Archive for January, 2014

Phantom Loss

“I don’t need a uterus to have kids in my life,” I declared. “I’ve got 15 nieces and nephews; I’ve got a roommate that is young enough to be my son, I run a charity event for non-profit that deals with foster kids and adoption. If I decide I want a child, I think I can figure something out.”

It’s not the first time I’ve said it in the past few weeks, but this time I was saying it to my HR contact at work. I’m scheduled to have a hysterectomy at the end of the month, and am trying to work out how soon I can get back to work and off short-term disability. It’s not so much that I’m a workaholic, but I’m not really interested in dropping to 70% of my current salary.

“Don’t rush your recovery,” she cautioned. “Even if you physically recover, there is an emotional toll that overcomes you once your uterus and ovaries are removed. A lot of women don’t anticipate the grief of giving up motherhood as an option until it’s already gone.”

I understood what she was saying, but deciding whether or not to have kids was a decision I had to make back 7 years ago and I feel like I did my grieving then.

I had gone in for a routine check-up. The nurse practitioner was taking the normal vitals: height, weight, blood pressure. She took my blood pressure twice, actually, and then left the room – quickly returning with a crash cart and telling me to relax, which only made me more nervous. My blood pressure was 171/118. I looked at them confused – I felt the way I always felt. But evidently this wasn’t good.

As the nurse practitioner prescribed the much-needed medication to get it back in to the safety zone, she asked me if I wanted to have children. Because this med and pregnancy could not mix. I cried. Not that I wanted to get pregnant, but that the choice was being taken away from me. My life was in a place where nothing was certain – everything was in flux, and I just broke down for a bit there in the doctor’s office.

Yes, ma’am. I had already done my grieving. I was able to joke with the HR contact, convince her I was fine, and we got off the phone both laughing.

Later that night, a voice on the TV caught my attention. This psychologist was talking on a news show about having a mastectomy.

“My friends told me I would go through a mourning period, but I just brushed them off. My femininity was not defined by my breasts; I didn’t need them to feel empowered. I had counseled people in the past through their post-surgical depression; I knew what would happen and knew I would be fine.

And then I woke up, and my breast was gone, and I mourned.”

So now I wonder if maybe I’m wrong. I really don’t expect to be sad about it – I’ve kind of gotten a Spartan attitude about my body parts – get rid of it if it’s causing a fuss. On the other hand, not having my own children has allowed me to focus on so many other things I wouldn’t have time for: rescue dogs, charity events, The Geeks, etc.

But I don’t mean to dismiss it all so quickly. I can understand that feeling of phantom loss like when a soldier loses his leg, but still feels the pain or like the leg is still there. I just can’t focus on that. It’s counter-productive to where I’m heading.

Forward march.

In Case of Emergency

Lately, I’ve been dealing with an avalanche of medical issues. It’s tough to admit when you are physically falling apart. As I’ve been wending my way through the myriad of doctor’s visits and consultations, I go through the normal rigmarole: name, rank, serial number.

All my visits have been in network, so once you update your information, it generally updates across the board instantly. After a day of several appointments and referrals, I found myself just nodding along absentmindedly as they rattled everything off. Until the last appointment of the day, when surprisingly they still had my ex-boyfriend listed as my emergency contact.

“Umm, no – wait – that’s wrong,” I stammered. “He’s no longer, I mean, well . . . let me give you my mother’s name.”

I flashed back to three years ago, the last time I had been at this medical facility. I had felt some shooting pain in my chest and left arm and just couldn’t sleep. Although I was fairly confident I wasn’t having a heart attack – I didn’t relish the idea of just ignoring it and waking up dead.

My sleepy headed boyfriend answered my late-night call and agreed to meet me at the ER. I tiptoed past my sleeping roommate’s bedroom and drove myself over. After being given some powerful drugs and being reassured I was going to survive, my boyfriend drove me in his car back to his place and took care of me.

It’s nice having someone like that – someone that will just be there for you – even if it means getting out of a warm bed into a cold car. He was also good at asking questions, researching options, and knew me well enough to just take control and make the decisions.

I would be lying to say I don’t miss that.

Now, my emergency contact is my mother: someone I love dearly, but who lives over two hours away and approaches life differently than I do. I’m the Mary to her Martha; the cricket to her ant. We do not agree on so many things, and yet, who else do I choose? I don’t have the kind of relationship with any other nearby family member where I would trust that my desires would be respected.

I have many good friends who live close by, and they have all been kind and asked how they can help. It’s what you do but how often do you really take someone up on it? (I’ve suggested that there are always dirty dishes and laundry – everyone finds that very funny. Frankly, so do I, but one can dream.)

My young roommate and Rocker have both gone with me on some of my appointments, and have run trips to get meds and milk (I’m addicted to milk, I swear) and held my hand. But a friend should not take on the immense burden of being your “In Case of Emergency,” especially when that is not just a vaguely possible perhaps. I mean, I’ve got stuff happening here and now. Being an “In Case of Emergency” requires a level of commitment that only a very close friend could even begin to handle.

This is where we as single girls must put on our big girl pants and just have to do it ourselves. Sure, I share and ask advice and get comfort – but these are my decisions and life choices – good and bad – and I have to make them, not rely on others.

It’s tough being a grown-up.

This morning I was chatting with a friend at work. Her dog that she has had for 16 plus years was recently, mercifully put down. She didn’t want to talk about it. The tears welled up in her eyes anyway.

Now,” she whispered, “I have to admit that I really am living alone.

I hugged her.

“I have a lovely gay roommate you can borrow,” I told her.

It made her laugh but then we both fell silent. No matter how many friends you have, and how social you are, the fact that sometimes you have to go it alone doesn’t change. Even when someone shares your home, it’s not the same as someone who shares your bed.

I’m not afraid to be alone. I’ve chosen to be single when I’ve had other options, more than once. It’s not the times that things are easy, but when things are tough, that you grow stronger. You have to become strong to make it – we can’t be coddled through and expect to survive.

Just don’t shut me out,” Rocker tells me. “I respect that you are dealing with this on your own, but don’t assume that just because I hold back I don’t care. I still want to know what’s going on.”

I appreciate that. Trust me, I’m not the big brave girl. I would much rather be the little girl in the big, comfy bed – telling someone else what is hurting and letting them fix it. It’s just not an option right now.

I remember as a child listening to radio personality Paul Harvey tell the story of Florence Nightingale – crusader of modern nursing. How she left her own sickbed for three years to take care of wounded soldiers in the Crimean War. When the war was over, she went back to her sickbed and letting others care for her.

Whether that version is true or not, I’m not sure. But I think about it a lot. How sometimes, we just have to get up and do, and not expect others to do for you. We got to be our own best emergency contact.

Just do me a favor. In case of emergency, please don’t break me.