On being present
I've been absent from writing here for a few weeks. I apologize if you've missed me!
Here's the quick update: I had a second and final surgery to remove cancer from my body on March 30. Following the first surgery (February 21), I healed quickly and was back to work in two weeks. This time, I will need to heal for at least six. This will be different for me. I don't often do "nothing." I will get to play with the "being" side of life for a change.
Here's the longer reflection: Leading up to this surgery, I didn't have the trepidation and anxiety I experienced with the first. I knew what to expect in terms of how the hospital process works. I had two opinions from two separate and confident doctors that this was the correct course of action. I had my advanced care plan, my will, my funeral arrangements all in place. I knew I would vomit all over myself from the anesthetic, and I accepted that a helpful recovery room nurse would assist me with that hot mess.
I reflect now that I was truly living in each moment leading up to the surgery. I mean, I still planned ahead and coordinated the logistics of child and dog care during my hospital time, weened myself off coffee in a methodically-planned way, and made all the appropriate arrangements for time off work, but my mind was at ease as I went about these tasks. I consciously stayed present, in the now.
And frankly, I was focused on other things.
I went to see Joey Tremblay's "BAD BLOOD" -- please, see it if you are able, when is near you.
Spring arrived on March 20. While this winter wasn't especially hard on the Canadian Prairies, the arrival of spring is always welcomed with relief and a sense of accomplishment. I decided spontaneously to hold a flash mob to celebrate by splashing in mud puddles and dancing in public (that's us in the picture above).
I spent a couple of hours one day writing down a story that has been in my brain for a few years, and then submitted it to a publisher, because WHY THE HELL NOT, right?! YOLO, as the young folks say.
The provincial budget fiasco happened, annual taxes needed to be filed, parent-teacher conferences needed to be conducted, a re-org went down at work. There was just a lot of life happening, all the time, so I did that, rather than be in my head about the future.
And then it was 4:50 a.m. on Thursday and it was time to get up and go to the hospital.
It wasn't until I was in the pre-op bed, draped in the hospital's most flattering (aka, revealing) gowns, that two grown humans could not get to tie up appropriately, having the tiny veins in my hands skewered by not one, but two nurses attempting to get an IV in, that I realized, "Oh shit, how tightly did I hug C last night? Should I have made better farewell videos? What haven't I said to M that I should have?" And of course, it was too late, and so I breathed and hoped I would wake up again. And that the damn IV would be in already. Truthfully, of the entire surgical experience, having my hands stabbed repeatedly was the most painful thing. Either that or my MRI-booking process (more on that in a minute).
Surgery was textbook, no surprises, no complications. The waking up was long and slow and uncomfortable. I'm a slow metabolizer of everything, so after being unconscious for three hours, it took most of the next 24 hours following to regain full consciousness. I dozed off and on in the short stay ward, as much as I was able, because NOISE and VITALS and HAVING TO PEE ALL THE TIME AND FOREVEEEEERRRRR due to so much fluid and so many drugs in my system.
When the doctor visited mid-afternoon and said I could go home, if I wanted, we hopped to it, as much as someone with incisions in their abdomen can. I carried on my dozing at home that evening, and waited for my saliva production to return so I could eat something. I took my pain meds like clockwork, as I had been advised to stay ahead of the pain. After two days, I was off everything. Well, back on coffee! Huzzah!
Overall, the care I received between the first inklings of something being amiss (January 19) to being out of surgery on March 30 was fantastic. The only real bit of so-ridiculous-it's-funny-but-not-ha-ha-funny-more-like-sad-funny was the process to get an MRI scheduled. Here is a run-down of how that went:
On March 1, I saw my doctor and she indicated she would book me for an MRI the following week, ahead of the second surgery, just to be sure there wasn't anything else going on in my insides that she needed to be concerned with.
Phone call 1. March 9: A message was left on my phone to call the MRI department to get my appointment information.
Phone call 2. I called the number they had left and was told by the person who answered that I needed to call a different number.
Phone call 3. I called the second number and left a message.
Phone call 4. March 10: The next morning, having heard nothing back, I called the first number again. The person who answered JUST NEEDED TO VERIFY WHICH PHONE NUMBER THEY COULD REACH ME AT TO SCHEDULE THE APPOINTMENT. I politely verified the number THEY HAD ORIGINALLY CALLED ME ON. (Please note that this took four separate phone calls so far...)
Phone call 5. March 10: I got a call back from the second number I had called (see #3 above) asking what I wanted. I indicated I wanted an MRI appointment, as my doctor had requested several weeks ago. The person said someone would call me to get all my information. I shared that mere weeks ago, I had been across the hall from the MRI department, in the CT department and that in fact I had provided all my information THREE WEEKS EARLIER for a similar procedure. Could they not access this information to expedite the process? No, I was informed.
Phone call 6. March 17 (A WEEK LATER): I was called by someone who asked me a series of questions (all of which were the same as the CT scan questions I had already answered) and told I would be contacted by a scheduler to finally book the appointment. Oh and that I would need to get blood work done before the MRI, so I should find time to do that.
Phone call 7. March 20: I was called and told I would be going in for an MRI THE NEXT MORNING.
I'm pretty sure there could be a few process efficiencies made to improve both the patient experience and the healthcare system workers' lives. For example, how about a single phone call to collect client history AND book the appointment? No? Is that just my half-German-ancestral-efficiency talking? I'm sure there is some very meaningful and well-negotiated division of duties between various unionized employees that must be maintained to ensure my patient experience is of the utmost quality and safety, but jeez Louise...SEVEN phone calls for one appointment? Honestly, after going through this (which I realize in the grand scheme of what's happening in the world is NOT AT ALL a big deal)....my sense that the rest of my procedure would go as planned was slightly less optimistic. If it takes seven phone calls to get a diagnostic appointment, how likely is it that all the right people will be in the room when it's time to cut my guts open?
Anyway, it all worked out in the end. Rant over.
Bonus: I discovered the Bair Hugger. If you are someone who is often cold and have not had this experience, I highly recommend it. I'm looking for a home edition.
Thanks for your support and interest!