Three years ago today, I was lying in an operating room, having major surgery (or, as I like to call it, The Rearranging of the Innards). Until then, I had never had to go to a hospital for anything other than emergency room visits (stitches), and to visit my parents during their respective illnesses. All of a sudden, I was busy with Advance Directives, tons of tests, and telling approximately 100 people my name, date of birth, and what procedure was being done.
Obviously, I survived.
Two doctors in particular made all of the difference. One was a surgeon, who I saw only because the person originally recommended by my gynecologist was on maternity leave, and Dr. C. was recommended by the person I spoke to over the phone. "She's relatively new, but very good. I think she would be a good choice." Well, when you don't know anyone else to ask, what the heck, I thought. I had my first appointment with her on Halloween morning, the year before the surgery took place.
"Oh my God, she's only twelve!" (This is what I thought when she first walked into the room.) But, I was there, she was there, and did I mention I knew no one else to ask? As it turned out, she was really nice, very straightforward, answered all of my questions, and made me feel like she was concerned about me. Which, when you are seeing someone for the first time, because you may have to have surgery - also for the first time - makes a big difference.
So then the biopsy was scheduled, and the results were what they were, and suddenly she was assembling a "team" to help with my treatment. One of the team members was a reconstructive surgeon, in the event that I chose that option. So I called and made my appointments with the various doctors. And all of a sudden, I had an appointment with a reconstructive surgeon.
A week or so later, I went to the office, and of course, he was a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. "Oh God, everyone here is going to be perfect-looking," I thought when I walked down the hallway to his office suite. The receptionist was a woman probably a little bit older than I was, and she looked normal. So far, so good. The nurse who came to get me was younger, and looked like a regular person too. When the doctor came in, other than looking like another twelve year old, he also seemed to be fine.
I was extremely nervous, for a number of reasons. He was nice. I told him my concerns, and asked him all of the questions I'd listed in the days prior to my appointment, which he answered completely. My biggest surprise is that he was really, really funny!
After various other doctor visits, tests, and lots of personal research, I decided on one type of surgery followed by immediate reconstructive surgery. The day I was supposed to show up, I was told to arrive by 9:00 a.m. They never even called my name until sometime after noon. Then it took forever to get all of the paperwork and registration completed, change into the hospital gown, and talk to approximately 82 people who had some role in my surgery and after care. (I didn't end up out of the recovery room and in a hospital room that day until about 9:45 p.m.!) Dr. C. arrived, and was upbeat, cheerful, and reassuring. She held my hand, and said that she knew that all would go well. I truly did believe her. But of course, as soon as she left, I got all nervous and teary again. One of the nurses told me that they all called my reconstructive surgeon "Skippy," which he apparently didn't appreciate, but it did amuse me, and laughing about that calmed me down a litte. Eventually Skippy arrived, and came over to tell me what/when/how his part in the surgery would take place. He saw that I was nervous, and teary. And then this person, who I was now seeing for maybe the third time in my life, reached over, patted my cheek, and said, "It's OK, darlin'. You'll be fine, I won't let anything bad happen."
Which is still one of the nicest, kindest, most wonderful things anyone has ever said or done to me in my whole life.
It was OK in the end. I stayed in the hospital for a few days, and then got to come home. From that point on, it was up to me to get well, and up to Tim to do just about everything, for me, for the house, for the cats. It wasn't easy for either of us, and I often think the hardest part was his. He not only had to do things that he usually did, and that I usually did, but he had to help me do just about everything, at least for the first few weeks. You really know how much someone loves you when they help you empty surgical drains several times in the middle of the night, even though it's gross. Or they help you shave your legs, or wash your hair. When they will get up many times in the middle of the night, when they have to work the next day, because you have moved in such a way that your pillows or covers have moved, and you can't move well enough to get situated again. I hope that if, God forbid, something ever happens to him, that I can return the favors. Because never once did he lose patience, his temper, or his sense of humor. And I wasn't the best patient, believe me!
As it turns out, that wouldn't be my last surgery, not even that year. I still see my "team" of doctors regularly, and all of them are the best. I consider them friends, and would walk through fire for them. But on this day, three years ago, two of those doctors helped me emotionally at least as much as they did physically.
I know I'm lucky when I hear what other people have gone through, and when they describe how their doctors interact (or do not) with them. Or when I hear about people whose partners couldn't, wouldn't, or didn't want to deal with the whole thing.
I'm lucky. Life goes on, and nothing is guaranteed, I know. Even so, I really think it will be OK in the end.