice enough to warm them first, and that small kindness went a long way toward soothing my jangled nerves. My favorite doc was on high-alert against any possibility of infection. Much discussion ensued between the 3 health-care providers about who was swabbing which area of my body, and let me tell you they were quite thorough in getting all the nooks & crannies. Once I’m finally allowed to take a shower I may be scrubbing for days. There were a few commands of “turn this way,” “raise your arm higher,” and ahem, “spread your legs a bit wider, please” as they doused me with the foul-smelling but surprisingly tan-enhancing liquid. I may be splayed out like a deboned chicken (again) for all the room to see, but at least I was golden brown.

Once they had slathered me in the betadine, it was time to get on the OR table. For every one of my previous surgeries, I’ve already been in la-la land when it was time to get on the table. I don’t know how they got me onto the table in the past, but I expect someone lifted me, because the anesthesiologist had mixed and administered the “cocktail”and I was out like a light. This time, I had to be wide awake and fully cognizant of the humiliation that had ensued.

That OR table is narrow, people, and the last thing I needed after my abject embarrassment was to slip off it, all goopy with betadine. My doc was very, very specific about the sterility of the room, the people, and the table, and insisted that Mary and Katie hold my hands as I got onto the table so I didn’t touch anything. The table is high and I am, well, not tall, so we had to use a stool.  I managed to haul my carcass onto that high table without touching anything or falling off and was quite pleased with my effort when the anesthesiologist said I needed to scooch down closer to her, at the head of the table. Egads. More maneuvering and cussing on my part, then I was able to settle.

At last, the sweet relief from this latest horror show came in the form of the anesthesiologist finally giving me some Versed. I asked her to also give me something to make me forget all that had just transpired. Whatever form of mind-altering, memory-erasing drug will work, just give me plenty of it.

The Versed worked swiftly and completely, and I don’t recall a single thing beyond that point. I woke up in the recovery room, somehow stuffed into a compression garment but blissfully unaware of how that happened. I was released from the surgery center and delivered home, to bed, where I could pretend that this was all a bad dream.


Ithaka

How appropriate after yesterday’s post that the first thing I read today is an excerpt from the poem “Ithaka” by Constatin Cavafy. Remember that yesterday’s post contained a photo depicting my personal vision of paradise? Guess what Ithaka looks like?

Also appropriate is that Amy Hoover showed up on my doorstep last night with a real-life superhero cape, which I clearly need to continue this “journey.” She doesn’t need a cape, because she really is a superhero, but her youngest son, Carter, has one and was sweet enough to loan it to me. We’re changing the C for Carter to C for Cancer-killer. I love the cape.

I’ve been struggling with the “journey” part of my recovery from major reconstruction surgery. I’m not a journey kind of girl; I’m all about the destination. Don’t care how we get there, it’s the getting there that matters to me.

Well, guess what? On a “cancer journey” you’re never “there” and the idea of being “done” is laughable because there really is no end point. There are transitions and transformations, and at some point one does graduate from cancer patient to cancer survivor, but there aren’t any signposts or mile markers along the way, so hell if I know where I am in this whole journey. I can say that so far, to quote the Grateful Dead, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Enter Constantin Cavafy. Fellow Greek, also a wordsmith (although he was way, way better at the craft than I). He was born and died on the same day, April 29 (1863-1933). I must say, that’s a terrible way to celebrate a birthday; I hope he got a piece of cake before he croaked. I also think it’s terrible, although understandable, that his family chose to Americanize their surname, Kavafis. My dad’s dad came over from “the Old Country,” as the Greeks refer to the homeland, speaking no English with very little money, like millions of other immigrants. Once he settled and raised his family, he wanted them to be Americanized, to shake off the immigrant stink that was considered unsavory, even though the USA is purported to be a melting pot. Thankfully, my Papou did not Americanize our surname, although my dad did change the spelling slightly in 8th grade, from Katopodis to Katapodis, to make it easier for the sports announcers to pronounce it properly; Kat-uh-po-dus instead of Ka-top-uh-dus. True story.

So Kavafis becomes Cavafy, and Constantin writes some poetry. He published more than 150 poems, the most well-known, “Ithaka,” after he turned 40. Some might say he’s a late bloomer, but those of us in the over-40 crowd say, Giddyup.

“Ithaka” was written in 1894, revised in 1910, published in 1911 then published in English in 1924. Talk about a journey: 16 years to complete, then another 13 years to reach a wide audience. I hope Constantin was more patient than I am. I’m sure glad he had a few good years between the poem’s success and his death, and I hope he savored it.

Some believe that the subject of “Ithaka” is Odysseus, from Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. I think, however, it applies to anyone who is on a journey, and although Ithaka was the finish line or end point for Odysseus, the location is superceded by the ideal.

“Ithaka” begins with some advice for the traveler, which I think applies to lots of journeys (although on my particular journey I don’t have to “hope the voyage is a long one” because it is, boy howdy it is).

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.

Well, I certainly have encountered my share of Laistrygonians, Cyclops and angry Poseidons in this “cancer journey.” While Cavafy referenced these giants (cannibals, one-eyed monsters, and the God of the Sea, respectively), I believe such bad-boys take numerous forms and can also be representative of disease, infection, and hardship.

Ok, so far my voyage has indeed been long, with what some would consider adventure and discovery, and full of bad guys, and I honestly haven’t been afraid of them. Frustrated by and utterly sick of them, yes, but not afraid. So far so good.

I’ve tried to keep my thoughts raised high, and thanks to my mom’s “walk on the sunny side of the street” schooling, I think I’ve done that. Sure there have been some bad days, but I’m not going to sit around asking, Why me? when it really doesn’t matter, and it certainly doesn’t change anything.

I can’t say that I have a “rare excitement” stirring my spirit and body, although maybe I did while on morphine. More likely it was while on Versed. That’s one of my favorites; such a happy place.

“Ithaka” goes on to extol the pleasure of steaming into unseen harbors on a summer morning to “buy fine things” and “gather knowledge from their scholars.” Hmmm, exploring, shopping, and learning: now that sounds like my kind of trip. Cavafy implores us to keep Ithaka always in our mind and to remember that “arriving there is what you are destined for.”

Now here’s the part that really speaks to me today, as I continue to struggle with the down-time of recovery, as I want to be “back to normal” and wait impatiently for the passage of time and the reaching of milestones that will prove that it is so.

But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way.

I have a problem with the idea of the journey lasting for years, even though I know that it’s reality. I can accept it, but I don’t have to like it. I do hope that I am indeed old by the time I reach the island, and I already feel wealthy with all I have gained on the way.