We never know how much pain we can tolerate… until we have no choice. In many ways, the anticipation of pain is worse than the pain itself. But then sometimes I wake up, feel the burning in my neck and think, “Nope, I couldn’t have imagined it worse than this.”
September 27, 2014
I was speaking to a couple of people living with cancer, and apparently soon after their diagnosis, they had been warned by friends NOT to read any of the blogs on cancer floating in cyberspace. The rationale is that most of the time the blogs can be frightening. People who write blogs about their cancer and process are often looking for an outlet for their emotions and it can come out in a rant, or a venting of emotions. I can understand this. And it comes down to how people deal with challenges – there’s no right or wrong, just different options. But, I did take to heart this perspective on blog posts and after reflecting on my previous posts, think I have been able to (more or less) stick to having a theme or purpose within each post. I hope that I have been able to convey a deeper message than just, I am in pain, I feel down and this process stinks (although it does).
Empathy – on the part of doctors, surgeons, the people who we trust to take us through this process cannot be emphasized enough. It is hard to pinpoint what makes a good doctor, but there is a gut feeling. It helps when they make the extra effort. My surgeon remembered that I had got married recently and asked me about it, and shook my partner’s hand. I was surprised, because I didn’t expect him to remember that. I thought he saw me as: 24 year old female presenting with malignant nodule on upper right thyroid. Patient or person?
Soon after meeting the surgeon, my reassured brother stated, “I feel better.”
I distracted myself pre-op by asking everyone, from the nurses to the operating theatre assistants, whether they liked their jobs. I asked the nurse inserting my IV whether she was afraid of needles. Turns out she is.
My family has an expression when referring to something irritating or annoying, we call it a “pain in the neck.” In a way, it refers to something that needs to be taken care of or put up with. I was scared and did not want this thyroidectomy, right up until the moment I lay down on the operating table. So I like to think that was pretty impressive, not because I had a choice, because I really didn’t but because I walked into that operating room despite my fears.
After surgery, I was moved to the recovery room for about two hours. I’m not sure if it was the after-effects of anesthesia or the fact that I had lost my thyroid or the pain, but I was tearing up and continued to cry while I was there. As the nurse kept wiping away my tears, I told her that I was sad. At least I was able to pinpoint my emotion. I didn’t understand why I needed to be in the recovery room for so long before my family could see me. All I wanted was a hug, but it felt inappropriate to ask the nurses for one.
They had trouble titrating my morphine, they gave me 10 mg but my pain was still intense. My breathing had slowed down quite a bit and they were reluctant to give me anymore lest I stop breathing. The hypothesis is that the remaining effects of my concussion may have had something to do with it. It’s all a blur of blood tests, needles, measuring of the neck, making sure my neck had enough support and sipping water through a straw. As timing would have it, every time I fell into obliviousness, the nurses would wake me up to check my vitals. My calcium levels dropped in the night which resulted in painful blood tests and me downing some fizzy calcitrol. In about two weeks we find out the histology results but the surgeon is hopeful and does not think the cancer has spread.
Health is a complex concept, it encompasses physical and mental health. How we are doing emotionally is vital to our well-being. Although I am in pain, I’m sad about more than that. People are telling me that I’ll be back to “normal” in no time. I hope so but I’m not so certain. Sometimes I’m very positive and at other times I just want to tell those people that it’s not that simple. When I can’t deal with reality anymore, I just go to sleep. I’m doing a lot of that these days.
I am back at home now and my partner got me a jigsaw puzzle, appropriately called “New Horizons”. It has a 1000 pieces and the idea is that by the time it is complete, I should (hopefully) be feeling a lot better. With some help, I’m piecing myself back together.