After another unbearable 90 minutes of waiting for my discharge to go through I had on real clothes, my IV’s were out, and I was speed walking across the street to the hotel while my family chased me with a wheelchair trying to make me slow down. By the time I traveled the 100 feet from sliding glass door to sliding glass door I was exhausted and dizzy. The words of Dr. M were ringing in my ears, “If you don’t slow down your body will make you slow down.” I looked up at the 18 stories of glass behind me and wondered if he was standing there on the 12th floor looking down at me with crossed arms and a smug expression on his face. I wanted to raise my arms to the sky and give him the middle finger. On both hands!
Matt came up behind me with the chair and a solemn look ,
It was not a request it was a command. If the world had not been spinning I probably would have showed my maturity and grace of character by screaming “make me!” and bolting inside. As it was I could barely stay upright so I slumped into the chair.
Once up to my room I was finally able to take a shower. I was too tired to stand so I sat in the tub and let the water rain down over my head and shoulders. I scrubbed the blood from my face and hair and tried with little success to get the adhesive off my chest and arms from all the leads and surgical tape. It made little grey outlines on my skin that I couldn’t get off even when I scraped it with my fingernails. It also left an invisible residue. I didn’t know this until I went to the lake later that summer with a group who had no idea what I was living with and actually was brave enough to put on a bikini. I would get some sun that day but not in the three spots on my chest and two on my rib cage where the leads had been. In shame and embarrassment I would have to explain what had happened to me. What was still happening to me. I would have to watch their faces change from having fun at the lake, to concern, to oh God why did I even ask?
I wish that I could write that this shower was symbolically cleansing for both body and soul and as I washed away the dirt and blood from the past 36 hours that I washed away the stress, pain, and suffering of the past 19 days. But this isn’t the movie version of my life. And like the adhesive from the surgical tape, the past three and half weeks had left some indelible marks. They were not visible to the naked eye but they would come out later in the form of PTSD.
Waking in the middle of the night in a cold sweat with adrenaline pumping, heart racing, clawing at my face because I think that I’m bleeding out and can’t breathe.
Being so afraid and combative upon awakening that I would actually swing at Matt when he tried to rub my shoulders to calm me down.
Not wanting to be touched. By anyone.
Crying for no reason.
And a foreboding sense that at any moment this normal life that I had worked so hard to get back to could be turned right back upside down.
I remember when we finally boarded the plane to leave Rochester and go back to Kentucky I felt an extreme sense of anxiety and a moment of panic when the flight attendant shut the cabin door. I was safe here. If something bad happened Dr. M could fix it. We were about to put 700 miles between me and my lifeline. What if I started to bleed on the plane? What if I started to bleed when I got home? What if my tumor came back?
My mom with her maternal ESP looked over at me and gave my leg a squeeze. “He got it all baby. The tumor is gone. We’re going home. Everything is ok.” I nodded and sat back in my chair trying to relax. I looked out the window and said a silent goodbye to the Mayo Clinic and tried to think about putting it, like this experience, behind me. I still couldn’t shake the anxiety I felt. We had just climbed Everest in a snow storm and reached the summit in record time.
But no one tells you that once you reach the peak and experience the euphoria of the mountaintop you now face the challenge of not falling down the other side.