That’s the answer I gave to the question, “And what are you here for today?”
Terrie and I had been through this before. She is a nurse in the pre-op ward at Queen of the Valley Hospital. 3 lung surgeries in just under a year; people know us. They ask after the kids.
The surgeon comes in, opens a new marker and initials on my back where the offending tumor is. “Now, you know, Jay, I am going to have to remove one rib, possibly two, to get the margins?”
Leading up to the surgery, I had heard, “possibly remove a rib.” Not, “have to.” But okay; a rib removal makes for a great story, and a funny blog post:
“Just Call me Adam” after removing the rib, I work to create the perfect Eve. And she is…(fanfare, drumrolls, fireworks), Adrienne Waterman. Cute, huh?
Adrienne leans over and kisses me goodbye. “See you tomorrow, baby,” I say. Historically, my last two lung surgeries have had me knocked out with a breathing tube down my throat for 24 hours.
Sometime in the early afternoon, Dr. Kanaan stands over me. I am confused. “You are in recovery. The breathing tube is already removed. I took out 3 ribs, 5 cm of your chest wall and a few little satellite tumors in your lung. Good job.”
There goes my blog post; although I’m sure there is a Mormon joke in there somewhere.
Adrienne is shocked to see me with my eyes open the day of surgery. We talk. I am coherent to talk to my kids and to my sister. I eat hospital ice and jello (insert another Mormon joke).
Usually, the chest tube hurts like hell and it comes out the day after surgery. It needs to stay an extra day. They move me from ICU to the main floor. The nurses recognize me. I have an epidural. I barely notice the chest tube.
In my last post I wrote about, and under the influence of medical marijuana. Lying in my hospital bed, I think about writing under the influence of morphine. Too bad I couldn’t just tape my crazy hallucinogenic morphine dreams. So, I don’t write, I just think about words. I think about reading, but David Foster Wallace doesn’t seem remotely coherent.
The epidural comes out. The doctor tells me that there is a new pain medication that is placed inside of fat cells and then deposited right inside the wound. It is amazing; until it wears off.
Having a chest tube removed is painful, no matter the medication. I talk with the surgeon’s assistant. “How do you remove the ribs? With a saw?” I had it in my head that only the ribs in the back would be gone. She replies, “Well, since they are floating, we remove them from the sternum.” Shit! I have no ribs in the front either? Numbers 5,6, and 7, gone. It’s no wonder I can’t lay on my good side; gravity is pressing down through my skin straight onto my internal organs.
My ribs have been replaced with flaps of Gortex. Yes, Gortex. The surgeon says it gives the best protection and range of motion.
So in the past 3 years, I’ve lost my ability to poop out of my butt, my future as a marathoner, my boxing ambitions, but worst of all, my top spot as “Dad, child wrestler.”
Friday morning, I go home. The kids are clingy, emotional. Everyone is on edge. By Sunday I am feeling horrible. Fever; sweaty, freezing, sweaty, freezing. We watch a movie. I talk the kids down one more time and fall asleep.
I barely remember kissing them goodbye on Monday morning. By 9 o’clock, I am in the bathroom throwing up. All day Adrienne tempts me with food. I throw up some more. She calls the doctor. “No, fortunately it’s not the surgery, it’s a bug going around. I’ve had it the last 36 hours.” So it’s his fault. I sleep and sweat all day.
Yesterday morning I pryed myself out of bed and took a shower. Simple things become monumental; reaching for the bar of soap, washing my hair, being steady enough to get out of the old claw foot tub and dry off. I put on clean clothes and burst into tears.
Now, I don’t like to write about crying. And it’s not a manly thing; how often have you known me to be manly? My phobia about crying and writing came from 2 different books. Both memoirs, both written by intelligent women. The number of times they both wrote, “I cried,” took away all the power of their tears. If they cry that often, does it mean the same? I have friends who cry. It’s real. I see it. But reading about it isn’t the same. So, me bursting into tears and writing about them streaming down my bloodshot eyes; it means something.
It happens every time. I hit a day about a week into my recovery and I feel like I can’t go on. I can’t bear to have my body cut open again.
Adrienne brought me cheesecake. I went downstairs for the first time in almost 48 hours. The panic started to subside.
In the past, this post would be neatly zipped up with something about my kids. And seeing them yesterday did help. However, it was something my sister texted me that made the difference. She thanked me for going through all of it; the chemo, surgeries, radiation, all the things that have kept me alive.
And then I realized, I have been given a choice. The choice is mine to make every time. I choose life for myself and for my family. And the past year, the time I was to be dead, has been amazing. I got married, my kids all had another round of birthdays, I finished my book.
There is the zipper; having a choice.