I guess I thought that, though I'd be under general anesthesia, that I'd only be out for a few minutes. That my ovaries rested right under the skin of my belly. That it was no more invasive than my annual gynecological checkup. (Because, let's face it, as far as invasive goes, the speculum on its own sort of maxes out the invasive scale.)
I was wrong.
And I realized how wrong I was on Thursday, laying in bed on my first day of recovery.
Apparently, they did a lot while I was under the influence of whatever miraculous drug they pumped through my veins while I laid there on that tiny operating room table. They moved my IV from its uncomfortable spot in my left forearm to just below my right wrist. They outfitted me with a catheter; That's why it was imperative that I pee before I left the hospital and headed home, to make sure my bladder remembered how to go on its own. I was also the lucky recipient of a breathing tube. Additionally, they filled my abdomen with air, in order to move around my organs and reach my ovaries more easily. This gas would stay in my body for a number of days, settling in my right shoulder from time to time, producing a pain greater than the incisions themselves. The only way to rid myself of this pent-up gas was to pass it naturally, or to stand and walk around to break up the pocket of air in my right shoulder.
My incisions were another thing altogether, bigger and more frightening than I thought they would be. They are not huge by any means, just huge to me, the person who had to stare at the thick bandages and miles of medical tape that covered them for two days, a thick and unforgiving reminder of the procedure I'd just endured. I removed the gauze and tape on Friday afternoon, with the help of my mother, to reveal the bloodied tape that was stuck, with glue, to the incisions above each hip and the one inside of my belly button. Upon removing the outer bandages, and seeing, for the first time, the sticky wounds that hid beneath, the room began to spin and I had to sit down. They weren't horrible, just shocking. In my head, they would be tiny, flesh colored slits in my sides, my button, that would be hardly noticeable from the moment they were revealed. That was not the case. Removing the outer covering revealed the skin around the cuts, bruised and puffy, from the trauma of the instruments being shoved inside of me, from the moving of the laparoscope, from the cutting itself.
The cuts are glued shut to stave off the scarring that comes with incisions in general, but covered by thin strips of vertical gauze, that will fall off on their own. This makes for a more disturbing belly. And the adhesive from the many, many, strips of tape used to hold the bandages in place was still clinging to the skin on my stomach until yesterday, creating of roadmap of the tape that was. It's nothing terrible, and it went away with mere hours spent with cotton balls, rubbing alcohol and baby oil. But it was just something that made me want to cry a little bit every time I looked down and saw it.
But what is more disturbing than my vanity, is what the doctor told my family and boyfriend. The surgery went very smoothly and was ultimately completely successful; a nugget of information that - according to my father - made my mom cry with relief. But there was another issue at hand. The cysts - all of them - were bigger than we thought. Dangerously big, in fact. So big, that one was beginning a slow twist around my Fallopian tube. The surgery was just in time. Waiting much longer would've resulted in the loss of the tube and an ovary.
And, though the timing could've been worse, it also could've been better. I thought the severe and constant cramping in my abdomen, coupled with the sharp stabs of pain that would come and go every so often all of last week, were just psychosomatic. I only hurt, I thought, because I knew those cysts were there. The horrible and painful tension in my neck and back was, I reasoned, just the stress of how badly I wanted to get the surgery over with. And while that all made perfectly good sense, it was wrong. The pain in my abdomen, and in the rest of my body, was not self imposed, or stress. It was leakage. The biggest cyst, the aggressive one, the one that was threatening to smother my ovary, was leaking toxins through my body. It didn't rupture, as I've had in my past, just sort of doled out an extreme amount of pain for the last week. And, still, after leaking, it was large. My doctor couldn't even venture to guess how big it had been.
The good news, though, was that it was all fluid. There is no need for a biopsy, or more worry.
But, stretched out in bed for three days after my surgery, I realized that Percoset didn't offer me the giddy reprieve I'd hoped for following my surgery. It didn't make me feel full of love and free of pain like whatever they gave me in the hospital had. In fact, it just made me feel like crap. It made me shaky and nauseous, worn out and tired. Lazy. And it didn't help the sharp pain that came every time I had to sit up or lie down. It calmed the tremors in my belly, helped alleviate the expected cramping that comes with messing around with the ovaries, but, other than that, just made me feel generally horrible.
"How do people get hooked on this stuff?" I said to my mom from my spot in bed. I turned the brown bottle over in my quivering hands. "It just makes me feel shitty." I put the bottle back on my night stand, next to my bottles of water and snacks.
"I didn't like it when I had to take it either," she said, eyeing me for signs of pain.
But I took it. One and half pills every four hours, without fail. Because even a slight lapse in my schedule would make me suffer. "And why suffer," Billy said, after waking me up at four in the morning to tell me it was time for my pill. "I just don't want you to be in pain."
Neither did I. So I swallowed my pill and a half as instructed.
And while I wasn't in pain, I still wasn't comfortable. That's what happens when your stomach muscles are cut to get to your insides. Even sitting up poses a problem, and you find yourself turning and bending, trying to find a way to hoist or prop yourself up without ripping open your glued-shut incisions and spilling your insides out all over the place.
There is no dignity in recovery.
More times than I care to admit, Billy stood and straddled my limp body, steeling his legs against the give of the mattress beneath me, and offered me his hands. "Let me help you sit up," he said from above me, his head grazing the light fixture on the ceiling.
"This is humiliating," I whined, extending my arms and letting him pull me upright.
"No it's not. You need help, and I'm giving it to you. There's nothing humiliating about that."
Oh, Billy. You're so naive.
When you have to literally roll over before you can get out of bed, because failing to do so is likely to make you not only wince, by cry, in pain, you start to feel silly, weak, helpless. And handling helpless or in need of help at all has never been my specialty.
I'm the kind of girl who stops people mid-instruction to say "I know," even if I don't. Because I don't like feeling like I need someone's helping hand. I hate, especially, to be told something I already know. And so I have to announce that I knew that already. Because not correcting someone who is instructing me on something with which I am already familiar fuels the assumption that I didn't know, and I needed help. Which I didn't, thank you very much. And asking someone, even the boyfriend that I love so much, to help me sit up just seems ridiculous.
"I hate this," I cried to Billy. "I hate that I still hurt. I hate feeling like this, I hate that I need help. I hate feeling like an invalid. I just want to be able to do things on my own."
"Do you know what I would give to be able to spend three days in bed?" He said, frustrated with my whining.
I pride myself on being independent, on handling on my own what I watch other women ask their husbands and boyfriends for. But, in my current state, I couldn't sit up on my own, let alone drive and pick myself up something to eat. It's one thing to spend three days in bed because it's something you've chosen to do. It's quite another to be forced to do so.
"It's not that great," I said, blotting at my teary eyes. "I feel like an annoyance, and inconvenience. It's horrible."
It was. All of that sympathy-wrangling I talked about doing never materialized. I just couldn't. I called my mom to come hang out with me, but I refused to admit that I wanted anything, much less that I needed anything. Because she would've made the trip all the way downtown for a milkshake if I wanted it. And I didn't want her to have to go out of her way. Billy's offer to pick me up something on the way home was always met with "I don't need anything." Even if I did. Because he wasn't leaving work until ten at night, and I'm sure the last thing he wanted to do was pick up some Sprite for his lame girlfriend.
Between the sitting up, and the Percoset-induced laziness, I had just about had enough of Recovery.
Percoset finally wore me down and made me sick on Saturday. I hovered over the toilet and gave up the small breakfast I'd had that morning - an apple and some ginger ale - with my hands around my belly to keep my insides inside. It was the most painful thing I can remember experiencing. You can't keep your compromised stomach muscles from contracting, and you can't do anything to alleviate the sharp sting that comes with your belly going tight, then slack. I washed my face and sat with my mom, where I decided that Percoset and I were just going to have to break up.
The pain made me surly, though. "I liked you better on your drugs," Billy said. "You were sweeter."
"I was whiny and annoying."
"Yes, but it was sweet."
"Well, now I'm back to normal, I guess. You know, not sweet."
Monday was my first day back at work. And it felt good, to be out of my bedroom. Even though I'd had the air conditioning on full blast since Wednesday, and enough pillows and snacks within arm's reach to never have to leave, I was ready. Driving felt good, as did getting up and walking around. When the end of my workday came and I still felt good, I drove to Wal Mart. I was jumping head first into my regular schedule. Shopping, laundry, cleaning, taking out the trash. I did it all.
"Way to take it easy on your first day back in the world, Laurie," my mom said sarcastically over the phone, while I bent over to pick up a pair of Billy's pants that had made their way onto the floor.
"Oh, I'm fine," I laughed. "I took my Tylenol. I feel good."
Ah, but I paid for it later. Feeling good for a few hours is deceiving. Because you forget to favor your sensitive areas. You forget to use your back and legs when lifting, and suddenly your wound reminds you that it's there. And, three hours later, I was in bed, pain in my stomach and pain in my back rendering me completely still.
"I think I overdid it today," I said to Billy as he walked in the door from work. "Everything hurts. I think my back hurts from using it more than normal. My knees are bothering me. And my stomach feels crampy."
After I detailed what I had done during the day, he shook his head. "You have to take it easy, babe. You had surgery, you need to recover."
"I know," I said, turning up the volume on the TV.
Today, I'm feeling the overactivity from yesterday. My entire midsection feels like it has been twisted, and like my muscles shrank to the size of toothpicks and standing up straight would only serve to sever them. I'm all hunched over, walking like a little, old, arthritic lady. My incisions itch ("a good sign," Billy said this morning, slapping my hand away from my belly, where I threatened to scratch) and I'm still uncomfortable. But my doctor and I have a date this afternoon, where we'll follow up on my surgery and chart my progress.I'm certain she'll show me pictures of my cysts, both before and after removal. And she'll probably tell me to take it easy and to keep my incisions dry and clean. And I'll probably just nod and say "I know." Because, with the added pizazz of a few wounds, bruises, some pain and medical tape, I'm back to being me.