Until recently, I had experienced only one major surgery, having my gallbladder removed. Most gallbladder removal patients are sent home the same day, but because I was a single parent with only a minor daughter at home, I’d been kept in the hospital overnight. That extra night made the whole matter of recuperating easier, for when I arrived home, I was already through the worst of the post-operative period for what is, these days, a fairly simple surgery.
So I was a little unprepared for my recovery from a far more complicated surgery, a complete hysterectomy due to uterine cancer.
As I mentioned in a prior post, I found myself essentially tossed out of the hospital only 20 hours after they wheeled me out of the operating room minus six organs—a cervix, a uterus, two fallopian tubes and two ovaries. I got to spend the most dreadful hours of the post-operative period in the “comfort” of my own home. But even after overcoming the worst of the post-operative pain and bleeding and generalized misery, I was still unprepared for the series of “firsts” that comprised complete recovery. I have new understanding now, and a much deeper respect for anyone recovering from major surgery, and especially for those who have undergone procedures a hundred times more serious than mine.
Life as I lived it was completely disrupted. I had to depend on others for the simplest things: food preparation, housework, errands–even medication reminders. And, as a caretaker personality, such dependence did come not easily to me.
Consequently, everything—every simple daily activity–became a series of firsts. The first time I walked up my own stairwell, slept in my own bed, took a shower without someone standing guard. The first time I could do more with my hair than just run a brush through it. The first time I felt up to putting in my contacts, or dabbing on lip gloss and a swipe of mascara.
I literally celebrated the afternoon that I was able to wash my dishes, or the day I realized I could put down my cats’ food bowls by bending instead of carefully and slowly squatting. I was thrilled when I could finally make my own bed. I exalted when I found myself able to get out of a gown and robe and into loose exercise pants—or when, after weeks, I was finally able to pull on jeans without too much discomfort from my sutures. I texted everyone I knew when I was finally able to drive without pain. I had never, I exclaimed, realized how much simple pleasure was involved in just being able to run a quick errand to the bank or the grocery.
Finally given just a faint glimpse of what those with physical challenges—often mere children– must endure every day, I had a new appreciation of just how much of daily existence I had simply take for granted. Intellectually, I’d always known this, but living it was, I found, an alternate reality. And, sadly, I also know that my memory of those challenging days will fade, leaving me with less and less awareness of and gratitude for the many things I do daily without really thinking.
As I age, though, those challenges will return. Just as I now remember, regretfully, when my muscle strength was such that I could rise from a sitting position without levering myself up, so the ability to run my own errands, clean my own house—care for myself—will (should I live long enough) eventually be lost. Like the child I once was, like the recovering patient I have been, I will be dependent once more upon others to do these things for me.
I do not look forward to that time. And so it is that I try to remember and appreciate each day—as I climb my stairwell; as I bathe and dress myself; as I prepare my dinner—the infinitesimal and yet vast gifts that I am bequeathed, moment by moment, and movement by movement.