Thursday, May 31, 2012

Snitches Get Stitches.

This week has been full of stitches. Trying to keep stitches in, trying to get stitches out, stitches in our sides from laughing too hard. One week ago I was running around, post surgery trying to check off box after box in a seemingly impossible checklist of medical appointments that needed to be accomplished before we could pack up the kids and travel over and entire ocean and then a continent.  I am now thoroughly convinced that - hospitals are THE worst places to accomplish healing and that getting up and moving around moderately- or with purpose is good for healing.  With my ever protective husband and neighbor in tow, carefully guarding against over-doing it- we managed to get it all done.

We made it all the way downtown to talk with a nurse who would help educate us with the tools we needed to combat lymphedema(swelling related to accumulation of lymph fluid after nodes are removed) especially during flight. Due to the location of the shark bite on my arm, a standard compression sleeve is not an option yet- as it puts too much pressure on that incision. She tells us that a simple wrap can be effective, it just may need an extra person to help. She leaves and returns with a grocery bag of supplies. She briefly explains the process as she begins the wrap- it is one organ removal shy of complete mummification.  You begin with a soft gauze wrap, followed by a sock that is twice as long as your arm, you then take batting(you know the kind you put in quilts or pillows) and wrap that UP and DOWN the arm.  Then you get the first type of ace bandage and wrap the hand and wrist. You fasten that with tape then get the second ace bandage and wrap that the rest of the way. The sock is then pulled down over that to cover the whole mess.  I am laughing so hard I am crying because - it's hot, it's heavy, it's huge and it generally blows. Don't try to do this before airport security, they will probably make you unwrap it- and make sure you have it on a bit before you fly- and leave it on for awhile after you fly and anytime you are moving around. Sounds convenient to have a bulky arm that I can't bend on an airplane where I am supposed to keep moving around to prevent blood clots in an already clauterphobic environment. I swing it around like I am batting a ball. I pretend to do the robot- at this point Phil is in stitches. We are both laughing at the ridiculousness of it- we are crying- full up tears streaming- belly hurting guffaws. She smiles awkwardly at us- it is really great that you both can laugh through this tough time.  We compose ourselves to be good little lymphedema students as she unwraps my arm- Phil has to prove himself to be competent at wrapping before we can leave. As he gets halfway up my arm(in half the time she took) I do a robotesque twitch. We again are in stitches.

The next appointment is to order a compression sleeve that I cannot wear in a buiding that smells like a kennel and is making me nauseous.  She does not want to order a sleeve until the post surgical swelling goes down and we spend another hour doing the dance to check off a box.

The 3rd appointment is the Post Op appointment at Tripler. We are 2.5 hours late. It is lunch hour. We were told the other 2 appointments took precedence and they would fit us in when we got there. Which they did. The resident comes in- I show him a couple spots of swelling- which are ultimately deemed "to be expected" a strange bruisish area around the area formally known as breast tissue- which probably is the direct result of ripping the adhesive apart from the first incision that is deemed "healing nicely".  I sense a bit of disappointment that I have no comical antics for this visit- but who has time? He wants to remove the stitches on my arm- I begin to panic as visions of lymphedema mid pacific dance through my head resulting in my arm splitting open like a melon. No thank you. How about half- these ones are ready. Yeah so were the ones on my backside and would we like to again revisit the world of dehiscience?  It's going to be ok. Ok- You can take 6 stitches out- but that's it.  He removes the stitches- we regale him with tales of our many relatives of the surgical calibre who are completely capable of removing stitches. We are given a suture removal kit and a prescription for antibiotics- just in case. Phil wants to know if we are cleared to fly- he is all about chain of command and clearance. He wants them to declare me able to fly. They just smile. -We were under the impression that there was very little we could do to stop Jen from making this trip- we're just trying to make it as comfortable as possible. I giggle- he is stewing. They leave. Why won't anyone declare it? Ok- I tell him- Pack our bags we are going.  I DECLARE IT. He just shakes his head.

Tuesday is more back to back appointments- one that was amusing, nerve wracking and touching all at the same time- the fake boob fitting. I called my aunt and asked her advice in the field of mammary illusion. She said just grab some tissues and shove it in a bra- she's been doing that for years- the fake things rub and are hot and heavy. I laugh. But I am lopsided- it would take a lot of tissues. So I enter the office not sure what to expect. We go over the history- the extensive cancer history that brought me here. She wants to know my expectations and is a flutter of motion between cabinets pulling out foam forms here and bras there.  Her name is Joan and I think it is not just coincidence her name is that of a saint, a good friend I lost to this disease, and an inspirational aunt. She measures me and her face lights up- This always happens- she tells me. I am prepared to hear that there is nothing she has on hand that will work for me- I will just have to wing it on the next 6 weeks shoving gauze and cottonballs down my shirt. She throws 2 bags on the table and yanks a chair over to reach a basket on top of the cabinet. She is explaining what my insurance covers and that once bras and forms are returned- she can't sell them again, even if they are unopened. It just so happens a lady returned 3 bras yesterday and they will be perfect for me. It's a simple thing, but I feel the flutter of angel wings. We spend the next 30 minutes shoving various foam boobs in and out of my bra to see which one works the best. I find it ironic that they are made of memory foam because I am pretty sure the bulk of my memory resided in my right breast and I have now lost it.  It is a simple thing, but I feel more balanced. I show my neighbor who immediately gives the fake one a tweak- we laugh- she wants some.  I think of the scene in Mrs. Doubtfire where Robin Williams sets fire to his fake set- I make a mental note to take care when I bend over hot stoves. Day 2 of crazy week down.

Wednesday is it. The kids last day of school, their awards ceremony and the day we depart for the mainland for 6 weeks. I haven't packed anything. I've made lists over and over in my mind. I sent myself notes- yet physically I am still pretty wiped and I have to rely on Phil and my neighbor to put it all together. It miraculously comes together and I have yet to bust a single stitch. We make it through the red eye flight to New York- no swelling- no arm splitting- and worst of all no sleep. But we make it. I feel triumphant.

The stitches are in itches. They are starting to bother me. This morning we unpack the suture removal kit and start removing them. We are 3 stitches down when my aunt, grandma and cousins arrive. This is how you know it's a family affair- ooh what are we doing- surgery? No, just stitches. Oh cool.  They immediately busy themselves with the children with the instructions to let them know when we are huggable. My husband usually surprises me with his various skills. I trust him completely and so it's not a surprise that he is actually better at removing stitches than the resident. It is amazing how much better my arm feels and looks without the dark green strings poking out.

My cousin is involved in a raucous game of hide and seek with the kids. I gave up this game years ago because every single time, Lily would climb into the bathtub. I would yell -where is Lily? She would giggle- I'm the bathtub.  When I stopped asking where she was, I would hear her yell- are you looking for me? Now, Lily doesn't like to be the first found, yet her hiding skills are limited due to her size. So she rats out her siblings. One time, as Bella is on the hunt- Lily is found and decides to point her sister to where the only player bigger than her is hiding. My cousin Shannon looks at Lily and laughs- we have a saying here in Philly- Snitches get Stitches.  Bella thinks this is the best catch phrase since "See ya Suckaz" and skips off singing it.  Shannon apologizes to us profusely for teaching the kids the saying. We shrug. Phil says- it's Ok- I know how to take them out.

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Lily Kay Monkey

Lily Kay Monkey
November 2008 Photographed by Shelley Detton (7 Layer Studio)