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Monday, April 18, 2011

Recovery of the Self - Surgery Adventure Part 6

It is somewhere between my 3rd and 6th attempt at writing this part on recovery. I've gone through so many physical and mental states that it's hard to write about it in a precise and concise way. I've decided to split it in two parts: Recovery of the Self, and Recovery of the Entourage. The reasoning behind it? Surgery does not only affect the patient but everyone around.

This photo was taken on South Beach, Miami FL on Feb 4 2011. Who would've guessed that exactly a month later, I'd be on an operation table? Another way to look at it is who knows how awesome life will be in a month in comparison to today? :)
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Recovery of the Self
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The team at the hospital had been very nice to me and my stay at the TGH was very pleasant in comparison with what it could have been. However, I was so happy to leave on March 8th. To be honest, I shared my mom's slight anxiousness about it being possibly too soon for me to go, but there was no way I would pass up the opportunity of leaving though. Maybe I have a low tolerance for pain, but the needles twice a day were starting to drain every ounce of my courage.

The ride home was short, slow and full of bumps that I had never noticed in Toronto's streets before. My upper body was very sensitive. On arriving at my uncle's place, I felt at home yet not quite. As I had dreaded, normal homes are not suited for post-surgery patients. The comfy couch was too deep and not hard enough for me to rest my back. Most chairs were the same. I mostly sat upright with no back support. Even that was uncomfortable. It was like having torticollis from the neck down to my chest. So stiff. It was worse when I hadn't had pain killers in a few hours. I couldn't lift my arms above my shoulders, let alone carry anything with any significant weight. I could only go up and down a flight of stairs once a day. I needed help to lie down and get up. I could do it myself but with much more pain. I also had to hug something when getting up, pressing it against my suture. For about a week since the surgery, I couldn't shower without help.

Every meal was accompanied with about 5 pills. They made me nauseous. There were more pills in between the meals too. I needed narcotics every 4 hours. Alarms that I'd set on my phone as reminders seemed to go off all day. I suppose they did. For the first few days at home, all I did was sleep, eat and pop pills. My family was hugely supportive. They did everything they could to make it easier for me. Everything. But, as expected, I was still in pain and nauseous.

Given my physical state, even the super amount of love and care could not spare me from some mental turmoil. I felt frustrated because I couldn't do anything and I wasn't comfortable, no matter what I was doing or what position I was in. I felt guilty for causing so many people to go out of their way to tend to my needs. I was lonely (that I'm not sure why). I was told what to do/not to do on a regular basis. I felt like I had no decision-making rights. It felt like being treated as an incapacitated individual, or a kid. I absolutely hate it when people decide for me when I feel I can do so myself. I suppose at that moment, it bothered me more as my physical limitations already toyed with my morale. Constantly being around people while being so uncomfortable in my own skin also gave me an urge to get away. The noise was irritating me. In fact, almost everything started to irritate me. The first stages of recovery are painful and should be private. Being in a crowded place made it overwhelming, despite all the love and support. I broke down and cried that I wanted to go home.

Upon moving to my apartment, I immediately was at least 10 times happier. As a result, my body seemed to feel better too. I was still in a lot of pain and took as many narcotics per day as Dr. House does in an episode but immediately, things were getting better. The quieter environment helped tremendously. Soon, my whole family was here. I was getting better each day and having mom, dad and my brother here was comforting. We have always been quite the funny bunch and the house was filled with jokes and laughter. I started walking. Small distances. Then longer and longer. At first I got tired/out of breath easily but I craved for a speedy recovery. I didn't force myself, but I believe my will to get back to normal couldn't have hurt the progress.

Now 5 weeks since surgery, I can walk almost normally (not as fast as I used to), I can go up and down the stairs without much trouble, I can get stuff from overhead cupboards, and carry a bit of groceries. Things are looking better. My suture is pretty much healed now. It doesn't feel like my bones are exploding anymore when I cough/sneeze/have the hiccups. I can sit on the couch or sleep comfortably. I can sing (very important!) and I can lie on my stomach again! The latter used to feel like something really heavy inside my body was threatening to break my bones open. In a nutshell, I'm ready to start living again.

In the mental department, there have been ups and downs. Mostly ups. But sometimes I missed my friends. I wondered whether my surgery will affect my relationships with certain people. There were times when people wanted to visit and I didn't feel like seeing anyone. Many a time I've felt marginalized in a way. It reminded me of my late friend Sonia, who was often sick. I never could imagine how hard it must have been for her, socially. On the flip side, a handful of my closest friends squeezed in some time in their busy schedule to visit or to check in on me every so often. I was truly touched when my team at work sent a gift with flowers and a card signed by everyone. Even through the dark days, I felt lucky to have such a strong support system around me consisting of my precious family, relatives, friends and colleagues.

Fortunately, I didn't have much time to get bored. I started working on a personal project, I caught up a lot on readings, I wrote some posts… Then more issues came along pretty quickly (but they're irrelevant to the story so let's leave it at that). In fact, the past few weeks had been so busy that I ended up at the hospital again last weekend with a ridiculous heart rate and some chest pain. Yes they couldn't find my vein again. Twice. After hours of waiting and more blood work, they discharged me. The diagnosis was heart inflammation, common in post-surgery patients. I got another cocktail of pills to take, including 650mg of aspirin every 6h. I got a lecture from my parents on being more cautious about my fragile health. But I seriously don't think I overdid.

The good thing is, while I was having trouble getting a follow-up appointment with a cardiologist before, the fact that I ended up in ER with high heart rate landed me an appointment within the week! So on Friday, the cardiologists examined me and said that I have been doing very well. Everything is normal. I stopped the medication and can't wait to get my life back. The older of the two cardiologists said "it's looking good. You can take another month or so to rest…" and I kinda cut her mid-sentence saying "but I wanna go to work!" to which she replied "Oh, if you wanna go then sure. You can go after the six weeks. Just don't strain yourself too much."

Victory. I go back to work in a week! Hello social life, income, and sanity. I really do feel like I'm going insane the longer I stay home. More on that in Surgery Adventure Part 7. In two weeks or so I will meet the mighty man who opened up my chest to patch my heart, then sowed it shut. I have another appointment with the cardiologist in August. I'm sure there will be nothing but good news. I do not believe in worrying. At least not in these situations.

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