Tuesday, 13 September 2016

For a minute there/ I lost myself/ I lost myself

I haven't written in over two months.
Not for lack of something to write about, more because of a lack of time and the sense that the right words would come, that they could not be forced.

Time was consumed by a new job, at first. Then I moved into a new apartment, which absorbed all the energy I had left, mainly because schlepping things and going to Ikea are exhausting tasks. At about the same time, a new person came into my life, and the getting-to-know this newness was equally time-consuming. All of these things were good, they were little signals of life finally settling into a recognisable form and me not always seemingly on the hunt for whatever comes next.

But I knew the fates would think of something. Good never lasts long. Good gets a few weeks of being blissful, before something wrecks whatever was going well. This time it was a routine check-up on a random Friday at the gynaecologists. I had gone a few weeks before and been told I had a cyst that needed to be monitored, but that it was probably nothing, that this was just something women got.

Turns out nothing was two pomelo-sized tumours hiding on my ovaries and pressing on my bladder. This situation was made even more fun because the gynae thought that she should inform me of this development while I was still in the torture chair, half-naked and with my vagina out. She told me to get a paper from the reception, and that the operation should happen ASAP. My hearing only honed in on 'tumour' and 'reception', so I went there, got a piece of paper, was told to call the hospital, and left.

I took my bike, rode to the station, got on a train, and stood there, holding onto my bike and crying. Then I went to work and ignored the news, mainly because I was not sure what it meant and also what I was supposed to do now. Normally I'd call my mom because she'd know, but she was far away and I didn't want to panic anyone.

After work I had made a Skype date with my mother, and told her the news. It was strange, being alone in a room and her equally so, with thousands of kilometres between us, when all I'd instinctually want to do is hug it out. Luckily a friend had said to come by for dinner, so I could unload on her and sit crying (again) in her kitchen. Luckily we also had wine.

On the Monday I called the hospital, got an appointment with the operating doctor on Thursday and was sliced open by Friday. One week. One has to admire the speed of it all.

But it was strange and, above all, frightening. The gynae had not told me anything besides it being a tumour. For a week I was told to wait and see, that things would be fine, but at the same time being fed Wikipedia-knowledge about my ovaries also being taken out and with them the possibility of having children. These were not questions I wanted to ask myself. This was not what I wanted to debate. The Monday evening I cracked, and told my sister to come. This was not something I felt I could do alone in a country that has yet to feel like mine. She said she'd get on a plane.

Two girlfriends and I had brunch and cycled to the hospital. They brought snacks and sat with me for hours as we waited and tests were done. On the Friday I took my suitcase and check in alone. Another lady was there for a similar operation, something to investigate her ovaries because she was trying to get pregnant and it was not working. I got some pill that was wonderful and relaxing, and was wheeled into the operating room. The anaesthesia was ice cold and hurt my arm.

I woke up and fell asleep repeatedly. There was a man wheeling me to the room. I spoke to him at length about cake, mentioning 'melk tert' and how my mom has an easy one that she makes. My one friend had been there, but the operation took longer than expected. The tumours were larger and could not simply be sucked out. The muscles had to be cut open and the the tumours extracted, but because of their weight they sucked onto the lining (or something) and it took even longer. This is what the doctor said on Sunday, and afterwards I made the mistake of googling what dermoid tumours are. Here's the description: "an abnormal growth (teratoma) containing epidermis, hair follicles, and sebaceous glands, derived from residual embryonic cells". Jip. Hair, teeth, skin, all wrapped up neatly and growing inside of you.

During the night I found out I was peeing into a bag and struggled to sleep on my back. Breakfast was served early and consisted of white bread with spread. Lunch was unrecognisable vegetarian slop throughout, and dinner (again) bread and spread. The stereotype of hospital food being horrible was being fulfilled, but makes no sense to me: would sick and recovering humans not profit from a better diet? From food that looked and tasted like food, instead of being without consistency and nutritional value?

My sister arrived on Saturday. It was a relief hearing her, because I knew that I could trust her with anything. She helped me wash myself and combed my hair when I could not, and helped me up to take a walk. It was almost incomprehensible: having a young, relatively strong body one day, and not being able to walk the next. Friends came by, brought food and entertainment. People walked at a snail's pace with me, or sat around, or told me what had been happening in their lives. It was good: the world was brought to me.

After 5 days I became restless - my sister could only stay for a week and I did not want her to waste her time on just coming to the hospital. There were things to be seen and shopping to be done. Wednesday they said I could go. The greater challenge still lay ahead: getting up four flights of stairs. She carried my bag and I carried myself, slowly, but we made it.

The next few days were recovery on speed. We went to a beer garden, we went shopping, we went to a friend's garden. We even ran to catch a train, me holding my stomach and her holding the door. Her being here helped immensely, but the last days were equally exhausting, at least in part because I sort of emotionally blackmailed her into building two chairs with me (one of my idiotic ideas to reupholster two old chairs that was more of a mission that expected). The my sister got on a flight back to South Africa, and I was left to languish for two weeks.

This thing man, it shook me. It turned out not as bad as expected, and the scars will fade (mainly because my mother thoughtfully keeps sending me ointments that will help in making them disappear as much as possible), but the week of fear. That remains a memory. The fear of not knowing what will happen, of not being in control at all, of your body being the thing to rebel against you. The fear instilled by this lack of knowledge and half-truths inhabiting your thoughts. The fear of being alone in a place, and not knowing what to do, really.

But it also gave me a wonderful sense of community. People on three continents wrote, called and rallied. People came to check up on me, people asked if I needed anything, people brought the equivalent of 'People' magazine. Even people I did not know cared: an older lady in the same wing of the hospital and I would walk together at times, her having had a hysterectomy, and both of us carrying our bags of wound juice (or whatever it is that one calls it). She stopped shuffling forward when I recounted my operation, and started crying. Afterwards, every time she saw me in the hall she'd squeeze my arm and walk on.

I realise this wasn't such a big deal, that there are others with much larger issues and that all I had was one horrible week. One week that made me go from being fearless to merely undaunted.