April Fool’s Day, 2013, 3:00am – Just six hours ago, I showered with anti-microbial soap per the instructions from the surgeon. I was planning to sleep until 4am, but I’m awake now and might as well get the day going. This is it. I’ve counted down the days and now the hours to the removal of the cyst around my right ovary. My overnight bag is packed for the hospital and I’ve remembered to pack the charger for my cell phone. I’m packing my own socks, hoping I don’t have to wear the ankle socks with treads. Should I take my robe? Do I need my makeup bag? That’s ridiculous. I’m not going to feel like putting on makeup . . . or will I?
Every morning, I hear two different cars that pass my house at 4:00am. I always think that someone in my neighborhood has to leave for work early and maybe they work at the hospital. Now, I’m up before they leave. The house is dark, except for my bathroom, where I’m stepping back into the shower for the second scrubbing just prior to surgery. The instructions say to use the anti-microbial soap from the neck down to the pubic bone. It’s a cold, runny red liquid in a tube that looks like a ketchup pack from a fast food restaurant. My fresh towels and blouse are clean, but have I really prepped myself to be free of germs? I hope I’m doing this correctly.
I tell my cats that I’ll be gone for a couple of days and not to worry. They always know something’s up when I pack a bag, except this time, the music gear is staying home. I’ve made lists of lists and everything is checked off. The doorbell rings and our friend Sylvia is here at 5:15 to pick me up. It’s a dark, quiet Monday morning and we’re the only car on the street. We turn onto Main toward the hospital and see two deer crossing in front of us. I’m getting sleepy in the heated passenger seat.
The hospital stipulated under no certain terms, we were to arrive precisely by 6am and to enter through the middle doors of the surgery pavilion. Sylvia pulls up to the entrance. I get out and she parks the car. The automatic doors do not open and the lobby inside is dark. It appears that there is no one at the check-in desk. I knock on the glass, but no one can hear me. Hello, is there anybody here? I’m just here for my surgery that’s supposed to begin at 7:30. Hello? Sylvia notices I’m still waiting outside and returns with the car. We decide to go to the main entrance and navigate down several hallways to a nurse’s station, announcing that I’m here for surgery. A nurse will escort us over to the surgical pavilion through the back way and asks if I’d like a wheelchair. I refuse, put out by the fact that no one was at the entrance where we were supposed to be.
Ten years ago, it was in this same hospital that my father died in the middle of the night. My mother and I believed he was abandoned by the third shift. A friend told me that sometimes God places a clown in charge in order for us to stay out of the way. Otherwise, we will prolong or prevent the moment when God has decided to take our loved one home. It’s April Fool’s Day and this minor inconvenience quickly transforms into a blessing, as it distracts me from feeling any anxiety. All I feel now is strength and determination.
Minutes later, I’m being weighed and measured. There is a different nurse or aide for every phase and function. In less than thirty minutes, I am naked under my surgical gown, wired for my vitals and the main line inserted into a vein in my arm, while a statistician is asking hundreds of questions. The only question that throws me is if I have ever had a problem with a breathing tube- oh, boy. I’d rather not think about that right now. I am introduced to my urologist and tease him that since it’s April Fool’s Day, to please not forget to remove the stents in my urethra at the end of the surgery. He doesn’t laugh, just smiles and says he’ll see me in the O.R. The anesthesiologist is very pleasant and describes what he’ll be doing. I will be under with the infamous Propofol and they will awaken me toward the end of the procedure. Propofol replaced sodium pentothal many years ago and is a short-acting sedation. My surgeon arrives to go over a few last minute details and says her team is ready to go. I don’t deny for a moment they’re going to hit this one out of the park.
The place is buzzing with activity and my O.R. nurse arrives to transport me for the big event. Her name is Mary. My mother is waiting at home, still recovering from her breast cancer surgery. Our friend Sylvia is staying here until I go to my room after recovery. I’ve asked her to do two more favors for me and give her a list of who needs to be called when I go to recovery. My mother and I have been through an extreme amount of stress over the past year with health and financial set-backs. Foreclosure is imminent on my mother’s house, as well as my own. I have asked Sylvia to also call the bank to let them know that my house payment will be made in two days. As my nurse rolls me into the huge operating room, my mind is only focused on the staff, the anesthesiologist and the stillness. Then, my lights go out.
I awaken to unbearable pain and my recovery nurse is holding my hand. He says they will begin a drip of morphine very soon and make me more comfortable. They’re concerned about my respiratory vitals and have my legs wrapped in therapeutic massage thing-a-ma-jigs so that my legs don’t develop clots. They grip my left ankle, shin and thigh, then, the right thigh, shin and ankle. Up and down and up and down. I want to sleep, but I want to stay awake. I don’t want to miss anything. I am so happy to be here with all of these people who have saved my life. Unless I have died, this must be heaven and I am with angels.
The day is passing quickly and they take me to my room around noon. My mother and our neighbor are on their way. Sylvia is there and has taken care of all my calls updating friends and family on my progress. My cousin stops in with a bouquet of flowers and my buddy Pete is there with a beautiful lily that makes my hospital room smell like our flower shop from days gone by. By 4pm, my visitors have gone so I can rest. I ask if I can sit up on the side of the bed for a while. The sun is pouring in the window and the sky is so bright. For almost twenty minutes or so, it’s just God and me celebrating life.
Throughout the night, I only hear the constant sounds of machines that monitor my vitals. The leg massager has a soft white noise that makes me drowsy. I’m awakened at 5am and I’m now allowed ice cream or sherbet. The nurse tells me that I’ll be able to take a walk later in the morning. Still connected to the morphine drip, they remind me that I can hit the button whenever I feel that I need it. I choose not to, but the pain is intensifying again after a few hours. At 7am, the shift changes and I’m greeted by a new staff of RN’s and aides. I think of the people who have cared for me during the most critical part of this ordeal and I most probably will never see them again.
I’m still wired up and connected to everything, but head down the hallway with my nurse’s aide for my morning walk. We circle around the floor and get close to the door of my room. I ask the nurse if I can go around again. She just smiles and says, “Cool!” That afternoon, several student nurses visit our surgical floor and I enjoy sharing my experience with them. My dear friend Larry surprises me with a lovely bouquet of sweetheart roses arranged in a perfume bottle. Larry is also a singer-songwriter, plus professional comedian and he’s trying very hard not to make me laugh too much because of my stitches. The student nurses stop back in and ask if I’d mind if they look out my window. The helicopter pad is just a few yards away on my side of the building and we all get excited watching Med Flight land and take off. Wow, I have the coolest room!
On the third day, I awake to learn that I can finally have solid foods again and they serve me a hearty breakfast with French toast. The coffee never tasted better. My surgeon is in early to examine the incision before they change my dressing. She takes one look at her work and exclaims, “Ah, a masterpiece!” She promises that she’ll get the dismissal process expedited and I’ll be heading for home before noon. As I come through the door at home, the cats actually seem happy to see me, instead of their usual apparent expression of, “oh, it’s just you”. It’s great to be home, but my sofa is no substitute for the hospital bed. I soon discover that the recovery phase will be the most difficult of all.
One week after surgery, the doctor wants to check on my incision. She reminds me that there are three levels of stitches. Starting from the top, the incision is through the skin, the fat or fascia and then the muscle or peritoneum. I’m supposed to rest and absolutely not lift anything. Sometimes I forget about the latter and my body reminds me of my delicate condition with severe pinching and burning. The pathology report is in with the best news in the world. There has been no cancer found in the cyst or my other female organs. The surgeon tells me that it took two of them to lift out the cyst and it weighed just over seven pounds. It contained mostly water with the right fallopian tube stretched and wrapped around it. They dissected the left fallopian tube to find three more cysts, measuring 4 centimeters each.
I want to move, bend, climb the stairs and simply get back to work, but that’s not going to happen as quickly as I’d like. As a vocalist, I’ve discovered the effects this has had on my diaphragm. I have gigs coming up in one week and I’ll need help with my gear. Exactly ten days after surgery is my first performance. I figure that since I’m sitting at my keyboard it won’t be a problem. The show goes well, but I’m in a lot of pain for the remainder of the day. Mind over matter is not working. I have to give in to more rest and work harder at practicing patience.
It is now four weeks to the day since my surgery and I follow up with my surgeon. She is really pleased with my progress. There are just a few stitches to snip and I’m good to go. They have scheduled me for my regular yearly exam for 2014.I’ve come a long way since early March, but it feels like this has all happened in five minutes. I walk out of the office feeling as though I’m filled with a bright light and have been awarded a new lease on life. Rain is pouring when I head for my car, like a cleansing away of the old and baptizing me for a new journey. It’s almost May.
I have been challenged with rheumatoid arthritis for nearly twenty-five years and think often of how different my life would be without it. I would never have known the people I know now if I had not been afflicted and the same is true of this recent experience with the ovarian mass. Everything does happen for a reason and yes, it’s always something!