(that was a Chapelle reference…anyone? anyone?)
Literally, “smiley-cakes” is a word that came to mind as I left the Mary Ellen Locher Breast Center at Memorial Hospital today. Golly Gee and Happy Me and Sunshine and Kittens (strike that, their cute but I’m deathly allergic) Puppies and
there she is, that skippy kinda Jen, that giddy incessantly smiling Jen, an inch taller than usual, or an inch off the ground,
or four, five, six inches taller than most of this summer, this hunched and cloudy clouded angry summer, this hole this pit this upward climb in wet mud muck arms tied behind me kind of a summer…this back handed slap of a summer…this walking a tight rope unable to stretch out my arms to balance for cradling aching breast and shoulders and someone keeps plucking my rope, this PLUCK YOU sort of a summer…
A summer of such hellish lows in my heart and mind,
ew you memories dwell not, visit brief and fleeting for stories do tell
and off again to pages, files, things recorded but unfeeling
and then the brightest of bright moments, intermittent, but there! You know who you are you STARS in my black summer nights…you stars in my life, in the movie of my life, my summer flop! Haha! You are the stars that kept it going, kept me going, then glowing. You know who you are, you heroes’ hands reaching out, extra far because I couldn’t even give you mine,
You know who you are, remembering me, here
A week and a day ago, I was on the table again, IVed and anesthetized, once again having my chest exposed, emptied and filled again like a recyclable piñata. My fun bags. They took out the expanders. I have heard and read other women call these devices devices of torture. You don’t know, you can’t know. I heard there’d be pressure. I had no idea. For months, my ribs were methodically, progressively, crushed, my breath stolen.
“No Brando”, I’d look down at my dog, looking back at me with “don’t you love me anymore?” eyes, unable to pick him up or even sit with him sometimes, the pain would be so constant and bad, my body sensitive to the slightest touch, the thought of movement. It felt like a scene in a disaster movie, a person stuck under a fallen beam or boulder…go..on….without…me….uuuuhhhh
A week and day ago I was expecting to wake up in agony, again. My body is tolerating pain meds differently these days. Sickly. No good. And even if it’s not as bad as the last surgery, it’s still surgery. It’s still people routing around under my skin, in my muscles and stuff scalpels and tubes and sutures, Oh My! Pre-op was comical. The nurses were funny and as gossipy and distracted by each other as hairdressers. Memorial is so much more formal. Erlanger is like surgery camp. They screwed up my IV the first time and blew the vein. “Oh well shewt!” with a heavy southern drawl says the ladynurse trying. Eventually, I am ignoring the various rerouting of needles, by various nurses and doctors, into my right hand, (the left hand is not allowed, no sticky-sticky since the nodes have been removed from that side…shame, since I have swollen blue rivers for veins over there) into what we have realized are compromised veins due to the paralysis of my hand all summer, DUE FREAKIN TO the first surgery of the summer. I am looking left, averting my view of the mining of my hand, and delving into “Seeoooowuh, yer uh dant-ser, rahht?…wuh’d you think o’ Black S(uh)wan?”
There are a handful of people that know the reaction this question might evoke in me. And I am not exaggerating the accent of the nurse.
Blissfully, (as blissful as anything can be to one having not eaten or had water for half a day and having people digging around in you while making “oops” like sounds) nurse Sherry goes on a riff against crappy-ass medical shows and movies…”We’re all, like, no one just flat lines all of a sudden! Oh yeh, grab the d-fibs! Right! Whatever!”
I love Sherry.
I’m all, “And if she’s doing fuetes, why are we just watching her FACE!?”
And it went back and forth as I channeled nerves or fear or pain into this conversation while my right arm stayed Zen still, being worked on like Luke Skywalker’s.
Did I really just make that reference?
A week and a day have gone by. I am not allowed to sleep on my side, I am not allowed to pick up anything, to run, to walk briskly, to exist carelessly. Aw, but I can breathe. I can sit and stand without making my mother and father wince as I “nmnmnmnmnmnmnmmnm…uuuh”. I am not supposed to reach for things, but I can without pain. I can wash my face in the sink, bring water to my mouth after brushing my teeth…without pain. No, really. When it decided to hurt, it hurt to do EVERY THING.
I went in for my follow up, today. My week and a day, follow up. I drove myself. I got dressed up. Well, gee, sure. It’s fallish outside. I put on the dress I bought to wear to New York after I started chemo. I bought it go with my boots that I bought to go with leather jacket that I bought to go with the rock star sunglasses that I bought to go with my rock star bald head. Boots, belt, hat, cute, let’s go to the boob doctor.
I got to the hospital. I walk in, and I feel the oddest looks on me. The sick people, the couples, mostly men with sick wives or mothers, looking at me like I don’t belong. Oh, yes, I remember, it’s a Tuesday at Mary Ellen Locher! The plastic surgeon is here on this day. His regular office is at Erlanger, a few miles away. But on Tuesday, they occupy MEL.
So, this means that occasionally, in this waiting room meant mainly for breast cancer patients, we might see one of Dr. B’s “other” patients.
I have heard them talking in the rooms next to me, as I wait in paper top, dangling feet; discussing the progression of liposuction and wrapped thighs and boob jobs similar and not at all similar to my own. I know the women that are here for having been sick, and mutilated, detest these women. They come in with jewelry and heels and leopard something’r other. They are never subtle.
The vibe in this room is usually fear and/or a bond between battlers, supportive…pink.
I have a split second of feeling like I should apologize. But I am not sick. I am not in pain. I have every right to be in this waiting room.
All by myself.
With all theses sick people around me, who are looking at me…wrong….
I can’t help feeling happy. Make no mistake, friends, I am a card-carrying member of the little pink club. Likely I was here before any of you! I’ve been in here with my knit hat and favorite blanket. Oncology is one flight up. Wanna know my favorite chemo chair?!
And then cool nurse Brandy comes to beckon me to the back. She always calls me Buddy. She says I look adorable. She scolds me for carrying a backpack. (living dangerously). My visit goes well. Dr. B looks me over, squeezes this and that, says everything seems to be healing perfectly. Perfectly…but…the swelling on the right side, that’s normal. That will go down a bit. There are different “materials” in either side so they will “settle” differently. The bruising is normal. Come see me in three weeks? He poses it like a question, as if I’d say, “Well, let me check my calendar…” He gives me a list of al the things I am not allowed to do for a month, and then BYE!
He swooshes out.
My buddy Brandy starts snipping the suture loops that are left at the end of the incisions. She knows that I have a bit of concern with the slight unevenness of my girls.
Please, keep in mind, that after an amputation and lying down to be burned, repeatedly for 7 weeks in a row until my skin blistered and muscle and tissue was destroyed, I never thought I’d look remotely normal again. And here I am, I am being picky about slight unevenness.
Brandy snips away and says to me how great I look. She stops to make the point that not all women who have mastectomies end up looking this good.
“Just remember, they’re not twins, they’re sisters.”
“Thayer naahht tuhweeeins, Thayer seesters.”
I’m given my file to take to scheduling, and my official card. My implant card. Holy shit, I really AM a card-carrying member!
The patients have given the stink eye today, but all the staff have complimented me. They know me, they’ve all been here for my whole ride. The gal who schedules my next appointment says, “You look so pretty. You always look so cute, I just love seeing you come in.”
Don’t underestimate the impression of these compliments given the environment, the REASON that I am here in this pink place in the first place. It is sweet and lovely and I’ll take it! And also, I am not sick. I am not those other patients…anymore. I am HAPPY about that! I feel for them, but I am strutting out of here today, long bouncy strides, with a thumbs up from the doc, no one holding doors for me, trying to help me to the car and saying “you can sleep on the way home, Baby.” I am all good, bitches!
I get in my car….my cute little yellow Volkswagon bug, with my cute new slightly uneven boobies and my cute little hat and my sassy boots and my smile and my eyes sparkling like they do when I feel this way, and I turn on the radio and it’s Green Day singin’ "…hope you had the tiiiiime of your liiiiife.” I laugh out loud. (That’s LOL for those of you who have never seen it that way). I usually have my radio on NPR, but since my antennae fell off in the car wash, I don’t get it in certain areas any more. sad face. So I had just hit seek shortly before turning into the underground parking lot I know so well. didn’t even think about it.
When I turn on my car, I am usually expecting Robert, Anne, Michelle, or Robin; and the words missile, or misSILE, car bomb, debt ceiling or some random yet enlightening interview on
F r e s h A i r.
After Green Day, they sure did throw out some Tears For Fears. I am driving better than I am singing, but tempted to press the gas. The windows are down and I am a moment in motion.