Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Through the valley... part 2

(note: this post is graphic in nature, due to the subject. Read at your own risk.)

In October, I made the decision to switch doctors (OBGYN). Primarily, because my previous doctor was so incredibly busy with patients, I had about 5 minutes of her time, which included the exam itself. Cattle car was a pretty accurate description. She had successfully helped me deliver my three younger children, so I was grateful, but now that my child-bearing days were behind me, I wanted someone who could help me navigate my 40s, 50s and beyond and actually take the time to listen to me. So, new doc.

I learned a long time ago (when Honey was a baby) that doctor's are not demigods. They are human, and you are the one who knows your body better than anyone else. Because you are in it day in and day out. So, if "something's up", you need to make a note about it and tell your doctor, and not just expect him/her to find/discover it on their own.

Whether genetic, hormonal, weight-related or a combination of all of the above, my female cycles have always been difficult. Over the past 30 years, I have tried all manner of natural remedies, folk remedies, prescriptions, you name it. There was a period in my life where I would have no cycle only to be followed with one overwhelming one that lasted for 4-6 weeks. For years, I would take multiple pregnancy tests, only to have it read negative and at some point later have a menstrual flow that would make my life a living nightmare.

Pregnancies were delightful times, so I am grateful that I did not follow my earlier OB's advice and have a hysterectomy at age 26, when my older children were very young. My younger children are a testimony to the faithful prayers of a godly friend, EV, and my endurance to a cycle that left me by times either bloated or drained and anemic.

So, I spoke to my new doctor about this endurance and how I did not want to face another 10 years of this misfortune if it was possible to be treated effectively. I also mentioned another issue I was having "down there". It seems that having my many children had left my muscle wall torn and it was allowing my intestines to bulge into places where it didn't belong. It seemed to be getting worse and was causing multiple issues. Because of the nature of doctor visits with their instruments, this was not something that had been noticed before, so I spoke up and asked if it was normal and if it was fixable.

The results of those conversations were a series of tests. The day before Thanksgiving was the start of those. The sonogram showed something abnormal. It required an emergency, immediate biopsy to rule out cancer, or to put it more accurately, to determine if cancer how to best proceed. So, I went through Thanksgiving with the weight of "what if" bearing heavily on my thoughts. The doctor also made it clear that she now felt that a hysterectomy was not an optional treatment, but something that needed to be done quickly and without delay. She wanted me to see another surgeon regarding the rectocele repair. Suddenly, I was in multiple rounds of multiple doctor appointments. Questions, exams, catheters, cameras and probes in odd, uncomfortable places. Finally, word came back from the biopsy that the adenoma was benign. Hyperactive uterine glands that were producing excess blood and blood vessels. Thanks be to God!  I was now scheduled for four surgeries on December 10. Spurring me on was the image of my 96 year old godmother who had undergone the same procedures that I was doing this past summer at her advanced age. How many decades had she suffered? Suffered till she had reached a critical point in her health where she would have died unless she had done what I, half her age, was now gearing up to do. I did not want to suffer for five more decades! Did not want to have my body parts sagging out of me and debilitating me if it was within my power and God's help to fix it.

There was, throughout this time a very heavy sense of my own mortality. Major surgery does that to anyone, I'm sure, if they are given the opportunity to think about it. Was I wrong not to simply endure this, like my godmother had? Was I taking my life into my own hands? Was the risk too great? Why did God not simply heal me, like he had Saint Veronica of old? There was so much to do, both with my work duties, but more importantly with my family duties. Christmas was coming and I would be in recovery and unable to drive and shop. Food for myself would need to be organized, because I could not trust the hospital to prepare food according to my needs and I would need to have sufficient back up for home, again during my recovery. Bills needed to be dealt with and settled. An unending pile of laundry. Amends made as much as my ability to do so. Confession with my priest, so as to have a clean spiritual slate, in case December 10 marked my last day on earth among the living. Letters to Hubbs and kiddos to be secreted away "just in case". I worried over what I was going to say while under anesthesia or coming out from it, or being in it or under it for too long. Would I turn into a cursing banshee? Would I say things unawares that would distress or cause others pain/hurt?

I also needed to get a temporary sponsor for my abstinence program. My beloved sponsor had never gone through surgery, was new enough to the program to not "know the ropes" on how to guide someone through this time, and so, for a few days, her sponsor became my sponsor. J has over 10 years of back-to-back abstinence. She is kind and compassionate. She helped me prepare for surgery in a manner that fit our plan: what to eat, what to drink, how to weigh and measure and how to face the surgical "day before" prep, the post op food/drink and by giving me structure and a plan, gave me peace to face my surgery with it (the surgery) in one hand and my food in the other. Again, to some, including my doctors, it was "just take a break for a few days while you are in the hospital", then you can get back on the wagon. Would you tell that to a drunk? Go ahead and drink for a few days and then you can be sober again? Would you think someone who struggles profoundly with alcohol to be able to pick it up "for a time" and then easily lay it down again?  Don't deceive yourself! As someone who has struggled with food issues for over 20 years this"how do I do this?" was a huge part of my mental ordeal. I had two primary goals: to live through this and to not end up "back in the food?"

And so, I drank my magic potion to clean out my innards. I peed out my backend, which is odd to say the least. I was squeaky clean, inside and out. Hubbs was a champ. He's continued to be a champ. Father P and Matuska came up to the hospital to pray for me and sit with me and Hubbs. Hubbs' folks came up to wait with him as my surgery went on hours longer than expected.

In the end, I lived. And yes, it is like getting a new lease on life. Hopefully, this next phase will find me a kinder, gentler, more loving person than I was before. More aware of human frailty and compassionate towards those around me. More attuned to the gift of another day of life here on earth. A blessing to all who cross my path.
Erica Robinson

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Though I walk through the valley..., part 1

"Erica Robinson!" "Erica Robinson!" Over and over this insistent voice keeps calling my name. I open my eyes and look into the eyes of the male nurse who was in charge of my recovery from the O.R. He has blue eyes and short cropped sandy brown hair with a blue net over his head. I think his name is Kevin. I smile and whisper, "I'm here." He smiles back and I drift back to sleep. I wake again and look at the wall in front of me. A large analog clock reads 6:10. I stare at the gray wall and the grey clock with it's white face and black hands. Thoughts jumble into cohesion. I am alive! Heaven does not look like this, nor sound like this, with it's moans and soft cries and people gagging around me. Gratitude courses through every vein and I thank God for the grace to see this night, to be here on this earth still wife and mother. Surely, if I had died, I would not care, but to be granted to live a bit longer fills me with gratefulness. I drift off again. In and out. I recognize that I am in a ward of some kind. It is surreal, like something out of the 1930s. I can not feel anything, not even my eyelids, but I can hear everything, especially the older gentleman whose moans do not diminish. This is not the special "woman's hospital". I am in the main operating recovery ward (PACU) for Baptist hospital. We are lined up in our rolling hospital beds, each with our own nurse. Mine is busy texting someone. I see his head bent down over his hands holding the black rectangle of an iphone. I know that I am hooked up to a multitude of machines, so I do not mind that he is not focused on me. He is there, if I need him. I wake up again and am in my room. Hubbs is there and my doctor, L M. She is debriefing me on the surgery. I lost over a liter of blood. The surgery took much longer than expected. I am o.k., but they are going to keep a close eye on me overnight. I struggle to focus on her face. She had come in before surgery and prayed with me. It brought tears to my eyes, to know my surgeon prayed and committed us both to God's hands, the Master Physician. Her face is taut and pale. I realize that my surgery had frightened her...the extent of the extra blood many more than expected. Each needing to be carefully cauterized and dealt with. I imagine my uterus gone haywire, like a Medusa, spreading out feeding tenacles that all needed to be meticulously clipped and cauterized, not one allowed to remain, lest it drain the life force out of me. I shut my eyes to force the image from my mind. Hubbs squeezes my hand. My doctor's voice is a disconnect from her face: chatty and extra perky. I open my eyes again and thank her for praying for me and for doing such a good job on the surgery. She smiles again and says some more, but my mind is drifting again. T is here. Ahh. Sweet relief. My friend and cake instructor, who also happens to be a retired nurse is here to watch over me tonight. Hubbs can go home. T will make sure that I am turned, moved, medicated, etc. She will not let me drift back into the valley of death. At least, not without a fight. The other surgeon comes in, Dr. S. He's wearing a fleece camoflage jacket. He's like a sparky terrier, complete with brown curly hair. He holds my hand and rubs the veins hidden in my pale skin. "You lost a lot of blood today. I don't like your color still. Too pale." He smiles softly and then begins his debrief in a short, professional manner. He did two of the four surgeries. They were supposed to be the more complicated ones. They were done, of course, but not to the complexity that he may have wished, due to the blood loss. Alarmed, I ask if he was able to do the job the way he had described pre surgery. He patted my hand. Even to me, my hand looks like melted wax. "Yes, just not to the extent I would have preferred. You had lost too much blood, and we couldn't take the risk." He smiles all around and leaves. Dr. P, my third surgeon doesn't make an appearance. He had talked to Hubbs, so I don't give it much thought. T moves into full nurse mode and we convince Hubbs to go home. I need him to go home. I need to be able to be in pain and not have him worried about me. I need him to sleep tonight, because I will need him to take of me tomorrow and the next night and for many nights after that. The night goes on, and I wake up every few hours. T is awake each time I glance her way. We smile and talk. She reminds me when I can have medicine and feeds me chicken broth and ice chips. I have funny socks on my legs that massage and pump my calves. How nice those things are. What peace of mind to know they are helping to circulate my blood to prevent clots from forming. There are tubes in my nose, filling my lungs and mouth with oxygen. My mouth feels like cotton and the ice chips are so cool and refreshing. There is an IV in my right arm, in the crook of my elbow. Both arms have bruises. Finding a vein was no easy task. Drawing blood before and after surgery and then also for the IV have left both arms looking like an addict gone loco. Ah, there's a catheter too. My body is waking up. Pain starts to climb the charts. I am safe. I am among the living. T suggests she get the nurse to give me some morphine and adjusts the pillows. Up, down, side to side. All night long, she tends to me. How can I repay this kindness? In acts of mercy, this woman with her calm intuitiveness, with her staying awake to make sure that I stay alive is more than any good deed that I have ever done. It is a debt that I will gladly owe. Peace. Wrapped warm and safe. In the prayers of my family and friends. In a hospital that actively prays as well. I close my eyes again and imagine T and our guardian angels watching me together.

Erica Robinson