Tonight was the night that it finally sank in. Lying in the semi-darkness, my hospital room lit by SportsCenter and medical monitors, it no longer feels like the out-of-body experience of the last month and a half. Something about the IV in my left hand, the drain removing fluids from the right side of my torso, and the nasal cannula tubing winding around my ears and under my nose has brought me out of shock and into a settled feeling of my new reality.
This is my first overnight hospital stay, and I was nervous going into it. I thought it would be scary or stressful or both. It has been neither.
It isn’t particularly exciting (although I have geeked out over learning so much from my nurses). It isn’t fun or energizing. Instead, to borrow a cliche, it is what it is. It doesn’t feel weird anymore. I actually feel so grateful for this time alone in the middle of the night surrounded by whirrs and beeps. It has centered me and allowed me to fully accept this new season in life – not as something welcome, rather as something that is and for the moment cannot be changed.
Up until this point, God has given me peace that defied understanding, and I walked through the last month in a surreal haze of positivity and wide eyes, trying to grasp my situation but never quite catching it. I spent hours and hours reading anything I could find about melanoma, and then hours and hours rehashing my research to anyone who would listen (thank you to all of you who suffered through the brunt of this! You know who you are!) But this was still a part of my other-worldly feeling of “this can’t really be my life.”
As I said before, I now feel settled. Less internally chaotic. Rather than continuing to provide peace that defies understanding, I feel like tonight God has given me peace in understanding (or at least partially understanding). I feel like He is doing some hard work in my heart, helping me see that cancer is not my identity (a fear I have been running from), but that it is a part of my ever-evolving story. A precious chapter in a much longer novel. It doesn’t erase my experiences in the past, and it doesn’t determine the entire plot of the future, although it will have an impact. I guess you could say that tonight has helped me gain a healthier perspective. This current season in life is scary and raw and unwanted. At the same time, it is temporary and does not change who I am or my faith in the God who loves me deeply.
So, as I sip Sprite out of a styrofoam cup, wait for my next round of pain meds and antibiotics, and wonder why in the world I’m not sleepy at 3am after undergoing major surgery, I am at peace. It is a different, sobering kind of peace. And I like it. A lot.
On Sunday night, after taking staff photos and watching the greatest Halloween film of all time (Hocus Pocus of course) with my wonderful Martin Hall RAs (8 college students who devote their time to serving their peers in the residence hall), something didn’t feel right. I had chills even though it was warm in my apartment. I took my temperature… 101.9
No! This could not be happening. Less than 48 hours until surgery. What if my fever persists and I can’t get this surgery over with? How would this affect the timing of the rest of my future treatment? And worst of all, what if I had the flu and had passed it on to my RAs and/or my family (including my two precious nieces) after spending Friday-Sunday morning with them? I was miserable just thinking about all of this, and my anxiety and stress brought on a raging headache… I was a mess. The only thing that lessened my stress was when my co-worker and dear friend/brother Terry showed up at my doorstep to pray for me. Have I mentioned how amazing the AU community is??
After a dose of Tylenol, I quickly dropped to 99. But when I woke up Monday morning, it was back to 101. Again, Tylenol brought it down to 99. I called the surgery center to ask if fever would affect my procedure. They told me to show up as planned, and we would reevaluate in the morning. By Monday afternoon I was pretty miserable again. I was late in taking a dose of Tylenol, and in that hour my temp shot back up to 101. I was so frustrated.
I woke up Tuesday morning, and my temp was 101.2. But this time I couldn’t take Tylenol. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything after midnight in preparation for surgery.
I started to pray in desperation. All I could think about was the domino affect missing my surgery would have on the entire timeline of my treatment. I reached out to a few of my prayer warrior friends that I knew were already awake. They promised to pray too. I took one last temp before leaving for the hospital… 100.9. A tiny spark of hope!
By the time I arrived in my hospital room and the nurse took my vitals, it had miraculously dropped to 99.4. We could procede with surgery! Praise God! I let out a huge sigh of relief. To all of my friends who prayed: THANK YOU.
Fast forward: During surgery, the surgeon discovered that I had started developing an infection near my missing lymph node. This would have been pretty dangerous if undiscovered, and they are fairly certain it caused the fever. I am so thankful for this timing and that it has been taken care of! God has been so so good to me. And I have been a consistent 97.1 since surgery, so you guys should probably stop praying for my temp to drop. Ha!
After getting hooked up to my IV (forever my least favorite part), the nurse gave me a blood thinner injection straight into my abdomen to help prevent blood clots (surprisingly, it didn’t hurt). She said this was not standard, but it was necessary in my case due to two major surgeries in such a short span of time.
Pretty soon I was headed to the O.R. and put under anesthesia.
I’ll be honest about what happened next, especially for the sake of those who are also on this melanoma journey and looking for a real account of what to expect. When I woke up in the recovery room, I was in so much pain that I already had tears streaming out of the corners of my eyes and pooling on my pillow. this was very different from the previous surgery (woke up numb and feeling great). I don’t have words to describe the fire and ache raging along my right side.
There has been one thing common to all of the workers at Community North (and especially the surgery center). They are so kind and compassionate. There was a nurse by my side as I struggled to wake and make sense of what was happening to me, and she talked to me with soothing calm. “You did great, Maggie. I’m giving you more pain medicine right now. You are all done with surgery, and it went very well. Your pain is going to start going down soon, I promise.” The only question I was able to get out was if my parents knew I was ok, and she assured me that my doctor had already spoken with them.
It didn’t take too long for the pain meds to kick in, and I began to feel better.
I have now been in recovery for over 12 hours, and surprisingly I haven’t been able to sleep. There are moments I get drowsy, but it is hard to actually sleep when you have pillow-like things strapped to your legs that inflate like a blood pressure cuff every 30 seconds (also to help prevent blood clots). Most of the time I have been wide awake, with a clearer mind than I expected.
Every four hours the nurse comes to take my vitals and test my breathing. I eat a small snack and take two glorious pain pills that immediatley take my 8 or 9 pain down to a 0 or 1. Usually this is when the nurse disconnects me from a bunch of different cords and helps me to the bathroom, still attached to my IV and main monitor. It is a rather humbling experience to have every ounce of your urine tracked and measured, and considering all of the IV fluids, there is a LOT of it.
Once I’m back in bed, the nurse empties my drain (ew. More about that later. It is going to get its own post). This is more fluid that has to be measured and documented. Then I settle back in for the next 4 hours. I haven’t been bored. My parents were with me most of the evening, and my amazing friends Mandy and Kirby gave them a dinner break and hung out with me for a couple hours (and brought me Starbucks… They are angels). Mom and Dad returned from dinner and stayed long enough for Mom to learn to empty the drain. Since they left, I’ve had a lot of time to rest and think on my own, which led to the thoughts at the beginning of this post.
If all continues to go well, I will leave the hospital in the next 5-7 hours. I will spend the rest of the week recovering with my parents in Carmel.
For now, I’m going to attempt to sleep! The nurse turned off the leg pillowy things, so hopefully I’ll get some rest.
Thank you to all of you who continue to pray for and support me. I feel like the most loved girl in the world, and I love you right back.
And just for fun, here is my post-op, high-on-pain-meds selfie: