Friday, October 26, 2012

Packing it, and other side effects they don't tell you about

It's a long, long time since I packed a bag to go to hospital. The lump that was removed on that occasion is now 27 years old, happily married and gainfully employed, so that medical procedure could be deemed a success (despite some less than happy moments at the start- don't start me on obstetricians with God complexes, please.)

The time before was less happy. I've been reminiscing about that, and not in a good way, as I desperately try to find suitable clothing to pack for my hospital visit on Monday. My wardrobe these days is, um, "very Northern Rivers", to quote the Bear. It doesn't involve much in the way of summer bed wear.

It certainly doesn't involve bed wear that buttons at the front for easy access to my restructured left hand side, as recommended by the housebrick-like tome that arrived in the post yesterday from BCNA. I might be 56, but baby, I ain't no nanna yet. Button-front nighties? Bed jackets, FFS? I don't think so. Actually, I think and dress a little younger than that.

<sarcasm alert>

I wish I'd thought of this when I was in town last week. I could have picked up something suitable at the op shop.

Oh, except that going to town over the last two weeks or so has resulted in an immediate urgent desire to go home again. NOW. And bugger the shopping. I'm sort of coping in my own environment, but I'm definitely NOT coping when I'm away from home.

That's unexpected. I usually enjoy my trips to town, especially if I have some gold coins in my pocket and the op shops are beckoning. Nobody told me I was about to become agoraphobic.

I mean, right now even the traffic sends me nuts. I'm not talking Sydney gridlock here. I'm talking waiting behind two cars at a country town roundabout. I'm usually so laid back, the most patient of drivers, but now the tiniest thing sends me crazy. I can feel my blood pressure rising even when nothing annoying is happening.

I just want to go home. I don't want to be anywhere else but home. Click those ruby heels and beam me up, Scotty.

Yeah, yeah, I may have confused my allusions for a moment there. Call it another side effect of having my life turned inside out.


So as I rummage through my drawers looking for something to adapt, because I'm buggered if I'm going back to town if I can possibly avoid it, my mind keeps going back to that old hospital visit. Oh, the operation went just fine; it was a simple tonsillectomy, performed when I was 20. But I still have nightmares about one moment along the way, and dammit, that's what's coming back to haunt me now.

Have you heard of 'locked-in syndrome'? That's the terrifying condition where you are fully conscious but completely paralysed. You can neither move nor communicate. And that's what happened to me as I woke from the anaesthetic last time.

Nobody told me that might happen.

It was just a small taste of hell, of course- just a slightly glitchy response to the anaesthetic thanks to my super-sensitive body. FFS, even antihistamine tablets put me into a coma. Once I took two Dimetapp nighttime cold tablets, the recommended dose, and couldn't be woken for 36 hours.

So way back then, my brain woke up but my body didn't. The unspeakable terror of being shut in- if you haven't experienced it, you probably can't even imagine it. It was claustrophobia on steroids. It was silent screaming, and overwhelming panic.

Eventually, after what seemed like a year but was probably five minutes, I managed to push enough air through my vocal cords to moan softly. Then a nurse noticed me, and started fussing around me and talking me through it, and I managed to move my eyelids and then my lips and I realised that maybe I wasn't doomed to be the living dead for the rest of my life after all.

But I still remember that five minutes.

So I'm not actually afraid of the operation itself. I'm not afraid of being put to sleep and cut up with sharp knives and sewn back together with large needles. But I'm terrified, beside myself with panic at the thought of waking up like that again.

It probably didn't help that the anaesthetist decided to put off my interview with him until I've been admitted. I have to have a serious talk with that man, and I don't want him to be in a hurry or dismissive of my concerns. I don't want to be written off as neurotic. It's easy to be cowed by confident professionals when you're out of your home territory, anxious as hell and not even dressed your normal way. Hell's bells, half my confidence relies on my makeup and jewellery- oh yeah, and my cleavage, FFS. Don't forget the cleavage.


Somehow I need to get past all that when I arrive unpowdered, unpreened and un-even-frickin'-deodorised to get my (in)famous cleavage rearranged to hell, and impress on him that the after-effects of his drugs matter.

Wish me luck.


Most of the time it's been business as usual at home. On the surface, I'm a trooper. I might be sitting at the computer a little more than usual, I might be playing more mindless games than usual, my diet might have gone to hell in a handcart (or perhaps  'in a chocolate box' would be more honest), but mostly I'm trying to keep things normal.

Well, other than not answering the damn phone till the answering machine tells me who it is. Even with the veto in place, the stupid thing still seems to ring far too often. God help me if I'd just let it all happen, instead of directing people here for information. I'd probably have ripped the line out of the socket by now.

It's hard being a model patient. Being human and fallible keeps getting in the way. I admit, I may be feeling a little snarky.

Okay, a lot snarky. The Bear and I had a raging row the other night, a screaming one, and we never argue like that. We just don't. I can't even remember what it was about, it was so completely stupid. I doubt he can either. When they list the side impacts of a cancer diagnosis, why don't they include 'stupid snarky rows about nothing'? Hmmm? Some days it's like tiptoeing through a paddock full of echidnas in the dark, never knowing when you're going to walk on the other person's spikes.

I mean, the two of us do actually love each other and do our damnedest not to say hurtful things to each other, ever. Heaven help anyone who had a lesser relationship waiting at home when they got their diagnosis. For some couples, diagnosis must be like falling out of a skyscraper window onto barbed wire. Cancer doesn't always bring out the best in people, you know. You want it to, but it just doesn't. Sometimes it just makes you both impatient, and hypersensitive, and totally sucky things like that.

Sometimes you just want to disappear into the computer and never come out again, eating chocolate all the way (guilty as charged), or have a gazillion drinks more than is good for you (no prizes for guessing who).

And sometimes, if you're actually in the right relationship when this bastard of a thing gets you, in between walking on each other's spines and coping completely inappropriately, you find a tremendous intimacy that you'd just about lost track of in your day-to-day life before this hit you like a brick from the sky. Sometimes you lie there wrapped around each other at night, or just holding hands in the morning, saying to each other third time lucky.


Over and over, like that'll fix it. It fills in the time while you wait for Monday.

Third time lucky.

I don't mind that side effect at all.

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