Hey Hospital… we need to talk
(since I didn’t take a lot of photos while we were together, Hospital, I’m going to share with you some photos of my leg and I enjoying our last week together)
I guess you’re used to drama, Hospital. You deal with the full circle of emotions. Life is created in the maternity ward and it hangs by a thread in intensive care. Some experience the triumphs of modern medicine while for others it just isn’t enough to save them. For me, and for us, our relationship is bittersweet. My life will be saved inside your walls but it will also be changed very drastically in ways that I’m sure, even now, I haven’t fully come to terms with.
Hold on. Emotion? Full circle? Life and death? I better move on now before I break out into a verse of Hakuna Matata.
Ok I’ll be honest with you, Hospital. On the day that we met, when I was admitted, I was in a foul mood. It wasn’t that I was mad, I was just anxious so I had a short fuse. Mum, Dad, Valerie and Sofía came with me and I was snapping at everything that anyone said. I’d been so good up until now, so relaxed and well centered, but all of a sudden everything was going wrong. My iphone decided to go into recovery mode and fixing it meant that we were an hour late for you. I hate being late. When we got there Mum said that the slightly gothic looking girl at the front desk looked like Abby from NCIS and I growled at her. When we got to my ward, Dad told Valerie that she didn’t have to worry about being jealous since my overweight nurse “doesn’t exactly look like Marilyn Monroe”. The worst part was that both of these comments were made within earshot of Abby and Marilyn.
Great, I’m bound to get fantastic service now that my parents have made friends with everyone.
And Valerie. Well, Valerie didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just that every time I looked at her she would smile back at me and it would make me want to burst into tears. Sofí would make me smile. The innocence of a child has a calming effect and it was probably the only thing that held me together. As soon as I was shown to my room I fought back the tears and said my goodbyes. This would be the last time that they would see me with two legs.
It feels mean to say it, but as soon as they left and I was on my own I felt all of the stress dissolve and I was calm again. Since finding out I have cancer, my leg and I have made peace with the decision to amputate. Even though we were both comfortable with this decision, it’s natural to freak out a bit as the big day approaches. My plan was to stay calm and focused from beginning to end, allowing me to get through with the least amount of mental trauma possible but I knew that the wheels could fall off at any minute. I had a feeling that heading into surgery would be really emotional. And I was dreading waking up from anesthetic and seeing myself with one leg for the first time. These were the 2 moments that I was afraid of.
Surgery was the next day. I couldn’t bring myself to even plan for it so I decided to just take it as it came. They were going to knock me out anyway so I figured it didn’t matter if I kicked and screamed a bit. As for waking up afterwards and finding myself with one leg for the first time, well I had a plan for that. I packed a couple of handkerchiefs and I was ready to feel sad (if need be). I thought that I might just look down and sob. Maybe I’d even get hysterical. Maybe it would last for a few days until it was time to get up and start working towards recovery. Maybe it would only last a moment. I was confident that regardless of how I reacted I would have the strength to pull things together and keep moving forward with the attitude that I had before the surgery. It’s perfectly natural to want to grieve the loss of my leg and I was ready for it.
On the evening before surgery my doctor and anesthetist came to my room and talked me through what to expect the next day. I had to fast from midnight – no food or water. At 5am I had to wake up and shower. At 5:30am I’d be given a little cocktail of drugs to relax me and then at 7am they’d come and collect me to prep me for surgery. I’d be put into a deep, deep sleep at 8am and then… well… it would happen. Depending on how it all went I may need a blood transfusion and may or may not end up in ICU. I found both of these things quite alarming but apparently it’s all pretty normal with major surgery and nothing to worry about.
I slept well that night. I had expected to be a nervous wreck but it just wasn’t the case. My leg and I had enough time to say goodbye to each other over the last week and we were feeling pretty Zen about the whole thing. Even still, I couldn’t quite tell if this was the calm before the storm or if I really was ok with what was about to happen.
5am rolled around and I had a shower. My last shower with 2 legs. I popped my hospital gown on and hopped back into bed. The last time I would hop into bed in a non-literal sense. 5:30 arrives and so do my drugs, which I gulp down with very minimal water due to the fasting. I get warm and fuzzy and happy and watch something on my iPad. 7am and the nurses come and get me. We glide through the corridors of the hospital and wind up in a small room where they hook me up to a drip. My anesthetist and surgeon arrive and we have ourselves a goofy, drugged up little chat before things get underway. Presumably I was the only goofy, drugged one. I ask, straight faced, just like I’d practiced, “I know it’s different for everyone but on average, how long does it take for the leg to grow back completely?”
Ok I didn’t really but that was the plan before they doped me up at 5:30am!
The next thing I remember was waking up in my room again. I had gotten through the first leg without a hitch (aside from that clumsy pun). And now this was it. I had surpassed my expectations by staying calm before the operation but this was the real test. How was I going to react? I didn’t even know. There’s no shame in crying. Nobody would blame me for having any crazy reaction to this and I’m sure the nurses are trained to deal with whatever happens. I looked around the room and got my bearings. I looked down at my heavily bandaged leg, what was left of it.
And I smiled.
Suddenly it all made sense to me. I just beat cancer. I wasn’t going to be sad today. Sure there will be tough times ahead but this is not the day to be sad. This is the day to be happy. To be relieved. To be grateful. To be thanking my lucky stars that these brilliant doctors have just saved my life and given me the chance to live out my life with my family just like I was supposed to before all of this happened.
Our time together has been pretty uneventful since then. The dust settled and I didn’t have to go to ICU. After a couple of days of looking like a vampire, white and in need of blood, I perked up, was given the all clear and escaped having to have a blood transfusion. I spent a lot of time in bed. I took a lot of painkillers. Like, a LOT of painkillers. Thanks to these wonderful drugs I haven’t felt a great deal of pain. On the flip side though, I’ve been feeling pretty fuzzy and out of it which has made writing next to impossible.
One week together came and went in a flash and before I knew it my doctor was picking out rehab places for me to move to. By this stage I was already up and mobile on my crutches, zooming around my room with ease, so I posed the question, “do I really need to go to rehab?” to which the reply was a resounding, “yes”. After a bit of back and forth and after perusing a number of brochures full of elderly people with walking frames I put my foot down (my only foot) and said, “no, no, no”.
I don’t know when my life turned into an Amy Winehouse album but they tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no so I called my fiancé and said, why don’t you come on over Valerie. Facepalm.
I won’t say it was against doctors orders because I’m not so foolish to think that I know more than a doctor, but against doctors recommendations I came home from hospital to recover with Valerie and Sofía. You see, until my stump settles and the wound heals a bit better, there is only so much rehab I can do. So I have my exercises to do, I have my instructions to take it easy, I have my copious amounts of heavy duty, big boy painkillers and I have my doctor’s reluctant blessing to leave.
Now I look down at where my leg used to be and I see a stump, bandaged and swollen. I’m not sad or afraid or disgusted by what I see when I look down. This was a fear of mine. But I said goodbye to my leg and I knew this was going to happen. In a way I’m kind of excited to get to know my new stump and get to know myself again. My new self. So it’s with a handshake and a smile that I bid you farewell, Hospital. Thanks for having me and looking after me so well.
It took me a while to put this together under the cloud of medication, so by the time you read this, I’ll be long gone.