It was my third surgery. For endometriosis. Even though I arrived at the hospital at five-thirty in the morning decked out in sweats and an oversized flannel shirt, I wasn’t warm for long. Soon after arriving I was called back to change into my surgery get-up: a paper thin, one size fits all, flapping gown and a pair of grey no-skid socks that barely felt like fabric. Thankfully, I remembered to close the door while changing so my bottom wasn’t the one seen bare across the hall like the man I happened to see the last time.
Once I changed, my hands were cold, like always. I knew this meant it would take several attempts to sink the IV needle into my vein, giving me the pleasure of going home with not only a few punctures in my abdomen, but a handful of fresh bruises on my arms.
“Stay awake as long as possible,” I told myself. I wanted to know Big J kissed me on the forehead and walked me down the hall as long as he was allowed. “I love you,” he said last time. But I hadn’t heard him after just half a dose of the pre-op sedative. I determined to stay awake long enough to hear him and remember. I tried not to be nervous. Just because I was practically naked and would soon be unconscious didn’t make me vulnerable, did it?
For the first time I awakened from a surgery coherent and conversant and the nurse offered me morphine. A lightweight, I hesitated. I didn’t want to be knocked out again so soon after awakening. But when the nurse offered half a dose I figured I might as well accept. It wouldn’t help with the gas pain in my shoulders sure to come, but it definitely made the transition to the recovery room more pleasant. In fact, I was more chipper than Big J prepared for, temporarily anyway.
As soon as possible I started drinking small sips of water. But not through a straw. I knew by then that only made the gas pains worse. The sooner I filled my bladder the sooner the catheter could come out. And the sooner the catheter came out, the sooner I could prove that I could pee on my own, one step closer to going home, my number one goal.
The very moment the nurse removed the catheter I got up and walked around as much as possible. Big J became especially good at securing my gown before I left my room as he didn’t want me exposing myself as I shuffled down the hall trying not to trip on the wheels of my IV pole. Walking was good for the gas, which by now had moved its way up into my shoulders from my abdomen where it had been pumped during surgery. The pain in my shoulders was actually the worst part of recovery.
Having support for Big J at the hospital was so important. He was anxious and irritable sitting around, waiting, not being in control, especially after the previous surgery when no one gave him an update for hours. It was hard to be patient with him when he snapped. After all, I was the one who had just had surgery. But I had been unconscious for a good part of the time. He had just been feeling worried and helpless.
I didn’t bother looking in the mirror. My hair had been squished into a paper hospital cap and I was sure it stuck out in fifty different directions or was matted to my head like the time before. I could’ve asked for a mirror, but I wasn’t feeling that brave.
After removal of the catheter, the nurse monitored how much I’d peed. Once I knew I had urinated an adequate amount, according to doctor’s orders, I insisted on going home. Recovery pain, even the gas pain, was easy compared to the pain I’d been having from endometriosis. But the nurse told me the doctor said I couldn’t go home yet. In frustration, I had her connect me to the doctor at home since, of course, I didn’t have his number handy. I explained to him that my recovery was only being hampered by all the poking and prodding and hospitable food they offered me. I explained a hospital bed was no place for me to recuperate and I would feel better much more quickly once at home. I guess as the patient I had some pull, because he relented and gave his permission to discharge me.
I had made sure I brought loose clothing to the hospital to change into before checking out. Jeans one size too big like I took for my first surgery didn’t cut it. Sweats with a drawstring and my oversized shirt were a good choice. I didn’t want any kind of pressure on my distended and tender abdomen.
Once home I went for short walks and rode along to the store when I felt up to it. But I reminded myself not to overdo it. I knew if I did I would pay for it later. Though I felt so much better, I remembered internal organs had been lifted and moved, things that should never be touched. Tissue was cauterized and excised and my body wasn’t quite sure what to do. I took my time and allowed myself to rest.
And of course I allowed myself to grieve. Whether I lost any organs or not, surgery was an emotional experience, especially something so personal, one meant to preserve fertility while ridding me of pain. Much like I imagined the need of women to share their stories of giving birth I found I needed to share my story. It was individual. It was personal. I wasn’t surprised when people didn’t want the details. But still I shared with anyone who asked, anyone willing to listen.