Sep 19 2011
It’s so hard to trust a body that has betrayed you, even when that same body has saved you. Twice over in large events, innumerable times in small events. From the ingrown cuticle that doesn’t become gangrenous, to the twisted ankle from falling that doesn’t sprain, to the eradication of countless cancerous regions (with the help of judicious applications of hundreads of thousands of dollars of modern technology), our bodies strive ever toward the persistence of life.
And yet the nail that grows wrong to start the infection, the imbalance that caused the twist, the genetic mutation that allowed the influx of deadly cancerous cells, all are as if your own body is trying actively to kill or injure itself. For some of us it feels like almost a daily occurrence; for some of us, it is. Housing that duality isn’t easy, and becomes less so when you become unable to ignore it.
Due to scheduling snafus, my drains and staples have been in a little too long. It’ll be three weeks this Tuesday. This Saturday night, one of the drains came out on its own. I didn’t feel any extra pain, or notice any movement I’d done that was different than what I’d been doing for the last two and a half weeks, to provoke this event. Regardless, when we went to change dressings that evening as we’ve done every day since this started, the second drain on the right side wasn’t functioning and much more of the drain was exposed, even with the suture still holding it in. It’s a different style than the ones I had last year, but I still knew what it meant when I could see the part of the drain tube with slits curving around and through it; those were the part that took up the fluid — the fluid that was supposed to be coming from inside me.
12 am on a Saturday night; why is it that so many of these things seem to happen at such inconvenient times? The after-hours exchange was able to get hold of my doctor, who told me that I’d have to “simply” finish taking it out myself and bandage it up. He didn’t sound that concerned, and since we already had an appointment scheduled for Tuesday, he’d assess the rest of the drains and staples then. After we got off the phone and were preparing to follow his instructions, my helper noticed an area far up under the right armpit that looked slightly infected. Since my step-mom was in town and knows a ton of medical stuff for a layperson, I decided to wait on re-awakening the surgeon and have her look at it in the morning before doing anything else.
So I removed my own drain; my helper cut the suture and pulled the pieces out with tweezers. It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. I cried, at how slow this is all taking to heal compared to everything else, even as I knew it was irrational to cry and it’s not really healing all that slowly. I cried in anger at the implication of infection, when we’ve changed dressings literally every day, cleaning the areas, freshly bandaging everything, measuring the drainage multiple times a day, and following all the instructions like I always do. I cried and having to deal with all of this, with the drains on the other side hurting more than the side that’s screwing up. At the fact that the remaining drain on the right side is the one not suctioning correctly; why couldn’t that one have been the one to come out? At the combination of pain and numbness on the right side, at the fact that I can’t see what’s going on because of angles and that I can’t raise my own arm high enough to see what’s happening. (This part of the healing I at least am familiar with from before; in the photo art project we have from last year (coming soon) one of the last pictures is me triumphantly raising both arms above my head fully.)
I haven’t cried nearly enough during this year’s cancer round, but I got at least a little of it out last night. I’ll be calling around in the morning to see if I can get in earlier instead of waiting until Tuesday; the paranoia of even a little surface infection from the stapled area, or the missing drain wound, is a hard load to carry, even if it’s so much smaller than so much of the rest of what’s happened. Nothing has yet started to separate and open along the incision lines, which is the big danger. The empty drain wound looks a little pus-y but is already closed over, and we continue to bandage freshly all of it daily (the staple area gets cleaned and fresh bandages at least 2-3 times a day until we see the doctor again.
It still feels like my body let me down, and that’s a dangerous feeling to carry around, because believing in my body’s awesome ability to fight off and keep fighting the cancer is a large part of the psychological success of this summer. So I have to learn to forgive it the minor complications; to be thankful that this is some of the worst that has gone wrong. It’s hard to do when I can feel the extra fluid building on the right side, or one of the left drain sites hurting so badly. But then again, most of the last three years have been filled with things that are hard to do.
O, I am so tired of hurting.
Thanks to Vicki and Mary for their assistance this weekend, and I sure hope that you are both right and everything will be fine on Tuesday. I also really hope I’ll get most of these drains and staples out. I’m ready to switch to surgistrips and re-start PT in earnest and the more active phase of healing. And I may, just may, be ready to start fresh writing again. I feel very close to the point where I need to be creating a new story instead of just managing the old ones (I’m not abandoning the old work, it still needs to be done as well). Thanks to my wonderful writer’s group for helping me think through things enough to get to that realization point, and possibly even a starting point for the new story. Allyson and Lynn, you rock.
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