One step forward and one step back

Tram-flap reconstructive surgery, using belly tissue to form new breasts, is not for the faint of heart. My doctor said few patients are strong enough for it. I thought “strong” meant healthy. Now I know it means pain-tolerant and patient. The recovery is so slow and frustrating. It seems I take one step forward and one back, or in other words, I’m getting nowhere. I thought I would sleep better once I had all the surgical drains out and could lie flat in bed. And I did, for one night. Last night I had so much pain I could not tolerate the bed at all. I tried the recliner and even that was hopeless. The only relief came if I stood up and walked. So I paced the floor all night. My swollen body simply could not stand the pressure of a bed or recliner. About 4 a.m. exhaustion finally won out and I got a few hours of sleep, in the guest bed so as not to disturb John. This morning I feel like one of the walking dead, and I look even worse. My eyes are sunken and my body is bloated. To think it has been 16 days since my surgery and I feel like I’m right back where I was when I first woke up, except now I don’t have a morphine pump to make it all go away. Are we having fun yet?
April 18 For three nights, now I’ve been able to lie flat in my bed all night and actually sleep. What a relief. I was able to roll over, carefully, and even got myself to the bathroom and back without disturbing John. Today I felt so much better I walked to the neighbors’ house and back, then over to my Mom’s next door. It was so good to get outside and move around. Just to talk and think about something besides my pain, my meds and my next procedure was so refreshing. Of course, no improvement goes unpunished. Last night I began experiencing wrenching spasms in the belly. I thought I’d just overdone the activity, but when I started to replace the dressing on my naval wound, as I do every night and morning, I noticed a red ring around it and it looked as if the wound was getting infected. Between the pain and anxiety over it, I spent another sleepless night. In the morning I called my surgeon and she prescribed an antibiotic ointment. Lord, give me patience with this rollercoaster. I am so anxious to get back to some semblance of a normal life. I feel like I have ceased being a person and become only a patient. I have no life outside this disease. And I feel especially bad for John. His life is on hold too. He has ceased to be anything but a caregiver. I find myself apologizing for what all of this has done to him – for the extra work, the loss of sleep, the sacrifice of freedom to enjoy his retirement, and for the burden of debt my illness has laid on his shoulders. He just smiles, squeezes my hand, and says, “I’m fine. This is not about me. I’m not the one enduring surgery and pain. It’s about you, but it’s not as if you had any choice in the matter, so don’t worry.” Then he adds, “Besides, next time our roles might be reversed.” Next time? Hummmmm…. Well, we’re not getting any younger. So, yes, there will be a next time. And that’s the most sobering thought of all.