Is It Just Me? – The Middle of Me

I have problems transitioning. The end of the school year puts me in a dark mood. As the prime caretaker in our home, I love not being required to drive my sons all over the globe, pack lunches and play slave to the clock. I appreciate that we are free for a couple of warm, colourful months, but I am fearful of the chaos that comes from not knowing what will happen next as each day evolves without a defined structure. Until the kids are happily ensconced in camp and we have a regular routine again, I am like a goldfish swimming through pea soup: anxious and unhappy, unable to breathe deeply. Not a fun family or shoal member. Just ask my kids — or my husband.

This past June, in the midst of my agitation, something different happened. My appendix asked to be removed. Okay, it didn’t so much ask as launch a pre-emptive attack. In medical language, my appendix ruptured, disgorging a bad infection throughout my abdomen, the worst my surgeon has seen in a year. I had to remain in the hospital for ten twenty-four hour days, the worst and best of my life.

The appendix is almost a nostalgic organ, hearkening back to the good old de-evolution days when humans may have been herbivores like our mammal cousins, the cows and sheep. According to Western medicine, we no longer need it. Ironic that such a useless body part can cause so much havoc – like a neglected four year-old starved for any kind of attention.

The operation to remove this kitschy organ was supposed to take fifteen minutes but took ninety in my case because of the rampant infection. I woke up with a throat that could barely swallow because of the nasal-gastric tube threaded down into my gut removing bile, a drain attached to my belly siphoning out the infection, a catheter and numerous IVs for antibiotics, anti-nausea medication, morphine and nutrition.

The doctors informed me that the removal of the tubes and my subsequent release were dependent on how long it took for my body to beat the infection. Meanwhile, there was literally nothing I could do for myself except rest and concentrate my mental energies on getting well. I had to relinquish all control.

Chaos reigned those first few days. I hurt, I fought back nausea every second and I was afraid of dying from infection or choking or a combination of both.

I felt as if I’d returned to infancy, completely reliant upon others to take care of me. The nursing staff washed me, changed my gowns and linens, oversaw my medications, gave me shots to stave off blood clots, and took my blood pressure and temperature at what seemed like five minutes intervals. They reminded me to breathe deeply every so often to keep my lungs in good repair and reduce the risk of pneumonia. These people were strangers who became my closest allies, human angels who never allowed me to feel like I’d lost one drop of dignity. When I was able to get out of bed and do my prescribed walking, the nursing staff applauded my efforts, dubbing me “the fast walker” of Five North. The positive reinforcement was simple and greatly appreciated.

My family and close friends united to care for and protect me. My husband gave me regular foot and leg massages, kept visitors away when I was feeling lousy, gave our kids lots of attention and activity and advocated for me with the medical personnel. He reminded me, during those ten days, how smart I’d been to marry him twenty-six years ago. My oldest son, Charlie, regularly went on “ginger ale” runs for me when I was allowed to drink again, and my littlest guy, Harrison, climbed into bed beside me, his warmth providing all the impetus I needed to get better and be allowed to go home. My mom and dad were always with me when they weren’t hanging out with my sons, giving me their strength quietly, words unnecessary.

During past July long weekends, I have felt not only the challenge of transition but a degree of envy as most of my friends leave town or experience the sense of freedom I covet. This past July 1st, I thought about the friends leaving for Europe, cottages, oceanfront beach vacations, or those who were dining and movie-going freely while their children were away at overnight camps. I realized emphatically that despite their anticipation, not one of them could be feeling as happy to be headed for adventure as I felt to be laying attached to my IV in a hot hospital room; alive, taken care of, not knowing what came next but knowing it would be quite something.

A couple of days later, I was taken downstairs for my second CT scan that week in order to determine whether or not the infection had been quashed and to determine whether the organs in my abdomen were all in their proper places. Just before the technician pushed the button to move me inside the machine, she said, “Wait a second. Before you go in, let me just find the middle of you.”

The middle of me – a description I’d never heard, yet one that suddenly made perfect sense. The middle of me is the place where you can find my family’s love, the support of my friends, my gratitude for all the lovely nurses and talented doctors. The middle of me is the place where I carry my strength, persistence and my new-found ability to relinquish control and trust others to do the care-taking for a while.

I am not as anxious about transitions as I used to be. Being able to move myself from the bed to planting my feet firmly on the ground has taught me that it is safe to view change with expectancy and hope.

(I dedicate this essay to all the nurses on Five North at North York General Hospital. They are angels, each in their own way.)

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