Post Op–Coming Back Around

A surgeon once told me, “The only minor surgery is one that someone else has.” I could not agree more.

Last summer my appendix ruptured. Apparently it was let go too long and I developed gangrene in my abdominal cavity. The surgeon said it was one of the worst cases he had ever seen. The resident was extremely excited about how disgusting everything in there was. The recovery, despite well-meaning folks telling me I’d be up and at ’em forthwith, took months.

First, there was a drain tube coming out of my belly. The was tape, something like you’d see sending bubbles into a fish tank and something else that looked like a transparent, soft, plastic grenade that had to been emptied and then compressed to create suction. How often this happened really depended on the amount of fluid evacuating from my body. It was a do-it-yourself operation, the drain tube thing.

Secondly, the pain pills made me hallucinate. This might sound kind of cool, if, like me you were (or are) a naughty person who used to enjoy hallucinating…but it wasn’t cool, it was freaky and interrupted any sort of restful sleep I may have gotten during the times when the pain had pharmaceutically abated.

Third, when, after 2 weeks the drain tube was removed, I was joyous! Alas, I was also firmly warned that the severity of the rupture and infection made me a prime candidate for an abdominal abscess. It felt like they were telling me that I would have one and that I should get used to the idea of seeing the ER and SICU one more time. At a minimum. This was right and true, and so we come to

Fourth, the abscess. Oh fun times. Just when I was ready to party down, having lost that first tube, my husband had to drive me to the hospital, avoiding any bumps he could–not an easy task in Norfolk, Virginia–because bumps=bad when you have a huge mass of jiggling liquid and pus collecting inside of you. Lucky me, this tube came out of my right butt cheek and yes, I had still had to do the measuring and emptying myself. By the time this came out, we were at week number five.

Fifth, the well wishers, the lovely friends who came and told me how great I looked and how well I was healing from my minor surgery! My upbringing would not allow me to simply say, “I feel like hell, can barely move and want a nap now.” So, like an idiot, I would sit and chat until they felt that they could leave. Once, my entire family came and sat in the room in an effort to create enough discomfort that the visitor would take the hint. Alas, no. I crashed and burned pretty hard after that one.

Now it is a year later, almost, and I just had another surgery to remove some cysts my body grew as a result of that gangrenous appendix. My left ovary and fallopian tube were consumed by the cysts and so, I lost those, too. I think it is finally over.

All of this by way of saying, that surgeon was right, there is no minor surgery unless someone else had it.

When my husband had something similar happen to him, people didn’t come by. I took care of him, cooked nourishing foods, changed the tv station or turned it off or on as he wished, diffused healing oils, gave him his medication, clean blankets and pillow cases and clothes and warm socks. He slept where and when he wanted and I honestly don’t think he lacked for anything.

I did not receive that same care. I suspect that women often don’t. My most recent surgery was on a Friday afternoon. Sunday around 6pm I realize that if I didn’t cook supper, I wasn’t going to eat and I was hungry. So I cooked supper. When I think about this it makes me angry, but mostly I feel it in my heart–the lack of care, the lack of loving kindness, the absolute lack of anything except expectation that I move on from my little surgery and get back with it and I sincerely doubt that I am alone in this experience.

Women experience longer ER wait times, and our pain is not taken as seriously. While the linked articles are about doctors and emergency rooms, the same is true at home, of our husbands and children. And I’m not leaving out same-sex couples for any reason other than I suspect that *women* take their female partner’s pain and illness seriously and offer better post-surgical care than male partners.

So I just returned to this post after following a google rabbit trail. Turns out that the few articles out there for how to care for one’s wife post-op are about cosmetic surgery (would he love me more if I had breast implants put in, rather than a huge, cystic mass taken out?) and then it’s mostly ‘why doesn’t my husband care for me when I’m ill?’. There are tons of articles and blogs about how to care for one’s husband after an operation of any sort, appendectomy included.

Obviously this sort of thing is systemic and there’s a lot of, “Oh honey, he’s just worried about you,” going around out there. Let me tell you that that approach is not helpful. Excusing and poopooing and giving these men the excuse that it’s okay because they’re scared is not the answer. It’s time for them to step up and learn how to take care of partners who are ill. We no longer have a village, or the village has become the nuclear family alone. We have to help each other and it has to go both ways.

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