“It’s a good thing you’re awesome.” – Chapter 10

True . . .

Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you.
~Ovid

Thinking I Have Time – Part 4

I spent the first few days after the beginning of “my new life” in that cavernous recovery room – I’m still not sure exactly why. Recovery rooms are usually stopovers for a few hours before you go to your room. I suppose it was because I really was still in danger, perhaps more than I realised.

Certainly the days were a blur for a while, and I couldn’t tell you for sure just how long I was there, to be honest. The machines whirred, the tubes fed and medicated me, and the bed gently rocked me. I drifted in and out of consciousness, and wondered – when I was lucid – how much time had passed. Every once in a while, they made me move, as part of the recovery process; I was still so swollen with noxious fluids, however, that just standing for a minute by the side of my bed was a monumental task. Nothing bent or moved as it was supposed to; my body looked and felt like a badly stuffed doll.

But at last they moved me to the ICU, where I stayed for almost three weeks, I think. That was where I started to become a bit more aware of what was going on. I had not been in a hospital for years, and never for anything this serious, so I was surprised by a lot of things. Staples, for one – they actually use them to close you up after surgery, not stitches. When I was awake and aware enough to look down while being bathed one day, I was shocked. What I could glimpse of my stomach resembled nothing so much as a zipper.

I was still weak enough that raising my head for a few seconds was the best I could do, and when my head flopped back on the pillow, I murmured something like, “Oh . . . I don’t have a belly button anymore. That’s sad.” Why I fixed on that as something to mourn, I have no idea. I think I was still drugged up enough to not really be thinking clearly. It made sense to me that if I had an incision that long, done in an emergency situation, that they wouldn’t have taken the time to preserve something so nonessential as my navel, but would have cut right through it.

Luckily, that day I had nurses who knew enough English to talk with me, and they instantly started to reassure me. “No, no, it’s still there! DO you want to see?” My curiosity won over my revulsion, and one of them hurried off to find a mirror, which she then held over my stomach. Oh. . . . A ten-inch incision started about three inches above my waist/below my breasts and ended somewhere around my pubic bone. Held together by the aforementioned staples, the wound curved very carefully around my navel, leaving it intact. And it still looked like a very long zipper. After a minute of staring, trying to take this all in, I thanked her and asked her to take the mirror away.

The first week or so in ICU was mainly about controlling the pain – and there was a lot of it. They ended up giving me a long-term epidural, just to get some kind of control over it. I don’t know if it’s exactly the same as what women in labour get, but it was not fun going into my spine, even if it did work. When the doctor who administered it asked me, “Can you still feel your legs?” I panicked a little. What are you going to do if I can’t? was the first thought that came to mind. But luckily, I could, and I was a lot more comfortable.

They were happy with the way the incision was healing, and were becoming much more optimistic about my recovery, things seemed to be coming along very well. Until January 9, when they decided it was time to rinse out the wound thoroughly with saline – and were astonished when I started screaming with pain, almost jumping off the bed. The doctors were confused – what could the problem be? The incision looked fine from the outside. Time for more blood work, another CT scan (I lost count of how many of those I had), to find that, inside . . . I had developed a post-operative infection. More likely, they had not been able to completely clean all the mess out during the first surgery. Back into the operating room I went, for another two and a half hours. They installed two drains, one at each end of the incision basically, with actual mechanical pumps to keep draining the infection out after the surgery; they remained – very noisily – in place for several days. When they decided it was safe to take them out, my surgeon removed them and – literally – sewed me up again while I lay there in my bed. At that point, it was minor surgery, nothing to sweat about. And I did actually watch for a while while she did it.

While they had me in the operating room, they thought they would try to forestall another problem: they installed two thoracic drains in my lungs. Two long plastic tubes, inserted through small incisions about six inches below my armpits, on the side of my body. (And yes, I have quite a collection of scars from this experience.). These were to drain fluid from my lungs, where it had been accumulating, and they hurt like hell. I woke up after the surgery thinking maybe they had left some scalpels stuck in my back – it was that kind of “hurts like hell.”

Those tubes were in place for quite a while, because my lungs weren’t doing very well by that point. Post-operative pneumonia . . . more on that part of the ordeal tomorrow. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed at this point – enough for today.

On a lighter note – by this time (almost the middle of January) get well cards were starting to arrive from my friends, who were worrying and waiting for news on the other side of the ocean. Sabine sent my friend Lisa the following message on January 11, to share with everyone else, and when I finally moved into my own room, a couple of weeks later, she helped me festoon the walls of my tiny room with all the cards – the love and support from my friends that those cards represented was what kept me going, helped me believe I was actually going to make it.

***
Sabine:
I just came home from visiting Barbara.
She sends you her love and asked me to let you know how much she misses you all.
She is such a brave woman! After all these therapies and surgeries and pain she still manages to smile and tries not to give up. The tubes in her chest are painful and she still has to get this oxygen therapy, but the doctor told me that they hope to remove them very soon. The blood tests showed that the inflammation got better.
 
Barbara is weak and gets tired very quickly, but she was very happy to receive some ‘Get well’ cards which are decorating her bedstand now!!!!
It was so wonderful for me to read them for her and see her smile about all these positive wishes, thoughts and lovely cards. A BIG thank you to all people who sent them!!!

Me with some of the cards – hope and love and support that kept me going.

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