on being human

I’ve never, ever wanted to be ordinary.

When I was a kid, the idea of ordinary–to me–was a death sentence.  It meant I’d be stuck in Westwood forever–exactly where I never wanted to be.  I needed to do big things.  And so, I had grand delusions of Wonder Woman stuck in my head.  And as long as I wore my cape, I could not fall.

The cape was really the love I got from my parents.  They instilled in me a rare breed of confidence mixed with humility.  I was able to be a chameleon while doing everything that was required of me, and pretty soon, I started knocking down walls.  By the time I was 18, I kinda did feel like a superhero.  And then the “real” world knocked me down a few pegs, and I had to confront the fact that I couldn’t power through everything.  That, these things were my creation because I spent a lot of time not dealing with them.  And I slowly learned to lean on people.  I slowly learned the language of vulnerability.  And I slowly stopped wanting to be invincible.

I’ve always prided myself on being independent–both physically and emotionally.  I’m a resilient person with a strong will.  I do what I want to do, for the most part.  I’ve struggled a lot with this–with how independence intersects with relationships–and letting people love you.  And in my desire to be loved, I’ve sometimes overcorrected and let people take the wheels when I should have been driving…which caused more problems than just being me and working through it.  Because I’m still that girl who seeks approval and wants to give others what I think they want.  As independent as I am, there’s a push-pull quality here that’s easily disrupted and can knock over the apple cart so fast.

Being human is hard for me.  Which is a ridiculous thing to say because there’s not a moment in life when I’m not human.  DNA determines that–not some internal choice I make.  I still get stuck in the perfectionism, super-woman overdrive mode of doing everything exactly the way it should be done.

And then, I fail.  And the devastation sometimes knocks me down for a good long time.

Sometimes, it matters.  Mostly, it doesn’t.  But when it does, it sticks.

###

Since 2004, I’ve hated medicine.  Doctors.  Hospitals.  The system that goes with it.  Which is rather funny because of how many times my life has forced me to be in that world.  I was a bio major, so science is part of how I see everything.  Many of my friends work in healthcare.  I read journal articles for fun.  I’ve recruited nurses and non-health people for the industry.  My roommate works for a healthcare start-up.  I’ve worked for transplant surgeons.  It’s a world I know entirely too well.  And I’m planning on being a therapist–so I’ll always have connections to it.

But, for about 10 years, every time I’ve gone to a doctor, walked near a hospital, seen people with medical equipment–I wince.  I seize up.  I stop being me.  I hold my breath and power through.  I didn’t realize how much until this weekend.

I’ve had insurance–just in case–for years.  But I’ve refused to use it for more than eye stuff or quick script runs.  I was sick for a long time and just wouldn’t go.  I intended to, but would cancel last minute.  Or reschedule for an indefinite date.  I had some really strange things happening with my body–and instead of checking it out like I would have before 2004–I would research it myself.  I’d find fixes and try them.  And they’d work.  So, I convinced myself the doctors wouldn’t fix me.  I would.

In my my way, I was being superwoman.  And though I didn’t realize it then, I do now: I was punishing the industry for killing my Mama.

Yes, I had forgiven everyone the day she died.  Yes, I held no ill will toward anyone.  No–I didn’t sue–much to my family’s chagrin.  But some part of me refused to let myself trust them.  Some part of me refused vulerability.  Some part of me committed to being SuperWoman instead of just Alma.  Which meant I couldn’t just be human.

This has had major consequences for me.  Mostly in that I know enough about medicine to be dangerous.  I understand the basic ideas, but I don’t understand how the whole thing goes together.  That’s why you get those medical degrees.  They’re actually necessary.

I spent years powering through things that could have been fixed easily, which just led to a pile-up in the end.  And my hunches weren’t wrong.  I just didn’t understand how one thing led to other things…and why.  And I didn’t have access to the right tools to address the problems.

I’ve learned that while my body is damn-straight amazing, it’s not invincible.  My surgeon–a Harvard/Duke educated, 20+ year veteran of the field–told me my gall bladder was the worst he’s ever seen.  The surgery was laproscopic, and my gall bladder was so distended, they had to drain about a pound of fluid from it before grabbing it.  The gall bladder is normally green.  Mine was clear/milky white.  It was actually disturbing.  I’ve been told I’ve been living without a fully-functioning digestive system for about 1 1/2 years (the time when I thought I was food poisoned).  And all those symptoms I attributed to thyroid and gluten were probably the gall bladder (though they do think the thyroid and gluten caused this).

If that’s not a wake-up call, I don’t know what is.

I was able to hear it, though–to see it before he ever said it.  And it’s odd because, since going to the ER, I haven’t hated medicine.  I don’t see my doctor as the enemy or some necessary evil.  He’s my friend.  He’s someone who encourages me and believes in me.  He calls me on things that don’t make sense.  But, mostly, he makes me believe I don’t have to be the same.  And that he’ll support whatever decision I make–if I want to make it.  I’ve literally never had a doctor do that for me.  I’ve only seen it for my Mama.

I’m still not sold on modern medicine.  This experience was hedged by another bad experience that is a prime example of everything wrong with our nation’s healthcare.  But I think that part of me that punished them for failing her has scabbed over.  I feel like I’ve let go of a lot of the stuff I was holding onto–without my knowledge.  I feel like I have a clean slate and a game plan.  And options.

I’m never going to be that sick again.  I’m never going to self-diagnose or think I know better.  I’m going to be broken and sick when I’m broken and sick.  I’m going to lean on people and let them love me.  Because I don’t have a choice anymore.

My game plan is to partner with traditional medicine and work closely with an alternative medicine provider to find my sweet spot.  I feel stronger and more energetic.  The surgery and its associated recovery has been easier than the last month of my life, healthwise.  It’s amazing to sleep and wake up feeling like you did.  It’s crazy to actually want to get up and do things–instead of groaning in bed.  I haven’t felt this good since I was diagnosed with my thyroid condition.  It’s literally like someone turned on the lights.

I don’t have to power through.  I don’t have to keep the lights burning.  I can just be me and let someone else do the heavy lifting.

###

I had kind of a rough day on Thursday.  My pain, overall, since the surgery hasn’t been bad.  I had some stinging near my belly button, lots of itching, random bits of fever, massive migraines, and some milder pressure-type pains.  And my stomach was about twice its normal size–rock hard.  My shoulder also killed from the flu shot.  But I also learned that they pump up your abdomen when they operate, which stays in there after they’re done.  Some will be expelled through the normal means and some will just be absorbed.  But gas seems to move to weird places.  Mine decided the right shoulder was primo.  And then it kept sort of gurgling around.  It wasn’t that bad, though–just a heavy feeling.  I was amused by the grumpy old men in my belly.

Thursday, though, things started moving around a lot more.  I raised my arm to put on a bra/shirt, and one of the gas bubbles shifted to a really uncomfortable spot–which resulted in a Charlie Horse that made it hard to take deep breaths.  A few minutes later, the gas moved–all gurgly–to another part of my belly–which helped the pain.  Which would have fixed it, but that side has been the most sore of all of my incision areas.

My bed wasn’t really made for people with core issues.  It’s kind of squishy, so–once you’re in, it takes some doing to move around.  It’s not just a matter of sitting and swinging your legs up like at the hospital.  I have to climb in.  Which was not something I really relished doing, considering.  I’d pretty much get stuck while trying to shift–which resulted in sharp pains.  I have this mountain of pillows propping me up, which leaves little room for me.  So, the first few nights at home, I was sort of oddly contorted whenever I slept–which put strain on that side of my belly.  And made it sore and prone to Charlies.

So, it was super sore all day Wednesday, and I had to change sleeping positions.  I recreated the hospital bed configuration, with my roommate’s help–convinced I’d never sleep.  But I can sleep anywhere, on anything, with these pain killers.  I can’t even stay awake when reading.  I slept, but when I woke up, the pressure on my abdomen was really bad and made me cry when I sat up–despite those lovely pain pills.  And then the Charlies happened.  Thursday night, I accepted my fate and gave in to the hospital configuration again.  This time, though, I must’ve been at a better angle.  In any case, I woke up feeling pretty awesome.  The shoulder was better.  And I couldn’t believe how much healing simple sleep could do.

I saw my doc yesterday, who gave me a clean bill of health and told me I was doing a great job–to not worry about ripping stitches–that I was just fine.  It was really nice to get out in the warmth of yesterday.  I had my first actual meal since surgery.  It didn’t cause any problems at all.  Walking is still really hard for me, mostly because I overdo it.  I have to walk slower and rest frequently.  But I’m getting better.

Spices feel so much more spicy.  I’m really sensitive to salt and spicy heat.  But, mostly, I don’t want fatty/sugary things.  I want simple, comforting food.  How I feel today is really night and day–even if I’m still healing and will be shifting digestively for a while.  I’m not having the same side effects others have.  Just mostly positive effects.  I feel really lucky.

While I have been sleeping well, I am bummed about not being able to sleep on my stomach/side.  I just don’t feel like I’ve slept without burying my face in my pillow.  I was kind of desperate last night–mostly because I felt so much better.  The Charlie horses were mostly gone.  But as I attempted it, it became so clear I wasn’t ready.  Too much pressure.  So I tried the other side–where I had been sleeping before–and that was also uncomfortable…but okay enough to sleep.  I catnapped until this morning and woke up sore/tired.

It was another reminder to be patient–something I’m awful at, when it comes to me.  I still want to be SuperWoman and do everything right now.  It’s especially frustrating when I know I won’t hurt anything to do it, but the discomfort isn’t worth it.  I’ve got to work on learning to accept things that aren’t exactly right for me, letting them heal, and then trying again–instead of muscling through, thinking I can will anything into submission.

So, all in all, it’s been quite the week.  Everything seems to have a lesson behind it, but it’s kind of been fun to see how it develops.

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