Life with T-Rex arms.
I’m almost 2 weeks post sternotomy and I’m not going to lie, this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. It’s a mental battle as much as a physical one. In some ways the mental part is harder, but I think that’s almost always the case. The big incision doesn’t really hurt at all- it doesn’t really have any feelings to it, kind of like an hour or two after having novacaine at the dentist. The incision where the three tubes were is worse and it looks all the world like you went to Spirit Halloween and bought a bargain priced “scar” kit, along with some really gnarly, really fake looking stitches. Oh, and it’s crooked. It’s fucking crooked!
Learning to do everything without lifting your arms above shoulder height or not putting any weight on your arms at all is difficult. I keep picturing those 80’s era Barbie’s with the bent plastic arms. I can’t push, pull, lift, reach behind me (and all that entails) or reach over my head.
I’ve tried sleeping in bed a few times but I can only get comfortable on my back and I’m a tried and true side sleeper. Once I got permission to try sleeping on my side I tried it and…royally messed up my back. Turns out back muscle spasms are a hundred times worse than having your breastbone sawed open. Luckily, we have a reclining sofa and muscle relaxants.
Everything I do these days has to be thought out. Not only because I can’t lift or move much but because I get tired so easily. In general, I can do things in about 10 minute increments. Making a smoothie involves so many trips back and forth across the kitchen from the refrigerator to where the blender lives. Usually, I would just pile all my ingredients on the container of greens and make one trip across the kitchen. Now, it’s a trip for the greens, a trip for the blueberries, a trip for the oat milk, etc. and then reverse that to put it all away. Right after surgery its was questionable even just getting the freezer open.
Today I had to fill the water tank on the espresso machine. Luckily, I have strong calves and can get the height needed to get behind the machine by standing on my tiptoes and not lifting my arms too high.
At my last OT appointment before checking out of the hospital I was told I don’t have to just wear button up shirts, I just have to take off my shirt “like a teenage boy” by grabbing it at the neck and dragging it over my head. It’s the equivalent of pulling socks off by the toe. But you know what teenage boys don’t have? Boobs. And a couple of big incisions. You can try to pull your shirt off while disregarding the integrity of the fabric, but it’s going to get caught under your boob.
Healing is boring and depressing. I’m all for taking time and sitting around doing nothing, but when it literally takes all your energy to do ten minutes of pacing up and down the hallway once an hour, it’s hard. I sewed a button on my husband’s pants yesterday. I felt very accomplished. I find myself just standing on the back step, looking out at the garden and thinking about all the projects I wanted/needed to do this year, hoping I’ll be able to get to them next year.
I have my first follow up visit on Monday with my surgeon and my oncologist. I had to make them do the oncology visit as a Zoom call. There’s just no way I can do two appointments at two different hospitals on the same day. I feel like I am improving exponentially everyday, but that just seems like a lot. OT even told me to shower the night before a doctor’s visit so I don’t try and wear myself out. (Also, I am looking forward to being able to bathe myself again.) On Monday we will discuss pathology. I’m trying not to think about it too much. The surgeon felt like he got all of it, but so far I don’t feel like I’ve ever expected good news and gotten it.
Maybe that’s pessimistic. I still have never “felt” like I had cancer other than having my ass kicked by treatment(s). But I’ve gone, in the beginning, from “It’s just benign, these are almost never cancer,” to it’s an extremely rare form that no one ever gets. And then chemo before surgery to “surgery probably isn’t an option,” to “surgery, but right now.” I know, it kind of sounds like all good things and cancer is never an exact science, but I’m learning that anytime I hear “probably” it probably isn’t.