Over the past few weeks I do believe I may be driving my wife and mother crazy asking questions about what happened while I was in the hospital for ten days. I was put on pretty heavy narcotics as soon as I arrived at the hospital to control the pain before surgery and then to manage my pain after surgery. It has been oddly alarming to realize how much I did not know what was going on or just didn’t remember.
What I do remember is that I felt in retrospect like the hospital visit went by pretty quickly. I remember Jenn taking me for walks in the halls, outside and in the indoor courtyard. I remember my ostomy bag having a major malfunction while Jenn and my mom were gone one day – I managed it well although maybe not graceful, more like a fumbling comedy of errors. I remember watching 1990’s movies Saturday morning snuggled in the hospital bed with Jenn. I remember loving the narcotics because it let me sleep but not liking the images that it gave me in my head. I remember my mom bringing Jean Nate into the hospital so I could freshen up and the one tech nurse loved it. I remember that I LOVED Ensure after days of not eating. I remember that peanut butter helped me from coughing when I got a tickle in my throat. I do remember having to say “Catherine Stroud 7-9-75” numerous times a day like a mantra to most folks that came in my room. I remembered Jenn wheeling a very sleepy me downstairs to go outside on a warm afternoon while the nurses decorated my hospital room for my birthday.
What I don’t remember continues to unfold. I am more curious than bothered by the fact I have big blanks over those ten days. Last night I found out that I took three showers while I was in the hospital. I have no memory. I do remember having thoughts that I wasn’t showering – I find that odd. I don’t remember my dad and step mom visiting me in the hospital. I don’t remember my kids first visit to me in the hospital after my surgery. At which time they said I smelled like a hospital which may have led to my mom bringing in some Jean Nate for me. I don’t remember telling my mom and Jenn that I didn’t want the television on for the majority of the ten day stay. Now I think how unthoughtful that was of me to make those two entertain themselves by staring at me. That makes for a long ten days. Although I used Jenn’s observation skills by looking at her to answer when the nurses would come in and ask the question I have never liked “What is your pain on a scale of 1 to 10?” Apparently I would turn my head slowly in a doped up fashion to look at her to answer the question for me, kind of a half lidded non-verbal “Whats my pain Jenn?”. She would answer “6”. The nurses would insist it come from me and Jenn would explain “if her brow is scowling she is a 6, if it is not its a 3”. She knows me, especially after staring at me for ten days and sleeping in a window sill.
There are some memories that I am looking for details to that I can see in my mom and Jenn face are hard to go back to. I am torn sometimes between just letting those moments not be mine and asking to be told what happened or what I did.
When I have taught childbirth education classes or met with doula clients over the years I have sometimes mentioned to the birthing moms that sometimes it is more difficult to be the loved one watching the birthing mom than to be the one going through labor. The body has coping mechanisms for the mom in labor but to the loved one they are observers who are mostly helpless to do anything to make the pain go away. I made that connection regarding my mom and Jenn supporting me and sitting with me through my stay. At least with labor and childbirth it is somewhat predictable, normal and there is an outcome. In my case it was a random meandering journey and somewhat intense at times. I am very thankful in one way that I am the person this happened to rather than it happening to my wife or my child.
Although the narcotics made it so much of my stay was a blur I am also thankful that it kept my fear and anxiety at bay when it came to having major abdominal surgery, receiving and ostomy bag and hearing that I had stage three cancer. My emotions did start to come after I stopped taking the drugs. I was really happy to be done with the drugs. As I am preparing for chemo, I am swimming through a bit of fear and anxiety for the path ahead. It does feel a bit surreal that I am going to start chemotherapy. I cannot imagine how I would have felt with the surgery, ostomy and diagnosis had my brain not been a bit padded by narcotics. At this point though I am glad I have my mind with me, even with the emotions flowing through me – I know I will be ok. Besides I have a great co-pilot in Jenn who can bring humor to some of the toughest moments and if my mind goes she will remember for me. I am in good hands.