It's time for me to leave the hospital. Not unlike a new mother coming home after delivery, I am apprehensive about leaving the crutch of the hospital that segued me into my new state.As suspected, my first day home is awful. Being away from the perfectly equipped recovery room highlights everything I cannot do on my own. And that night, I miss the electronic hospital bed so much that I cry; uncomfortable and alone in the midnight darkness of my family room, I cry. Not for what I’ve been through or what I fear lies ahead, I am simply crying over the discomfort of this very moment.
But like every terrible night, it ends.I wake up the next day and am that many hours closer to being through this.
My mother stays with us for a week, and then a small army of family members helps us in shifts for another couple of weeks. My mobility and range of motion improves in leaps and bounds almost immediately. If I could just get these JP Drains out…JP Drains: terrible little bulbs dangling from your exterior, filling with fluid from your interior. (They are used to suction excess fluid from a surgical site, post-operatively.) I have one dangling from each side, which is fairly standard in a bilateral mastectomy.
Underneath the skin, they start at the center of my chest and wrap around the outside of each breast; together, forming an “m” shape. The tubes make their way to the exterior on the outer sides of my chest wall, near the bottom of my ribcage, where a small slit was made in the skin. Stitching was used to stabilize the tube to the opening. At the end of each tube is a bulb for fluid to collect. They are, needless to say, awkward, disgusting-looking and immensely uncomfortable.The “m” of tubing is tight and pushing against the skin of my chest. The exit sites are tender and irritated. The bulbs themselves are cumbersome and feel perpetually unsterile. Plus, exacerbating their awfulness, they have to remain dry in order to help prevent infection, and so showers are forbidden until their removal.
The right side drain comes out after 12 days; 14 days on the left.
Collectively over these two weeks of JP Drains, I pass a ridiculous amount of time in methodical daydream about their abstraction. I literally count down the hours until the appointments where their removal is even a possibility. With obsession, I picture it over and over again: the ugly, wire stitching getting clipped off, the cord being slowly pulled out, the hole being allowed to close back together, and oh, the sweet relief that will flood over me.
Flood over me it does. When the daily output of fluid dwindles enough for each of my sides to be free of cord and drain, I am awash in relief. I take a long shower – oh sweet bounty of warm, cleansing water, how I missed you these last 2 weeks. Sponge baths do not hold a candle to your splendor. And I stop taking the pain medication. I am closed up and ready to heal.
It has been difficult to be uncomfortable for such a prolonged period of time. It is difficult to not do anything but sit around and heal. ...And it is spectacularly difficult to face fears of metastasis, recurrence, and ultimately, mortality. But, one step at a time.
Today, the cancer is out of me. I can heal - and the inflammation in my chest and hips can die away. Perhaps, normal will return to me.