And then there was one … ovary

Well, that was interesting.

This whole thing ended up with me getting a referral to a gynecologic oncologist, who examined me and recommended that I get surgery to remove the endometrioma, which had grown to 10 centimeters by the time I met with him. He did not feel strongly that the uterine fibroids had to go too, but he was fairly adamant that the cyst needed to go quickly, or else I’d risk it rupturing.

So, I scheduled a laparoscopic procedure for the end of August.

I bathed in antibacterial shower scrub the night before and the morning of surgery, donned brand new fat pants, wore my glasses (no contacts allowed), had Richard be my chauffeur, met my parents at the hospital, forked over a grand to get through the doors, and waited for them to call me back.

They did pretty much right on time, and my crew and I trekked to the surgical waiting room, where I gave out hugs and goodbyes and wished Richard well, as he and my parents were going to be hanging out for a few hours together.

Back in the first waiting area, I stripped down and put on a paper gown that was lined with little places that would balloon up with warm air. I laid on a gurney and waited while the surgical prep folks got ready for me. They started giving me medications — antibiotics, anti-nausea, etc. — and asked me to lie down and relax. Finally it was time to take me back to the pre-op area. I had to hand over my glasses, so from that point on I couldn’t really see anything, which is a super bummer, because the whole process is completely fascinating.

I took a trip down some twisting hallways on the gurney, still totally awake and aware. They parked me in some kind of staging area, where there were several other people parked, too, waiting on their number to be called. A team of people descended on me, one or two at a time, and hooked me up to an IV. The anesthesiologist’s assistant guy wore a big gold watch and was cracking wise with me. I couldn’t see anyone’s face, which was disorienting. Watch guy asked me if I was freaking out, and whether I was ready for the relaxation drugs. I said sure, whatever. I had a pretty calm head about me at the time because I felt like I was in pretty good hands, but I didn’t put up a fight about the drugs either. So he pushed something through my IV and in a few seconds I definitely felt it. I was suddenly super chill, and they were pumping warm air into my weird puffed-up gown. There was a lot happening around me with four or so people doing stuff on either side of me and me just sort of lying there, unable to see anything. (Being very near-sighted sucks for lots of reasons, but it’s an extra kick in the groin to not be able to watch what’s happening around you in this setting.)

Then it was go time. They wheeled me into the operating room, and I was feeling pretty good from the drugs. I remember it being so cold in there. The crew loading me into the room asked me to help scoot myself from the gurney onto the operating table, and I complied as best I could, even though maneuvering in my weird puffy gown with my IV dangling around my arm was awkward. I remember getting onto the operating table and looking up and trying to make out the huge and complex lights above the table. And then I was out. I don’t remember counting.

When I woke up I was in recovery. Someone was speaking to me and I don’t remember what they said. I remember being in a room with many other beds. I remember waking up and feeling pain and not realizing it was pain at first. It took me a few minutes for my brain to understand how intense the pain was. I was in a fog and it hurt so bad to breathe. I remember hearing someone moaning in pain. Maybe it was me, maybe not. I remember lying there for a while in pain, thinking it would go away on its own, but every time I breathed or moved or coughed, which I felt the need to do (having been intubated), there was this searing abdominal pain across the middle of my torso, just under my lungs. I recall having to work up the strength and stamina to summon someone to tell them I was in pain. They must have upped my medicine then because I relaxed and it didn’t hurt so badly to breathe, although I was careful to not move too much.

They let me lie there for what seemed like a long time, until finally Richard got to come back to bring me my clothes. I reached down and realized my gown was hiked all the way up to my armpits. I had been lying there thinking I was naked. Weird. Richard’s task was to get me to the bathroom and make sure I peed before I could get dressed and go home. I was totally out of it but I peed and I think he let me have a drink of his soda or something.

They put me in a wheelchair and wheeled me to the curb while Richard went to get the car to retrieve me. The ride home I felt pukey and sleepy.

I went straight to bed and stayed there with intermittent breaks for a few days. Breathing was excruciating. It felt like someone had gone in and pummeled my diaphragm and lungs and for about two or three days, taking in air was so painful and I was hoarse and could barely talk from the intubation.

So, what they did:

They went in through my belly button and puffed my belly up full of gas to get my skin away from my organs. A robot, controlled by my surgeon, put a bag around the endometrioma and proceeded to drain it. Then they extracted it through my belly button.

A ROBOT, Y’ALL.

They tested the tissue for cancer during the surgery and came up negative. (An in-depth lab showed negative later as well.)

Then the doc zapped a few spots of endometriosis for good measure.

They stitched up my belly button from the inside and then glued my belly button together on the outside.

For a week I just wanted to sleep. Getting up out of bed and going from lying to sitting to standing was painful. I haven’t been able to lift things. But I feel good now. It’s incredible how they were able to do the procedure through one incision that you can’t really even see (although my belly button is all bruised to hell and weird looking right now).

My follow-up appointment went well and I seem to be making a full recovery.

Having one ovary shouldn’t really adversely affect my fertility or hormones, which is pretty amazing.

I’m so grateful everything went well and I’ve had such a good recovery.

It’s what’s inside that counts

Since March, I have now had four or five pelvic ultrasounds (yes, both the external and the internal probe Congress loves so much) and a pelvic MRI.

Here is what we know:

There are masses inside of me and they are growing, and they need to be removed.

Here is what we think we know:

One of the masses is an ovarian endometrioma the size of a tennis ball (and growing). Until late June I’d never heard of such a thing but turns out I’m intimately acquainted and just didn’t know it. Essentially, I have endometriosis that has invaded my left ovary and taken over to the point that it likely cannot be extracted and removed; the whole ovary has got to go.

I have other masses in my uterus that are fibroid tumors. At least one of them is also the size of a tennis ball. I was sent to have an MRI this past week to find out the number and size and placement of them all, since apparently, from the expression on my specialist’s face, there’s a bunch of crazy shit happening in there, all together, that has her thinking I should get a hysterectomy, STAT.

My specialist asked me, while prodding around my guts with her fingers, if I was done having children. Well, I said, I didn’t think I was. She pressed her hand down on my lower stomach from the outside and pressed her fingers inside of me upward, so her hands met around the parts inside of me that are swollen and cramped, and I felt a pain so deep it didn’t register in my body but it registered deep in my emotions and I began crying.

I am 34. I have always had regular periods that last three to five days and that come with minimal discomfort. I’ve never been on hormonal birth control and I had a quick and lovely eight-hour natural labor and delivery. I have always joked about being built for breeding, with my wide hips. I have had friends and family who’ve fought with period pain, endometriosis, cysts, fibroids and excessive bleeding and have always counted myself as being very fortunate to have a system that seemed, more or less, to do its thing and keep the peace.

I have finally met the man I want to spend the rest of my life and have a family with, and, in my more selfish moments, it’s a little like a cosmic middle finger in the face to think that that might not even be on the table for us.

My gynecologist asked me if I have a high pain tolerance. On the one hand, how great to have not suffered from the discomfort of my insides twisting and growing and crowding my organs. On the other hand, the lack of pain means I didn’t even realize what was happening for so long, and now it’s likely too late to really fix it and keep it functional.

I go back to the doctor Thursday to find out exactly what the MRI shows and what’s next. I know it will not be great news because they called and moved my follow-up appointment up a week. They told me come by whenever; they will work me in. That only happens if something is concerning enough to need action.

My family and friends are of course being supportive and wonderful in every way. My mom had a major bout of fibroids in her 40s and ended up with a hysterectomy. But she’d already had three kids and had her tubes tied; she knew she was done adding to her family. But she knows what a tough row to hoe this can be for the brain and body when it happens.

I had hoped I was finally getting to start a family in earnest, with someone who loves me and my son. It will be difficult to let that dream die before it even had a chance, if that’s what it comes to.

I know I will need surgery. I just don’t know how much and how soon and how serious.

I know I can feel a dull thud of pain on my left side where the ovary continues to grow larger each menstrual cycle. That pain wasn’t there four months ago.

I know sitting up from lying down is increasingly uncomfortable.

I know I can feel tenderness all across my belly, and sharp pain whenever a not-to-be-named 4-year-old gut-checks me while wrestling.

I know I am scared.

Boo

I wanted to write something about ghosts. Something about how when they show up in your dreams they steal rest from you all night long. Not the kinds of ghosts that wear sheets and chains or the kinds of spectral presences that populate spooky stories. I’m talking about the kind of ghosts that used to live large in your life but that you killed off, metaphorically speaking, so you could move on. About how when they use your dreams to resume their presence in your life, it sucks the wind right out of you. Who gave them the right?

I wanted to write about those ghosts but I couldn’t come up with anything to say, really.

Bite it

Holden has taken to yelling, “Mama! Watch your tongue!” at me unprompted, many times a day. Even when I’m not saying anything inappropriate.

And, as rude as he is, he’s right. The tongue is going to get me in trouble some day.

Clever headline here

I am up late having a rather obnoxious battle with insomnia. This literally never happens to me. I always sleep. I have a regular appointment to keep with my dreams. But tonight I’m being eaten alive and my eyes won’t even shut.

You ever think much about humiliation? About that red hot flush you feel at first when it dawns on you that you’re at the short end of a stick of some kind, and how your heart pounds for hours and hours as you go over every detail of the stupid things you did? You relive them again and again in silent horror, turning each one over and over in your head like a stone smoothed by current. You ever think much about how fucked up it is to have this cryptographer-type organ knocking around in your skull, meting out all this information to you as it untangles it? But how sometimes really awful stuff slips right past and goes undeciphered, but once your cryptographer organ friend gets all that info cobbled together and notices a Really Unfortunate Pattern, it dumps this flood of adrenaline into your veins and peaces out (sayonara, reason!) and you have to sit there feeling like a lion is pacing around you even though the only thing that has changed is your understanding of the context in which you were previously living?

Humiliation is a toxin and you have to sweat it out. Except the sweat is existential and it physically hurts as it exits your body. You can feel it in your chest, in your bones, down low in your gut, where it throbs a bit. You can also feel it in your brain — the pesky little guy who allowed it to set in to begin with.

Spend long enough sweating it and that humiliation might calcify parts of you.

If you are like me, you might welcome that. So that maybe next time you won’t feel it as much.

Getting RIPped

I heard a (hip young) undertaker on Fresh Air today talking about cremation and embalming and death rituals and all that fun stuff, and it occurred to me that I am in my thirties and I have procreated and yet I still have not put on paper my wishes in the event of my untimely death, which is getting more and more statistically probable with every new day I draw breath. What am I waiting for? (Someone to do it for me.)

I suppose I can put a couple of throwaway paragraphs on the internet and then ask the twelve of you who still read this blog to feel free to email a link to all my loved ones should I die, to make sure what they understand of what I want squares with the crap I have actually thought about and written down. Is that how we do death prep in the Web 2.0 era? Oh god, we aren’t in the Web 2.0 era anymore are we? I should be tweeting out my living will in 150 parts and ending it with “LOL.” Also, I am just kidding. I know there are not even twelve of you left who read blogs, especially this one.

In all seriousness, I don’t want to be embalmed. What a waste of time and money and horrible chemicals that are causing everyone cancer, probably. I want to say, “put me in a wooden box and stick me in the ground wherever there is already a convenient hole and let me get all wormy as quickly as possible so maybe some flowers will grow above me, but DON’T put any pea gravel anywhere near me,” but I know it is more complicated than that. I’m not particularly sentimental about what happens to me after my death, because who cares, but I accept that it is a practical concern that the living will be left to deal with so maybe I can do them a solid and take out some of the guesswork.

First, give away all my organs. Or the ones still working, I guess. I won’t need any of them unless you think there is a decent, scientifically sound chance of reanimation, in which case PRESERVE EVERYTHING, INCLUDING MY BROWN FITZWELL BOOTS. My eyes are terrible but one of them has a weird spot in it that bestows magical powers, so don’t let that shit get buried. Give it to someone!

In all honesty, I am kind of charmed by the idea of donating my body to science and maybe being empirically useful for once in my life/death. Maybe hanging out on The Body Farm and getting nice and ripe in the sun for the clipboard-wielding students to study, and then eventually becoming a part of their collection of skeletons. Yes! It might be the closest I get to being in a Head Museum. Let me bookmark that application process right now, actually.

If that doesn’t work out, for whatever reason (no one can find a free truck to get me there?), just cremate me. Except let’s consider water/lye instead of fire. I don’t need a fancy or beautiful or comfortable coffin and I have no interest in an eternal resting place that’s just taking up space in the ground. Just pulverize (politely and efficiently) what’s left of me and take the bone “ashes” and mix me up with potting soil and plant something interesting with part of me. I will try not to spoil the new growth with my acidic wit.

If you think that I am joking in any way about all that stuff ^^ or about putting any or all of the following phrases (or those found in my previous post) in places meant to memorialize my life, let me reassure you: I am completely serious and, should there prove to be some kind of afterlife where I am not sentenced to hard, hot labor for all the schemin’ and cussin’ I did while among the living, I am going to DIE (AGAIN) LAUGHING when I see one of these phrases printed in my obit or on my (exquisitely designed) funeral program or on the cardboard box where my cremains rest. (Which reminds me, which one of my designer friends wants to take charge of the funeral program project? Come get this ridiculous Victorian-era decoupage source book from my office so you can be sure to really make the whole thing sing.)

Some more epitaph suggestions, should anyone choose to keep part of me in some kind of urn or manila envelope:

• Former indoor kid

• Quick to light, slow to burn

• Still silently judging you

• Hopeless romantic who never once believed in love

• Follow me @eyedeadcreative

• Once had her photo taken with Todd Zeile

• Incompatible with life

• Greatest hyperbolist of all time

Unexpected momentum

Status: I'm doing fine.

Tonight I was leaving work and taking the stairs because the elevator is out, and I caught a glimpse of myself in the stairwell window. And I was sort of taken aback by the sight of myself — my hair is long, suddenly; I’m in long sleeves, suddenly; I wear glasses, suddenly, except I have for so very long now and have yet to get used to the idea — and the sight made me happy for once. Like every other person ever, I tend to go negative when faced with a reflective surface. But for some reason tonight looking up and seeing my reflection was a comfort. I am a living, breathing, working, questioning, hoping being. I learn things every single day and it’s been a long time since I’ve been truly bored. I’m working so insanely hard these days and trying to be a good parent and daughter and sibling and partner. So much is happening right now in my family and professional life that it’s kind of impossible to lasso. Someday I hope to be able to write about it all (The Great Family Insanity of Mid-2014) but in my old and wizened state, I am trying to let dust settle when I can before kicking it back up again. (My employers circa 2009 would be so proud to hear this, I bet!)

It’s kind of insane the degree to which so many things have fallen apart these past few weeks. But it’s equally insane the degree to which so many things are getting set up to happen. Potentially. Although, maybe not. That’s the problem with potential.

And while I have to mourn the loss of things that can’t ever be the same again, I’m not afraid. We keep moving forward until we don’t move anymore. That’s what we do. If I’ve learned anything it’s that This Is What We Do, even when we don’t have any clue what we’re doing.

That comforts me. Because tonight I saw someone in the window reflection who clearly understood that.

Bad habits

You know how you pick up a bad habit and at first it feels awesome, and you’re like, “Why did I not start doing this earlier?!?” and you want to do it all the time, and you begin to redefine who you are based in part on the fact that you are now a participant in this particular bad habit and what that means for you, practically and philosophically. And then eventually you start feeling shitty, and you can’t figure out why because you never suspect the bad habit as the culprit right away. But if you start really paying attention, you realize, yeah, that bad habit you picked up really is to blame, and is really bad for you, and has caused you to squander certain parts of your time and your self that you can’t get back. And sure enough, that bad habit did redefine you. Now as someone who has to recover from said bad habit. As someone stupid enough to pick up a bad habit, fully aware.

You only get the one

You know that thing where people write their past selves a letter? Sometimes I think about doing that, and it would be sassy and start off with something like “You think things are going to get less complicated, girly? Well, think again!” Except it would have to end there because Present Me has no real wisdom to impart to Past Me, except maybe try to be nicer, because apparently I am an asshole.

This blog itself, the whole T&G machine, is sort of a reverse of that idea. Letters from Past Me to Present Me or Future Descendants. Cautionary tales and moments of great hubris caught in pixels and immortalized for my child to one day peruse, mortified. Or maybe, worse yet, he will just find it all boring. I can’t even imagine what life’s electronic cookie crumbs will be like by the time he is old enough to dig up dirt on his ol’ Ma. It’s possible that his entire conscience will be so awash in extraneous data that clicking through my midtwenties confessionals will just constitute one more obligatory TL;DR. Or maybe by then it will be old hat for children to have to pick through their parents’ digital detritus to get to the good stuff. Just something you do. I can’t even fathom.

But, Past Me and Future Me — if I can have your attention for just a second. Let’s just do this real quick. Remember this moment. For no other reason than because of its ordinariness and extraordinariness, spooning here together like sleepy, fat cats. This moment when you are sitting on the couch in your little green nightgown that is ill fitting and should not be worn outside (but has frequently been today because you lack shame). You are in need of a shower and you’ve just spent the last three days convalescing thanks to some mystery bug that took you down fast — sore throat, sneezing, aches, fatigue, coughing, and — the kicker — a very low brain tide. You’ve just now begun to feel like yourself again, which is to say you are all over the place in thought and action. You just hand-washed three shirts and cleaned the filthy HVAC intake vent by hand, and you’re breathing gingerly and sipping warm coffee while the young boy naps upstairs and the older boy naps in the bedroom and you entertain this urge to write something down. It’s warm outside and earlier when you went out to hang up those hand-washed shirts, the concrete burned the bottoms of your feet but you liked it, a little bit. Over the past two days, you have just received news of several babies of people close to you being born and several whose impending arrivals were announced, and your heart swells with pride and happiness and then churns with some form of diluted envy (because the thought of a little newborn head in your hands twists up your insides with longing, because you are your ovaries, you monkey). You don’t know if you will ever have another child. You don’t even know how to begin thinking about it, really. Money is tight and all you want to is take your own baby, who is so bright and so happy, to see the ocean. But this isn’t the year. You are not sure if there will ever be a year because you cannot seem to dig out. You are worried. You coast along on a transcontinental railroad of worry and it’s making you grey. Or maybe your DNA is doing that. Or maybe it’s just your age because you’re no spring chicken right now. This is thirty-two. Thirty-two is the age your mother was when you were seven. When you look at pictures of your mother when you were seven, you are jealous. That lady was a fox! You are getting off track. The point is, this moment is ordinary in every way. And in every way it’s not.

Because it is your life, and you only get the one.

What you don’t know won’t hurt you

If you people had any idea how I spent my free time and my idle thoughts…