“Just smile and wave boys. Smile and wave.”
“It was great meeting you, thank you so much for interviewing today!” I said to the 20th student who was applying for a leadership program that I run. Before the familiar click of the door signaled that I could officially let down my guard, I felt the tears well up. My colleague looked at me. “Is there anything I can do to help?” Thankfully, my friend and colleague is used to me crying at work (it’s the nature of the job!).
“Pshhhhhhhew noooooooh,” I uttered in a whisper that stole every ounce of energy I had. I cringed in pain. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. All I could do was close my eyes and remind myself to breathe.
It’s day 25 since my bilateral prophylactic salpingo-oopherectomy, and life hasn’t been easy. For 25 days, I have been in terrible pain — some explained; most not. The actual surgical procedure was uneventful — it took 15 minutes and, thankfully, my results indicated there was no cancer in my ovaries. But my recovery has been a trial.
I came home the same day from surgery to recover. Jorge, my husband, was amazing and took care of me from morning to night. I didn’t do a single chore or exert any effort beyond using the remote control to click through television shows. My job was to rest, and that’s what I did.
However, resting did not result in recovery.
On Day 6 post-op, I began to develop an allergic reaction (contact dermatitis) to the gauze that was trapped under the Tegaderm dressings. My skin grew red, and it blistered and swelled up. Over time, the redness soon turned to a dark chocolate brown, which I learned was actually burns on my skin.
On Day 10 post-op, large red hives began to form on my stomach. And, within a day, my entire torso was covered in a red irritation. As I assumed it was an allergic reaction, I took Benedryl for 3 days, but to no relief. Within another day, my face, ears, and lips were covered in large hives and blisters, and it looked as if I had been repeatedly hit in the face. When I finally got in to see the doctor, my skin was red and irritated from underneath my chest to the bottom of my abdomen, and reaching all the way across. The irritation is still a mystery, but the team of doctors, nurses, and dermatologists believe it may have been a delayed allergic reaction to the surgical drapes used in the operating room. Thanks to topical steroids, it seems to have gotten better lately. And, now at Day 25, the redness has turned to a light, patchy brown. My face? It has finally returned to its normal size and the redness is slowly beginning to fade.
And, now it’s Day 25. As if the skin irritation wasn’t enough, for nearly this entire time post-op, I have been dealing with severe pain on my right side. At first, the doctors and I figured it was just part of normal recovery — some pain, some tenderness. Two weeks out, they thought it might just be gas or some discomfort.
Three+ weeks out, now we are worried. No one is actually telling me what we are worried about, but I know that there is something wrong. When pain can reduce me to tears, something is wrong.
As with most of life’s toughest battles, I’m incredibly thankful. I realize that my pain is temporary (is 25 days still considered temporary?) and that women who I have met in the waiting room are in pain from chemotherapy and radiation. Mine? Mine will be resolved and this day will seem distant. I’m thankful that I have healthcare — good healthcare — that lets me see the best doctors in a first class hospital. The pain medicine — though it hasn’t helped much — costs me merely a copayment of a few dollars. My job gives me sick time to care for my health. I am lucky.
One challenge that did hit hard was having to manage taking care of the needs of my children. While on the phone with the nurse to schedule a CT scan, I had to find a time that would allow me to either pick up my kids or arrange for childcare. Though a few appointment times came up when I could get to the hospital, it wasn’t enough time for me put together a schedule. The earliest I could both get some help and get into the hospital was in three days. And, in those three days, of course, I’ve been in pain. “Can you make it until the appointment?” the nurse asked before we hung up the phone. “I don’t have a choice,” I responded.
Well meaning friends and colleagues have asked, “How are you doing, Liza?”
My response. I just smile and wave.
Peace, love, and hoping for answers tomorrow,