I had coffee with a friend last Thursday night, and we both intentionally want the friendship to go deeper than just our kids play together, so that’s why we made it a no kid time coffee date. Two-thirds of the way through the conversation she asked me, and I’m paraphrasing here, if I had processed the surgery? I stopped before answering because I want to be honest in our burgeoning friendship, and I said no. Not entirely. That stayed with me throughout the entire weekend. I was shocked at the strong, protective feelings her initial question evoked and there was a definite shift in the conversation.
Mike and I celebrated a long overdue date night. We had received a gift card for Mark’s Prime, a fancy place in Gainesville (thanks Brittany and Brian!) and we splurged ordering appetizers, steak, and dessert. (See Mom I do make an effort to eat red meat the week before chemo!) Then we watched a movie just right for us. Saturday was spent in typical fashion, Evy talking to Mr. Sun on our way to Krispy Kreme, Enoch threatening to put Mommy and Daddy in time out if we yelled any louder at the football game. Then Sunday it was a full day at Gator Wesley.
I didn’t consciously think about my friend’s question until they started my IV for the contrast in the MRI this morning.
Then left with no phone or book or students or laundry or things that need cleaning or ways to procrastinate, I was left alone and perfectly still with my thoughts for a whole 45 minutes. I’ve had longer MRI’s, but this FELT longer. I was trying to pray. To be present. To make this time somehow “productive.” To fight off the occasional panic attack. But the question remained.
And then fast forward to the doctor’s appointment. The oncologist’s resident came in first to ask me a few questions. I was struck by two things. The first the only person to have cancer in my family was my paternal grandfather (prostate cancer). After my grandmother died of a heart attack, the results came back the next day that she had leukemia. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we don’t have our fair share of health problems, diabetes to the extreme on Dad’s side and cholesterol and extreme heart disease on my mom’s. But growing up, cancer was never something we worried about. My grandfather was given 6 months to live when Dad was a little boy and then he lived until I was a junior in college.
The second was how different this recovery was to my first surgery. They were DRAMATICALLY different. In 2010, I came out of surgery completely normal (or as normal as I could be…). The surgery in 2010 I had no deficits, except recalling some names. I woke up in ICU talking and thinking clearly, and I went back to work a week later, ready to be back. I experienced the same pre-op that I had before, but waking up in the recovery room unable to speak but fully understanding all that was happening around me and to me….(what I was experiencing was apraxia, which I define below)…and the nurse(s) wondering aloud what was wrong with me, they had never seen someone come out of brain surgery like this…and my people pleasing nature coming out for sure…me wondering how to communicate to them about my pain needs…wondering all the time if this was permanent…the doctor checking in because the nurses apparently called him…me trying to communicate with my eyes the helplessness I felt…and sobbing when I couldn’t communicate with the doctor. That’s the last time I cried in the hospital. I guess I flipped a switch. Moving into survival mode.
I was reading back through my “notes” before the MRI. Iphones have these things called “notes” that are an app where you can type directly into it. At the end of May/beginning of June this was my preferred method of conversing because it was still hard for me to speak at that time. Somehow it was easier for me to order the words if I typed them. In the midst of “notes” of song lyrics, movies to watch, quotes from speakers at the UMCMA conference, benedictions/prayers that I had to type up to say them, notes from our staff retreat in NYC, was this hidden gem. May 24, 2013, exactly two weeks after the surgery, I typed, “The quickness with which I speak comes back?” I imagine this was thrust in the face of Mike at some point, as I gathered the courage for days to ask that question.
I ended the work day with a meeting of a newly formed clergywomen’s covenant group. I could barely articulate to them the events of the day. They had seen the facebook post so they knew the results of the MRI. A fellow clergywoman, I had not met before today, at the end of our conversation, called me a beautiful person and I answered honestly that I don’t feel that way now. I repeated my answer, but I was unable to add or articulate the words that would disguise my bruised soul. So it was left hanging out there.
So on my way I called Mike debating if I should go home or back to Wesley before freshman small group. And he said that he had been feeling the same way. He didn’t understand it either. He said he had walked around the neighborhood with the kids and that made him feel better, to get out the excess energy. And he encouraged me to do a blog, because that’s the way I process. Why are we not feeling relief/excitement/joy at the good news of the MRI results? I don’t know. Maybe we never turned off survival mode. Maybe during “recovery” we never quite recovered. Maybe it takes time. My mom texted me tonight, “Ask Jesus to show you where he was” in the post-op. And that may lead to an entirely different blog post.
I’m glad for the friend who asked the question. Because she, without her knowing, set me off on a journey towards healing….
*** Apraxia (from Greek praxis, an act, work, or deed) is characterized by loss of the ability to execute or carry out learned purposeful movements, despite having the desire and the physical ability to perform the movements. It is a disorder of motor planning, which may be acquired or developmental, but is not caused by incoordination, sensory loss, or failure to comprehend simple commands (which can be tested by asking the person to recognize the correct movement from a series). It is caused by damage to specific areas of the cerebrum.
6 thoughts on “Survival Mode”
Our prayers continue to be with you and your family. You should be an author…wonderful writing process!
Narcie, Your blogs are a great way to process what has happened and I am sure most times it may cause more questions. It also helps us understand a little bit what you are going thru although I am sure you hold back. I feel that there are others out there that will benefit from your strength of sharing as they may go thru difficult times in their lives too. Be strong in your faith and always know that you are loved!!
You and your family are in our prayers each week at Wesley Memorial UMC in Columbia. Your blog is a fountain of strength to all of us.
Peace and Grace
I sometimes have the same problems/concerns. Only mine is called chemo brain. You articulate my thoughts so well.
Thank you for so clearly identifying your feelings and your understanding of them — you are very articulate! Readers of your blog are blessed indeed.