18. THE THINGS WE THINK WE KNOW...OR PULLING A CHARLIE BROWN
I’ve been thinking we’re pretty good at this cancer thing. I mean, it’s not something you ever want to have to get good at, but the skills we’ve developed are, if not impressive, then highly useful for this tumor ballet we plan to exit early.
I’m now an expert at how to navigate the UCLA Medical Center parking structure, know where the secret great spots are, and only look with pity, not anger, at the folks who turn left when they should turn right.
I know being super nice to the nurses is not only the decent thing to do, but also might get you the private recovery room and free cup of “coffee” from the “employees only” snack bar.
And I know that when it comes to her body, Stephanie is the expert… except when she’s not.
Case in point: This morning we left for the “fat grafting” portion of our breast reconstruction journey. They harvest fat cells from her body, spin them, then inject them into the tumor site to help healing before we put the new, permanent implants in place. Easy right? The least tough thing we’re gonna have to do.
So, six o’clock alarm, coffee, pilot car using WAZE but I don’t really need to use WAZE because I’ve done the trip hundreds of times already, check in at reception, find a seat in the waiting area with an outlet, log on to free WiFi, then into the hospital room for a quick send off, Dad jokes for the nurses, then back to the waiting room for emails and whatnot, walk out to get hair cut because Dear God why waste two whole hours screwing around on the interwebs, get another coffee and some script notes over the phone at a Starbucks, then back in time to sit with her while the post-op protocols happen.
Could do it in my sleep.
Post-op, Steph’s doing great. Kind of out of it, but that' happens. The nurse asks for her pain level. She’s says it’s fine. She asks Stephanie if she wants any drugs. She says she’s okay…
And a little voice in my head went - hang on, we’ve done this before.
There is pain coming her way, and even though she’s a tough kitten, there’s no telling how bad it’ll be until the good anesthesia wears off, and you’re sitting there, unmedicated, nerves raw and unprotected, praying for death.
I gently suggest she take something. Fine, says Steph, with a help of side-eye for me. The nurse offers Oxy, but Steph says maybe some Tylenol instead.
And I just let this happen. Because my wife knows her body, except when she doesn’t. And I forgot that after coming out of surgery, she doesn’t.
Halfway home it hits. Like the worst suntan you’ve even had on your legs, she tells me, with someone jamming a knife into it at random intervals. I think we might have some extra pain killers at home, but that’s a moot point because traffic is 100% tourists and we’re getting nowhere fast.
She’s crying, and I’m trying to figure out if I have to detour to the first ER I can find, or white knuckle this thing another four point six miles - thanks WAZE - through tourist buses and assholes in BMWs.
And then we stop for salad. Why, you ask? Well she wanted one, and had ordered it while still kind of out of it, so we were pulling over. “How’s your day going?”the nice lady at the counter asks, and I’m thinking fuck your tip=harvesting politeness, woman, I got woman on death’s door outside, and Dear God you better have the extra dressing!
Finally home, ice packs, muscle relaxants because that’’s all we got good-drug wise, then calls to the hospital. I explain to a very nice nurse that my wife had some kind of surgery, and as I stammer to remember the name of the procedure, the love of my life informs me from her prone position on the floor that “IT WAS A FUCKING FAT GRAFT!!!”
The nurse is shocked they didn’t give us a prescription for the pain. “What’s her discomfort level now, scale of 1 to 10.”
I tell the nurse a 9.5. She asks if I’m joking. I look at my wife, about to chew the glass edge off our coffee table, and assure her that I am not.
A prescription is called in, and I escape to the pharmacy, waiting for the hospital’s email to show up and the blessed Oxy to materialize. And after four laps around the Albersons, the get the ‘script in their system, and we are golden.
Or are we?
“For Stephanie,” the nice Pharmacy lady confirms. “Yup, now let’s see if I have this in stock.” I quickly do the math on my survival rate should I happen to come home empty handed. (She’s addled, but a wounded animal is the most dangerous.) Thankfully, well, this is America, and there’s Oxy aplenty.
Back home, and minutes after taking just half a pill, her pain is mostly gone. (Seriously, Oxytocin's is insanely good when you are in pain.) My wife is back. Drugged out, lethargic, but back.
“Happy Anniversary” she reminds me wryly. Yup. Eight years, and three tumors.
She falls out, and I fade as well.
I thought I had a handle on this whole thing, making mostly right decisions - except the nurses’ coffee of course - but I was wrong.
And that’s a lesson cancer will teach you, over and over. You don’t know jack about shit all.
It’s like having sex with a gorilla - you don’t stop when you get tired, you stop when the gorilla gets tired.