They warn you when they send you home it will be hard, especially the first few weeks. They warn you about depression. It seems to be part of the heart surgery package and hits pretty much everyone to some degree. Some of us worse than others. The emotional healing component is a wild card. Assuming that physical healing proceeds without incident, there’s no predictable pattern — or much available help — for handling feeling.
There’s a sense of loss, that “something is missing,” though you don’t know exactly what it is. A sense of dis-empowerment, that you’ve lost your dignity, a part of your self-hood. There’s a sense of having been raped, assaulted, beaten down.
Some feelings result from the very real physical assault of all that surgery. Your body has been invaded, redesigned, twisted, opened, broken and put back together. You may not have been conscious when it was happening, but your body remembers even if your brain can’t recall details.
Waking up after the surgery, I knew something was missing, some part of me was gone and I was afraid to awaken until I found the lost piece. Eventually I bowed to the inevitable and woke up, but becoming conscious was accompanied by a profound sense of loss. I’m not who I was. I know I am — at least technically — better, but it’s hard to imagine ever feeling whole again.
Even after breast cancer and having both breasts removed, the sense of loss was nothing like this. There was pain, confusion, fear … but surprisingly little sense of mutilation.
The complexity of my feelings combines with a sometimes overwhelming physical misery. It makes me wonder why I went through all of this. To what purpose? I know the correct answers to these questions, but as the days wear on and evening approaches, it feels as if I am wearing a too-tight iron brassière. I can feel the hard metal straps cutting into my shoulders and my chest feels crushed. It’s hard to breathe, hard to even think.
I whimper and wrap myself in a heating pad, trying to soothe cramping muscles and twisted bones.
All systems are messed up. Digestion, breathing, skeleton … everything feels off. Sleeping is difficult. Finding a position that doesn’t hurt is a major challenge. I have a headache much of the time. The headache isn’t so bad … it’s just the “insult to injury” part of the process.
I have a little mantra I keep repeating to myself. “I can do it,” I say. “I CAN do it. I can do it. I can.” Whatever it is, I do it.
I can shower on my own. Thanks to one wonderful friend, I can do my bathroom stuff and actually get up and down from the toilet without the humiliation of needing help. I can do small things. Make myself a sandwich, toast an English muffin. Read a bit, Write a bit too. My back took a beating. Whatever they did to me in the operating room, I came out of there with new problems in new places. Oh well. I guess it will heal. Eventually.
My other mantra: “It will get better. It will be better. I will be better. I will be better. The future is worth living.” I mean it. But it hurts.
If it were not for friends and especially for Garry who bears the brunt of both my physical inadequacies and my emotional messiness, I’m not sure I would be able to go on. I know this is taking a lot out of him and it adds just one more layer to that invasive sense of helplessness.
It will be better. I can do it. We can do it together.
I just hope it’s worth it.