Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Unexpected Defeat

      I blinked back tears in the produce section today.

      Yesterday I had another physical therapy appointment, and my hips seem to be doing significantly better than they were a few weeks ago. I left the appointment with the news that I may be discharged next week. I joined a church committee and set up meetings and sent in applications and finished a book. I had a wonderful day.

      Today my day began with cuddles with my cat, playtime with my puppy, and a trip to the bookstore, where I made several new friends who chatted with me about their favorite books and whisked me all around the store in search of new literary treasures. I had a surgical follow-up scheduled for the late morning, which I expected to be quick, simple, and relieving since it would essentially conclude the recovery process and end my rough semester. Afterward, I planned to go to a new and local thrift store, stop by a reuse store for craft supplies, and take my sister and her friend to our favorite coffee shop for them to do homework and for me to read. Today was supposed to be another great day.

      At my post-op appointment, I expressed to my surgeon that I thought I was doing okay, aside from what seems like an abnormal amount of daily blood loss and sinus headaches right above my eyes. I figured these were normal post-op symptoms, indicative of the healing process, but my normally very calm ENT looked alarmed when I brought this up. He tried to scope me, but apparently the inside of my face is raw and swollen, and is not healing normally. The pain was unbearable. "I'm so sorry, I can't do any more," I muttered with my eyes squeezed closed and watering and all of the muscles in my body tensed up. He seemed to sense my agony and promptly removed his scope and instruments before sitting back down. He typed a few things into his computer and asked if I was okay. "I'm just really not feeling well," I mumbled with my hand right over my eye, and he glanced up at me. I must have looked awful, because in the span of just a few seconds he flew onto his feet, checked my pulse, leaned me back, and turned the light off.

      I was given 7 sprays of a numbing agent in each nostril (as opposed to the normal 3) and left to recover in the dark room. Luckily, by the time he returned the numbing agent had taken effect and I was able to submit to a couple of minutes of scoping to allow him to officially determine that my face is a hot mess. He prescribed a steroid and an antibiotic, both of which are guaranteed to destroy my stomach but necessary nevertheless. I am frustrated that because of these complications my post-op appointments are bleeding into the spring semester, which I have idealized in my head to be a perfectly healthy one.

     I left the appointment extremely uncomfortable, because my entire face was numb yet painful, stiff but bloody. I sat in my car and called my parents. I debated going through with my planned trip to the thrift store, but just could not pull myself together enough to want to go shopping. Instead, I drove to Target to pick up my prescriptions. I walked in with a throbbing face. I intended to go straight to the pharmacy, but was not thinking super clearly and found myself standing in front of the blackberries, noticing, with an uncharacteristic sense of dismay, that there was not a single unblemished carton. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I felt ridiculous for crying over fruit, but was unwilling to admit to myself that it was not the berries I was upset about. Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry, I repeated to myself silently as I walked up to the pharmacy. I prayed that I would not see anyone I know. There was drama over whether or not one of my medications was in stock. Just a few days ago, I was bragging to everyone at my church about how I felt "normal" or "fine" or even "good." And then there I was just a few hours ago, with my surgeon promising me that I will be okay in the end but informing me that I am not doing so well at the moment and a pharmacist scouring the pharmacy for an antibiotic I had never heard of and my face feeling like someone else's pinned to my skull.

     I felt so defeated.

     I debated cancelling hanging out with my sister and her friend in the coffee shop, but then I thought, This day is redeemable, and I am okay. So now I am surrounded by rich aromas and warm drinks and people engrossed in their e-mail inboxes and with their heads buried in novels, and I am relieved that the numbing agent has completely worn off and my face feels like mine again. When I went to my first post-op appointment last week, I told my dad that my surgeon was going to have to either pull out my nose splints or prescribe me an antipsychotic. I simply cannot cope with my face feeling foreign.

Here is a picture of a tired Dante to make this post a little more cheerful!
      I would not necessarily call today a bad day, but I do feel quite exhausted. Exhausted of choosing between medical benefits and side effects, of bad news, of being a hot mess, of always feeling like there is something I should have done differently, of blaming myself for every medical outcome. I apologized to my surgeon several times for making the appointment so difficult, for becoming so pale and clammy, for alarming him, for not knowing to contact him about my post-op symptoms sooner, for barely being able to stand the exam, for the complications. As I walked out of the clinic he told me, "Rachel, you don't need to apologize. It's my job to get you better." He is usually sarcastic and funny, but today he was serious.

     I am grateful for perceptive doctors, for coffee shops, for my sister and her friend, for car rides with the windows down even in 30 degree weather, and for cheerful pharmacists. Tomorrow is a new day, hopefully one with less blood and less probing and less defeat.

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