Sunday, April 13, 2008


As the semester is winding to a close (only two weeks of classes on the wall, two weeks of classes, take one down pass it--oh never mind), I am thinking a lot about my emergency surgery last spring. The sunlight is the same. The azaleas are the same. The dogwoods are the same. The feeling of almost being through the semester is the same. The feeling of trying to go back to the pool after time away is the same (well, similar). The sense of summer activities starting up around town is the same.

I consulted last year's calendar, and in so doing, found physical evidence of the pre-surgery me and the post-surgery me. The pre-surgery me made lots of plans, and wrote them all down in the book to keep track of them and make sure nothing fell by the wayside. The post-surgery me came at those plans with a heavy pencil and crossed things out--lunches for retiring colleagues, meetings, parties, concerts. In their place are physical therapy appointments, appointments with the infectious disease doctor, meetings with the Home Health nurse who would teach me how to use my PICC line and take blood samples from time to time. According to my calendar, I got my arthrogram done on Thursday, April 19, during the second-to-last week of classes. The weekend of pain was 20-21 April. My emergency surgery was 27 April, the last day of classes. Then summer vacation began, in a very narcotically foggy way. In the week of May 7, I recorded nine separate medical appointments, often two or three different ones on the same day.

Since my life is so structured by the academic calendar, I feel these dates less by the regular calendar and more by the academic calendar. Perhaps in some ways this is like marking holidays according to the phases of the moon, where there are other markers than a simple datebook to tell you where you are. I remember that my arthrogram hapened the week after I was in Ann Arbor for a conference. While I was there, I talked to several old friends about my shoulder, my not being able to swim, my not knowing what was up. I talked about not wanting to go the surgical route, because of all the complications I could imagine, including causing other problems in the shoulder. That week of school I had a bunch of meetings, trying to wrap up the business of the semester. I was scheduled for the MRI for Monday, but there was some scheduling snafu, and it was rescheduled for Thursday. (Memo to self: It is not productive to wonder whether if I had had the arthrogram done on Monday I would still have gotten an infection....)

I had the MRI/arthrogram done on a Thursday morning. I still remember watching the nurses prepare the needles and contrast solution according to "sanitary procedure." I still remember lying on the table under the camera with the enormous spinal needle in shoulder joint, while the radiologist kept jamming it around in there and then consulting a monitor to see whether now it was positioned properly. I remember feeling painfully vulnerable and violated. I remember walking out of the hospital in tears and shaken into a beautifully warm and breezy day. The whole scene is as clear as if it happened earlier this morning. This coming Thursday, 17 April, is the same day on the academic calendar, so it is my anniversary of the arthrogram.

The feeling of warm and breezy is the same. The smells of plants and pollen and flowering trees and rain-dampened dirt are the same. The sun rises in the same place and at 10:00 this Friday it will all feel very much the way it did on the day I left my orthopedist's office, frustrated that there was no definitive information from that MRI/arthrogram and very sore because (I thought) had had manipulated my arm and shoulder too much, given how sore I was after that long encounter with the gigantic needle. And then as the sun rises higher in the sky, it will look the way it did when I realized the pain was getting worse, and at high noon it will look very much like it did when my orthopedist's nurse, who I had called because I was worried about this pain, suggested that I take an Advil, as if I might not have tried that, say, before I called.

At night now, it still cools off, but we know there is something about even a night chill that feels like summer is on its way with its nights that offer no relief from the heat. And on this Friday night, I will remember finally getting some pain pills and taking them and feeling relief from the unbearable pain whose source I did not understand but now know was caused by a bacterial colony having a big party in my shoulder. I will remember that relief, and then I will remember the violent and uncontrollable nausea that the pills also brought during the non-time of the middle of the night, so that I was vomiting my guts up while trying desperately not to move my shoulder, where the pain had become indescribable and (since I could keep nothing down including pills), uncontainable.

Then perhaps this Saturday will be gorgeously warm, as it was when finally the PP loaded my pajama-clad and hopelessly pathetic self into the car, along with my mini trash can for puking, and took me to see that same orthopedist, who (thanks be) gave me a shot of antibiotics along with different pain drugs, this time combined with anti-nausea meds.

Friday, 25 April is the day I will honor the anniversary of my surgery, scheduled in a big hurry for the same day after an appointment with a different orthopedist--who became my shoulder surgeon--discovered evidence of infection in the joint. When I was lying in my hospital bed, all I could see was a silent view of waving trees and sky, and I thanked those trees and sky for their company. As I write this, the trees are leafing out as fast as they can, so they will look as lush and wonderful as they did last spring.

So these anniversaries are almost upon me. I will be too embarrassed to mention them to most people, because what I do not need now is to be told that I am being overdramatic. Since I have resumed the making of plans in advance, I will have other things to do on these days besides remember. I have a class and two thesis defenses scheduled on Thursday, and that evening I plan to go to a concert, a performance by the child of dear friends. (His spring concert last year was crossed out.) On Friday I visit my massage therapist. Next Friday in my calendar reads "Last day of classes," written in the same scrawling hand that noted the same fact in last year's calendar. I am back to making plans, though I do so now in pencil.

But in and among those plans, I need to decide how to mark these anniversaries.

1 comment:

estaminet said...

You are noway nohow being overly dramatic in marking these anniversaries. Looking back on a period of pain and fear in your life, mourning it (what are the stages of grief? Let's all say them together now: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, pajamas, chocolate, and acceptance), and celebrating the changes that followed...? Nothing "overly" in that at all. Of such stuff is drama made. Breathe deeply, look at those purty leaf outlines against the sky, hug PP, love on the cats, love on yourself. As I do!