Friday, June 17, 2011

The Hysterectomy

I'd like to preface this post by letting you all know that I've been trying so hard to write since my surgery on Tuesday. I would start typing, but then the pain would kick in or the Vicodin would make me loopy. What you are about to read took me three days and a lot of drugs to accomplish. I will apologize in advance for the length of this post, and any part of it that might not make sense. Hopefully, I'll be back to normal soon...

Well, it's over.

My uterus, cervix and ovaries are gone forever. There's no turning back now.

The last few days are a blur. Maybe it's because I was pumping morphine into my vein every 10 minutes, or maybe it's from the Vicodin that replaced the morphine once the IV came out. Or maybe it's that I don't want to face everything that just happened to me because it's too painful.

But I need to face it.

The preparation for the surgery started on Monday, June 13th. I was instructed to drink only clear fluids all day. No food at all. I figured it wouldn't be too bad, but then the headache started. I never get headaches, and this one knocked me on my ass. Of course, I wasn't allowed to take any pain medication because of my surgery the next day, so I just had to deal with it. I couldn't see straight, I couldn't think, I couldn't move. The only thing that helped a little bit was putting an ice pack on my head and keeping my eyes closed.

At midnight on liquid diet day, I was told to stop all food and drinks until the surgery. But to make it a little more difficult, my operation was scheduled for 1:00 pm! I know afternoon procedures are usually late to start because of delays with patient in the operation room before you, so my hunger headache would have to stick with me for at least half of the day on Tuesday, as well.

I opened one eye when my alarm went off at 6:40 am. "I don't want to do this," I thought to myself. Again, the phrase "you don't have a choice" crept into my brain. I dragged myself out of bed and went into the bathroom to get ready. I stayed in the shower for an extra long time because I didn't know when I'd be able to have another one.

Jimmi came strolling into the bathroom as I was drying my hair. I looked at him with a frown and said, "I don't want to do this." He looked at me through the sleep that was still lingering in his eyes and said, "Don't worry! They're gonna make you better!" That didn't help me to chill out. "My vagina's broken!" I said in my best five year-old voice. "It's not broken," Jimmi said with a smirk, "It's just being modified! Maybe they'll make you bullet-proof!" I chuckled a bit, then quickly went back to my original grumpiness.

Since we had to fight rush hour traffic to be in New York City by 11:00 am to check in, we left at about 7:45. After a few bumper to bumper jams and a horrific line of cars at the Lincoln Tunnel, we decided to take the ferry over the Hudson River so we'd have a chance of getting there on time. Luckily, it was a smart choice, and we arrived at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center by 10:45.

My parents were already there waiting for us as we arrived on the 6th floor. I gave the receptionist my name and for verification, he made me spell it, then give my date of birth. He then asked what procedure I was having. I thought for a minute, then said with a grin, "Breast enhancements." My joke didn't go over too well, as the receptionist looked carefully at his paperwork, then back at me with a serious expression growing over his face. "Ok, I'm having a radical hysterectomy. They're taking my fallopian tubes and ovaries too." That was the answer he was looking for, and he sent me off to the waiting room.

I barely had two minutes to sit with my parents when I was called into the prep area. Jimmi went in with me, but my parents had to wait until the nurses were done with me. I changed into my sexy hospital gown, threw my very stylish and way too big bathrobe over the gown, then completed my runway look with a pair of blue, non-skid socks.

A nurse came in to give my a quick exam and get my IV started. Then the anesthesiologist arrived to check me for removable parts in my mouth. She also brought an anti-nausea patch to wear behind my ear because I was terrified that I might throw up from the anesthesia. When everyone was done poking and jabbing me, I asked Jimmi to run back into the waiting room to get the pad of paper and pen I had left in my computer case.

"I need to write letters to the kids in case something happens to me." I said through the film of tears covering my eyes.

Jimmi made a face that should've been followed by his usual, "Stop talking like that!" But the words didn't actually come out of his mouth. He just did as I asked. A few minutes later, he was back. I took the paper and pen from him and began to write:

Dear Dylan,

I hope you know how much I love you and how proud I am of you every day...

Without warning, tears started to run down my face like a trickling stream. "You don't have to do this!" Jimmi said with a nervous face. "Yes I do. What if something goes wrong and I never see them again?"

The nurse came in and saw me crying. "I'm sorry, Honey. I didn't mean to hurt you with that IV." "It's not that," I choked out. She didn't pry, just said, "I'm all done with you now. If you have other family here, they can come in and see you until we're ready to take you to the O.R."

Jimmi went out to get my parents and I put my letter away. I wouldn't be able to write it with everyone there anyway. Just then, I heard a group of footsteps in the hall. Then my curtain opened and in walked Jimmi and my parents, followed by my friend, Jacquie, my brother, Fred, and Fred's fiancee, Meghan, who had just flown in from Nashville that morning.

Wow. They're all here to see me?

The next few hours were torture. It was about noon when everyone came in, and the surgery was set for 1:00. At 1:15, we were still waiting. Fred is the type of person who needs to play with everything he sees, no matter where he is. And a hospital is no exception to the rule. He quickly found a box of blue exam gloves and went to work making balloon art. There was a smiley face, a male body part balloon, a cat balloon, a dinosaur balloon, and my personal favorite, the artificial uterus balloon. Oh well, at least he made me laugh.

At about 1:45, they moved me to another area to wait some more. I still hadn't eaten, and my headache was coming back with a vengeance. My brother, Vince, showed up a few minutes later and joined the party. Finally, Dr. Leitao came in. "How are you?" he asked. "Not great," I said. "Do you really need to take my ovaries?" He explained for the second time that based on what they saw on the biopsy slides, all of the doctors felt it's the safest thing to do. He assured me that I'd start an estrogen replacement pill the following day, and it should help ease the symptoms of menopause. His eye soon caught the table of exam glove balloon creations Fred had made. "Wow, that's interesting. Maybe you should go down to pediatrics. They'd love you down there." Then, he asked my family to step out for a minute so he could put his initials on my abdomen to mark the ovaries. He also drew five little lines where he'd be cutting me. Because he was going to use the super fancy medical robot for the surgery, I wasn't going to have one large cut, I'd have five small ones.

My family was brought back in when the doctor was finished. We asked a few questions about the surgery, then Dr. Leitao left to get ready. About an hour later, it was my turn. I made sure to ask my mom to please call my kids when I'm out so they know I'm ok. Then everyone walked me down the hall until we got to the place where I would turn left to go to the O.R. and they would turn right to go to the waiting area. I hugged my parents, my brothers, and Jacquie and Meghan. Then I turned to Jimmi and put my arms around his neck and started to sob. "It's gonna be ok!" he said. "They're gonna make you better!" I kissed him gently. "I love you," he whispered, then we parted ways.

I walked the long hallway down to the operating room. I noticed how pretty the hospital was with its high ceilings and wooden doors. At the end of the hallway was an open door. "Here we are," said my guide. "Just be careful of the robot when you walk in."

I looked around at the huge room with only three colors, black, white and silver. I stared at the robot, which looked more like a giant spider than C3PO. I saw two nurses who were very attentive and sweet. I got up on the table and they covered me with a warning blanket. I was on my back, cold, scared and alone. Oh, great. Here come the waterworks.

"Don't worry! It'll be ok," said the O.R. nurse. I couldn't stop. "I'm supposed to get married in two and a half months," I blubbered. "I know. I saw that in your chart. Don't worry. You'll get there!" she said while handing me some tissues.

The anesthesiologist came into the room and said, "Ok, let's get this party started! What's your favorite alcoholic drink?" she asked.

"I don't really drink."

"Well, now's the time to start. What's it gonna be?"

I thought for a minute. "Grey Goose martini, extra dirty."

"Ok. And how many do you need to make you feel good?"

"About three sips."

"Good, then here's five." And she injected a cocktail into my IV.

The next thing I remember is hearing my name being called. I opened my eyes in the recovery room and thought, "It's gone. My uterus is gone." The recovery nurse asked about my pain level on a scale of 1-10, and then handed me a button. "You can push this for a dose of morphine every 10 minutes."


I really didn't have too much pain in my abdomen, but my right shoulder was killing me. Weird. About an hour later, my family was called to come in and see me for a few minutes. A totally different group than the pre-surgery clan started to wrap themselves around my bed. Of course, Jimmi and my parents were there. And Fred and Meghan were there. But this time, I saw my friend, Jean, my friend Andi and her brand new fiance, Eli, and my friend Kimberly and her boyfriend, Leo.

I looked each of my visitors over a few times, then my gaze stopped on Andi. I lifted my hand and used my index finger to point at her and signal "come here." She walked over to the head of my bed and I held out my hand to her left hand. "Let me see," I said gesturing to the sparkling diamond engagement ring on her finger. Andi lifter her hand to my face with an excited smile. I took a look and nodded in approval at her fiance, Eli. "Good job," I complimented. My glance stopped on Jean next. "How was work?" I asked. She replied with a smile, "It was good." I then shifted over to Kimberly's boyfriend, Leo, the firefighter. "Put out any fires lately?" I questioned. "Yeah, two days ago." "Cool."

My mom, dad and Jimmi gave me a few kisses of relief. Fred and Meghan told me how beautiful my hospital room was, since they had delivered my bags there earlier. Then, my mom let me know that my friend, Jacquie stayed until she knew I was ok. My brother, Dom, and sister-in-law, Lisa, had also been there. So had my parents' friends, Barry and Marcia.

Wow. All of those people drove into New York City just for me. It made me feel so loved.

Soon, the nurses asked my family and friends to leave so they could prep me to go to my room. Up to the 19th floor we went. The room was beautiful! There was a huge window with a view of the city and the three smokestacks Mel Gibson was constantly staring at in the movie "Conspiracy Theory". It had a pull-out couch for family, and a chair and a desk. There was a refrigerator and wooden built-ins on the wall. Even the door into the room was made of what looked like mahogany. My bed and I were wheeled into place, and I looked over at my mom, dad, Jimmi, Fred and Meghan, who were sitting there waiting for me. I was still pretty tired and a lot of the details are foggy, but at some point, everyone left to go to their hotel rooms except my mom and Jimmi.

A nurse came in to check on my pain level, and reminded me of the morphine pump. I quickly hit the button and felt some relief. "Can I have a drink, please?" I begged. "I'm sorry, you can't. Nothing to eat or drink until tomorrow. We don't want you to be sick from the anesthesia."

What kind of cruel torture is this?!?!

It was already after 11:00 pm, so I figured I should just go to sleep. A housekeeper came in to make-up the pull-out bed. My mom offered it to Jimmi, but he insisted she sleep there. He then took all of the couch pillows, laid them on the floor and covered them with a fitted sheet. "You learn this kind of stuff on tour. I can pretty much sleep anywhere," he joked.

The night was a blur. I remember thinking that I really had to pee, then realized I had a catheter to prevent my bladder from working so it could rest after being shifted all around during the surgery. At some point, my mom told me that when the operation was done, Dr. Leitao came out to talk to them. "Everything looked normal. I didn't see any visual signs of cancer at all. That's a good thing. We'll have the pathology report when you all come to see me in two weeks, and then I'll know more."

Wait, he didn't see anything? God, I really hope someone didn't make a mistake and mix up my original biopsy slides with someone else's. If I gave up my womanhood for nothing, I'm gonna be pissed. Beyond pissed.

Oh, shit! My kids!! "Mom, did you remember to call the boys to tell them I was ok?" "Yes, I did. They were very excited." Ok, good. I'll need to remember to call them before they go to school in the morning so they can actually hear my voice, I thought to myself.

And then we all went to sleep.

But you never get a peaceful night's sleep in a hospital. At 2:30 am, my IV started beeping and woke me with a jolt. "Ouch!" I screamed as my body jumped. The nurse came in to fix it. A few minutes later, I was woken again for my vitals. My blood pressure, temperature and blood oxygen level were monitored and recorded, then the nurse left. At 5:30 am, another nurse came in to give me two of my seven medications. Then at 6:30 am, I had a visit from Dr. Leitao's team. My five incisions were inspected and the doctor assured me that I could be discharged in a few hours. Really? So soon? I'm not really comfortable with that, but I guess she knows best. At 7:00 am, my breakfast order was taken, and that was it. No more attempts at sleep. It would be pointless anyway.

My mom and Jimmi got up after the doctor came in. My dad showed up a few minutes later complaining of the horrible night's sleep he had at the hotel. "Really?" I asked from my hospital bed, while sporting two IVs and a super-sexy catheter bag. "YOU had a rough night?" He looked at me and chuckled, "Ok, not as bad as yours. I'm sorry." I just laughed to myself because laughing out loud hurt too much. Soon, Fred and Meghan arrived to say good-bye. They were flying back to Tennessee at 11:00 am, but wanted to see me first.

When they left, Jimmi and my dad decided to go out to breakfast. My mom and I just stared at each other with a look of shock. My dad is willingly spending time with Jimmi. I must have pumped the morphine too many times because I think I'm hallucinating.

They returned about an hour later full of smiles. And since I had finally eaten as well, I was told I needed to get up and walk around before they could release me. With help from my nurse, Jimmi and my mom, I slowly eased myself out of bed.

"I'm dizzy." I whispered. "Then you need to sit," said my nurse. "I'll be back to help you in 15 minutes."

As I sat there in pain, feeling totally out of it, another nurse came in with more pills. A stool softener, an anti-inflammatory, and an estrogen replacement pill. That's the one I had been begging for since early that morning. "I don't want to have hot flashes. I don't want any symptoms of menopause. Please give me the estrogen immediately!" I pleaded with the nurse.

And then I was ready to walk. With Jimmi on one side and the nurse on the other, I was brought to my feet. "Give yourself a pump of morphine before we go," instructed the nurse. "Now place your hands on the IV walker and take small steps." I waited for her to hook my lovely catheter bag to the walker, and off we went. Slowly. Wow, I'm weak. My legs are shaking. I don't think I can do this.

But I did.

Very slowly, I managed to do a lap and a half around the entire 19th floor. But the pain in my right shoulder and abdomen started to become a bit crippling. "My shoulder hurts. I need to sit. I need to sit NOW." Jimmi carefully brought me back to my room and he and my mom helped me into a chair. "Oh my God! It hurts!" I was trying not to scream but the pain was unbearable. My breath became quick and shallow, "I can't breathe," I whispered. "Help me."

I didn't even notice the nurse entering the room until I saw her lowering the bed to help me in. "Ouch! Why is this happening? Can't breathe." I was hyperventilating from the pain. "I think I'm gonna throw up!" Jimmi, who shares my fear of vomit, didn't think twice. He grabbed the nearest garbage can and held it under me. Luckily, I didn't need it. Once they got me into bed, I couldn't control the volume of my cries any longer. I was yelling in agony, "It hurts! Make it stop!" It felt like someone was squeezing my right side and sticking a knife into my right shoulder at the same time. Every time one of the pains would come, I'd stop breathing. The nurses were bringing me heating pads for my side and my shoulder, my mom was rubbing my leg to calm me down, Jimmi was behind me with his hand on my left shoulder, and I could feel it nervously shaking as he touched me. My dad couldn't stand to see me in so much pain, and he retreated to the couch and just cried.

"Nothing's helping! I can't breathe! Make it stop!" It was the longest 10 minutes of my life until the debilitating pain finally eased up enough to let me catch my breath. "What was that?" I asked the nurses. "It was gas." "What? That wasn't gas! I don't believe that. It had to be something else." The nurse assured me that, unfortunately, after surgery, that can happen. To do the procedure, my abdomen was filled with gas to make it easier to see everything. They tried to empty it all out before closing me up, but it's impossible to get it all. It can make people feel like they're having a heart attack and it can take your breath away. "When you went for a walk, you got the gas moving around. That's what we want, but unfortunately, it might be a little painful until it passes." A little painful? Did that seem like a little bit of pain?

When the episode was over, my mom asked the nurse if she really thought it was safe for me to go home that day. The nurse was shocked that the doctors were even thinking of releasing me less that 24 hours after surgery, and after what had just happened, she calmly said, "You have the room until midnight. You can either leave later tonight, or stay until tomorrow. Whatever you think is best. But I wouldn't send her home now."

I stayed in bed for a while, then moved back to the chair. I was so scared to even try to walk again, but at some point, I knew it had to happen. Walking is the only thing that would move the trapped gas to one of my two bodily escape routes.

Just then, my friend Julie stopped by for a visit. Yes! Another reason to stall the walk! But not for long. She could only stay for a little while because she had to get to an appointment. When she left, I knew it was time to try again. Jimmi and my mom helped me up again. "I feel sick," I said as I slowly slumped back into the chair. They let me sit for a few minutes then got me up again. I held onto my IV walker and pushed the morphine pump. "Ok, I'm ready."

Taking baby steps, Jimmi and my mom followed me about a quarter of the way down the first hall. I was feeling so sick that I was actually walking with my eyes closed. "Suzanne, open your eyes. You can't walk like that. You'll fall!" I opened one eye and looked at Jimmi. "I don't feel well. I can't do this." He turned white with nerves. "Ok, we'll get you back to your room." "Can't," was all I could say. I closed my eyes and leaned on him. Luckily, my nurse happened to be walking by. "Everything ok?" she asked. Jimmi answered, "She's feeling sick. Is there a chair around here?" The nurse quickly grabbed a chair from a room across the hall and I forced my body into it. Not helping. "I'm gonna throw up." I whined. As Jimmi began to look around for a garbage can, my nurse attached an anti-nausea medication to my IV and started the drip. It worked almost immediately. That was close.

Jimmi helped me up. "Let's get you back to your room." "No. I need to walk," I insisted. And I did. With my mom and Jimmi tagging along for support, I made it around the floor three times. I was exhausted and finally agreed to go back to my room. They helped me into a chair where I rested for a bit waiting for the immense pain I had after the last walk. But it didn't happen. I was definitely sore and my shoulders still felt like someone was hammering into them with nails, but I could handle it.

A few minutes later, I noticed some chatter between my dad and Jimmi. "We're gonna head out for a bit and go to a guitar shop downtown. They might have the one your dad's been looking for." Jimmi announced. Whoa. That's their second male bonding date of the day. You mean all I had to do was have a hysterectomy to make my dad see what an amazing guy Jimmi is? Damn! Why didn't I think of this sooner? And then they were gone.

As my mom and I shook our heads and smiled at the irony of it, my friend Andi stopped by for a visit. I love seeing the huge smile on her face every time she plays with the new ring on her finger. "So, you're gonna be in my wedding, right?" She asked with a giddy grin. "If you want me to. Of course!" "You wanna be my maid of honor?" My mom spoke up, "I think I'm gonna cry!" I added, "Really? You don't care if I'm wearing a wig?" She laughed, "You can wear anything you want as long as you're there." Hugs were exchanged all around the room, and for a few minutes, no one was thinking about cancer.

My dad and Jimmi returned from the guitar store excursion empty-handed. "They didn't have the one he wanted, but the guy's gonna check around for it." Jimmi said right before he kissed me hello. "Oh, ok. Did you have dinner?" I asked. "Not yet." Then my dad said, "Come on, Jimmi, let's go get some dinner." "I guess we'll be back in a little bit," Jimmi said as they left the room together for the third time that day. I looked at my mom and Andi and just shrugged my shoulders. We were all happily confused about my dad's sudden change of heart.

They were literally gone for three hours. When they finally returned, still with smiling faces, I was relieved. "Awww, you're bonding!" I teased. By then, I was feeling much better. My IV was disconnected and the nurse had given me a sponge bath. The only thing I missed was my morphine pump, but it was quickly replaced by Vicodin. I felt like Dr. House! How he can down a few of those pills every hour and still function normally is beyond me. All I needed was one. My extremities began to tingle and sounds seemed to be echoing outside my head. My eyes glazed over and my words were slurred. (Side note, I had a pain attack about 30 minutes ago and Jimmi forced me to take a Vicodin. I'm currently typing under the influence. It's cool the way the computer screen dances around before my eyes.)

Once the edge was taken off the pain, I had Jimmi help me to the bathroom so I could brush my teeth for the first time in a day and a half. It felt so good. I also washed my face and brushed my hair. I was almost human again. Well, almost human with a few missing pieces. I'd been trying not to think about the fact that my abdomen was now hollow like an empty walnut shell. I stared at Jimmi and wondered why he was still here going through all of this with me. I hadn't even seen any signs of him wanting to leave. He's been so strong through all of this; I just hope he can deal with the rest of it.

I woke up the next morning and took the plethora of pills the nurse brought me. I felt much better than I did the day before, and I was looking forward to going home. Dr. Leitao stopped by for a visit and told me directly that there he didn't see any visible cancer in the organs he removed. Again, I hoped there wasn't a huge mistake. Then he said, "I'll see you in the office tomorrow when you have your catheter removed. I won't have any results yet, but I will when you come in for your follow-up on July 1st. But don't be discouraged if the nurse removes your catheter and ends up needing to put it back in. Your ovaries were still swollen from the egg retrieval and your cervix was still swollen from the LEEP in April. Your bladder was moved around a lot during the procedure because of those issues. Sometimes that causes fistulas, so after it finally does come out, if you have any urine leaks, let me know." "And what can you do to fix it?" I asked while thinking about how unattractive I'll be in a beautiful wedding dress with urine running down my leg every time I laugh. "We'll talk about solutions if we need to. Until then, don't worry about it." He shook our hands, wished us luck for the drive home, and he was gone.

It was now time for my catheter lesson. What a nightmare. My mom, Jimmi and I watched closely as the nurse explained how to change from the larger night bag to the smaller day bag that would be strapped around my leg. Any last shred of dignity I had was flying out the window. I was so embarrassed. Jimmi must be ready to run far, far away by now. She handed us a bag of catheter accessories and another bag of the four medications I was taking with me. Then she too wished us luck and vanished into the hall.

My chariot - or wheelchair - arrived at about 12:30 pm to take me to freedom. The warm New York City air felt so good on my face as I was gently wheeled out to the car. Jimmi helped me into the front seat, and I put a small pillow between the seatbelt and my abdomen to avoid and unnecessary pressure on my incisions. My shoulder was hurting like Hell again, even though I had just taken a Vicodin. Jimmi started to drive, but noticed my pained face. He took his right hand off the steering wheel and started to massage my left shoulder. I cringed with each bump in the road, and he apologized each time. A little over and hour later, we were finally home.

I made myself as comfortable as I could on the couch, while making sure my right leg hung down so the catheter could drain. After Jimmi unpacked the car, I said with humiliation, "I think I need to empty the bag. Can you help me?" "Of course," Jimmi answered without hesitation as he walked over to the couch to help me up. He held tightly onto my arm as I walked, hunched over, to the bathroom. He got down on his knee and lifted up my pant leg. He carefully unbuttoned the bottom of the catheter bag, held it over the toilet, and released the collected urine into the bowl. I can't believe he's doing this for me. I stood there horrified that I even allowed him to see me that way. But I needed help and he just did what had to be done. No complaints. No words of disgust. Nothing. He just did it.

Jimmi helped me back to the couch and the doorbell rang. It was my sister-in-law, Lisa, with homemade soup, a pasta dish and chocolate chip cookies. My mom arrived soon after with juices and pastina for me. Then the door opened again, and I heard my sweet little boys' voices. "Mommy!" they exclaimed! "We're so glad you're ok!" I quickly glanced down at my leg to make sure the blanket was fully covering my catheter. I didn't want them to see it. They approached me cautiously and I said, "It's ok to hug me. You just can't squeeze too hard." They were so gentle and perfect and I was so happy to see them. "We're gonna go to the playroom and make you something, ok?" Dylan said. "Ok." I stood up and walked into the kitchen to say hello to my ex-husband and his mother. Yes, my kitchen was now swimming with my current fiance, my ex-husband, my mother, my ex-mother-in-law and my sister-in-law. But no one felt uncomfortable and no one left the room. They were all just concerned about me.

"Mommy! It's done!" Dylan and Justin walked out of the playroom holding a magnetic board with magnetic mosaic pieces that spelled out "Cancer Sux". There was even a teal and white mosaic cancer awareness ribbon. I hugged both of them and kissed the tops of their crazy-haired heads. "Thank you. I love it." They smiled at me, and then I felt the pain starting up again. I didn't want them to see me hurting. I gave my ex the signal and he said, "Ok, boys. Time to let Mommy rest. You can see her again tomorrow." They complained a bit, but listened to their dad in the end. "I'll see you tomorrow, if you want." I said while hugging them both again. "Yes, we want to!" As soon as they walked out the door, I was back on the couch with a shoulder heating pad my mom brought for me.

"I'd really be fine if it weren't for this fucking shoulder pain. I don't understand why it keeps switching sides. Sometimes it's only in my shoulder, and sometimes it shoots back and forth between my ribs and my shoulder." Jimmi and my mom looked at me sympathetically, but they didn't know what more they could do when the pain medicine, heating pad and constant massages weren't helping. "You'll talk to the doctor about it tomorrow," suggested my mom. "See what he says."

My sister-in-law left and my mom and Jimmi got to work heating up the food she had made for us. My appetite wasn't completely back yet, but I ate enough to take more medicine. My mom planned on leaving around 10:00 pm, but her plans were changed when I had another severe pain attack like the one  I had in the hospital. I couldn't get comfortable. Every time I sat down, I felt like I was being stabbed in my shoulder and my ribs. I couldn't catch my breath. I stood up, hoping the walking would help if it really was gas, like the nurse had said.

After a few laps of the house, Jimmi helped me upstairs to get ready for bed. While he switched my daytime catheter bag to my nighttime catheter bag, my mom searched the house for the best place to set me up for the night. My bed was too high to step into, and the couch was too soft to support my body without causing pain. She finally decided on the recliner in my bedroom. She padded it with pillows of all sizes and rolled towels for support. Jimmi helped me into the make-shift bed, and the moment I was down, I started screaming in pain, "No! It's not working! It hurts! I can't do this! I can't breathe!" I saw the worry on Jimmi's face as he helped me back to my feet. My mom moved onto the next idea. Maybe my bed would be ok if I had a step stool to climb into it. She set up the pillows and towels in my bed. I stepped up and sat on the edge. Jimmi gently lifted my legs and eased them onto the bed. "No! Ouch! It hurts!" Strike two. Would I ever get to sleep? I'm so tired. I hate this. I hate it so much.

We went back downstairs to try the couch again. But first, Jimmi asked me when I had taken my last Vicodin. "It makes me feel weird." I said stubbornly. "I don't want to take it." "You need to take your medicine!" Jimmi scolded. He got the pill out of the bottle and handed it to me with a glass of water. "Take it." he said sternly. I had no choice but to listen.

By the time my mom finished making my very intricately designed couch-bed, it was 11:30 pm. She had called my dad a few minutes earlier to let him know she needed to stay at my house for the night. She couldn't leave Jimmi alone to deal with the amount of pain I was in. I carefully sat myself down onto the couch and laid my back against the pile of pillows and towels. The pain was still there, but it was bearable. "Tell me what will make you more comfortable." My mom said gently. "Maybe a small pillow under my back and a rolled towel to support my neck." She did what I asked and I was finally settling down. Jimmi plopped himself down next to me, my mom laid her head on a pillow at the other end of the couch, and we all fell asleep while watching "Get Him to The Greek".

I woke up a few times during the night because I was uncomfortable. Trying to shift and turn your body after major surgery isn't easy; especially if you need to make sure the catheter tube doesn't get kinked or twisted. But, somehow, I was able to get back to sleep pretty quickly each time. At about 7:00 am, we all woke up. My mom made sure I wasn't in pain anymore, and then she went home so she could get some things done before my doctor's appointment today.

Jimmi brought me my morning medicine, fed the dog and cats, checked to make sure my catheter was draining correctly, and then we both went right back to sleep. A few hours later I woke up screaming and smacking my poor cat off of my belly where she had just started to knead. Poor Jimmi jumped up out of a dead sleep, "What's wrong? Are you ok?" "The cat stepped on my stomach! On my GOD, that hurt! I smacked her. I feel so bad!" There was no way we were getting back to sleep after that.

Jimmi helped me off the couch and up the stairs to brush my teeth. We ate some breakfast so I could take another set of pills, then he brought me back upstairs to take a shower. "I need to go to the bathroom, but I'm scared it's gonna hurt." I confessed. "That's why they gave you stool softeners. You need to go." I tried, but I just couldn't. I was distracted by the urine-collecting tube sticking out of my body, then taped to my thigh, then leading into a larger, clear tube that emptied into a bag at the end. So gross. So not sexy. I walked out of the bathroom, defeated. "I just can't." I said with my head hung in shame.

My shower felt great. It was so nice to finally wash my hair after two days in the hospital. Jimmi stood by the door in case I felt dizzy at any point, then he helped me dry off when I was done. Once I finished drying my hair and putting on a little bit of makeup, Jimmi got down on the floor and changed my catheter bag from night to day, and strapped it securely onto my leg. We would be leaving in a few minutes for the appointment I had been looking forward to since I woke up after surgery. The catheter removal appointment.

"I really hope I pass the pee test, or they're gonna put it back in," I said nervously as Jimmi drove. "Don't worry! You'll be fine." he reassured me.

Sloan-Kettering's satellite office in Basking Ridge, NJ wasn't quite as busy as usual. My mom met us there and we sat in the waiting room for a record time of only five minutes before I was called. The nurse told me she'd be taking my catheter out first so we could get that over with, and then I'd see Dr. Leitao. "Can they come with me?" I asked while gesturing to my support team. "Sure, if you want." "Well," I said pointing to each of them, "she birthed me, and he's marrying me. It's nothing they haven't seen before."

We all followed the nurse to an exam room where she explained the procedure for removing the catheter and what I'd need to do to have it stay out. She held up a large syringe, about the size of a giant deli pickle and said, "First I'm going to disconnect the catheter. After that, I'll use this syringe to fill your bladder with sterile saline until you feel like you really need to pee. Then, I'll deflate the balloon that's holding the catheter inside you and pull it out. When I do that, you'll need to use those kegel muscles to hold it in while I run you down the hall to the bathroom. I'll put a collection container under the toilet seat to measure what comes out. As long as you go enough, we can leave it out. If you can't, I'll need to put it back in."

Sounds easy enough.

"Ok, here we go," she said while filling up the giant syringe and inserting the tip into the rubber end of my catheter. "It's gonna feel cold," she warned. I watched her squeeze the liquid into me and I jumped at  the strange sensation I felt. It was like peeing in reverse. "Ok, here comes the second one." Whoa. "I have to pee now," I said, hoping it was over. "Nope, one more." Squeeze. Then she went for a fourth round and I said, "I thought you were only doing three!" She laughed, "I don't want Dr. Leitao to think you're a wimp. You can handle four!"

After the fourth shot, I needed to go to the bathroom. She said, "Ok, let me deflate the balloon and take it out first." I watched her suck the water out of the device that kept the catheter in place with a smaller syringe. "Now take a deep breath so I can pull it out." I breathed in and watched her pull a giant tube out of me. I didn't have time to freak out or get light-headed because she had me up and stumbling to the bathroom. She put the collection cup under the toilet lid and turned on the faucet for urinary inspiration. I sat down and was able to relieve my bladder immediately. Thank you, God! I thought to myself. I did it!

I washed my hands and opened the door. Jimmi, my mom and about four nurses were standing against the wall clapping and cheering. I felt like a toddler who had just gone peepee on the potty for the first time. Maybe they'll give me a Dora the Explorer sticker as a reward.

The catheter nurse was done with me now, so followed Lisa, Dr. Leitao's nurse, into another exam room. Before she had a chance to say anything, Dr. Leitao walked in. "How are you?" he asked. "My shoulders are killing me." I said. "Hmmmm...well, it might be gas. But it also might be the position we had you in for the procedure. Your arms are literally strapped out to the sides, and you're pretty much hanging upside down through the entire operation," he explained. Well, I guess that would do it. He told me it should pass soon, and not to worry. Then Lisa said, "What are you doing about your wedding?" I said confidently, "I'm gonna get married. I'm not changing anything. As long as I can walk that day, I'm doing it." "You'll be fine," Lisa assured me. It was a very quick visit, since the pathology report wasn't back yet. "We'll know more in two weeks when I see you again," Dr. Leitao explained. Then Lisa said, "Have you pooped yet?" Questions are so strange after you've had surgery. Everyone wants you to fart and poop! "No, not yet. But I tried." "Ok," Lisa said in a boss-like tone, "you need to go home and poop. That's your job." I giggled and promised to give it a shot, and then we left the office.

I was so glad to be catheter-free. Walking was easier, sitting was easier, and I wasn't so self-conscious. We got to the house, and I attempted to do the job Lisa gave me. To my surprise, I succeeded this time! It took a while, and I really had to concentrate, but it happened. I called from the bathroom to Jimmi, "I'm pooping!" "You are? That's awesome!" he said. Wow. What a weird conversation I'm having with my future husband. I'm pretty sure we've covered the "in sickness and in health, for better or for worse" part of our vows already.

It's now a quarter after midnight and I'm still awake because I was determined to finally finish this post. I'm stoned from the Vicodin and swollen from my body being ripped apart. I'm wearing grandma sweats, and I have a blue heating pad around my shoulders, but I'm still here. I've made it through the first drop in my roller coaster's track. I can still see the loop in the distance, but I'll deal with that as it gets closer. For now, I'll focus on my recovery, and hope for an easy ride to the finish line where I can finally unbuckle my seatbelt and escape from this chapter of my life.


  1. Suzanne, your posts make me cry with sympathy and joy. All of this is necessary to keep you here. I can't wait to fly back to NJ from Aspen for your wedding. I'm so happy that Jimmi and Larry are bonding, it must be such a relief for you.


  2. Dearest Suzanne,

    What a nightmare but, at the same time, what a blessing to have your father and your future husband finally bonding with each other, and also to have such tangible evidence of the depth of Jimmi's adoration for you. His selfless devotion to you during your darkest hour is a gift that few people on this earth ever get to experience. I think *all* of us have fallen in love with Jimmi thanks to your brutally honest and completely brilliant account of what you are going through.

    Thank you for letting us share in the highs and lows of your fight. You have inspired me in so many ways.

    Love you. Each day brings you one day closer to the restoration of your health and happiness.


  3. Tears of happiness that you are ok, that your family (exes, future members, current stalwarts) and friends are all being exactly what you need, that your boys are the amazing kids that they are. I know this is so hard, but you are amazing and you will be a beautiful bride. Keep writing and sharing. Love you.

  4. I double Darren's sentiments, especially Jimmi and Poppy bonding...and the crying bit. I'm at work, but tearing up. Sending all the good West Coast vibes I can your way. You're amazing, truly.
    I love you!

  5. Really, Cuz, I think you need to be a little more candid and more detailed in your description to help us better understand what you are experiencing. I mean what do I think when I read: "Your arms are literally strapped out to the sides, and you're pretty much hanging upside down through the entire operation." You can't be making this stuff up. This sounds like the Spanish Inquisition. I feel tortured half way through the sentence.

    I must tell you, though, how relieved I was when you successfully peed and finally got the catheter out. I literally cheered when you came home and pooped. I think I farted and then, in my mind, I heard Jimmi's soft, melodic voice whisper, "Awesome, dude."

    What a roller coaster ride you are taking ME on. First I'm crying and then I am laughing my ass off as, in a previous post, I read you describe how you thought the tampon device wouldn't fit due to your girl balls getting in the way. I assume that situation resolved itself. Wait. Stop. Please! No need to tell just now. Maybe later--curious minds may want to know.

    In 2+ months at your wedding I'll bring you a Grey Goose martini-extra dirty but not ask you to drink it.

    Seriously, your blog is inspiring and you are being so brave and so human throughout this ordeal. And Jimmi's the man. And your Mom, Dad and family are just that. The blog is so special and so are you. I hope the writing is as cathartic for you as it is for us. Thanks for lighting and lightening the path you are traveling and helping us help you. All my love to you. Jeff