Recovery from surgery or even mental illness can be a slow process. Sometimes you face complications or ups and downs. It’s hard to stay on the road to recovery when things keep going wrong. When it comes to surgery, there are many things that make recovery difficult. When you get past those problems, recovery sits on the horizon waiting for you. You just must keep fighting until you reach it.
Fighting for recovery is what I have been doing since my back surgery. With all the surgeries I have been through, this has been the hardest recovery I have dealt with. The bilateral mastectomy was rough, but harder mentally than physically. Each of my surgeries had a level of difficulties. I expected recuperating to be hard, but not this hard. I’ve not only struggled physically, but also mentally.
The nurse, Mike, came in three times a week, Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. A red burn mark where the adhesive of the bandage stuck left my skin red and sore. Each time the nurse and my husband changed my dressing, I’d grit my teeth in pain. Mike told me that one of the holes in my incision had closed, but the other was still open. I was reaching the six weeks the doctor said I would be off work, but my incision wasn’t closed completely. I expected to go back to work, but there was no way I’d be able to return.
Each time I sat even on the couch I had to have a pillow behind me. My incision still hurt. I was worried something else was wrong. One day I got in the car and pain shot through my back from the surgery site. It felt like needles were pressed there. I tried to reposition myself, but it still hurt. Fear rushed through my body. Could something else be wrong? Could the opening have opened more? Was the infection coming back? Why did it hurt so much if it was healing? Haven’t I struggled enough?
When I went into restaurants, I brought a cushion to put behind me and when I got my haircut, I brought a pillow. Pillows had become my best friend since I left the hospital and continued to be. If I was healing, why did I still need a pillow? When would I be pain free again? I just wanted to go back to normal and it seemed like that would never happen.
I told the nurse about the pain. Since I was seeing the doctor the following week, he told me to mention it to her. He reassured me there was no sign of infection and the incision looked good. That didn’t stop my fears. My fears haunted me night and day and drove my spirits into a downward spiral.
I deeply missed my regular customers and fellow employees. In a way I missed working and in a way I didn’t. I didn’t miss the covid and holiday craziness, but I missed the people. I felt lonely. I spent my days alone while my husband worked. I thought watching Christmas movies would lift my spirits, but it only reminded me of how I haven’t been able to decorate my home. I cried on and off in between the movies. Because of the pandemic, no one could visit me. I texted with my friends, but it wasn’t the same as having face to face contact with people.
One night I was feeling really depressed and I messaged my friend. I typed that I felt she no longer cared. I accused her of only being my friend when I could walk and exercise with her, and since I couldn’t, I no longer meant anything to her. I messaged her with tears streaming down my face and sadness distorting my thoughts. We went back and forth several times. She tried to explain to me she did care, but I refused to believe it. She was busy with work and it wasn’t safe for her to visit me. My inner anguish flared and I messaged more upsetting things to her.
I told her I didn’t want to talk anymore and typed goodnight. I went upstairs and woke up my husband and cried in his arms.
He wiped my teras away. “What’s wrong? Why are you so upset?”
I looked into his soothing blue eyes and choked out, “Denise doesn’t like me anymore. No one cares about me. I’m not ever going to heal. I’m going to be like this forever.”
Lou said, “That’s not true. Denise still cares. She is your friend and that hasn’t changed because you’re laid up. I think you’re tired and depressed. You’re not thinking right. Shut off the TV and come to bed.”
I shut off the television and got ready for bed. I was finally able to lie on his chest, so I did. I cried while he held me and whispered comforting words. Eventually I cried myself to sleep. The next day he called to check on me. I still felt down, but better. I sent Denise a message apologizing for being upset with her. I explained to her I was depressed, and she understood.
The night before I had to go to the doctor for a checkup, I stayed up most of the night. Even my sleeping meds couldn’t stop my worrying mind. I was sure the doctor would tell me I had another complication. The possibilities of what could be wrong ran wild throughout my mind. Lou kept telling me I would be fine, and I needed to sleep. I wish I could have just believed him, but once my mind gets going, I don’t know how to stop it.
I began to picture myself on a beach with the water coming up around me. I took a deep breath in and slowly letting it out. When a worry tried to intrude, I fought to concentrate on the beach and my breathing. I repeated silently, “Deep breath in, slowly breath out.” In time sleep took over.
The next morning, we drove to Mayfield Heights Cleveland. Before my appointment I had an x-ray done. After a long wait, I made it to my appointment with the doctor across the hall fifteen minutes early. Lou had to stay in the waiting room while I went back. After the nurse took my vitals, I sat in the exam room for a half hour. The doctor peeked in to tell me she had an emergency and would be in as soon as she could. I was left alone with my worrying mind. I played with my phone and texted my husband to try and keep calm.
Forty-five minutes later the doctor came in. She looked at my incision and told me it looked good. She said I no longer needed bandages and to wear dresses so it wouldn’t get sweaty and so that air could help it heal. I don’t own a dress, except for my wedding dress, but I could wear nightgowns since I’m at home most of the time. She said I could slowly get back to my normal activities and that I would be sore for a couple more weeks. She encouraged me to walk and said to send her a picture once I have lost all my weight.
She pulled up my x-ray on her computer to find out they did one of my neck and not my back. After I was done with her, I had to go back for an x-ray on my back. By the time we left it was dark out. I agreed to drive part of the way home. I babbled on to Lou how happy I was that I was finally healing that I didn’t even notice I was heading down an exit until it was too late. Before I knew it, we were lost. I pulled over and typed our address into the GPS. It was a longer than usual trip home, but I was glowing. Recovery was on the horizon. I couldn’t help, but smile.
Don’t lose faith when you hit roadblocks and bumpy roads on your way to recovery. Have faith and push forward. Fight the negative thoughts and hopelessness. If you keep pushing forward in time you will reach recovery.
My incision is feeling better each day. I get to spend my days in a nightgown and I’m slowly building up my strength. I’m doing more around the house and my depression is getting better. I’m walking towards the horizon of recovery with God’s light guiding the way.