Thursday, March 25, 2010

One month later

now that I finally have my dragon taking dictation properly, i can fill in some of the gaps from the last long month.

the day of the surgery we watched a lot of curling. although the operation was scheduled for 130, I had to get to the grey nuns hospital by 1030 so they could clip on a hospital bracelet, get me changed into a gown, and... well, i'm not really sure what the rest of the time was for. mo was with me, of course, and we sat in the preop room with about five other patients and their partners watching olympic curling. those of us heading into surgery shared dehydration headaches. time passed quite slowly in that room, although as I think back on it it doesn't quite seem like three hours of curling (I did learn a lot about the game, however).

in a way, the surgical experience starts when they call your name. you give up the bathrobe and your eyeglassses, you get into the gurney, and they wheel you to the ER on the lower level. as the elevator descended, i said to the porter, "wow, it's all very symbolic." but he didn't understand what i meant. in the waiting bay, the surgeon stopped by to see me. i told him i had changed my mind about the surgery, that i was too scared to go through with it, that the shoulder hasn't hurt that much lately, and that i'd trade a little pain later for a drink of water now. he put a hand on the bedrail and said, nicely, "right. we want to do this surgery for your 70s."

they did five or six things. first, they sent in an arthroscopic camera and took pictures of the shoulder joint. at my first follow-up appointment, i got to see these pictures, which were stirringly beautiful. i had no idea what I was looking at, exactly, but the luminous white of bone against the milky backdrop of tissue made me understand, immediately, why someone would want to be a surgeon. they trimmed the labrum. at the follow-up appointment, the surgeon pointed to the photo of a fringe made of flesh, then to the after, all clean lines and absences, and said, "see? all tidied up." as I had known they would, they repaired the supra spinatus, which is to say they reattached that torn tendon to its bone. (i always think of chicken.) in addition, they shaved the bones and cartilage in my shoulder; they drained the bursa; and they repaired, repositioned, and stapled down the biceps tendon. i've been led to understand that this is rather a lot of work.

my first sensation back on the ward was in my elbow. i thought, distinctly, i cannot keep my elbow bent like this for 6 to 12 weeks. the second sensation was heat in the shoulder -- the inflammation. mo was there, which was enormously calming, and my parents too. there was a lot of morphine. morphine feels good, but not at first. the best hit is intramuscular, and it burns for the full 90 or so seconds it takes to empty the syringe. i was awake for most of the night, or at least I remember seeing nearly every hour on the clock, though it was difficult to connect those hands on the wall to anything meaningful. it's a strange way to spend time. you're aware of every hour passing, yet the experience has absolutely no narrative form.

everybody tells you to stay ahead of the pain, and this is excellent advice. for the first two or three days at home, I was taking 12 to 14 Percocet a day: an amount that astonishes me now, but which felt barely sufficient at the time.

when you dream about having time away from work, there is a lot of it: days stretch out voluptuously. in fact, i find the days quite short. partly this is because everyday life takes so much time. getting dressed takes the better part of 40 minutes; getting undressed and into bed a good half-hour; and then i have physio exercises that take about 25 minutes per set, and I do three sets a day. add in a walk, an iPhone game or two, and there's your day. i like being alone.

i have good days and bad days. on good days i feel jubilant, excited, triumphant: i am getting the better of this injury. on bad days i feel completely dismayed, convinced that it will never heal. the lesson is that i have good days and i have bad days, and i'm sure there's a wealth of wisdom in that.

there is a lot of frustration. simple things -- like pulling up yoga pants, or putting on a headset, or fixing a bowl of soup -- take astonishing amounts of time, and call on a patience that does not come naturally to me. bathing is extremely awkward and extremely painful. particularly before i got my stitches out, it felt almost impossible. i had to sit in 2 inches of water, and i washed my hair by bending over my knees. i cannot wash my left shoulder very well, i cannot dry my back, and things like hair product and eyeliner are out of the question. if -- heaven forfend -- something like this should happen to you, and you are my friend, here's what I will do for you: i will give you one hour a week in which you can ask me to do anything. i will clean your shower. i will drive you to the river valley and wait for you to walk. i will run errands. i will chop onions so that you can make soup. i will cull your e-mail if that's what you would like.

there is a lot of pain. before the operation we asked how the pain of shoulder surgery might compare to the pain of knee surgery. the guy we were talking to, the hospital's physiotherapist, fumbled for a few seconds and then gave up. "there is no comparison," he said. "it's super painful." i find the pain fatiguing, particularly at the end of the day, and four weeks later it is still hard to sleep.

there is a lot of abjection. i was not prepared for how abject this experience would be. for one thing, it is very dirty. i am clumsy with my left hand, and so routinely spill food -- on me, on the counter, on the floor -- none of which are easy to clean. for another thing, it is hard to feel pretty when you rotate two pairs of yoga pants and can't pluck your eyebrows. the emotional abjection is of course the most difficult. last saturday I had a work party. my responsibility was to bring a course of Spanish cheese; everything else was done by others. buying the cheese was the subject of a specific excursion on friday; indeed, it was last friday's organizing principle, since I can only really do one thing per day. saturday morning I pulled together a serving tray, serving utensils, and laboriously printed little cards to identify the cheeses. (they looked like they were written by a four-year-old.) i planned my shower with enough time for a rest afterwards. mo did the laundry, but together we worked out how to organize the loads so that my best yoga pants would be clean for the event. the party was lovely, but it involved a lot of standing and honestly it was hard to talk to people i work with when i'm not in fact working with them. after one hour I thought I might faint. when i realized i had forgotten the damn cheese, i just lost it: burst into tears and fled out the back door, humiliated.

naturally, i feel guilty. it's a difficult time at the university, with budget woes and layoffs in the offing. i am acutely aware that the work i am not doing is being picked up by others, who are already busy. at the same time, the university is full of workaholics, and the place is redolent with stories about Prof. X., who took no more than a week off, and Prof. Y., who was back at work the day after his operation. i am not immune to the sense of obligation these stories entail, even though my best self scorns them.

whatever difficulties i may have, being insufficiently loved is not among them. friends have been wonderful: solicitous, generous, thoughtful, and attentive. i marvel at my great good fortune.

now my computer battery is running low, and it's time for a nap. believe it or not, composing this post has taken the best part of the day.


Dana Wilde said...

Seemingly, we get but one life to live.

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Karen said...

aw, cheese made you cry. i mean, a trigger but still. campos would love to help any time. river valley walks are my thing.