Three weeks ago Wednesday, I went in for routine surgery to remove a large dermoid cyst from my ovary. BA DUM CHING.
Instead of complying with the surgeon’s plan to be contained in a tightly rolled-up plastic bag, popped within that bag, then sucked out through a tube, my cyst decided to rupture and spew its unusually dense contents into my abdominal cavity, requiring extraction with a special tool and then a rinse with seven liters of fluid. The surgery took twice as long as expected, and instead of me wandering out of recovery in a charming opiate haze an hour later, I ended up hanging out in a hospital gown and rubberized socks for SIX HOURS, at the end of which, after three excruciating attempts, I was finally able to pee and a nurse finally gave me a fucking Oxycodone so I could leave the hospital. WITH A FEVER. AFTER MIDNIGHT. But who cares about your pain! This is America!
The next day sucked. That’s all I have to say.
Then on Friday, two days after the surgery and one day after my surgeon mistakenly told me to stop taking one of my pain medications because she FUCKING FORGOT WHICH ONES SHE’D PRESCRIBED ME and got it into my head that I would overdose if I took them all or if I screwed up the doses and I’d spent an hour and a half on the phone with an advice nurse and two ER doctors trying to figure out why my recovery in no way resembled the recovery I’d been told I should be having, and nobody involved in my surgery had reached out to tell me what the fuck was going on, I had a panic attack.
SOMEHOW I KEEP GETTING INDUCTED INTO CLUBS I WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE PART OF. See: middle age, loosening neck skin, the warm, welcoming arms of urinary tract infections. But since I’m in this one now, for anyone who has not experienced a panic attack, they’re hilarious like YOU THINK YOU’RE DYING NO REALLY YOU THINK YOU’RE DYING LIKE YOU THINK YOU’RE HAVING A BAD REACTION TO THE MEDICATION AND YOU CAN’T BREATHE AND YOU’RE ON YOUR HANDS AND KNEES ON THE CRATE AND BARREL COUCH YOU CHERISH MORE THAN MOST OF YOUR FRIENDS HYPERVENTILATING SO HARD YOUR HANDS ARE GOING NUMB AND YOU’RE SCREAMING AND SOBBING AND BEGGING YOUR HUSBAND TO CALL AN AMBULANCE BECAUSE YOU NEED OXYGEN BECAUSE YOU’RE DYING.
An ambulance came. An EMT talked me onto my back, where he took my oxygen, which was 100 percent, and my blood pressure, which was normal, and gave me the completely confusing news that I was not dying. He’d had panic attacks, too, and he held my hand and told me to breathe in for three, hold it for three, and breathe out for three, and he did this over and over until I could finally open my eyes, which I hadn’t opened since before he and his partner arrived. My vision of him was already cemented—certainly that soothing voice was connected to long, flowing brown hair—but my EMT was bald as a peanut. Still, even though I was delirious, I managed not to laugh at the incongruity because, deep within my fog of panic and pain, I knew that if I laughed at that moment it would be really fucking rude.
Here’s the thing: The discomfort from the surgery lingers even now. But the intense pain I felt for those two weeks was from the enormous amount of carbon dioxide that got trapped in my abdomen, a feature of surgery my surgeon volunteered during our pre-op appointment would not happen to me (“I’ll get it all out,” she said) and afterward said was “rare,” and which faded after the first five days but then, in the middle of the night, got knocked loose again so that I woke up in pain, yelled for my husband in the next room, kicked over a table and pounded on the wall in an attempt to wake him but because he slept on, Futurama looping in his headphones, bit the bullet and sat up and then crawled on hands and knees across the hall so we could call the advice nurse, again.
On the sixth day, we went to the doctor’s office. A different doctor diagnosed me with gas, but the intestinal kind, and told me to take Gas-X. Again, NOTHING ABOUT THIS MADE SENSE. Breathing was painful. I couldn’t laugh. I couldn’t cough. I couldn’t even blow my fucking nose. But I had nothing else to go on but another doctor’s guess. So SJ wheeled me back to the parking garage in a transport chair because, six days after my surgery, apparently I had such bad gas I couldn’t walk.
Jenny: At least all these other people think it’s something serious.
SJ: Maybe we should put a sign around your neck: “Only gas pain.”
Jenny: Oh, god. Don’t. (Gasping because not laughing was impossible.) I should get a sign that says “Just gas.”
Then, in the van on the way home, he fucking did it again, this time on accident:
Jenny: I can’t believe it’s gas. It doesn’t feel like gas.
SJ: Well, but you also sat up at the kitchen table for two hours, and then you were lying down to sleep. That was all new. And you stopped taking all your medification.
Jenny (screaming): YOU SAID “MEDIFICATION.”
Did I mention that for two weeks my husband took care of me and our son 100 percent of the time? Made food to order. Fetched anything I asked for. Bought maxipads and GOT THE RIGHT ONES I DIDN’T EVEN GIVE HIM INSTRUCTIONS. Pulled me up to standing. Rubbed my shoulder. Brought me pillows and a heating pad and made me ice packs and logged my medicine intake. Did all the daycare drop-offs, pickups, dinners, bath times, bedtimes. And was the only functional parent for all of Copper’s emotional needs, because I was in so much pain I couldn’t even feel sad that I took no pleasure in my son. I lost so much weight I was thinner than I was when I was anorexic. A blood count showed I was malnourished.
And through it all, although I begged him not to, SJ kept making me laugh. This is a conversation I recorded from the living room after SJ came back from the farmer’s market and was unloading produce in the kitchen:
SJ: No … you …
Jenny: What is he doing?
SJ: He’s taking a bite of each apple! You piece of shit! I love you but you’re a terrible person!
SJ (holding the apples to show me): Worst. Baby. Ever.
SJ (back in the kitchen): You’re abusing the vegetables, and I won’t stand for it! Well. You can play with the fava beans. I don’t think you can hurt those. … Did you take a bite of the sweet potato? That’s not going to be very tasty.
Me: Did he take a bite of the sweet potato?
SJ: Yes. All right, vegetable abuser. Let’s put on your socks and shoes.
And my son. God, my son. At 19 months, he has about 130 words. I can’t get an exact count because he’s capable of saying back so much that I can’t tell when a word goes on the list. He has a chant where he says, “Mommy! Daddy! Mommy! Daddy!” and stomps around in his little pink boots, which he demands to wear and can put on himself, or just stacks blocks happily repeating our names. He has a new smile, where he shows all his teeth and squints so much he gets a line between his eyes. When he’s mad, he turns around in place and just kind of stands there, showing us he’s mad. Unfortunately for him, this is instantly overcome by me tapping him on the shoulder but pretending I haven’t done it, which delights him. Once, he tried to show us he was mad when he was standing on the kitchen bench, but he got distracted by a Chinese New Year decoration at eye level and forgot he was supposed to be mad. Once, also at the kitchen table, he said, “Mommy? Milk?” and I said, “No, honey. Eat some vegetables first and then you can have milk,” and he leaned over his shoulder and called to his father on the other side the room, “Daddy? Milk?”
AREN’T YOU SUPPOSED TO BE A TAD OLDER BEFORE YOU START PLAYING US AGAINST EACH OTHER.
I’m trying to teach him not to hit or kick, first because OH HELL NO and second because he kicks like a fucking jackrabbit and with a weight in the 96th percentile he’s about to do some damage. When he runs, his entire butt swivels back and forth and he holds his arms high and pumps his elbows and conserves no energy whatsoever, running like he’s in stilettos and a Dolly Parton wig and chasing down the last cab of the night, and when he runs up the hallway his diaper makes a swishing sound. He screams, “MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY,” and I say, “Yes, darling?,” and he adopts a thoughtful, professorial calm and then unleashes a stream of gobbledegook that ends on an up note, and I say, “That is an astute observation,” and when I turn back to whatever I was doing he screams, “MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY,” and when I say, “Yes, darling?,” he asks another “question” and I give another “answer” and he swivels off to throw rubber duckies under the futon or stick his fingers in the hamster cage.
Even after I ignored him for two weeks, he insists on straddling my lap at breakfast and backing his butt into my lap when we read stories. That heft, that weight. That heat, that skin. I try to kiss him so much he screams, “NOOOOOOOOOOOO MOM,” half the time, but first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and when Daddy takes him to daycare he leans his sweet mouth toward mine and sparklers explode on my lips.
It was notable to me that while I was recovering from surgery, the world kept spinning. My son did not turn into a juvenile delinquent. My workplace did not slide into the bay. My house did not fall apart and remained perfectly functional, even clean. We had help—friends brought food and offered child care and visited and checked in. But one of the worst things to happen to me in recent years was a blip on the radar screen, unregistered by most and already, even for me, fading into the past. No one and nothing, it turns out, depends entirely on me. I’m sure there’s a lesson there. If I learn anything, I’ll let you know.
To gain weight after surgery, drink this delicious smoothie. I’m serious. It’s a recipe I recreated about 15 years ago after buying one every day at some smoothie place on my way to work. I have yet to mention it to someone without getting a, “Really?,” response. I don’t get it. It’s delicious. You need:
- 1 cup or so of full-fat Greek yogurt
- 2 TB or so of creamy peanut butter
- 1 banana
- Dash cinnamon
- 1 TB honey
- 1/8 cup of half and half apparently (sneaky SJ)
- 4–5 ice cubes
You need to:
- Put everything in a blender. Then give your son some in a separate cup and try to drink your share before he finishes his and spends the next 15 minutes demanding, “More? More? More? More? More? More?”