Friday, February 4, 2011

Groundhog Day

So my surgery was February 1 - technically a day before Groundhog Day, but that is not how it felt. As we woke at 4:30 am to head for Georgetown Hospital everything about it felt the same as the previous April when I prepared for the double mastectomy. Everything. It WAS Groundhog Day. The doctors were the same. The black Sharpie markers outlining the incisions were the same. The check-in procedure was the same (though the overly zealous nurse at the registration desk told me I didn't have a living will and made me walk through those uplifting 'end of life' choices and then beg two witnesses in a very depressing waiting room to sign the legal waivers even though I had filled one of those out the year before as well.) I hadn't wore lipstick (or gloss) as I did to my mastectomy. (Sorry, Geralyn.) Because they said no make-up and this time I complied. I took off my wedding ring and put them in a plastic ziploc that looked like it was for biohazard waste but whatever - it did the trick. The nurse was worried that my heart rate was low (pulse of 35) and while I may pretend to be a world class athlete, it would take a lot of Pilates to get that low. My blood pressure was also that of a reptile and my designated driver (Greg) looked a little pale and woozy in his corner seat. He was in the same seat as when we arrived for pre-op in April. This time though he seems to have caught Luke's stomach virus from the weekend and kept excusing himself to throw-up in the bathroom. I sent him home and called my mom. She didn't get there before the surgery.

My famously confident surgeon Dr. Spear came in wearing a dapper suit and European tie and began marking me up for surgery. Catherine, the pretty blond resident, I am told is going to be my advocate once I am out cold to make sure that he doesn't give me the 'Heidi Montag.' It seems she may have stepped out for a minute because the next day Dr. Spear called me at home to see how I liked his handiwork. I told him that I had been too scared to look and hadn't opened the compression bra. He said, "I'll stay on the line while you look." So I unzipped my sports bra and low and behold, I looked like Barbie. I knew Catherine wouldn't be able to stand up to him, but maybe I am secretly glad. Dr. Spear was very proud and I must say he is a magician. Even the scars are discreet.

And the only reason I share all of this (afterall, what haven't I shared with you) is that I think it is really important to understand the strides that have been made in making women feel whole again - even bionic - after breast cancer tries to steal our femininity. The procedures have improved so much in the last few years. And despite the maligning of silicone implants, there is a reason everyone in Hollywood trades up. They give you your confidence back and that, dear reader, is no small thing for a breast cancer patient. You have to do whatever you can to feel pretty again. So if you feel like getting the 'Heidi Montag,' I say go for it. Fight back. Think twice before getting the tram flap surgery or any of the "take fat from one area and make a boob out of it". It sounds like a two-fer, lipo plus breast augmentation but from what I hear it is just an unnecessarily hard surgery on your body. And the mastectomy is hard enough.

The reason for this surgery is that at the time of the mastectomy they put in expanders (or placeholders) to keep the skin stretched while I did radiation. They have to let the radiated skin settle down (it tightens and contracts). So six months later they normally advise you to get your exchange surgery to give everything a chance to heal. At that time you can decide between saline and silicone implants. There is a bit of renewed controversy over silicone (will post the latest article) but the statistics seem low and I am afraid everything in this life carries with it a degree of risk.

So Greg left before I went into surgery - it was not sympathetic labor. It was the flu. I recognized the symptoms because the night before when I came home from work there was a stench in the hallway outside Luke's room where he had thrown up. There were the tell-tale paper towels and box of wipies in the hall. And the girls, with an eye toward irony, had left a pink Susan G. Komen candle burning in the hallway to get rid of the smell.

As I came to from the anesthesia all I remember was the nurse asking me how my husband was doing. "How did I know?" And might I add, at that point, "Do I really care?" My mom sat with me as the nurse explained to me once again about the drains - how to measure them in the little cc cups. Groundhog Day.

We got home and the anesthesia and adrenalin gave me a lift. I felt that unnatural high after you give birth. I brought Greg some tea in bed. I came crashing down the next day and slept and slept. The pain killers made me nauseous. I don't recommend using Percocet. They make you woozy and the pain is not so serious that you need them. Vicodan was plenty. But I've already weaned myself off that because it was making me loopy.

I knew surgery was going to go well because when I looked at my horoscope when I got home it said: February 1: "You benefit from the belief that good luck is coming to you. So continue to look for signs, such as a cricket on the hearth, a penny on the ground or a ladybug that lands on your shoulder." OK so that was for Aries, not Taurus, but my birthday is on the cusp and I've always reserved the option of being able to choose from whichever I thought was most apt.

The days at home have been boring. My dreams of getting the house organized or watching lots of movies never materialized. Instead I did what I would normally do at work. I flipped between 3 cable stations and the networks to see who had anything new from Egypt. I e-mailed friends who were on the air with questions to ask at the White House press briefing. I couldn't let go. And then we got news that our friends and colleagues Greg Palkot and Olaf Wiig were nearly lynched by a mob in Egypt. Ibrahim had escaped. Elizabeth Arrott's children (VOA) had had to fend off rioters keeping them out of their first floor home in Cairo until their father was able to ferry them back to Moscow to safety. The news has gotten too sad. Too repetitive so here I sit watching Shrek with Luke. Greg is upstairs with the Geek Squad. Annalise spent most of yesterday trying to set up a FaceBook page for him. Tonight I got a message "Jennifer Griffin is now friends with Greg Myre." Well, maybe on the internet. For now we are all going a bit stir crazy and cabin fever is setting in.