I think I’ve updated the last of my doctors as of last week, when I was surprised to see I had a dentist appointment. There would of course be the one question I dreaded, the one they always ask when they update your medical records: Did you have any major illnesses or surgeries since your last visit? Hoo, boy. Did I ever.
So I told the dental hygienist, who then told the dentist before the obligatory exam. I had to go through this conversation with my gynecologist and asthma doctor as well. It all followed a similar pattern: The brief moment to digest this rather big piece of news, the expression of concern, the “Well, thank God you’re alright” or similar exclamations, the questions. Are you alright now? How long did it take you to recover? Is the tumor all gone or do you have to follow up with anything? To that question I say yes, but they left a bit in the skull and I’ll need an MRI in September which will determine if I need radiation therapy. It has progressively become a tiresome subject for me but I do appreciate their concern. But dangit, I’m okay now! (Aren’t I?)
I have one more milestone to reach, and that is to play with a full band again. I’ll be accomplishing this at the Christian church that hires me to play bass once a month. I think it should be fine, but I’m a little concerned about how I’ll endure the long hours of rehearsal. It could be an issue, as I became dizzy and fell down last week during an evening walk, something that has never happened to me before. My speech therapist told me it was because I hadn’t taken enough breaks from my events- my brain isn’t used to such exhausting activity now and needed some serious recovery time after the picnic, the presentation and the 80 people touring my office space. So, I try to take breaks more often. But it’s hard when you’re in the flow and you don’t want to stop what you’re doing just because your Broca’s area wants to nap.
C’est la vie. On with the show.
April 6: Random Acts of Destiny (RAD)
“Raquel?” A low voice, unsure. It sounded vaguely familiar. Then he told me who he was.
“Hey! Did you call me because of all the hoopla on my Facebook?” I started to ask. But then I remembered he hadn’t been on Facebook for the last five years. Why was he calling me? And why on the hospital phone?
But first a little background on this person. He was one of the many people we’d known for a gazillion years in the local music scene and we had become very good friends with him and his now ex-wife. We had lost touch for a while, and during that time she had gotten him a job where she worked as a nurse, which just happened to be the same hospital where I was now waiting for surgery. Turns out he was in the department that prepared the operating room for upcoming operations, and had come across my case that afternoon.
“I wanted to know if it was the same person I knew,”he explained. “I couldn’t believe it was you! Actually, I didn’t want to believe it was you.” He asked if it was ok to visit that evening when he got off work and I said sure – I would have slept off the meds by then and expected to be alert enough for conversation.
This wasn’t the only weird coincidence so far. I had also experienced different versions of my name – for some reason there were nurses and nurse assistants or their nieces names Rochelle, Rachel or Raquel. It wouldn’t have been so strange if they had occurred with some major time in between, but all in 2 days? This was oddly coincidental. But it was surely another good sign, or at least it appealed to that superstitious side of me that believed in such things.
He visited about 7:30 pm and joined my husband, who was probably more nervous and frightened than I was. I think it was my meds that kept me in a cavalier mood while preventing my brain from exploding. Meanwhile, our friend told us not to worry as he would personally choose the team that would assemble the operating room equipment, picking over the individuals that were just there to collect their paychecks and didn’t care about how well they did their job. He smiled when we told him who my neurosurgeon would be, and nodded with approval.
“Don’t worry. You’re in good hands. She’s pretty legend around here. You’ll be fine!”
I had yet to really think about what I was going to go through. At the moment, I was just happy that I successfully ordered my dinner. Tomorrow’s surgery was tomorrow – I’m going to enjoy this chicken pot pie now, damnit!
After our friend left, we amused ourselves for the rest of the evening watching some animated shorts on his Kindle. One was a brilliant piece from France involving a master thief, a two-timing cat, and a female police officer who was widowed and a single mother. We started to watch a second one that looked just as good but I was too tired at that point. But I knew that once I fell asleep, the surgery would be imminent. Fear finally peeked its head out of the room where I had imprisoned it.
“Ok. I’m officially freaking out,” I announced.
“You should take something to help you with anxiety,” my husband insisted. I said I would when someone checked on me again. A nurse came in as if on cue and I told her I needed something to calm me down before my surgery tomorrow. “Of course,” she said with a patronizing wink. “I’ll be right back.”
Satisfied that I’d soon be sleeping my fears away, my husband left and the nurse returned shortly after. She asked if I wanted Xanax or melatonin, which I’d never had before. I decided to try something new and chose melatonin, the more natural sleep aid. It helped me briefly. Not even two hours after I fell asleep, I woke up alert and crazy anxious to the sound of loud voices coming from my roommate’s TV.
She was there for symptoms that suggested multiple sclerosis and I felt bad that I hadn’t made any effort to talk to her yet. Of course it wasn’t possible in my state – I had a hard enough time talking to family members, and I was getting more distracted by my roommate’s guests whenever I tried to have a conversation. I kept having to start over. Eventually my mother had told me it’s ok to just stop talking for a while. She had such a look of quiet, sad concern on her face when she spoke. Is this how people treat you when you’re dying? I wondered. Maybe this is how it’s going to be when I’m sick and feeble, and people are helping me to the bathroom and humoring me and talking quietly within earshot as if I can’t hear them.
I don’t like this, I thought. In fact, I hated being helpless and bedridden. It really, really SUCKS. I consciously decided that this would end soon, and started visualizing a positive outcome. I turned on “King of the Hill” hoping to drown out the other TV, but when I started seeing two Bobbys I turned it off. I had never had double vision and wondered if it was another symptom associated with my tumor. But it was probably the melatonin – Xanax had never had that effect on me, so I didn’t mention it to anyone.
I worried for my husband, and knew it was going to be another sleepless night for him. and thought about all the people that were praying for me, and my poor mom who had to deal with me and my older brother who was also having surgery that month on his pancreas. I asked my husband to read me the list of “20 Things to Expect After Brain Surgery” again before he left – possibly the closest thing to a bedtime story he’d ever done. Earlier that day, he had taken me to the pediatric floor with the garden and Dr. Seuss themed play area, where he had taken his father years before. I lay in the dark, Judge Judy and Hank Hill battling for my attention, and remembered sitting quietly for a time on a bench enjoying the green stillness. I thought of the warm sanctuary of his arm around me as I rested on his shoulder, and how comforted I was by his nearness.
Then we had gotten up to face the rest of the long day. As we entered the elevator, we spoke the wordless language that exists between married people of over 20 years – a certain gentle squeeze of the hand, meant to convey reassurance in the midst of fear and uncertainty.