Post-Op

Monday, June 4, 2012

Arggggghhhhh. I want to scream aloud. A long, cathartic, unbridled yell of release. Frustration. Grief. Loss. Fear. Aloneness. Angst. Pain. I just want to let it all fall away with the sound of a scream. I want to be like a snake that moults its skin. Crawls right out of itself and emerges anew – sleek, smooth, shiny and refreshed. I want to leave the crusty image of myself, the remnants of what is old and meant to be left behind.

I remember examining the skins of garter snakes I’d find on the Texas ground. My childhood imagination always thought about how the snake could slither out and leave the perfect replica of its body, even the wiggly side-winding movement captured in its shape. The carcass skin would be dry, crisp; paradoxically strong, yet fragile. I’d be careful not to have it crumble in my hand. The wind would blow away the past layer of life as it dried and fell apart. How long was this here before I found it, I wondered? Where is the snake now? Is it tired and resting after the shedding? Is it happy in its so-called new skin?

I want to feel refreshed. I am impatient. Maybe a scream would help. I think the late night cry last night did.

I’ve been thinking of Dave all the time lately.

First, my high school best friend, Susan, flew in to spend the week after surgery with me. We haven’t had so much time together since we shared a house the year before Dave and I married. She stood by my side as we said our wedding vows. Amidst the time of sleep and care, we caught up on a couple of decades of life, families, dreams, and memories. We are the type of friends that pick up in the middle of the sentence no matter how long the months and distance between conversations. She is closest to what I can imagine a sister to be, me having been the only girl among four siblings. She is the one I trusted to help me at my ugliest in case I became weak and sick.

Second, surgery is another milestone event that I wish I could talk to Dave about my feelings, especially since he had gone through so many medical moments both planned and unexpected. I want(ed) his insight as much as I want to express my new understanding this experience brings me. In the grief and loss community, I read all the time that others can’t really know how a death or loss feels until they go through it themselves. It is so true! At least experience becomes valuable as we age into our own wisdom!

Third, is a funny observation surfaced Saturday after my walk back from the bank of mailboxes. These last couple of weeks I am still talking in the plural tense – it’s we, and us, as if Dave should be in the next room. It makes sense in my time with Susan because we were catching up on so much of our recent lives. I thought I was getting better at thinking myself in the singular, taking on responsibility for myself. But my across-the-street neighbors are moving away and I feel the pang of bittersweet loss again. I’m happy to learn they got a quick offer (20 days!) and they will now act on the plans positive for their family’s future. But my current grief makes me take it personally. One more loss of familiarity. For 12 years we’ve watched and participated on the sideline: a new baby, Halloweens, homeowner association meetings, school fundraisers, yard work, sharing the growing families as seasons come and go. They dropped off food and condolences just after Dave died. “We’ll miss you” I caught myself saying, clutching the week’s mail in my arms. As I turned back toward my door, there is no we here, I thought silently. Loss. Whoever moves in next won’t know we once lived here.

Oh yeah, Surgery.

I am 12 days post-op. The surgery itself went as planned. I was taken in, I was asked to breathe deep three or four breaths of mask air, then I was wheeled out to a hospital room. (So it seems) I don’t remember a thing. No twilight visitations, no out of body experiences. Susan and Leah showed up. Nurses and Aides showed up. The blood pressure cuff was way too tight. I woke up every 30 minutes most of the night. The doctor dropped by in the morning. We went home. I slept. I walked around. I slept more. We talked. We ate. I’ve tried not to do too much. Surgical pain has been relatively easy to manage. They didn’t even cut a snip of hair. The follow up appointment was unremarkable. Just as planned. Why was I worried?

Has it been a success? Yes, and we’ll see. I am happy to say that many of the internal noises – hearing my reverberating kazoo voice, each step I take resonating through my bones, eyeballs and neck movement creaks – mostly gone. Hearing my heartbeat (pulsatile tinnitus) is faint and only on exertion now. My brain fog caused by sensory over-stimulation seems to be lifting. It doesn’t hurt my ears so much to talk on the phone. Slowly I am regaining more clear vision, although I can tell when I overdo it.

I was without most of my hearing in the operated side for just over a week. About 60% is back, in my estimation, and all the continued popping and crackling I hear is a good sign. I’ll re-test my hearing in two months. I have no reason to believe it won’t be back in full force by then. I am actually dizzier and more off balance now than before surgery, but I think that is because we corrected a system that took years to go out of whack and I slowly adjusted along the way. I feel sure this too will correct itself with time and practice. I could do without the associated nausea dizziness causes. I still hear the crunch of croutons way too loud.

I have a way to go to full recovery. There is still some swelling of the brain tissue and I can feel a slight band of tightness on my head around my ear. The “earache” type fullness is fairly constant. I must protect myself from the change of pressure in my head that comes from straining, coughing, sneezing, bending over and even crying. The ringing comes and goes, sometimes loud, sometimes just below the surface of sound. The surgical stitches that outline the crease of my ear remain and will eventually be cleaned off along with the super-glue that holds them in place. It is rather a neat little package and I have to work at getting just the right angle to see it all, as I keep tabs using the double mirror trick. The surgeon says my ear, which sticks out like a monkey’s ear does, will return to a more normal position to match the other. Until then, I guess no pony tail. It’s a vanity few others would notice I suspect.

The pluses are much bigger than the minuses for sure. But why, oh why, do I want to scream? (I noted briefly to myself the other day this is one of the few times in my life I have asked “why me?” to which the answer is only “because it is.”)

If only I could just scream.

In those first few minutes of narrative I start writing in my inner waking voice I thought about my desire to scream. I thought about the most cathartic and poignant moments in my life for analogy – the moment the horse I rode took off in a full out run with the fearful teenage girl. I remember the freedom that represented the lesson “to let go” and ride with him, from the hard uncontrolled bounce of trotting to the togetherness of coordinated stride of human and horse going forward. I recall the strangely significant and humorously predictable and classical moment of love between a girl and a horse. I thought about a moment in a college dance class that still brings me a kinesthetic response to think about – the day I felt a leap so grand and open and perfect that I could see myself from within and without at the same time – dancer and audience. I defied gravity and more importantly my mind. I let go. This became the moment I always wanted to achieve again and again through creative expression. I cried this morning to think about Dave as we would fall together vulnerable and secure in the most intimate of letting go moments. Us as one, as lovers. Us, as we shared the most intimate and emotional last year of his life.

So a scream now would allow me to let go, to find freedom, to be vulnerable, and to be strong. To love. To trust. To be secure. That’s what I want to feel: Safe and Secure.

Death and surgery, loss and uncertainty tug at my sense of personal security. That’s why I want to scream. That’s important for me to recognize. The trust and security I attributed to us together as husband and wife, as friends and lovers, as partners and sounding board, are now up to me alone. It’s a scary thought sometimes and I want to scream.

I can trust I will feel better. I trust that I know (and do) make the decisions and set the direction best for me. I can let go and remember simultaneously. I am here to remind myself that it is the letting go that allows the natural flow of things.

If only it were so simple as to step out of my skin and emerge sleek, smooth, shiny and refreshed.

 

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