I’ve been totally absorbed in making a big decision. Other than painting edges on my new canvas, not much has been happening in the studio because I’ve spent most of the summer getting through something I never thought would happen.
I’m not even sure if my blog is the right place to write about it. More than once, I’ve started then stopped, writing this post. I fear I might be pushing the edges of “TMI” territory. If I cross that fuzzy little line, I hope you’ll forgive me and perhaps find something worthwhile.
Making this decision has taken me on a journey across oceans of cold fear and high into mountains of uncertainty. I decided to write about it, because as I paint in the coming months, I suspect these emotions will surface and the elevation will have changed my perspective.
I often feel that my work is sourced in raw emotional energy. It creates an emotional landscape which is unique to me, but which is recognizable to you because at some point in your life you have felt the same. The art becomes this tangible thing that makes a mark on a shared ethereal map. Although, our stories are different you can recognize the elements because our maps share similar terrain. You too have picked up stones of sadness. Fell in waves of fear. Breathed in doubt. Then walked towards light that mysteriously rose out of confusion.
So, here is my story…
This past February, I found myself sitting very still in my car, trying to drive fear out of my veins by curling my fingers around the steering wheel and squeezing until they turned white.
A few moments before, I sat in a doctor’s exam room as the word, “hysterectomy” went bang in my ear. Have you ever had that feeling when someone uses a word or phrase from a foreign language? You kind of know what it means… but you don’t know exactly what it means? You nod and smile, while your brain starts a frantic search for context. That’s how I felt.
Like a caged animal my mind paced though a million thoughts, ranging from “there must be a mix up with the test results” to “this doctor is a quack”. But, the thought that scratched the loudest was simply “I’m terrified to be cut open”.
I looked through my dirty windshield and softened my fingers. I turned the wheel and headed for home, but felt like I had no idea where I was going.
Trying to get my bearings, I googled what the doctor had kept repeating…”8cm fibroid”. If you’re like me, and the metric system is something you haven’t thought about since grade school an 8cm fibroid is like swallowing a soft ball.
Next, I searched, “hysterectomy” because it’s not so simple. One site said hysterectomies are the most common surgery women have. Click. Another said they are unnecessary. Click. The next promoted the latest alternatives. Click. Here was one promising an all natural fibroid cure. I just needed to stop drinking bottled water and become a vegetarian. Did both years ago. Click. Click. Click.
In confusion, I cried myself to sleep that night.
By morning I decided to get a second opinion. And I did. And then I got a third. Four, if I include the interventional radiologist I went to see for an MRI. Five, if I count my primary care doctor who I went to see just to get some perspective. Plus, I’m embarrassed to admit I even dragged my husband to an event on woman’s gynecological issues to listen to a surgeon speak…who I’m pretty sure, was the only other guy in the room.
After months of opinions and options, I found myself in the office of a surgeon I trusted but, still my hand shook as I signed consent forms to be put on the schedule for a Robotic Hysterectomy.
Interestingly, the robot is named after the artist, da Vinci. I had no idea, his study of human anatomy led to the design of the first robot in history. To calm my nerves, I’d try to imagine a thread of innovation going back to 1495. The extraordinary da Vinci on one end and my 44 year old uterus on the other.
Instead, my mind flashed images of Edward Scissor Hands…as a surgeon. If you have ever had major surgery you know pre-op anxiety can make you a lil’l crazy.
I suppose I should tell you why I was going through all this in the first place. The short version is that my cycle sidelined me for days out of every month. The long version involves curling up in exhaustion and rushes of blood that bent me with pain. If I told you more details…I would definitely be crossing over into “too much information” territory.
I wish so much I could tell you I was grateful that my problem was just a fibroid. Life altering, but not life threatening. I truly was lucky.
Instead, I felt swindled and scared for my body.
Swindled, because on a hazy August morning, the book of my womb (and its softball sized invader) would be pulled out page by page. Not by the normal cycles of time, but through my belly button by a expert surgeon. Her delicate fingers would hold a machine that minces it all to pieces in a process called morcellation. Then pack it neatly in a bag to protect me from any potential poison it might hold. A lab tech would examine it for pathology and finally incinerate it all to dust.
Gratefully, no pathology would be found. Latex covered fingers wouldn’t notice the tiny place where a short chapter, written over 7 weeks, held the answer to the mysteries of cell replication and pure love. Though the miscarriage washed away all the ink, the wall of my uterus where my pregnancy had been written was still there. It had been real. Like a private monument this gave me peace, which the surgery rattled apart.
Along with this sadness, there was an earthquake of fear that cracked me open as my head hit the pillow every night. Like shock waves, anxiety would roll out question after question. Doubt would do its annoying little dance to the music of search engines. The internet became a sort of oracle. It glowed late into the night, fueling my dreams with images of scalpels slicing skin and hospital nightmares.
Like a tsunami, the wave of fear rose and crested just as my gurney rolled toward the operating room.
It all froze as the IV filled my veins with the magic of medicine. For a moment, it felt like I was looking at my fear from behind clear glass, seeing it like a curiosity in my own natural history museum. Then I sunk into pure black.
After three hours submerged at the bottom of an ocean of anesthesia, I floated up to the surface surrounded by buoys in blue hospital scrubs. I looked into these stranger’s eyes like they were life rafts and asked for my husband.
Time fell in and out of rhythm like a needle skipping on an old record. My throat burned. I lay very still, with tubes going in and out of me. My belly felt as if I’d done a thousand sit ups. Finally, I felt my husband’s fingers wrap around mine. His voice seemed very far away as he told me that my right ovary had adhered to the fibroid and my surgeon had to take it out. My doped up mind imagined my left ovary feeling lonely now that it was all on its own, echoing into the now empty territory between pelvic bones.
The first moment I was alone in my room, I looked at my swollen belly with its four perfectly aligned incisions. They were sealed under glue my surgeon used to keep my insides inside. Mere “scratches” from DaVinci that would eventually scar over, and become unique body art.
I drifted into painless sleep.
Morning arrived with cold pancakes and release from all my tubes. Unfortunately, by evening my lazy bladder had me imprisoned again. This time with a Foley Catheter and tears of pain. I swallowed Percocet and was wheeled to the car, still wearing my oversized hospital gown. My husband carefully zigzagged our way home, trying to avoid every little bump on dark roads.
That night, I seesawed between awareness and half dreams. Had my surgery even happened, or was this just a frightening illusion? I awoke, propped up on the couch, longing for my bed which seemed out of reach high on a mountain at the top of the stairs.
The days that followed where spotlighted with home nurse visits and humbling moments of gratitude to those who took care of me. You really get a new understanding of vulnerability when a skill your mother helped you master as a toddler is lost. Lucky for me it was only temporary. By the end of the week I was hugging my doctor, even though she’d just catheterized me…one more time. This time, it was just to be sure my bladder was behaving. It was! I felt the fear begin to fade and joy came into view.
In the last few weeks I’ve found a delightfully boring rhythm of walking and resting. Of course I’ve been binge watching on Netflix too. In between, I’ve had moments when I realize how lucky I am to live in this time of advanced medicine and to be a witness to the miracle of my body healing, even if it’s a little slow. Also, I imagine from now on I’ll always think of this summer when I see the work of da Vinci.
Thanks so much for reading. As soon as I’m able I’ll be back in the studio to make art, that makes sense of this story in my life and hopefully you’ll see something in it that makes sense for the story in your life.
I’ll show you what happened when I painted just few days before my surgery. I wanted to paint while I was consciously feeling “fear” to see what would happen…what showed up on the canvas really surprised me.